On July 24 we retrieved the truck from Halifax and then set out the next day to explore the rest of Cape Breton Island by car. The first day, July 25th, we decided to head to Port Hood on the west side of the island and explore some of the Ceildah (pronounced kay-dee) Trail and then head north to explore the Highlands and the Cabot Trail. I had found a small reference in one of the tourism guides that there is a scenic road between Port Hood and the town of Mabou called Little Mabou Rd. I am so glad we found this! The scenery was stunning! The surrounding hills rolled down to red colored cliffs overlooking the Gulf of St. Lawrence. The Mabou area is farm country and many of the fields on the hillside had just been cut for hay. The big round and gold hay bales stood out beautifully in contrast to the green hillsides, evergreens, and the sea. Dairy cows grazed here and there, and to add to all the surrounding colors there seemed to be thousands of bright pink wild Rose of Rogusa in bloom. We came across the West Mabou Provincial Park on Little Mabou Rd. What a gem! We were already enamored with the surrounding scenery and the walk we took through the park only made us more so. The trail we took ran along the red cliffs and cut through evergreen trees and high grass. The roses were especially prolific along the trail and they smelled incredible as did the evergreen trees.
Our next stop was a tour of the Glenora Distillery where they distill single malt whiskey. It was a fun tour that ended with a sampling of their product. Tim and I both enjoy drinking single malt whiskey. I liked the small sample I had but Tim didn’t care much for it.
After a nice breakfast at the Mid Trail Motel we purchased our park passes for the day and then backtracked along the Cabot Trail to hike the Skyline Trail. The Skyline Trail is the most popular trail in the national park and vistas from the trail are prominently displayed in the islands tour brochures. It is known to get quite crowded but we arrived at the trail head early enough get a good head start on the crowd. We soon discovered that the Skyline is a “no dogs allowed” trail. Tim and I usually adhere to these rules but we really wanted to hike this trail and it was way too hot to leave Shamus in the truck. We deliberated for a few minutes and since it wasn’t crowded at the moment decided to bite the bullet and hike the trail keeping Shamus leashed. We figured they would ask us to leave if there was an issue.
The trail makes a loop and quite by accident we seemed to hike it in reverse direction than most people so we had the trail mostly to ourselves for the first half of our hike. As we were hiking Tim and I both heard a noise like branches breaking in the woods on the left side of the trail and when Shamus went on alert so did we. There was a cow moose contentedly munching away on her breakfast about 75’ off the trail. I squatted down next to Shamus who was a good boy and didn’t make a peep while Tim cautiously took some pictures of her. Female moose can be aggressive this time of year especially if they have a calf. We didn’t see a calf with her and thankfully she pretty much ignored us puny humans and even punier dog! A thrilling experience! We quietly moved on and left her to her breakfast.
We soon came to the boardwalk that was built to protect the plant life on the trail and where those photos in the tour guides were taken. The views were amazing! By this time the crowds had arrived and not only didn’t we want to be around a lot of other people we also were very aware Shamus wasn’t supposed to be there so we hiked back to the car to continue our exploration of the Cabot Trail.
We also got fairly close to 2 pterodactyl sized bald eagles. The Cabot trail runs very close to Ingonish Harbor where we saw them. The first eagle was sitting on some driftwood in the shallows of the Harbor and the second one was flying just above the water hunting for dinner. He eventually landed as well. My god they are amazing! Such huge birds and just beautiful!
It had cooled down nicely overnight and the weather forecast was calling for it to be overcast most of the day. Tim and I were itching to get on our bikes. Tim located a trail in the park that allowed bikes and off we went. We took Shamus with us as we expected it to stay cool and the trail description described it as “wooded”! The trail head was down a long dirt road and just as we arrived at the parking area I think every deer fly in Cape Breton found us! They were literally flying in swarms next to the trucks windows. I floored it as much as I dared to but couldn’t out run them. Needless to say we were a little alarmed. The last thing we wanted to be was the main entrée for a swarm of hungry deer flies! Thank goodness for Deet! We liberally doused ourselves and Shamus with bug spray before getting out of the truck and were relieved when most of the flies took off to find something else to munch on! It was nice not to be bug chow!
The trail was more or less a dirt and rock ATV trail that gradually climbed up a short mountain. The description of “wooded” was a little inaccurate as the area was mostly short scrubby trees and brush that didn’t offer much shade which turned out to be a bit of an issue when the sun came blazing out and started to bake the mountain top and us along with it. Damn weatherman! It got hot - fast - the heat was radiating up from the trail and it felt like we were riding our bikes in a furnace. After 4 miles we turned around because we were concerned about Shamus. It was just too hot for him to be out there with us and quite frankly I wasn’t handling the heat so well either. Thankfully there was a stream and some puddles for Shamus to wade in and there were a couple stands of tall thick trees that combined with the breeze that provided good places for all three of us to stop and rest and cool down but it didn’t take long to feel the heat once we started riding again. We slowly coasted back to the truck and then returned to the cabin where we pretty much just lounged around for the remainder of the afternoon.
That night after dinner Tim and I went to a Ceilidh (pronounced kay-lee) we saw advertised on a little sign set up alongside the road. A Ceilidh is a social gathering, which usually involves playing Gaelic folk music and dancing. The one we attended was held in St. John’s Parrish Hall in Ingonish. We sat on hard wooden chairs and listened to three excellent musicians. There was a woman who was just an incredible fiddle player – it was so effortless for her. In fact she seemed to be thinking about what she needed to buy at the grocery story rather than having to concentrate on the incredible music she was playing. The man who accompanied her on the piano was also amazing to see and hear. It was some of the best music I have ever seen performed live!
On July 28th we explored Northern Cape Breton Island which is called The Top of Island. Once again the only words I can come up with to describe the area are stunning, beautiful …. The mountains are steep and they rise straight up out of the ocean.
On the 29th Tim and I went for another bike ride. This trail ran beside a river and through a beautiful forest. Shamus would have loved it but we left him at the cabin this time. The trail wasn’t difficult but was very pretty. Tim commented that it would be a great area to build a nice system of single track trails for mountain bikers. The only hiccup we had on this ride in somehow I managed to get a double pinch flat crossing a rocky stream bed – that means I got two flat tires. We only had one spare tube with us but no worries – my handy dandy husband – patched the other tube and I was able to ride out!
We retrieved Shamus from the cabin and went in search of two swimming holes that Kevin, the manager of the B&B, told us about. The first one was in a little creek just down the road from the B&B. While it was very pretty and there were a couple spots deep enough to take a dip you really couldn’t swim there. So we took off to find the second one Kevin had described to us which turned out to be a nice little section of river just off the Cabot Trail. The water was cool and deep. The three of us swam upriver a short distance and rode the mild current back down to where we started. Very relaxing!
On Wednesday morning we headed back to Baddeck. Other than running a couple small errands we spent the day relaxing on the boat. It was nice to be home again!
On Thursday, Tim took the truck back to the Armdale Yacht Club in Halifax while I cleaned and re-provisioned as we planned to start heading back to Maine on Friday morning. We want to spend some time this summer in our still favorite cruising grounds in Penobscot Bay!