09 August – We continued on the PEI Eastern Coastal Route in pretty murky weather, stopping at a couple of farmers’ markets – these markets are usually very small and we have yet to find one that has a good stock of farm products – lucky if we can find two tables selling produce – but did manage to pick up some cheese, bread and fresh beans. Meandered on until we reached Murray Harbour and found a little dead end road finishing at the beach with a small parking spot just right for Wanda.
10 August – Left our beach-front park and headed towards the settlement of Wood Island to get into line for the ferry across to Nova Scotia. One ferry was just leaving as we arrived, but we only had a wait of just over an hour for the next sailing and even without a booking we had no trouble getting a space. The short 75 minute ride with calm sea quickly had us in Caribou, Nova Scotia giving us plenty of time to get started on the Northumberland Shore Coastal scenic drive. The roads haven’t improved with a change of province, so we continued to bump along through New Glasgow and along the coastal road to Merigomish, stopping off later at Arisaig at a small provincial park. Took the walk down to the beach where we had a fossil hunt in the stone layers on the cliff. Managed to find just a young 400 million year old brachypod (tiny scallop like shell) but didn’t discover any dinosaur fossils. Carried on up to Cape George before coming down alongside St Georges Bay until we came to a suitable little harbour with restaurant to stay for the night, after Lakevale. The weather turned to custard as the night progressed and we had a lot of rain and wind overnight, with waves crashing over the sea wall.
11 August – Decided that Wanda was coming up for her next service so decided to head for Antigonish and managed to get an appointment with the Ford agent for later in the afternoon. Filled the time waiting by time-out at Walmart carpark, using the internet connection to update emails, banking and news. The service was duly performed with no issues being found and although a bit dearer than USA it still seemed quite reasonable at around C$60 including consumables. On our way finally around 5pm so didn’t travel far out of Antignosh and ended up not far from the causeway to Cape Breton Island in a pull off near a railway line.
12 August – Just one visit from the trains overnight – there were a whole lot of oil wagons parked near us and they got collected around midnight, but after that all was quiet. Crossed over the causeway to Cape Breton Island to continue with the scenic(?) route – lots of trees and not much else. At St Peters we stopped off to have a look at the historic canal and locks which were originally built in the 1860’s. Later extended, they are still in operation today and link the Bras d’Or Lake with the Atlantic, although today it is mostly pleasure craft which use the locks. They have around 1,000 boats through each year and there is no fee for using them. Parks Canada manages the area as it is listed as a National Historic Monument. Had our lunch overlooking the locks before continuing towards Sydney and oh what bliss, a smooth road for at least 40km in one single stretch.
Didn’t stop off at Sydney as we will come back that way in a day or two, but headed east towards Louisbourg where there is a National Historic Site – being quite large it will need a full day to look around so scouted for a suitable parking spot – fantastic place at Main-a-Dieu (it is well named in the French, translating as ‘Hand of God’) overlooking the small fishing harbour. Chatted with a couple of locals who didn’t see any problem with us staying overnight. Our nice camera decided to stop working so I tried the Walmart hotline for making a claim – spent the best part of 15 minutes going through all the automated answers before they connect you with a real person, only to be told they were experiencing technical difficulties and call back later – grrrr! Will try our luck at an actual store instead, but at least we do have some backup in a phone and an el cheapo camera for just this eventuality.
13 August – Camera obviously didn’t like being talked about because it works OK today. We only had a short drive to get to the Louisbourg Historic Site and we actually arrived before the opening time. What an amazing site – the fort area is out on a spit and you take a short shuttle bus to get to the site. This was a working fort in the 1740’s, first French and then British and what Parks Canada has done is recreate over 25% of the buildings to the original specifications for the 1744 period, just before it was besieged by the New England and naval troops and had to surrender. They have been done to an incredibly high standard and the site was such that we spent right up until closing time at 5pm working our way through it. The buildings were all staffed with volunteers in period costume and were fully conversant with all the details surrounding the inhabitants in each of the dwellings. As well as this, there were cannon firings, military musical displays, fairy tale sessions and street-side re-enactments; food served in the café was also period fare. With no huge crowds it was great to be able to wander around and take everything in., with explanations when needed from knowledgeable guides.
With the day taken care of, we headed off back towards Main-a-Dieu and found another bay not too far from the previous night’s stay, parking on a bit of land overlooking the water.
14 August – Followed around the coast to Glace Bay and the site where Marconi made the first wireless transmission across the Atlantic to Poldhu in Cornwall. There was a small museum taking you through the timeline of his experimenting and final success and a few bits of equipment that were used along with photo’s and a short video. Next stop was Sydney and a search for a waste water dump which proved fruitless so carried on the next leg of the journey around the coast to Baddeck, including a little trip on a small car ferry at Whycocomagh, where we decided that a campground would have to be the venue of choice for the evening, so that we could dump and refill our water before setting off around the top of the Cape Breton Island and the Cabot Trail with no such facilities.
