Exploring the beautiful Cabot Trail – Nova Scotia

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Cabot Trail

We almost had to nix our planned sightseeing along the Cabot Trail.  When we awoke that morning a heavy fog was hiding the Seal Bridge, which we had been enjoying every morning for the past few days.  But knowing how fickle fog can be, we hoped the trail would be clear (or clearing) as we proceeded.  Hey, this is the whole reason we drove up to the northern part of Nova Scotia!

North Sydney KOA Cape Breton

Heavy Fog enveloped the island!

Cape Breton Island has divided its unspoiled land into scenic drives – Fleur-de-Lis Trail, Ceilidh Trail, Bras d’Or Lake and Cabot Trail.  We chose to tackle the longest and most popular Cabot Trail, a 186-mile scenic loop through Cape Breton Highlands National Park.  It connects previously isolated communities consisting of Acadian, Irish and Scottish people.  The trail is named in honor of John Cabot, who discovered Cape Breton Island in 1497.

As we had hoped, the fog began to clear somewhat as we drove several miles from our “HQ” at the North Sydney KOA toward Baddeck. We entered the trail from the west side – traveling counter-clockwise.

There is so much to see and do on this long drive that one could spend several days exploring the area.  Most folks do it in one very long day, but considering the numerous overlooks with beautiful vistas to take in – and many hiking trails to conquer – we prepared for a slower two-day adventure.  We planned for an overnight stop at a B&B near the mid-way point at the top of the island.  I’ll share with you just the highlights of the natural beauty that comprises this gorgeous landscape.

The Cabot Trail

The Cabot Trail

Upon entering the trail, we briefly stopped at St. Ann’s Gaelic College, a school devoted to the study and preservation of the Gaelic language and Celtic arts and culture.  This was the first time we had heard the terms “Gaelic” and ‘Celtic”, and it turns out that Cape Breton is known for its history of living gaelic communities.  The school continues to contribute to its preservation.  After the quick stop we could not utter a single word in Gaelic, even though the woman in the office tried to teach us a few words.  But Steve enjoyed the Celtic music playing in the background!

St. Ann's Gaelic College.

The beautiful grounds at St. Ann’s Gaelic College.

After several miles we spotted the only wildlife we would see on this journey, a majestic bald eagle!  I say “the only wildlife”, since despite several signs warning of Moose in the area, we never saw one crossing the highway or while we were hiking.  Darn!

Bald Eagle

Ocean scenery, steep cliffs and beautiful beaches dominate the eastern side of the trail facing the Atlantic ocean.  We took our first hike on the Middlehead trail in the Ingonish area, which follows a peninsula that juts out into the Atlantic Ocean.  At the end of the trail we were rewarded with great views of the Atlantic waters crashing onto the rocks at the bottom of the cliff.

Cape Smokey, Cape Breton

Cape Smokey, viewed from Middlehead Trail

Rocky bluffs and shallow coves characterized the eastern side as we trudged along.

We passed homes with whimsical and colorful yard decor in the Neil’s Harbor area.

Neils Harbor, Cabot Trail

Cabot Trail

We ended our first day with mussels and cold beers at Meat Cove, which is at the end of a dirt road and as far as you can go on land to the north in Nova Scotia.  It is highland vista, serene and very remote, but a spectacular place.  The road ends at a small campground that would be a great place to stay in a tent or small trailer, but we wouldn’t bring Betsy out here!

Meat Cove, Cabot Trail

Cold beer at the end of the road

Meat cove, Cabot Trail

Now this is what you call camping!

The following day we continued on with our sightseeing, leaving the northern end of the Cape Breton Highlands National Park.  A third of the Cabot Trail runs through the national park along the coast and over the highlands.  We climbed the fog-covered mountain and stopped at some viewpoints to see canyons and plateaus where possible.  High winds were our companion as we drove around the higher elevations of the trail.

Pleasant Bay, Cabot Trail

Overlooking Pleasant Bay

Despite the winds, I took a hike and followed the Skyline Trail, described as a dramatic headland overlooking the rugged Gulf Coast.  But not today – I could barely stand on the boardwalk as the wind was really trying to blow me over!  Steve was smart enough to stay nice and warm in the car, so I asked another friendly tourist to take a picture of me with my hair up in the air.

Cabot Trail

Looking down the northwestern coast of the trail.

