This is the second of three reports of a short visit to Nova Scotia in September 2010, covering Cape Breton Island.
There was a sharp frost overnight which soon melted and it turned into a beautiful day with bright blue skies, lots of sunshine and very warm. We rejoined Highway 105 to St Anns and picked up the CABOT TRAIL there. It was a nice run round the coast with some good views of the shore. This was quite marshy. The water was very still making some good reflections. Assorted settlements were marked on the map but were not obvious as we drove through them.
We did a detour along the gravel Oregon Road through forest with scattered houses to NORTH RIVER PROVINCIAL PARK with the intention of doing the Little Falls Loop. The track through white aspen and maple was rough and muddy. We could hear the river below us but the path suddenly began to drop steeply and became slippery. As this was the ‘easier’ path, we gave up.
Back on the Cabot Trail we drove through woodland and dropped down a valley back to the coast. INDIAN BROOK was geared up for the tourists with nearly every building a craft shop (leather, wool, glass, pewter...). The road ran along the hillside and began the steep climb up to CAPE SMOKEY. There was no sign of the mist cover giving it it’s name. We parked in the Provincial Park car park and walked to a viewpoint with views along the coast. There was a network of paths running through the low stunted vegetation.
The road dropped down to Ingonish Harbour and through more or less continuous development to INGONISH. There was a lot of tourist accommodation and whale watching tours but little else. There were two more long sets of road works which blocked access to Freshwater Lookout Trail.
Beyond Ingonish ice run up the coast with lots of small bars cutting off lagoons. There was little settlement and assorted viewpoints along the road - some better than others. The rocks along this stretch are pink granite so it is very pretty.
We parked at GREEN COVE and did the short boardwalk across pink and grey granite and gneiss showing differential erosion with band of pink minerals. The trees were very stunted and there was lots of leathery leaved bayberry which had a lovely smell when crushed.
We did the scenic detour at Neil’s Harbour, round by White Point and rejoining the Cabot Trail at South Harbour. It was off the tourist beat, as most people stay on the main trail. We enjoyed the drive.
NEIL’S HARBOUR was a delightful small settlement of brightly coloured houses around a small harbour with lots of crab and lobster pots, two churches and a small lighthouse. Scenically it felt very similar to Newfoundland and we liked it. This would be a nice place to drop out. We had lunch in the CHOWDER HOUSE(separate review) looking at the view across the sea.
The road then continued through low deciduous and coniferous forest before dropped down to WHITE POINT, a delightful small settlement with some fishing. There is a rough track across the coastal barrens with good views to the end of the point which then continues round to the deserted settlement of Burnt Head.
We then drove through Smelt brook to SOUTH HARBOUR. We were back in the trees but there were views to the tip of Cape Breton Island, massive mountains with steep slopes and some U shaped valleys. South and North Harbour were cut off by spits and the lagoons were silting up with small islands and marsh vegetation.
We did the short and scenic drive down to DINGWALL, a pretty little settlement which is still fishing and haas a small locally run museum. Wooden wharves were built along the side of North Harbour.
By then it was getting late so it was then onto Cape North. We ate in ANGIE’S KITCHEN which is the only place doing meals. It had a had a reasonable choice of menu - fish, roast dishes, sandwiches, burgers, pizzas. Meals were freshly cooked. It was fish and chips again ($9.95 and $11.95).
We were booked in OAKWOOD MANOR B&B for the night. This is very much at the end of the road but is well signed off the Bay St Lawrence Road. The house has considerable character and we enjoyed our stay here and heartily recommend it (see separate review).
Next day the weather let us down. After a dry start it soon began to rain steadily with low cloud. We began by driving up to Bay St Lawrence - described as “like the Cabot Trail before it was discovered”. This is a very pretty area and with better weather would have been a joy to explore. The road climbed up through substantial mountains which were big and rounded and covered with deciduous trees. BAY ST LAWRENCE was a delightful small settlement round a large landlocked harbour. It was very sheltered as there was a very narrow entrance to the sea. There were a few boats in the harbour but not many pots around.
We then drove to CAPSTICK. This was the end of the tarmac. It was still raining so we decided against driving to Meat Cove. The area had suffered from a big flood earlier in the summer which had taken out the bridge. There is now a bailey bridge over the river and we could see evidence of the flood in various streams. Capstick was a small settlement built on an old raised beach (large flat area at the base of steep mountains) well above the present shore line. There were nice views of the coast.
Back on the Cabot Trail at North Cape, it was a disappointing drive as the cloud had come down and it was raining steadily. We couldn’t see the scenery. In good weather this would have been a good drive - probably better than the east coast.
The road climbed up the North Aspy Valley and up NORTH MOUNTAIN on a ledge cut out of the hillside. There were several scenic laybys on the opposite (south) side of the road although as there was no advance warning we missed many of them. There were massive mountains covered with deciduous trees with flat tops, rounded sides and deep valleys.
We did the LONE SHIELING TRAIL through an area of 350 year old sugar maple forest which has never been cut. It was a pretty little trail. The ground vegetation was very different with lots of maple seedlings, ferns and fungi. The seedlings can grow up through the thick layer of dead leaves and survive in deep shade for decades waiting for the old trees to fall. The Lone Shieling is a reconstruction of a summer shieling from the Isle of Skye. It was built of stone with a grass thatch roof. One end was open to let in light but could be closed with lumps of peat in stormy weather.
The road dropped steeply from North Mountain. PLEASANT BAY was packed with gift shops and whale watching tours. It felt a dump and is a good example of how tourism can destroy what the tourists initially came to see.
It was a dramatic climb up MACKENZIE MOUNTAIN back onto the flat tops of Cape Breton Highlands with conifers and peat bogs. It was raining steadily so there was little point in stopping. We dropped down into French Valley, a steep V shaped valley with a nice view back up from the bottom. The road then ran along the coast well above the sea and back into the trees again.
Petit Etang, Cheticamp, Point Cross and Grand Etang all run into each other. The houses are well spread out and surrounded by beautifully manicured lawns. There were no flowers,fences or walls. There was no real centre to the villages and not as many craft shops or eateries as I’d expected.
There was a secondary plateau further inland running along the bottom of the highlands with houses scattered along it.
Belle Cote was a pretty settlement along the Cabot Trail with a road down to the sheltered harbour.
Across the bridge we took the side turn to MARGAREE HARBOUR, with church and small shop. We parked at the end of the road and walked across the sand dunes onto a lovely sandy beach, protected on one side by huge boulders used to make a breakwater. Two bald eagles were sitting on the end. Across the bay was a farming settlement with house, barn a a few cows. There were low cliffs and rocks and a nice view back to Belle Cote.
We continued on the coast road to Dunvegan. There were good views of the cliffs as far as Whale Cove with small cemetery on the hillside but it was then back into the trees with no views. Dunvegan was a few houses at the road junction. INVERNESS was much bigger with a definite centre with gas, good co-op, a few shops and a small fishing harbour.
We then cut inland to WEST LAKE AINSLIE. It was a fairly narrow road running along the lake which had seen better days and was sinking in places. There were major road works repairing a long stretch of road. There were a few houses off the road and it was a long rough drive off the road down to Tulloch Inn where we were booked in for the night (see separate review).
Pictures of our holiday can be seen here: