Cape Breton Island, Canada
September 26, 2009
We spent the night near Baddeck, Nova Scotia and upon entering the little town just to re-provision we were immediately charmed. It had the feel of our own little town of LaConner, and our first stop at the visitor center resulted in a fabulous restaurant recommendation. We walked in the door of the restaurant and were faced with a bakery display and a menu of home made soups, salads and sandwiches. Starved for vegetables, hard to find fresh in Newfoundland except for potatoes, turnips and carrots, we opted for a vegetable soup and split a vegetarian sandwich, both were simply divine. Of course we had to sample something from the bakery too, just to be polite, also scrumptious. The Highwheeler Café, Deli and Bakery, great lunch spot! The restaurant is seasonal and so popular that just before winter closure they actually take orders from the locals so they can stock their freezers to help get them through the long winter.
Baddeck is a picturesque little town; we walked along the waterfront, the bay dotted with sailboats at anchor and the shore lined with small homes and B&Bs. It is a very appealing town and we will return after Cape Breton, as this is also the site of Alexander Graham Bell National Historic Site, more on that later.
After lunch it was off to the Cape Breton Highlands National Park. The route contains very long uphill and downhill stretches so it was recommended that we travel clockwise to avoid the longest uphill slog. A lovely sunny day and our journey began through a valley before climbing the west coast of the highlands with unobstructed views from the cliffs rising high above the sea. At one lookout we could see down into the valley where two moose were grazing and a large male resting in the shade of a tree where he could keep an eye on his harem. It was too distant to photograph but we watched them through binoculars for a bit before moving on toward the summit.
The trees were just beginning to show their colors and as we reached one summit we stopped for a stroll around a bog on a boardwalk. Fall colors again and in early summer orchids but for now I was just happy to photograph the insect eating pitcher plants.
September 27, 2009
We started the day with a walk along the river behind our campsite to a small waterfall and then continued east over the highlands.
The Grand Anse Valley holds the largest old hardwood forest in the Maritimes featuring 150-year-old sugar maples. A trail leads through a portion of the grove, a very peaceful walk beneath the canopy of maple leaves. Cape Breton Island Highlands National Park was established in 1936 to preserve these valleys, highlands and hardwood forests.
In remembrance of the Scottish immigrants who farmed, fished, and cleared the forest edge a replica of the lone sheiling or stone shepherd’s hut, built from native stone was constructed in the grove. During the summer on the western highlands of Scotland, crofters (tenant farmers) grazed their livestock on the hill pastures of clan chieftans. The sheiling sheltered the crofter and often some of his livestock. The open end, which provided light, would be closed in with peat sods during storms. On the well-swept earthen floor, a blazing peat fire provided heat, light and smoke. Fragrant pallets of heather or bracken covered the stone bunks.
At a viewpoint on the eastern drive of the Cabot Trail we talked with a couple from Michigan for quite a while. They shared some of their favorite eateries one of which was the Glenora Distillery that happens to be on our route, more later. We ran into them again at a recommended Chowder House in Neil’s Harbor where we enjoyed a large bowl of seafood chowder chock full of crab, fish, lobster, potatoes and a heavenly broth.
The Cape Breton Highlands were nice but we both were a little disappointed; we expected more drama and I think we were jaded having visited Newfoundland first with so much drama and diversity, we were also a week or two early for the peak color which certainly would have upped the WOW factor.
We made our way back to Baddeck for one more night.
September 28, 2009
Awaking to clouds that soon turned into showers by the time we left camp it was pouring and the wind was picking up. No worries, we have indoor activities planned for today, first up the Alexander Graham Bell National Historic Site.
Baddeck was home to Alexander Graham Bell for the last few decades of his life. Although noted for inventing the telephone his discoveries came about because of his passion for teaching the deaf to speak using a phonetic system developed by his father. That is what we knew of Bell but there is so much more. The exhibit through the use of old photos, drawings and video explains his work with aviation resulting in the first powered aircraft flight in Canada. He was also instrumental in development of the first hydrofoil. The exhibit is beautifully done, one of the best exhibits of this type we have seen and we highly recommend it as a stop especially for children.
“Sometimes we stare so long at a door that is closing that we see too late the one that is open.” Alexander Graham Bell
Leaving Cape Breton Island we drove west through a beautiful valley for lunch at Canada’s only single malt whiskey distillery, the Glenora Distillery in Glenville. It is a lovely setting and the pub served one of the best meals we have had, George enjoyed the fisherman’s plate with salmon, smoked oysters and Salomon Grundy (pickled herring) while Nancy had a crab and avocado salad, sharing a bread pudding for dessert with a caramel whiskey sauce OMG! A beautiful setting, delicious food and live music, traditional Celtic songs played on guitar and mandolin, it was a wonderful way to spend a rainy afternoon. As we finished the days drive the rain stopped and the sun broke out. We camp tonight on the Northumberland Shore, tomorrow PEI.