Thursday, July 29, 2010

Cape Breton - Baddeck

From Cape North we drove down the east side of the north end of the west half of Cape Breton...headed for Baddeck (Bah-deck) to check out Bras d'Or Lake (Bra-doo-r) and attend another ceilidh (kay-lee). (End of pronunciation lesson) Along the way we drove down our steepest descent yet, and using all my best slow-down techniques we still arrived at the bottom with very hot trailer brakes. I'll be investing in an engine exhaust brake for Gigantor for sure. After a couple of hours of driving the cape's amazingly poor roads, we arrived at the Baddeck Cabot Trail Campground. We found it very crowded, with only three spots available that we might fit in, and only one of those really worked, so we took it. It was narrow and short, but at least it was off camber... We didn't get too settled in, as we decided to do only two nights. An on-site restaurant tempted us away from a grocery run, so we had a nice dinner of fish & chips and fried Digby scallops.

The next day we drove around Bras d'Or lake, a huge saltwater lake, multi-lobed and 70-some miles long, which divides Cape Breton into two. It has an enormous population of bald eagles, of which we saw several. In many places the ground is very white, like some mineral or salt is rich within it. Here's a view of the lake with some of this white earth visible, and also a miniature church and graveyard someone built:

We attended a ceiledh that evening. It was different from the one in Mabou in that there was only two performers, but they were good, and also the hostess got a group of guests out onto the floor and taught them Cape Breton style dancing, which was fun:

And here's a little fellow who sat in the tree outside our door for a while, gnawing upon a nut and scolding anything that wasn't a red squirrel:

So, thus ends our Cape Breton experience. Overall, a lovely place - you should visit. We've left the island as of this writing, and will be moving back across Nova Scotia, back up into New Brunswick, and heading for the Saint Lawrence seaway and Quebec.

Saturday, July 24, 2010

Cape Breton - Cape North

The drive from Port Hood to South Harbour took us up the west coast of Cape Breton island, through towns with Scottish names like Inverness, Dunvegan & Margaree. After crossing the salmon-rich Margaree river things went all French on us, and the towns were named Belle Cote, Terre Noire, Cap Le Moine and Cheticamp. At the latter we entered the national park, where the road surface improved notably, but it commenced to cut into the steep edges of the plateau, climbing 1500' before leveling off in the highlands. What goes up must necessarily come down, and its the down bit that had me worried. The descent was a 13% grade, so we dropped back down to sea level on a series of switchbacks only a little over 2 miles long. I learned my lesson in the Smokies, however, and with Gigantor in low gear, braking only to keep the speed under 25mph, we got down with no brake issues. Halfway down Nancy pointed out a beautiful black bull moose near the roadside, which was exciting. We had to climb back up and over another mountain, a 13% grade up, the engine roaring, the wheel turning nearly lock to lock on the tight turns, and a 13% down once more. It was good to arrive at the campground, knowing I was done with that for a few days.

The Hideaway Campground and Oyster Market has some of the largest and nicest sites of any private facility we've seen so far. Although our site is near the office and bathrooms, we don't look out our windows into other campers, so its what we like.

We took a drive out to Meat Cove - couldn't resist visiting such an oddly named village, named back when passing ships would complain about the stench of moose that were slaughtered here. The last 8km of the road is dirt, and hugged the steeply sloped mountainside, arriving at last at the remote cove. There is a small group of houses, a couple of restaurants, and a campground. The campground is terraced such that all sites look out over Saint Lawrence Bay. The lowest tier, all tent sites, are just feet from a sheer drop into the water!

We had a nice walk on a narrow, serpentine boardwalk down to the beach, where folks have stacked the smooth, flat stones into tall towers.

The next day we drove out for a hike at White Point. We stopped at this gorgeous overlook along the way. Notice the color of the water, and the peninsula in the background is where we hiked.

