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NORTH-WEST CAPE BRETON ISLAND

From Sydney I took Highway 105 westwards towards the next port of call - the Cabot trail around the northern Cape Breton peninsula. I wasn't sorry to be leaving this area. It was very industrial, and the cheap houses, poor neighbourhoods, all that sort of thing, gave it a very depressing air. You could feel the sad atmosphere in the air all around here.


SEAL ISLAND BRIDGE

Cape Breton Island - Seal Island bridge over the Great Bras D'Or Cape Breton Island

Oh good - another bridge. And this is what I call a bridge as well. You have to agree that it's a really impressive structure.

It's called "Seal Island Bridge" and spans the "Great Bras d'Or", that leads from the Cabot Strait down to the "Bras d'Or" Lake itself.

This photograph was taken Boularderie Island (the "Sydney" side)


Cape Breton Island - Seal Island bridge over the Great Bras D'Or Cape Breton Island

This photograph was taken from the foot of Kelly's Mountain on the other side of the Great Bras D'Or, just as the sun was going down.

The bridge itself was built in 1960/1961 and opened to traffic in 1962 as part of the improvements to the road system when Highway 105 was built to provide a link from the Newfoundland Ferry to Port Hastings.


Cape Breton Island - Seal Island bridge over the Great Bras D'Or Cape Breton Island

Leaving the bridge, I started to climb the road up Kelly's Mountain. The road signs proudly announce that within 7 km of the bridge the road climbs 240m. This gives an average gradient of about 3.5%. Of course in places it would be considerably steeper than this.

Halfway up Kelly's Mountain, there's a parking spot with a signpost for a "scenic view" - and I have to say that "scenic" was definitely the word. Here's another magnificent view of the bridge the Cabot Strait.


Cape Breton Island - Great Bras D'Or Cape Breton Island

This view is taken from the same place as the photograph above, and gives a remarkable view up the Great Bras d'Or" to the sea.

The view from up here made me feel a little better, but the light was starting to fade and I had to think about getting somewhere to sleep for the night.

I had the option of two solutions to the "accommodation question". I could drive to Baddeck where there were definitely some motels (someone once told me a rather humourous story about one of them invloving a slaughtered deer - they were never allowed back in that motel again) and a museum to Alexander Graham Bell who lived in Baddeck for a while. Alternatively, there was a "shortcut" to the Cabot Trail via a ferry, with the hope that the question of accommodation would sort itself out.


In my rather rapid seach for accommodation I drove past quite a few things that I would otherwise have stopped and inspected and you might be left with the feeling that I'm selling you rather short on this particular trip.

While there might indeed be some element of truth in this, I did say to myself that I can always come back again and catch up with what I missed. And while it might indeed have taken me all of seven years to make it back, I kept my little promise to myself and you can read more about the Land of Giants .


Cape Breton Island - Englishtown Ferry Cape Breton Island

This is the ferry, operated by the Nova Scotia Department of Transport, that sails from Englishtown across St. Ann's Bay to the Cabot Trail. You can tell that the choice of route hadn't been difficult. It costs $5 to sail across and only takes a couple of minutes, but what the heck - it's a ferry after all and it goes over water. In any case, museums aren't all that interesting, and the Bell museum was probably closed for the season.

As an aside it should be mentioned that Englishtown was the home of "Giant Angus MacAskill", who lived from 1825 to 1863 and was 7'9" tall. Many of his personal effects are exhibited at a museum here, but of course it was closed for the season.


I'd asked one of the employees of the ferry if there was any accommodation that might be open on the Cabot Trail. He didn't know, but asked a couple of the passengers who were sailing. He seemed to be on first-name terms with just about everybody on the boat except me. One of the passengers gave me one or two hints, so I set off northwards in the direction of Wreck Cove.

Not too far north of the ferry was a turning towards the south and the direction of Baddeck. This was the route that I might be having to take if I can't find this bed-and-breakfast. It looked pretty enough in the dusk and so I resolved that it might be a good idea to drive down there one day. But that had to wait for a good few years.

Cape Breton Island - Goodwill House bed and breakfast

I did manage to find the Goodwill House Bed and Breakfast as it happened, and I was well looked-after by the couple who ran the place. There was no restaurant open in the area so in return for helping them solve a computer problem, they made me supper, for which I was extremely grateful. They also made me a nice breakfast and gave me some hints of what there was to see along the road.

So next morning back on the road with a fair chance of seeing a whale, some moose and a black bear, provided that all of the above are not in hibernation.


