Part III – Nova Scotia
June 16 – We left the ferry at New Glasgow, Nova Scotia, and hoteled it for the night.
The next morning we were off to Cape Breton Island, soon finding ourselves on the Ceilidh Trail (Scottish Gaelic). Community names along this route are in both English and Gaelic. It was a beautiful coastal drive on a rainy and cool day—very green with lots of inlets and great views. We stopped at the Glenora Distillery and picked up a sample for a friend.
We reached the famous Cabot Trail in the afternoon. Driving into Cheticamp, we found a large and popular restaurant – La Gabriel. We passed on the daily special “Halibut Cheeks”.
Only three miles further up the road we reached the entrance to Cape Breton Highlands National Park where we found a camp spot.
June 18. We drove back into Cheticamp for ice and coffee at an eclectic little roadside coffeehouse/art gallery.
Driving on up the coast, we stopped for a hike at the Skyline Trail. Why must so many hikes start downhill? It is so easy to hike down, until one has to hike back up. We passed several families, some carrying children on their backs, and were thankful we had only ourselves to push back up the trail.
The coast continued to wow us with its varied topography of hills, valleys, and rivers.
We made a stop in Pleasant Bay for dinner at the Rusty Anchor while listening to a maritime version of country music. That evening we camped at the Intervale campground,
which was small with only a few picnic tables and a pit toilet. No one else was camped there, so we picked a spot and set up, triggering mosquito apocalypse part two. We were unable to sit outside as the hordes covered the screens trying to get at us. A few even managed to crawl between window and screen and get inside.
We were pleased to see that PEI and Nova Scotia are serious about recycling. At each campground, there are multiple bins for compost, glass, cans, plastic, and trash, complete with instructions.
On the way to Meat Cove the next morning, we ran into Bernard, a German tourist who we had seen at several overlooks the previous day.
He insisted we camp at the spot on Meat Cove that he had just vacated, and so we did.
Meat Cove is at the northern tip of Nova Scotia. It is off the Cabot Trail, and the road is partly paved and partly dirt. It was an incredible spot for camping as far as scenic views go. Bonus points for being so windy that no mosquitoes dared venture out.
The winds picked up even more during the night, making it necessary to drop the pop-top around 1:30 in the morning. We reluctantly abandoned plans to stay longer at Meat Cove as the winds were so strong the next morning that it was difficult to stand up and we were getting sandblasted. Sunrise was inspirational, however.
On down the Cabot Trail to Ingonish, which had a decent looking campground in Cape Breton National Park. We passed it by and drove on to Englishtown via the shortest ferry distance we’ve ever traversed.
We found the site of Donelda’s Puffin tours but opted to wait until the next day due to continued high winds.
Instead we made the trip to Louisbourg Fortress, which turned out to be much more impressive than we had anticipated. We got in free at the visitors’ center with our Canada 150 pass and then were bused out to the site. The fortress is a partial reconstruction of an 18th century French fortress. It is a huge site which has been carefully reconstructed and authenticated by the historians and archaeologists hired for the project. The reconstruction began in the 1960s as a way to find work for miners whose jobs had ended with the closing of the mines.
When visiting the site, it feels as though you have been transported back in time to the early 1700s.
The gates and buildings are impressive, and the guides are in period dress. To add to the ambience, it was a damp, cool, and foggy day.
There is a museum inside the King’s Bastion,
which tells the story of the fortress and its reconstruction.
Bread is baked in the brick ovens and can be purchased.
and there is a working forge on site.
After leaving Louisbourg, we opted to stay in a KOA as we wanted a short drive to the Puffin boat tour the next morning. The North Sydney/Cabot Trail KOA was in a scenic area between an inlet and a bluff, was reasonably priced, and had nice clean facilities.
June 21 Solstice. The sun was up a little after 0500. We made it to the Puffin boat a little early and were glad that the winds were calm and the day was sunny. There were only eight of us on a boat that holds forty, which made for easy maneuvering to take photos.
It was nearly impossible to hear the captain’s words over the drone of the engine and with a very inadequate PA system, but she gave it her best. Soon after embarking, the captain tossed a fish up into the air and an eagle swooped down with practiced ease to claim his prize.