The hike was spectacular - one of my all time favorite hikes. The scenery was awesome from start to finish, the landscape was unlike most of the coastal regions we've seen, very much like Scotland. There was a large community of gulls at the land's end, gannets diving into baitfish in the bay, grey seals feeding on the same, and bald eagles soaring heavily by or perched in the scrub pines, screeching their high, nasaly, wheezing calls:

One the way back to camp we stopped in Neil's Harbour, where snow crab traps were stacked up post-seaon. There have been a lot of stinging jellyfish in Nova Scotia, and here I got a good photo of one of the nasty creatures:

That night I made an appetizer out of a half-dozen of the Aspy Bay Oysters that our hosts catch in the warm bay waters:

In the evening, a trip down to the road's end brought us to a sand beach maybe 2 miles long, all of Aspy Bay from Money Point to White Point spread out before us, the cliffs glowing in the late day sun:

The dogs love running on the beach, and as we had it to ourselves, they could do so. The seaweed line at the high water mark was littered with dead and dying jellyfish - hundreds of them. I can only imagine how many must be floating in the bay. No swimming for me,thanks!

The next morning we drove up onto the plateau, much easier without the trailer, and took a hike into a boggy area where we hoped to see moose. There were tracks and scat everywhere, but the beasts eluded us. The deerflies took a liking to Nancy, so we wrapped her head in my spare shirt to keep her sane:

Look at the size of that moose print!:

Yesterday Toby and I went on a more strenuous hike, climbing up to the highlands on a rocky trail. We spotted a moose nearly right away, but it lumbered off before I could get a photo. Higher up, however, the strong headwinds prevented this guy from detecting us, and we came practically face to face:

I spotted the coyote first, being considerably taller than Toby, and I got him on leash, and got out the camera. I watched as it sniffed its way along the trail towards us. Finally Toby caught a whiff, and barked. The coyoted raised its head and stared at us, unmoving. After a few moments I decided to move so that it would recognize me as the threat that I clearly am, and it turned tail and bolted. Toby was very proud of himself, thinking that he'd chased it off himself! Here he is at the top, enjoying the panoramic views, and bracing against the 50mph winds:

Back at camp, we made our dinner from this brace of local snow crab legs - very meaty, and with a wonderful flavor and texture. I made four large crab rolls from these legs.

So, a great visit to the north of Cape Breton. We'll make one more stop on the island before leaving Nova Scotia - hope to catch another Ceiligh in Baddeck.

Monday, July 19, 2010

Cape Breton - Port Hood

We made our drive up from Pictou, had a great look at a lone coyote crossing the highway in front of us, and crossed the causeway onto Cape Breton Island. From there we wound up the west coast of the island to Port Hood, and settled into a space in the open beachside campground of Sunset Sands. We look across a mile or so of the Northumberland Strait to Port Hood Island, and in just seconds can walk onto a beautiful sand crescent beach. We continue to be amazed by the gorgeous sand beaches and the amazingly warm waters of this part of Nova Scotia! Unlike Pictou, there are very few stinging jellyfish, so swimming is awesome.

Great sunsets, too:

A looming thunderhead foretold a violent thunderstorm which swept though in the afternoon. As we huddled in the sanctity of our snug little home, wincing at the crashing thunder and comforting terrified and shaking Toby, we watched our neighbor’s trailer’s awning ripped apart and thrown up onto his roof by the gale. After the storm passed, I joined the unfortunate couple in retrieving and untangling the contraption. Apart from one of its hinge points being mostly torn from the trailer, the pieces were able to go back together, and we were able to get it rolled up in its home position.

So, its been a very beachy several days, with warm wind and clear skies. We walk the beach, swim in the ocean, kayak the clear waters and look down at a myriad of seaweeds waving in the current, crabs, fishes, sand dollars, and starfish. A local market provided us with lobster for another dinner of sumptuous lobster rolls, and some of the best atlantic salmon we’ve ever had, cooked over a smoky wood fire. Wow, this doesn’t suck at all!