As the road twisted along the coast we were brought to Cheticamp, home of the Acadians.  They are direct descendants of the original Acadians expelled by the British from Nova Scotia in the 17 century.  Their preservation of their history and culture gave this area a personality of its own.  The Acadian Flag is proudly displayed at just about every home.

We bought mussels and lobsters at Margaree Harbour, locally called “The French Side.”  While exploring the harbor we noticed some unusual stacked triangular rocks that resembled clams:

Margaree Harbour, Cabot Trail

Margaree Harbour and the yummy seafood we bought to take back home offered a fitting end to our Cabot Trail adventure.

East Margaree, The French Side

East Margaree- “The French Side”

Two days was barely enough to really experience the unique culture and diverse heritage around the trail, but we think we covered it fairly well.  Although it is easy to compare the Cabot Trail with the California and Oregon coastlines, we think the Cabot Trail just has a character, history, and beauty all its own.

As we reached home, the rain began to approach.  It proceeded to pour almost non-stop for the next three days, a bummer end to our time in Nova Scotia.  The good news is we accomplished everything we had planned before it hit!

Seal Bridge, North Sydney, Cape Breton

Vegging in front of the “big screen”.

Next up:  Back to New Brunswick and then goodbye for now, Canada!


Out and About at Cape Breton Island, Nova Scotia

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Fortress of Louisbourg

On this leg of our Maritimes adventure we headed up north to Cape Breton Island, the northernmost island of Nova Scotia.  Cape Breton Island accounts for 18.7% of the province’s total land area.  As we drove along, we noticed that this part of Nova Scotia is pretty much uninhabited, unspoiled and teeming with history and diverse cultural heritage.  And as is common in this part of the Maritimes, the colorful signage grabbed our attention along the way.

The island is connected to mainland Nova Scotia by the long rock-fill Canso Causeway, which on the day of our drive had some traffic due to ongoing road construction.

Cape Breton Island

Our route around Cape Breton Island

The traffic backup turned out to be a blessing, however, because Betsy was mysteriously running a bit warm and we just happened to be sitting in front of a nice big fuel station.  We filled Betsy with diesel while waiting for the next batch of motorists to be flagged through, and wondered why she was running warm just a few days after we’d had the compressor hose repaired.  Steve has an idea what’s going on and will keep an eye on it.  There are no repair shops nearby, and we don’t intend to go back to Halifax unless we have to (as of this writing we made it back to the USA with no more overheating issues, which frustrates Steve as the problem is intermittent with no apparent pattern).  Oops, I got sidetracked with Betsy’s woes.

Back to Cape Breton Island.  As we settled into our campsite with a fantastic view, we calmed down and began planning our activities.  We decided to visit the five cities in Cape Breton: Sydney, Baddeck, Chéticamp, Louisbourg and North Sydney.  The base camp for our week stay was at the North Sydney/Cabot Trail KOA.  Click here if interested in Steve’s review of this nice campground.

Our first excursion was to Louisbourg, where this largest historical reconstruction in North America took us back in time.  The Fortress of Louisbourg is a Parks Canada Historic Site, and this year Louisbourg is celebrating the 300th anniversary of its founding in 1713.  We joined a guided tour and learned that the fortress was built to protect France’s interest in the new world and its massive fishing industry against Great Britain in the 18th century.

Fortress Of Louisbourg

Painting of Fortress Of Louisbourg in 18th century

Reconstructed Fortress of Louisbourg

Reconstructed Fortress of Louisbourg of today

While walking around the streets and going inside period homes, we were treated with the sights and sounds of the 18th century as costumed interpreters, re-enactors demonstrated to us what it was like way back then.  The “maid servant” showed us the layers of her outfit and advised that they usually only bathed annually during those times.  Ewe, can’t imagine that!

Fortress of Louisbourg

Approach to the Fortress

We also smelled gunpowder as we watched musket and  cannon firing during a military demonstration.

We enjoyed our tour of the fortress and thought the reconstruction that took decades to complete was  very well done.  We learned a lot of Canadian history on this day.

