Cape Breton: Baddeck, Louisbourg and Iona

For our last few days in Cape Breton, we stayed in the Chanterelle Inn, near Baddeck. This was the only place we chose to stay which was not in a town or village – it had a beautiful setting and did evening meals, specialising in local food with good veggie options. Breakfast and dinner were eaten on a screened porch surrounded by hummingbirds. We had high expectations and they were fulfilled.

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The scenery, though not as spectacular as parts of the National Park, was beautiful. It wasn’t far to St Ann’s Bay (below) and the Bras d’Or Lake which both sparkled blue in the sunlight.

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We had intended to do a bit more hiking, but didn’t get round to it because we found three fascinating historical sites which took up all our time.

The first of these was Louisbourg Fortress – a recreation of how it was in 1743 built in the 1960s, after meticulous research, on the original foundations in order to provide employment after the closure of many Cape Breton coal mines. As with most of these places, there are costumed workers to tell you about their lives, and there’s also a 2.5km walk around some of the undeveloped ruins which takes you out along beautiful coastline. We spent most of a day there; it was wonderful. Particularly enjoyable was the re-enacted punishment scene where a young man was accused of theft and marched to the stocks, pursued by his sister shouting abuse for bringing disgrace on the family, and a sheep which he was supposed to have stolen. Said sheep caused great amusement by peeing throughout. It was also interesting to read about the Sisters of Notre Dame who had a mission in Louisbourg and founded the first formal school for girls on Cape Breton. This was the community founded by St Marguerite Bourgeoys whose church we visited in Montreal.

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The second site was the Alexander Graham Bell Museum in Baddeck, which is where he made his summer home. I found this fascinating too because although I knew he had invented the telephone, and that it had been an offshoot of his work in teaching deaf people to speak, I didn’t know of his role in developing flight in Canada and in the invention of hydrofoils. I also loved the family photographs, because they were all informal and full of action rather then the stiff portraits you usually associate with late Victorian and early twentieth century photography. There were good views of the water from the museum too, with sailing boats and the obligatory lighthouse.

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We then moved further round the Bras d’Or, including a short ferry ride, to Iona and the Highland Village. This is another costumed affair with a journey through time, starting with a typical black house in Scotland at the time of the Highland Clearances and moving through the different stages of dwelling Scottish settlers might have inhabited in Nova Scotia up until the 1920s. The church was particularly interesting because it had been moved intact, apart from its spire which had been removed in the 1960s, from a village across the lake. One of the guides told us about seeing it floating across in 2003 when he was still at school. The Soay sheep were cute too!

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And that’s more or less the end of the holiday – just one night in Halifax left before the long trek home. As before, check out Pinterest and Photo Journals for more pictures.

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Cape Breton: the National Park

From Mabou, we drove north to join the Cabot Trail (John Cabot landed in North America in 1497, though it’s by no means certain it was in Cape Breton). The trail circles the top end of Cape Breton, including the Cape Breton Highlands National Park (founded 1936), and we joined it at its junction with the Ceilidh Trail. The first thing we noticed was the change in names – we’d passed Inverness and Dunvegan and now we were in Belle Cote with road signs again in English and French. We’d caught up with the Acadians, many of whom eventually settled here after the expulsion that I wrote about earlier in my Wolfville post.

Our base was Maison Fiset, a delightful small inn, in Cheticamp, a rather spread out strip of a town along the shore of the Gulf of St Lawrence just before the national park.

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The town’s focal point was the Church of St Pierre, a dominating presence after so many pretty white churches. There always seemed to be something going on there every time we passed.

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For example, this concert on the steps:

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There was a pretty boardwalk at one end of town and, as luck would have it, two suitable restaurants at the end of it. We could even have eaten on the boardwalk itself at Wabo’s Pizza – had it not been raining the night we were there. At the Harbour Inn, John had a lobster dinner, I was adequately catered for and we listened to an Acadian folk singer, Sylvia LeLievre, who mixed in Lennon and MacCartney, Simon and Garfunkel, and the odd Scottish song when she heard where we were from.

We did the two most popular trails in the park, along with a couple of shorter ones. We intended to do the Skyline Trail on the day we arrived but the weather was being very Scottish and it was shrouded in mist so, as the main point was the magnificent view at the end, we went back the next day and had much better luck. It’s just under 6 miles return trip, but the path is very easy and there’s a well constructed boardwalk at the end. Although you walk along a ridge and end up high over the sea, you start at a high level too so the only climbing is the wooden steps back up from the boardwalk. The views:

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We talked to a ranger at the beginning who had examples of moose antlers, skulls and hoof prints which showed just how enormous these animals are. You can’t judge a moose by the size of his antlers apparently, because they grow them EVERY year, then once the rutting season is over they drop off. In this case, size does matter because the bigger the antlers, the healthier the moose.

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Despite some people just coming off the trail telling us they had seen a moose, by the time we got there it had gone, much to John’s disappointment and my relief.

The other main trail we did was over on the east side on the way out of the park, Middle Head. This goes out along a narrow peninsula at Ingonish dividing two beautiful bays.

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After this, we left the park and continued on the Cabot Trail to our last destination in Cape Breton. More pictures on Pinterest and Photo Journal.

Cape Breton: Mabou and the Ceilidh Trail

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The last week of our trip is on Cape Breton Island – named in 2011 by Travel and Leisure magazine as one of the world’s best islands to visit, although it’s not quite an island because you get on to it by a causeway. It’s a fairly small area, 3981 sq mi and only Canada’s 18th largest island, but with very distinctive regions. We wanted to spend the first couple of days on the Ceilidh Trail for obvious reasons – up the west coast where many Scots settled, and all the signs are in English and Gaelic. So much seemed the same as home – the scenery, the music, the whisky and, for part of the time, the weather.

We stayed in Mabou because it had a good place to eat, drink and listen to music. This is the Red Shoe (above), owned by the Rankin family – award winning Canadian musicians. We ate there both nights, sampled their own beer (of course) and enjoyed the food – good veggie choices I’m happy to say, including possibly the best hummus ever. We were too late for the music the second night, but the first night we listened to Maggie Beaton on the fiddle (only 14 or 15 but a very good player) and a young man, whose name I didn’t catch, on piano.

There are some good trails in the Cape Mabou Highlands created and maintained by the local Trail Club, all volunteers. We bought their map at the post office and set off. Of course, “Highlands” is relative but the route we chose took us over two hills of around 1000 feet so you could say we had done two-thirds of a Munro. It’s very peaceful – in fact the only other people we met were members of the Cape Mabou Trail Club out scouting the trails to check all was well. They do an excellent job. It was a wet day, but the rain was fairly gentle and it was still quite warm so it didn’t affect our enjoyment or the views:

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After our walk, we had time to catch a tour at the Glenora Distillery, home of Glen Breton, Canada’s only single malt whisky. It’s a very pretty place which also has rooms, a bar and a restaurant so, if we ever come back, that might be another good place to stay. There was a sample of the ten-year old on the tour and we had one as a digestif in the pub that night. It’s quite light, both in colouring and in flavour, and slipped down well.

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As always, the Pinterest board has a few more pictures.