We attended a ceiligh (kay-lee) in the nearby town of Mabou. This is a celtic social gathering, primarily focused on Cape Breton style music. It was really great: there was a constant rotation of musicians: fiddle, guitar and piano, plus a couple of step dancers. The music ranged from hauntingly beautiful to can’t-stop-from-foot-tapping. Particulary amusing was how unlikely looking the characters were who emerged from the crowded community hall seating to play their instruments or stamp their feet – overweight middle aged women, gawky teenaged boys, stiff elderly men, but this made for more of a gift of their music.

The hills of Mabou:

And we went back to Mabou to a little pub called the Red Shoe, where they have live music every night, and good pub fare. The musicians were young but skilled, and the young woman fiddler bore a strong resemblance to my childhood violin teacher!

So, a great start to our Cape Breton experience. Next, we brave the serpentine Cabot Trail as we drive to a campground near the northern end of the island. It'll be a great spot, if we make it...

Sunday, July 18, 2010


It rained heavily at Whale Cove, so the pack up was moist, to say the least. It eased off in time for us to pull away, but I knew we'd catch up with the weather on the road. We drove for a few hours before running out of ambition and getting low on fuel, so we found a campground in a town called Grand Pre. I was leery at first, as the name of the camp was Land of Evangaline Campground, but it was historically named, not religiously, so it was OK. We were assigned a tight spot near the office because the more remote sites were too waterlogged, but it was fine as we only planned to overnight. The rains eventually stopped, and it became a beautiful evening and sunset. The next morning the tide was out...WA-A-A-A-Y out, so we went out onto the seemingly limitless sand/mud flats and walked until it became to squishy and tacky. It was messy, but a lot of fun. The flats must have reached out over a mile before reaching the brine:

Near camp we camp across this eagle perched atop a telephone pole:

A crabby campground host made it easy to leave, however, and we headed once more in the dirction of Cape Breton, but didn't make it on this drive either. We decided to stop in the town of Pictou, on the north shore of Nova Scotia, to break up the drive, and also because it was slim pickin's for campsites on Cape Breton for a Friday arrival. A Sunday arrival generally gives us our choice of the best spots, so we held over in Pictou through the weekend, which worked out well. In complete contrast to our last camp, the host at Harbour Light Campground gave us our friendliest welcome to date, even giving us ice cream to tame the heat as we walked around to choose our site.

Camp was on a tidal river, and a short path took us down to a beautiful sand beach with warm waters, but unfortunately a booming population of stinging jellyfish. The dogs loved wading and swimming, and also running free on the beach when there was no-one else about:

Pictou was a pleasant little town, boasting a replica of the ship that the Scottish immigrants first arrived in:

Nearby was a nice network of mountain biking trails - the best riding I've had since Freeport, Maine. I went there two mornings and really enjoyed the sweet single-track riding I crave:

And, there was a nice little 9 hole golf course on the water, on which Nancy and I took the opportunity to prove to ourselves, once again, how horrible we are at golf! Our scores would be great if we had been bowling! It was very hot, but the strong wind was a blessing in the open of the golf course, and we also saw a mature bald eagle soaring over the water.

So, it was a good experience at Pictou, and we may pass this way again on our way back from Cape Breton, which is where I am now as I write. But, more on that later...

Tuesday, July 13, 2010


We packed up The Whale and drove out to the end of Digby neck to Whale Cove Campground, so that we would be close to whale watching, and it was all good:

The campground is small and many of the sites are nothing special, but we got a gem, up above the others, looking out over Saint Mary's Bay, and with a very private yard. It's our favorite, or second favorite campsite so far, depending on whether we count the electric and water hookups, which the Hatteras campground did not have.

The firepits are so clever: each is bolted to the chassis of a push lawnmower! It's great, as it can be easily moved where-ever you want. Usually campgrounds specifically request that fire-rings are never moved, so it's nice to be able to account for camp layout or wind direction.