Dauphin Demi-Bastion

Dauphin Demi-Bastion

In Baddeck, the most famous resident was Alexander Graham Bell, who built two homes on his estate called “Beinn Bhreagh”, Scottish Gaelic for “Beautiful Mountain.”  We were familiar with him as the inventor of the telephone, of course, but he was much more.  Going through the exhibits at the museum, we learned that he completed many other major achievements while in Baddeck.  They included a hydrofoil which set a long-lasting speed record for watercraft, and assisting with the first manned flight of an aircraft in the British Commonwealth.  He conducted many kite-flying experiments, and invented several devices used in the medical, aeronautical and marine industries.  A very interesting man!


Full-scale mockup of hydrofoil co-designed by Graham-Bell.

In Sydney, the port city of Cape Breton, the world’s largest fiddle was on display at the port.  It stands 55 ft. tall and is made from painted steel which brings it weight up to a hefty eight tons.  The Big Ceilidh Fiddle was created to recognize the pre-eminence of fiddle musicians, who have contributed so much to the musical heritage here.  Fiddle music was first brought over by Scottish immigrants over 200 years ago.

North Sydney has a couple of food stops across the street from each other that caught our attention:

The view from our campsite just kept getting better as the sun began to set.

Cabot Trail KOA

Next up:  Exploring the Cabot Trail!

This and a few more posts are catch-up stories of our adventure in the Maritimes – we’re typing as fast as we can!


Peggy’s Cove and the beautiful Nova Scotia shoreline

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Peggy's Point Light

The day after we got an overload of colors at Lunenburg, we continued our sightseeing along the shores of Nova Scotia.  Our plan was to visit Peggy’s Cove, which is famous for its picturesque lighthouse.  Fortunately, we were tipped off to go there after 5:00pm, as busloads of tourists teem over the cove and lighthouse during the day.  So, instead we explored several towns and harbors along the southern and eastern shores of Nova Scotia.  Our drive to the southern shore took us through Mahoney Bay, where three beautiful churches – Anglican, Lutheran and United – caught our attention.

These three elegant churches can all be seen together along Mahoney Bay harbor.

Three Churches, Mahoney Bay

Three churches on Mahoney Bay.

While driving along we stumbled upon the two Swissair Flight 111 memorials.  Fifteen years ago, on Sept. 2, 1998, Swissair Flight 111 crashed into the Atlantic, killing all 229 on board.  Two memorials were established – one to the west of the crash site at Bayswater, where the remains of the crew and passengers are buried, and the other to the east at Whalesback, near Peggy’s Cove.  These locations were chosen for their proximity to the crash site, which is roughly equidistant off the shores of Whalesback and Bayswater, Nova Scotia.

Nova Scotia’s best beaches are located on the eastern shore.  We spent some time at one, Lawrencetown Beach.  We noted it was quite a hub of activity with surfers, swimmers and just gawkers like us.

Just one of the many beautiful harbors along the eastern shore.

Just one of many beautiful harbors along the eastern shore.

As the sun began to dip, we headed out to Peggy’s Cove.  When we heard the name of this place we imagined a large cove, but when we arrived we discovered that it’s a tiny (I mean really tiny) seaside town with a population of about fifty.  But because of its celebrated lighthouse and the quaint fishing village, it has become a popular tourist attraction.  The town and lighthouse at Peggy’s Cove are one of the most photographed locations in Canada.  As we walked around the village we saw hundreds of lobster traps, and boats with their fishing gear littering the docks.

Peggy's Cove Fishing Village

Peggy’s Cove fishing village

The rugged beauty of Peggy’s Cove is peppered with huge boulders called “erratics”, remnants left 10,000 years ago by receding glaciers.  Although this unique environment has been designated a preservation area, it is still an active fishing community.  It’s located about 30 minutes south of Halifax.

Peggy's Cove

The most famous resident in town was William deGarthe, a Finnish artist who carved a memorial, “A lasting monument to Nova Scotian fishermen.”  The 100 ft. granite outcrop depicts St. Michael and 32 fishermen with their wives and children, enveloped by the wings of St. Elmo, the patron saint of sailors – as well as the legendary Peggy.  deGarthe began the sculpture at age 70 and took 6 years to complete it.

William deGarthe

Granite outcrop chiseled as a memorial.

William deGarthe

How to interpret the sculpture above

But the centerpiece of Peggy’s Cove is the iconic white and red beacon lighthouse perched atop the rugged granite rocks.  It is located on a rocky headland at the end of Peggy’s Point Road.

