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Report 1902: A Quick Scamper Round Nova Scotia

By Eleanor from UK, Fall 2010

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Page 13 of 16: Cabot Trail from North Cape to West Lake Ainslie

photo by Michael

From Presqu'ile looking south to Cheticamp

The weather let us down today. After a dry start the cloud came down and it began to rain steadily.

We drove up to Bay St Lawrence which I had seen described as “like the Cabot Trail before it was discovered” and was probably an accurate description. This is a very pretty area. It was a shame the weather wasn’t better as we would have liked to explore it more.

The road climbed up through big, rounded mountains covered with deciduous trees. There were a few scattered settlements which had probably been old farmsteads.

Bay St. Lawrence was a delightful small settlement round a large landlocked harbour. It was very sheltered as there was a very narrow entrance to the sea. There were a few boats in the harbour but not many pots around.

We then drove to Capstick. This was the end of the tarmac. It was still raining so we decided against driving to Meat Cove. The area had suffered from a big flood earlier in the summer which had taken out the bridge. There is now a bailey bridge over the river and we could see evidence of the flood in various streams. Capstick was a small settlement built on an old raised beach (large flat area at the base of steep mountains) well above the present shore line. There were nice views of the coast.

Back on the Cabot Trail at North Cape, it was a disappointing drive as there was a lot of rain and low cloud all day and we couldn’t see the scenery. In good weather this would have been a good drive, probably better than the east coast.

The road climbed up the North Aspy Valley and up North Mountain on a ledge cut out of the hillside. There were several scenic laybys on the opposite side of the road. As there was no advance warning, we missed many of them. The massive mountains had flat tops, rounded sides covered in deciduous trees and deep valleys.

We did the Lone Shieling Trail through an area of 350 year old sugar maple forest which has never been cut. It was a pretty little trail. The ground vegetation was very different with lots of maple seedlings, ferns and fungi. The maple seedlings are able to grow up through the thick layer of dead leaves and survive in deep shade for decades waiting for the old trees to fall.

The maples prefer the rich soils of the valley bottoms and their roots can grow all winter. White spruce was found on the stony river banks. Elm prefers more sunshine. Birch is found on the upper better drained soils and beech on the mid slopes.

The Lone Shieling is a reconstruction of a summer shieling similar to those found on the Isle of Skye. It was built of stone with a grass thatch roof. One end was open to let in light but could be closed with lumps of peat in stormy weather.

The road dropped steeply from North Mountain.

Pleasant Bay was packed with gift shops and whale watching tours. It felt a dump and is a good example of how tourism can destroy what the tourists initially came to see.

It was a dramatic climb up Mackenzie Mountain back onto the flat tops of the Cape Breton Highlands with conifers and peat bogs. It was raining steadily so there seemed little point in stopping. We dropped down into French Valley, a steep 'V' shaped valley with a nice view back up from the bottom. The road then ran along the coast, well above the sea and back into the trees again.

Petit Etang, Cheticamp, Point Cross and Grand Etang all run into each other. The houses are well spread out and surrounded by beautifully manicured lawns. There were no flowers, fences or walls. There was no real centre to the villages and not as many craft shops or eateries as I’d expected.

There was a secondary plateau further inland running along the bottom of the highlands with houses scattered along it.

Belle Cote was a pretty settlement along the Cabot Trail with a road down to the sheltered harbour.

Across the bridge we took the side turn to Margaree Harbour, with church and small shop. We parked at the end of the road and walked across the sand dunes onto a lovely sandy beach, protected on one side by huge boulders used to make a breakwater. Two bald eagles were sitting on the end. Across the bay was a farming settlement with house, barn and a few cows; the first we had seen. There were low cliffs and rocks and a nice view back to Belle Cote.

We continued on the coast road to Dunvegan. There were good views of the cliffs as far as Whale Cove, with a small cemetery on the hillside, but then it was back into the trees with no views.

Dunvegan was a few houses at the road junction. Inverness was much bigger with a definite centre with gas, good co-op, a few shops and a small fishing harbour.

We then cut inland to West Lake Ainslie. The fairly narrow road running along the lake had seen better days and was sinking in places. There were major road works repairing a long stretch of road. There were a few houses off the road and it was a long rough drive off the road down to Tulloch Inn.

We were booked for the night at Tulloch Inn, a new wooden building, above the lake in large grounds. The front of the house faces the lake and has a veranda. Through the front door there is a hallway with sitting area with TV on the left and dining room on the right. Residents have first priority but meals are also served to non residents, if they book and there is space. There is nowhere else to eat locally.

A varnished pale wood staircase led to a small sitting area with books and access to the balcony with views of the lake. Rooms were spacious and comfortable. Bottled water was provided as it was not recommended to drink the tap water.

Dinner was an excellent meal, well cooked with home grown vegetables. There was a choice of three starters and three mains. We thought it good value at $16.50CAD.

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