THE CABOT TRAIL

Smokey Hill was a bit of a disappointment - quite steep and with a light covering of early-morning snow at the top but not the challenge I'd been expecting, after hearing tales of people breaking down in tears at the thought of climbing it. I've driven up roads much worse than this in my time. One problem though was that there was nowhere to pull over and take a photograph unfortunately. Then you could have seen what I meant.

There was however an organised ski slope with a chairlift and the like. This always made travelling much more interesting. Another point of note was that today it was the 1st of December, and the apples are still on the trees here on Cape Breton Island - which is more than can be said for the leaves.


Cape Breton Island - waves on the beach

Having passed Ingonish (and Ingonish Centre, and Ingonish Beach, and Ingonish Ferry), I continued northwards in the direction of Neils Harbour.

This photograph on the left was taken from near MacKinnon's Cove on the aptly named "Pebble Trail". The "beach" along the coast here was all pebbles (I hate walking along pebble beaches) and the sound that the waves were making crashing onto the shore and dragging the pebbles up and back down the beach and into the surf was incredible - you could even hear the sound over the noise of the car and the car radio.


Cape Breton Island - beach and cove near Neils Harbour Cape Breton Island

The weather was good, the sky was clear and there were no clouds - it had all the makings of another good day as I drove north.

I saw a couple of nice coves on this stretch of the road, like the one in the photograph here on the left. Still the same old pebble beach (grrrr!), but a beautiful deep-blue clear sea. You could see the pebbles quite clearly under the water.

In fact, I had been noticing on my journey around the Maritimes that the sea was so clear you could see the colour of the sand or the pebbles on the sea bed at most of the places where I'd stopped.


Cape Breton Island - Cape North mountains

At the township of Cape North, I turned off the Cabot Trail to head northwards along Cape North to the tip of Cape Breton Island and Meat Cove.

There are some impressive views of the northern mountains here off the road from North Harbour to Meat Cove. These mountains are the home of Cape Breton Island moose.

The road took me along the shore of Aspy Bay, one of the many sites claimed to be the first landfall of Giovanni Caboto (John Cabot) when he arrived in North America in the summer of 1497.


MEAT COVE

Cape Breton Island - Capstick, Cape Breton

Arriving at St Margaret Village, I turned to the west to follow the St Lawrence Bay out to Meat Cove. After a couple of miles I came to the village of Capstick. Here, the metalled road gave out and it was a typical Maritime Canada dirt road that took me on to Meat Cove.

This photograph is showing the view looking back across from Meat Cove to Capstick, with the tip of Cape North in the distance.

I've seen many adjectives describing this dirt road, one of which was "hair raising". Maybe it's me being fearless or North Americans being nervous, but this road doesn't rate at all compared to my climb up to the Rollins Pass in 2002, and even that didn't put the wind up me.


Cape Breton Island - the Cove of Meat Cove Cape Breton Island

So I arrived at Meat Cove, with no problems at all. Here, you can see the cove. I have to say, I was impressed with this photograph and I took it!

And not only me, either. If you have a copy of "Now Toronto" for September 2004 handy, you'll recognise one of the photographs in it.

On the subject of descriptions, I'd seen a report that said "If your nerve doesn't fail, you can go all the way to Meat Cove, where without a doubt you will be able to claim you have gone to the top of Nova Scotia!". Well, ill as I was (I was feeling okay at the moment) my nerve hadn't failed and I couldn't (again) see what all the fuss was about.

Meat Cove is, the tail end of the Appalachian chain of mountains, right at the very tip of Cape Breton Island and hence the very tip of Nova Scotia itself.


Cape Breton Island - Bay Saint Lawrence - the alleged landing point of John Cabot on Cape Breton Isle

At Meat Cove, you can't go any further, so it's the case of a "U" turn and retrace your steps back the 12 miles to the Cabot Trail.

Between Capstick and St Margarets Village the brow of a hill presented me with this spectacular view across St Lawrence Bay. Those clouds are starting to look a bit ominous.

St Lawrence Bay is another place that has a claim to be the landing ground of Cabot in 1497. Mind you, apart from "round the corner" at Aspy Bay, claims are also made for Newfoundland, Labrador and Maine, to name just a few.

Arriving back at the township of Cape North, I rejoined the Cabot Trail and headed west for the gulf shore.

Cape Breton Island - North Mountain Cape Breton Isle

The road climbed up into the northern uplands and as I started to reach the summit of North Mountain (a height of 445 metres) the snow started to become evident at the side of the road (the highway having been cleared). There was quite a respectable covering here at the top, so I took the opportunity to stop at the summit and take a photograph, just to prove that it was there.