The boat took us far out into St. Ann’s Bay to the Bird Islands, where we viewed all kinds of birds – kittiwake, razorbill, cormorant, heron, gulls, the occasional puffin and several grey seals.
We were fortunate to get a few pictures of the puffin as they are small and fly away when the boat approaches.
The tour should really be called the “Bird Island Tour” but I guess “Puffin Tour” draws more people. The captain’s illustrated book was most helpful in identifying the many different types of birds we saw.
In the afternoon we went to the Alexander Graham Bell Museum in Baddeck. It is always interesting to challenge one’s superficial knowledge by diving into the details of a historical figure’s life. Bell was much more than the inventor of the telephone and his varied interests and insatiable curiosity led to all kinds of discoveries.
In 1914 he spoke about the greenhouse effect of particles in the air and later encouraged finding alternatives to oil and gas development. Both his mother and his wife were deaf and he was very involved in helping the deaf.
More information here: https://en.m.wikipedia.org/wiki/Alexander_Graham_Bell
From there we drove to Whycocomagh Provincial Park to find a campsite. It was a large campground on different levels and there weren’t more than a couple of other campers there. We parked on one of the higher levels and had a quiet night.
There was no staff on site that we could see, but the facilities were nice and clean. There were interesting moths on the bathroom doors.
June 22 – We made our way to Halifax, passing through New Glasgow again and then through Truro. We decided to stay in a hotel in Halifax so we could spend a couple of days touring the downtown area. We had dinner at the Stubborn Goat, which was one of the best meals of the entire trip. Steak and veggies were excellent!
The next morning we visited the Maritime Museum and the Citadel in downtown Halifax, and walked along the harbor.
The Maritime Museum had a Titanic exhibit, but another interesting exhibit was of the Halifax Explosion of 1917. A French munitions ship leaving the harbor collided with another vessel entering the harbor and a fire broke out. The munitions ship drifted back into the harbor and exploded, creating the largest pre-nuclear man-made explosion in history. Approximately 1,200 people died and 9,000 others were injured.
More details here: https://en.m.wikipedia.org/wiki/Halifax_Explosion
We drove up to the Citadel, whose fortifications overlook downtown Halifax and the harbor. The first Citadel, built in 1749, was Britain’s answer to the French fortress at Louisbourg and was a key component of the Anglo-French rivalry in the area. The Citadel also played a part in protecting against both American and French forces during the American Revolutionary War. Further iterations of the Citadel were in use during the French Revolutionary War, the War of 1812, and the first World War.
More extensive history available from Wikipedia and other sources.
June 24 – It was foggy, windy and cool as we drove to Peggy’s Cove. We took a few pictures there in the fog and had coffee at a local shop.
We drove on to Lunenberg, a colorful little fishing village,
where we had lunch at Magnolia’s Grill. Maggie tried the Creole Peanut Soup and highly recommends it! Lar had scallops, which were also good.
We enjoyed touring the village and seeing all the colorful architecture.
When we stopped for gas, we met a family who were dressed as different characters from the Wizard of Oz. They do an annual family retreat with a different theme each year. Fun!
We learned some new terms during the trip, including “CFA”, meaning “Comes from Away”. This is a term used in Atlantic Canada and Maine to describe anyone not born locally. You may have lived in a place 30 years, but you are still considered “CFA”.
We drove on to Shelburne in off-and-on rain and found a very nice campsite at The Islands Provincial Park just outside town. We were parked right on the shore with no one nearby. We enjoyed sitting in the bus in the rain with our coffee and watching the tide ebb and flow.
June 25 – We drove back into Shelburne and walked along the harbor. Shelburne still exhibits its “Loyalist” ties, as the community was supportive of the British during the American Revolutionary War, and many British sympathizers moved here after American Independence. There are both British and Canadian flags on display throughout the town, and some businesses sport Loyalist names.
We headed off then to Digby with a plan to catch the ferry over to New Brunswick. We crossed to St. John in about 2-1/4 hours. It was a smooth ride with the usual marginal food and coffee on board. I guess it doesn’t have to be good when you have a captive audience, eh? (We say “eh?” a lot now).