I’ve been writing and re-writing this personal account of our time spent on Cape Breton Island and have come to a simple conclusion: there are no words to accurately convey the magnificence of this landscape.
After spending three harrowing days at scorching White Rocks, drowning our moods in Tatamagouche taco heaven, and successfully having our ears talked clean off by a prospector in Cape Jack, we crossed the Canso Causeway.
We wove through oddly-placed mountains visiting the Glenora Inn & Distillery and The Rankin Sisters’ Red Shoe Pub, waiting for the landscape to become flatter and moor-like… these are the highlands after all…??
You can look through as many pictures as will dizzy you, read every article and every Lonely Planet tome, but nothing will quite properly ready your expectations of the Cabot Trail. It’s nothing like you think it will be. Imagine our surprise when we crested our first strangely steep hill only to meet sheer towering rock rising straight up out of the sea, daintily supporting at their peaks an impossibly winding highway straight out of a Dr. Seuss tale. One puzzles at how the way was paved.
Precariously perched above the ocean along the mountainside, we climbed and dove and wound our way to Chéticamp and the northwest gate into Cape Breton Highlands National Park. Overflowing campsites sent us north to Pleasant Bay just outside of the park boundary where we could spend the night by the ocean - free of charge - and plan our Highlands adventure. We woke up to beautiful clear waters, sweeping sand dunes, a rock beach that sang when the waves would comb through them, and probably the best neighbours we will ever have. We spent three days parked at Pleasant Bay Harbour in absolute bliss. Rolling thunderstorms lulled us to sleep, we bathed in the warmest salt water we had found to date, and the hours were joyfully wiled away getting to know our new German friends in their giant Fuso over-landing rig.
We eventually found the strength to pull ourselves back to reality and back into the park for three memorable hikes: The Skyline Trail where we saw pilot whales frolicking from atop the massive headlands, The MacIntosh Trail with its inviting waterfall pools, and finally, steep, rewarding Franey Mountain. A day-trip to Meat Cove ended in back-tracking to a cliff at Black Point with a riff-raff crew of campers-turn-besties with whom we shared campfire, stories, food, and a view of the Milky Way that I will never forget as long as I live.
After some housekeeping, swimming, and boon docking in Ingonish, we made our way around sprawling Bras D’or Lake and into the south arm of Cape Breton. We spent a night camped by Louisbourg Lighthouse and enjoyed a slow misty morning by the heaving oceanside with hot coffee, cozy sweaters, and grey rabbits grazing on clover around the van. We spent the rest of the day exploring the absolutely massive French-Built and British-Overtaken Fortress which once sprawled across the peninsula, blanketing the harbour landscape with every class of 18th century architecture - from the humblest of earth-roofed fisherman’s cottages to the most grand of upperclassman’s manors - adorned with fine antique or replicated furnishings, and each restored with precision and care.
Our whirlwind Cape Breton adventure came to a close in North Sydney where we tidied Nanook, bought our tickets to Port-Aux-Basques, took our last main-land YMCA shower, and slept lightly in the Walmart parking lot - anxious for our six-hour ocean crossing to mysterious, forbidding Newfoundland.
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