15 August – Into Baddeck this morning to have a look at the Alexander Graham Bell museum. Interesting information detailing his life and times, all his inventions and his work with the deaf and helping them to speak. He no sooner had invented the phone, then he was off designing planes and hydrofoil boats. It seems that he was always working on something new, had a brilliant, enquiring mind and was always keen to share his knowledge and encourage others. The museum with a replica of the first plane to fly in Canada, the Silver Dart, as well as the remains and a reconstruction of his record breaking hydroplane powered by two Liberty aeroplane engines took up a few hours and then we were off to start out on the Cabot Trail.
We got lulled into a false sense of security as the road started off so nice, but only too soon we were back into the land of bumps and humps. The road picked up after a fashion and then we had a steep climb up to Cape Smokey. Stopped at the top while a front came through with fog and strong winds – on a clear day we would have had a nice view. Down the other side of the hill and just before Ingonish Beach we found a small unused wharf area so pulled up there and decided that it would be a nice place for the night.
16 August – The wind and rain pommelled Wanda through to the early hours of the morning and in the morning we awoke to a lovely calm harbour. Not far along the road enters the National Park and there we took the first of several nice walks for the day. This was just a sort but steep climb up to a lookout over a freshwater lake and out to the sea beyond. A little further up the road, we did the Freshwater Lake walk and then out over the natural boulder-bank causeway that created the lake. The oceanside had a nice beach, with the first decent size Atlantic waves we have seen. The Cabot Trail then continued to follow the coastline, with us doing another walk which first went into the pine forest then came out on to the coast. Very rocky coastline – easy to see why so many ships came to grief around here and why they built so many lighthouses. The rocks are quite pink and had some very unusual streaking running through them – the explanation was that the original rock had cracked from underground pressure, then hot volcanic lava flowed into the cracks and solidified. The effect was quite artistic.
After a spot of lunch we had a steep climb as the road wound up and down the other side of a small mountain – 13% grade is quite a hike – first gear on the downward leg and it still struggled to hold Wanda back. At the bottom of the hill, there were another couple of walks – one through to a replica of a Scottish crofter’s summer stone shelter in a 350 year old sugar maple forest, the other following a small brook through forest up to a waterfall. The forest wasn’t too thick and allowed the sun to filter through the canopy leaving a dappled light on the ground.
The road went out of the park for a short while, so we took this as an opportunity to try and find somewhere to stop. On the side of the road about 30ft above the sea, found a pull off with room enough for us, so decided that it would be a good spot from which to watch the sunset and stay put for the night. There was only a small settlement a couple of miles up the road, but a steady stream of traffic seemed to be going somewhere!
17 August – Last day in the Cape Breton Highlands Park today – after a bit of rain overnight the morning was nice and fine. A short board-walk through another bog area and the closest we will ever get to a moose – you could see where it had laid down for a rest beside the board-walk! The bogs have an interesting array of plants – bladderworts, orchids and pitcher plants which are quite common although they are not like their tropical counterparts – these are only a couple of inches tall and the pitcher itself forms at the base of a strange looking prominent reddish-brown flower.
Further down the road and over another steep hill, we stopped off to do a walk which followed an old horse-cart trail down to ruins of early French Acadian settlers houses. Only five families but between them they had 50 children with none having less than nine in those isolated and primitive conditions – what good Catholics they must have been.
Passed through Cheticamp which had a handful of very colourful houses and shops lining both sides of the street before finally leaving the park and continuing through coastal and forested roads to arrive at Little Judique – a tiny fishing boat harbour with loads of neat parking for Wanda. Chatted with a group of locals who were heading out for an evening of mackerel fishing with their kids and they promised us some fish on their return. Around 9pm they turned up as promised, with a whole lot of freshly caught and filleted fish for us. They had had such a great time and the kids were pulling them in four at a time. Was asked to bring out a bowl which was promptly filled to the brim – so now we have some fish in the freezer as well as for dinner this evening.
18 August – With the threat of our propane running out we had to move on from this friendly, peaceful spot and head on down the coast to Port Hawkesbury to get it filled up and now will be OK for another couple of weeks. Because our fridge/freezer only runs on AC or propane, we really don’t want to run out. Propane for RV’s around Cape Breton was non-existent; caravans are okay as they use bottles which are readily available.
Crossed back over the Canso causeway to mainland Nova Scotia and commenced the Marine Scenic Drive through a variety of settlements – most noticeable is that they are not nearly as prosperous as their counterparts around the Cape. Stopped off at Guysborough – the guidebook touted it as having a really neat lot of gaily painted old houses along the waterfront – poetic licence again! We had it done and dusted in 5 minutes flat.
Right out to the eastern tip at Canso for a mull over their historic site – a small island settlement formerly big on fishing which was razed by the French in the 1740’s. There were a few artefacts, some dioramas, tableaux and a short video. There was too much modern settlement to contemplate staying at the port area, so returned back the way we came and took another little side road down to Little Dover and at the very end found a spot in a turnaround with a view of the inlet. Thunderstorms forecast earlier came to fruition with the growling starting just as we got settled. Mackerel for dinner!