The road over the mountain here was the last section of the Cabot Trail to be built, not being completed until 1932. And it was certainly nothing like this, being "narrow, crooked, and having a 17 gradient" and needed reworking in 1936. It was reconstructed in 1951/52 (it was at this time that they fitted guard rails for the first time) but wasn't metalled until 1961.


Cape Breton Island - Pleasant Bay Cape Breton Isle

A few miles further on, I came to the town of Pleasant Bay. This was the first place that could be called a town since leaving Ingonish. Until work was started on the Cabot Trail in the 20s, the most reliable means of access was by sea. Shipwrecks were legion and even as late as the beginning of the 20th Century the locals would refer to "the year of flour" or the "year of rum", depending upon whatever was the cargo that had been washed ashore from a floundering ship.

The sea still brings some finance into the area, as the town is now the home of "whale-watching tours" and there is a "Whale Interpretation Centre" here that attracts tourists.

It's said that from up here you can see the Iles de la Madeleine, 70-odd miles away to the west in the Bay of St. Lawrence, but what with the weather the way it was, there was no chance at all of seeing it today.


There was something else that I noticed here. When there is a sign for, say Fisher Cove, it's translated into the French (at least the "Cove" bit is - "L'Anse Fisher") but names like "Grande Falaise" which are obviously French ("Great Cliff"), are not translated into the English. Even the translation into French of Nova Scotia Nouvelle Ecosse is absurd as Nova Scotia isn't English, it's Latin. Normally, I'm all for protecting the rights of minority groups, but it's this kind of pedantry that gves bilingualism (or local minority groups) a bad name in my opinion.


You could see the clouds in the photograph of Pleasant Bay, compared to the sky of about an hour ago at Meat Cove. Suddenly the weather broke and I was being lashed by sheets of torrential, freezing rain that made it really unpleasant every time I set foot out of the car. That's the main reason why I stopped taking photographs from here onwards. I'm sure I'd never experienced weather quite like this before.

This was a real pity as some of the places, such as Presqu'ile and Cheticamp, were really nice places to visit and in good weather could be really nice. It was disappointing not to be able to get out and visit them. There's a ferry service between Cheticamp and the Iles de la Madeleine, but it only operates in the summer. Now, isn't all of the above a good reason for coming back later in the year? But be warned if you do. Accommodation is ... er ... shall we say, limited along the Cabot Trail. I couldn't find much and it was well out of season. I thoroughly recommend that if you do come round here when the weather warms up, bring a tent and a sleeping bag.

Cape Breton Island - Vestas wind turbine Cape Breton Isle

There was a wind turbine - a Vestas to be precise - situated by the roadside at Grand Etang to the south of Cheticamp. This was the first - in fact the only - one I'd seen on my whole journey, which was really a surprise considering the amount of wind that blows around the coast of eastern Canada.

Despite the driving rain I managed to take a photograph of it, but I wasn't going to get so wet for anything else as I did for this wind turbine.

One thing I really had wanted to do was to explore a track that ran from near Inverness out along the top of the cliffs, but that wasn't such a clever idea in this sort of weather in a hired car. I'd leave that for another day.


CABOT TRAIL - ANTICLIMAX

All in all the Cabot Trail was a bit of a disappointment. Here I was, having been seduced by an old guide book from the 1970s that I'd once read, promising me "magnificent, awesome, rugged, scenic" views and "hugging the right hand side of the road and only daring to peep now and then at the chasm on the left". Here I was having deliberately driven the "wrong way" round the trail so I can be right at the side of the "chasm on the left" yet I'd not even noticed it. Beautiful as it undoubtedly was, "magnificent, awesome, rugged, scenic" would not necessarily be the adjectives I'd choose to describe the views.

In fact for me the most picturesque part of the drive was at Meat Cove which despite being only a figurative stone's throw from the alleged landing point of Cabot, isn't on the trail (and neither is Cabot's alleged landing point either, incidentally).

I didn't see any of the whales, moose and black bear I as told so much about, but on one occasion near Meat Cove a black or dark brown animal not unlike a domestic cat slunk across the track in front of me. There was also a peasant (or was it a phartridge) along there too.


So from here, where next? A nice drive down the western coast through the storm, alongside the old Inverness Railway (Inverness was formerly a big coal mining centre) to the motels of Port Hastings where I'd planned to stay the night. When I arrived, it was still daylight (such as it was with in this storm) - too early to call it a day. I was moving on.



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