Prince Edward Island's King's Byway is an ideal trip for children, because there are many places to stop that are only a short distance apart. And the scenery in between is delightful; green fields -- occasionally brightened, perhaps, by a red tractor -- stretching toward a blue sea.
It's a relaxing trip for the driver, too. For one thing, King's Byway is one of three scenic drives that ring the island. It is marked by little purple crowns so that you don't have to decipher maps or bother much about which way you are going. (The tourist board can give you a brochure and a map pointing out all the attractions of the area.)
The first stop I made was Orwell Corner. In 1973, on the centenary of Prince Edward Island's becoming a province, each of the island's three counties built a small museum representing one of what had been the main industries (fishing, farming, and shipbuilding) 100 years before. Orwell Corner is the farming museum.
Sunshine filtered through the trees onto the little store, and the scent of mock orange hung in the clear quiet air. Four roads used to meet here. You can still see them, thick dirt paths now going nowhere much. They once made Orwell Corner quite a meeting place for this area of Prince Edward Island.
"It must have been nice to live in those days," said Rita, the young woman who was showing me around. First stop was the general store, with its rows of wide oak shelves going up to the ceiling and filled with shoes, buttons, calico, kegs of flour, kegs of buckshot -- anything that would have been a household item back in 1873. The room behind the store was the post office. A large box had slots with the name of every person who lived in the area.
The barn, out back, was typical of Prince Edward Island barns today: weathered shingle with bright red doors and trim. It contained two enormous mares named Lucky and Babe, the propulsion for the sleigh and buggy rides Orwell Corner will arrange at appropriate times of year (call in advance for these).
We also stopped by the one-room schoolhouse, attended by Rita herself in the days before all the one-room schools were closed down, in 1972.
They also have concerts here on July Wednesday evenings (singers, homemade ice cream, and cider) and hayrides. Specialties this year will be step-dancing, and also concerts on the fiddle and bagpipes.
My next stop was a short one, at the Wood Island light-house, built in 1876. It's a good place for a picnic, as it is surrounded by cows and buttercups and is also (naturally) right on the water. The lighthouse keeper lives downstairs; he will take you up to the top so you can see the light and look at the harbor.
An even better place for a picnic if you have children, or if you want to have a cookout, is Fantasyland, a park on a lake with barbecue pits and wonderful structures for youngsters to play on. For instance, there was a sort of castle of weathered wood, connected to a platform by a kind of "cable car" made from a rope and inner tube. Get picnic supplies in the nearby town of Murray River. By the way, the craft outlet there has excellent homemade jam and pickles for sale, good for gifts.
One of the delightful things about Prince Edward Island is that many of the attractions are one person's pet project. My next stop was the Toy Factory, also in Murray River, where you can buy small, inexpensive, handmade wooden toys. You can also watch them being made. The owner, Alexis Shumate, started making the toys in his basement: "It started out as a hobby but it sort of got out of hand," he recalls. Now he has four assistants, with a shop and adjacent working area, set up in his barn. They used to give tours but found that they weren't getting any toys made. You can walk through, though.
Then I pulled over at a farm that sold earthy-tasting strawberries, a bird sanctuary that featured a flock of important-looking Canada geese, and Poverty Beach, a narrow red crescent edged by shallow red water, getting bluer as it got deeper.
My last stop was Brudenell, a resort that offers golf, canoeing, tennis, horseback riding, horseshoes, and a heated swimming pool. You don't have to stay at the resort to use the facilities. Here I met a New Jersey stockbrocker, his wife, and 10-year-old son and played lawn bowls in the red afternoon light. They adored Brudenell. The resort was populated, but not unduly so; still, make arrangements in advance to stay there, I was told. If I were planning the ideal vacation in Prince Edward Island, I would lodge at Brudenell for a few days and enjoy the activities (about $30 to $37 per person, depending on the accommodations; all the activities cost a small fee), then spend the rest of the week staying on one of the many farms on the island that take in paying guests.
By this time I was ready to head for home, so I hopped onto a road that cut straight across the island. Seven hours of poking had taken me about two hours from the farm near Charlottetown, where I was staying.
Except for the gas, the strawberries, the $1 admission fee at Orwell Corner (nothing for children), and the activities at Brudenell, this trip cost absolutely nothing.