Peggy's Cove Lighthouse

Peggy’s Cove Lighthouse

This well-known lighthouse, officially known as Peggy’s Point Light, was built in 1914 and is 44 ft. tall.  The octagonal concrete structure overlooks the mouth of St. Margaret’s Bay.  Between 1975 and 2009, the ground floor of this lighthouse operated as a post office where visitors could mail their postcards in the summer months – the only lighthouse post office in North America at the time.  While the post office is no longer there, the image of this famous lighthouse on top of the giant rocks with the crashing sea waves is considered just as beautiful as it has been for almost a century.

Peggy's Point Light

Iconic red and white Peggy’s Point Light.

Granite Rocks at Peggy's Cove

The lighthouse sits on these granite rocks.

Since many visitors aren’t sensible enough to move away from the lighthouse at sunset so the dozens of photographers can get a good shot, I tried to work around them to get a decent shot as the sun hid behind the horizon.

Peggy's Cove Lighthouse

Visitor’s group picture at the lighthouse.

Although there are many similar lighthouses in eastern Canada, this is a genuine star, picturesque and simply beautiful!

Peggy's Cove

Peggy’s Cove at dusk, with St. Margaret Bay in the foreground and the Atlantic Ocean in the distance.

Next up: Cape Breton Island

By the time you read this we are just arriving back in the U.S. to play catch-up with our posts, now that we have good internet connectivity again.


A tapestry of colors – Lunenburg, NS

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We ventured out to the southern shore of Nova Scotia and headed for the old town of Lunenburg. Enroute we caught a glimpse of the longest line of bras we have ever seen (yes – bras – as in women’s undergarments)!  We are not sure if those were decorations or for sale. (Thanks to Bax McClure comment below, the bras show support for Breast Cancer!)

Bra Line

Steve almost drove off the road when he saw all these bras!

The old town of Lunenburg is one of three Unesco World Heritage sites in Nova Scotia.  It received this honor because it is one of the best examples of a classic British colonial settlement and for its remarkable level of conservation.  First, below is a mural of the old Lunenburg, then check out my current images and you’ll notice the town is pretty much unchanged.

Mural of Old Lunenberg

Mural of Old Lunenburg

Seventy percent of the original buildings from the 18th and 19th centuries  greeted us with their colorful facades.  The locals have safeguarded the town’s identity throughout the centuries by preserving the wooden architecture of the houses and public buildings, some of which date back to the 18th century.

Zwicker Wharf

We took a walk around the narrow streets and enjoyed the charming architecture and brightly painted wooden buildings of today.

Every block featured a collection of colors from the rainbow for their paint jobs, which made the street views  a real treat to look at.




Old town Lunenberg

Then add in the bright red buildings along the harbor…

Fisheries Museum of the Atlantic

Fisheries Museum of the Atlantic

Adams and Knickle

Adams and Knickle

Around town were 44 fish sculptures honoring the top 20 fish and shellfish species landed by the area’s commercial fisheries.

As we strolled along it became clear that the town’s vibrancy is what draws so many people here for a visit.  This little town is teeming with craft shops, art studios, inns and dozens of excellent restaurants.  We highly recommend a relaxing half-day visit here!

Back to to the waterfront, even ships/boats were in an array of bold colors.


While strolling on the wharf a tourist asked us where the Bluenose II was docked.  We couldn’t answer him, since we didn’t even know what it was.  Later on we learned it is Nova Scotia’s world-famous (maybe I’m the only one who hadn’t heard about it) sailing ambassador.  Bluenose II is a schooner designed in the spirit of the original Bluenose.  The original vessel, which has appeared on the Canadian dime since 1937, was launched from Lunenburg as a fishing and racing schooner in 1921.  After 17 years of racing victories she sank on a coral reef in 1946.  The Bluenose II is currently undergoing a major restoration in one of the dry-docks at Lunenburg. It returned to dock for repairs after re-launch Sept. 29, and there is no clear date for it to sail again.

Bluenose II

We continued driving further to a tiny fishing village called Blue Rocks to check out cool bluish sedimentary rocks at their shore.

Blue Rocks

Even the rocks are colorful!

Blue Rocks

I managed to blend in as well!

Blue Rocks Fishing Village

Just another house in Lunenburg

Finally, we bade goodbye after a day of “color overload.”


