Polly's Cove. Photo: Trish Joudrey

Scaling to new heights at Polly’s Cove

A local family finds adventure, exercise, and education on the wild Atlantic coast

By Trish Joudrey

The Peggy’s Cove coastline is renowned for its barren ruggedness and dramatic beauty. 

Spectators flock like gulls to these shores to stand on crests of rocky cliffs and watch waves crash on the rocks, and to photograph the sun setting over the ocean. But for one Halifax family, the weathered boulders and unusual rock formations along the coast hold a special allure.  

When asked to accompany Gordon Francis and Jessica Gilbert and their two children, Mica (five), and Leo (10) on a hike at Polly’s Cove, I expected to have a similar relaxed walk along the rocks as I had done so many times before at Peggy’s Cove, just two kilometres down the road. What I didn’t know was that both children were as nimble as mountain goats, and their idea of hiking at Polly’s Cove was climbing up the rocks, not walking on them.

Knowing little about bouldering before I began the hike, I initially thought the large foam cushion that Gordon had strapped to his back at the car park was to sit on while we ate our snacks.

Are you bringing that with us on the hike?” I asked Gordon, thinking we could easily stuff a small blanket into my backpack instead. 

Yes, it’s the crash pad for the boys.” 

I gulped. Today was going to be more than a walk on the rocks. I was in for a special hiking experience. 

Walking in nature has become a regular weekend activity for the Gilbert-Francis family. Short walks like the Mainland Common Trail, Hemlock Ravine, Belcher’s Marsh or Frog Pond are routine outings on a Saturday afternoon. 

Family hikes open to many teaching moments. Gordon Francis examines tiny pieces of mica identified by son Leo. Photo: Trish Joudry

“But every other weekend, we try to go on a longer trail hike, similar to this one today at Polly’s Cove. We have found 15 waterfalls this year,” says Jessica. “That’s at least 15 hikes in six months.” 

Jessica explains that motivating the children to get outdoors for their family walks is not a challenge. “Walking is just what we do,” she says. “We also limit screen time to an hour a day and the kids aren’t over scheduled in extra curriculars, so there is plenty of time for family adventures.” 

“And of course, there’s always a little treat bribery on the return leg,” adds Gordon with a laugh.

Polly’s Cove was a new hike for the boys. But as soon as the car door was closed, they both ran ahead comfortably, as though they had been there many times before. After a short walk through the low scrub growth, the open rocky shoreline created endless route possibilities.

Granite boulders of various sizes and shapes blanket the area, with low lying bearberry, wintergreen, crowberry, and common juniper filling the spaces between.  

The cracks, fissures and crevices that had formed in the granite boulders when the magma cooled over 300 million years ago, now became the ideal spots for Mica and Leo to place their hands and feet. 

Pointing to a five-metre wall of granite ahead, Jessica explains: “That rock face is the warm-up climb.” Excited to climb, the kids quickly changed into their rock-climbing shoes and with a little white climbing chalk on their hands, Leo and Mica were off clambering up the side while Gordon set the crash pad in place. Jessica got into the action, bouldering up behind the boys. Once on top of the rock, a smile of victory lit up their faces. Feeling a sense of accomplishment, the boys raised their arms to the sky, and out to sea. They were indeed kings of the rocks. 

Various paths crisscross the windswept granite coastline, some heading down to the water while others meander up to rocky ledges. Following unmarked trails or deciding to squeeze through narrow openings between large boulders made the three-kilometre hike a thrilling, fun-filled adventure. 

Gordon, who studied geology in university, stopped at various places to teach the boys a new fact about the rocks.

“Hiking, whether it is bouldering or to find waterfalls, provides a perfect opportunity to discover more about our beautiful planet,” says Gordon, examining a broken piece of granite.

“Look Dad. I’ve found some mica,” shouts Leo. “That’s the same mineral Mica is named after.”

“Yes, you certainly did Leo. Good work! Look how it shines next to the granite,” says Gordon. 

According to Gordon, Polly’s Cove is an ideal spot to take children to look for amethyst, chunks of quartz, pieces of tourmaline, and to identify different algae lining the rocks. “It’s like a treasure hunt,” he says.

After a break for water, sandwiches and cookies, we packed up for one last search on our hike. 

“We are on a hunt now for the amphitheatre,” says Jessica to the boys with a wink. “I’ll let you know when we get there.”

As we rounded the cove, we descended onto a large flatbed of granite tucked between the water’s edge and a 10-metre granite rock face. It’s easy to imagine sitting there beside the rock wall watching plays of old sea stories. 

“We found the amphitheatre,” shouts Leo, running over to a tall cave-like opening between two tall granite boulders he spotted.

Scaling boulders and big leaps sometimes call for soft landings. Gordon Francis straps a foam crash pad on his back before an afternoon of bouldering at Polly’s Cove with children Mica and Leo and Mum, Jessica Gilbert. Photo: Trish Joudry

With Jessica leading, Mica and Leo shimmied between the rocks behind her and disappeared from sight. Only the sound of the lapping surf remained in the amphitheatre. A few minutes later, triumphal shouts on the other side of the rock face rang out.

“We made it through!” Mica yells gleefully.

One last stop for snacks completed the hike. Munching on apples and cookies on top of a rock, the usual chatter was replaced with a quiet scanning of the surrounding beauty and a feeling of accomplishment. 

Polly’s Cove Trail, despite being on a rugged, sometimes blustery coastline, is accessible throughout the year. Even in winter, depending on the weather and snow conditions, bouldering and clambering over rocks are possible with care. 

Polly’s Cove Trail holds magic for every member of the family: photography, tidal pools, algae and minerals, climbing, walking, sketching, or enacting a story in the granite amphitheatre. 

“It can be hard to plan activities that everyone will enjoy,” says Jessica. “But a hike to Polly’s Cove and being in nature is something we can all enjoy as a family.”  

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