We took a nice walk down to Whale Cove, and on the way came across this little guy on the road:

It's been very foggy here: dense banks of fog have been always been drifting around, usually creeping inland at night, like the one I am watching as I write this, and then receding out to sea during the day. We took the ferry from Digby Neck to Long Island, 1/4 mile across Petit Passage, and the fog was so dense you felt as if you were lost at sea. Along the island we stopped to take a walk down to the shore where this standing stone is a popular attraction:

Then we continued, took another ferry over to Brier Island, where we drove out to this lighthouse, walked the shoreline, and saw the only known location where seagulls nest in trees.

and saw this awesome halo in the fog:

Then, today, we went for a whale watching cruise. We piled onto a 42 foot lobster boat with 29 others and headed out into the Bay of Fundy. Along the way we saw schools of harbor porpoise, and many seabirds like Gannets, Storm Petrels and Shearwaters. Then, we saw the spouts of humpback whales, and the captain maneuvered alongside a mother and her calf. For at least 1/2 hour we idled along next to the massive pair. The calf came up for air two or three times as often as it's mother, who was enormous. The water was clear enough that you could see the white flippers as turquoise auras under the surface. A few times the whales came up quite close, maybe twenty feet away, which was a thrill:

Mother and calf:

Later they started diving deeper and longer, which gave us the opportunity to see their flukes:

It was great to see these magnificent beasts. On the ride back to camp I picked up a lobster, and made lobster rolls for dinner - saute'd the meat in butter, tossed with a little mayo and black pepper, and spooned into buttered, toasted hot dog rolls. Washed down with fresh mojitos for an awesome finish to a great day!

Saturday, July 10, 2010

Digby, Nova Scotia

We moved west across Nova Scotia to a little town called Annapolis Royal and backed in amongst a pod of monster motorhomes, which created a little courtyard of sorts. We payed for a week's stay, as last week Nancy had to work full time covering phones and scheduling for her company, so moving mid-week would have been disruptive.

Not far from camp we found a park at Delaps Cove with a nice loop trail down to the Bay and back. We left Kinsey to sleep and took Toby with us on the walk (she is very slow and tires quickly nowadays). The coastline on this side of the Bay of Fundy is very different: not red sandstone like on the New Brunswick side, but chunky granite ledge, and boulder beaches, more like Maine:

The town of Annapolis Royal is really nice - small, but with shops and restaurants that appeal to locals and toursists alike, a good hardware store, decent grocery, twice-weekly farmer's/artists' market, a german bakery, historical garden, and hiking/biking trails. Took my bike or kayak out every day while Nancy worked. Biked in the morning before the heat became unbearable; kayaked in the afternoon to find relief. Nancy, trapped inside the Whale, was thankful for the air conditioner.

I came across this floral scene out on the trail:

And, at low tide, observed these fishing boats tied to the quay:

Friday night, the work week finally over, we went into Digby, where a large fleet of scallop fishing boats resides. We strolled the town, checked out the wharf, and then settled down for cocktails and a dinner of Digby scallops, which are served saute'd in garlic and butter. They were firmer and more flavorful than most scallops we've had before - very good!

Saturday the rains came, but we wanted to visit the Historical Garden in town. We tried to time our visit between showers, but to no avail. It was nice anyway, and the rose garden was in full bloom:

Annapolis Royal also has north america's only Tide powered hydro-electric plant. An existing dyke had been built ages ago to control tide level in the river. The plant operates by opening gates to allow the incoming tide to flow up river. The gates close to trap the water while the tide goes out. When the level outside the gate has dropped by 1.6 meters, another gate is opened to allow the trapped river water to escape through a turbine. As a result, twice daily there is a massive inrush of water, creating a boiling froth visible from camp, and a similar white water expulsion downstream as they generate electricity. Pretty cool.

Today we've got a relatively short drive - heading out onto the Digby Peninsula to be close to the port towns where the whale-watching boats hail from. We want to take a cruise, but also want to minimize the number of hours the dogs get left alone in the rig. Had we done that from here, we might have been gone nine hours or more. This way we can be gone no more than six hours. Hopefully my next post will feature lots of pictures of whales. Stay tuned...