Can you see me snapping away?

Next up:  Peggy’s Cove and more!


Betsy goes to the hospital and we go to Halifax, NS

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Maine Maritime Academy

After many enjoyable experiences it was time to leave picturesque Prince Edward Island – for a price!  The outrageous bridge toll is paid when leaving the island, and after paying this one we’ll never again complain about how high the tolls were on California bridges!

This was one of our longer drives, from PEI to Halifax, Nova Scotia.  Once again, colorful and vibrant signs welcomed us to the Nova Scotia province.

But as we were approaching our campground along a narrow road, we heard a loud hissing noise.  Steve checked all the monitors and nothing was warning us of a problem. The noise was very loud when we were accelerating, on a road with hills on each side and it was easy to hear because of the echo.  Since we were only a couple of miles from the campground and there was really nowhere to  pull over anyway, we proceeded.  At the campground, Steve checked out the engine as best he could with me revving it but could not locate the source.  While checking into our site, the park manager advised us there was a Cummins engine shop only 11 miles away.  Wow, were we happy to hear that!  We made an appointment and showed up bright and early in the morning, limping along the side streets to stay off the throttle as much as possible.

Betsy goes to the emergency room

Betsy enters the emergency room

While Betsy was being diagnosed and hopefully repaired, we went to the vibrant capital city of Nova Scotia by the sea, Halifax.  Not knowing how long we had to hang out there, we concentrated our activities to the harbor area.  To me, Halifax seemed to be only in the movies or a setting of a good mystery book.  Yet here we were about to experience it!  We thought the city seemed like a mini San Francisco, but with far fewer people and much cleaner.  Besides, they painted their bridge with my favorite colors – green and yellow!

Macdonald Bridge

The Macdonald bridge leads us over a busy shipping channel and into Halifax.

Let me entertain you with the waterfront photos I took while we waited to hear the prognosis for Betsy:

The 3 unique sculptures below are called “The Way Things Are”, and are on public display until Sept 21.  In the foreground is “Got Drunk, Fell Down” (the lamp that has fallen down and its friend is looking down on it with some concern), and in the background is “Fountain” (the lamp post that looks like it is relieving itself into the harbor).  The display was created by Chris Hanson and Hendrika Sonnenberg.

The way things are, Chris Hanson and Hendrika Sonnenberg

The Way Things Are

We learned a bit of history as we read the inscriptions on the monument about how the Acadians were removed from Nova Scotia and imprisoned on Georges Island just across the harbor.  This period in 1755 of systematic deportaton of Acadians was called the Grand Derangement or Great Upheaval. Click each image for a brief history about Georges Island.

Across the harbor is Georges Island, where the Acadians were imprisoned.  Imagine thousands of people imprisoned on this tiny island!

George Island

Georges Island

And we certainly don’t get to see this everyday, a cargo ship carrying gigantic cranes into the harbor!

Other sights on the waterfront.

Georges Lighthouse

I managed to take a panoramic shot of the waterfront just before a tremendous downpour came through the area.

Halifax Water front

Since it is a big city harbor, all kinds of ships/boats/schooners/yachts were docked, and even the Maine Maritime Academy was in town.

Maine Maritime Academy

Then the rain came, and it poured for half an hour.

Halifax Harbor

Gorton's fish sticks

Steve thinks this looks like a commercial for Gorton’s fish sticks!

Halifax Harbour

With nowhere else to go, so we just watched schooners and boats pulling into the harbor

After four hours we got the call – Betsy was fixed and can be taken home!  We paid for what seemed to be the world’s most expensive hose – $426!  95% of that was labor, of course, and our extended warranty doesn’t cover hoses, of course.  The hose was for the inlet to the air compressor, which compresses air for the brakes and suspension air bags.  It had split wide open, and although noisy, no damage was done.  We were happy to get Betsy back – being homeless even for a few hours is nerve-wracking especially when you are in a foreign country!

Damaged Hose

Damaged Hose

We headed back to the campground to get her set up again.  We stayed at Woodhaven RV Park, and they offer a most unique and yummy service – fresh cooked lobster prepared for their customers at only $7.00 per pound.  You better believe we took advantage of that offer, and it was fantastic!  If interested, you can read Steve’s review of the campground here. At the end of the day we shared our repair story and Halifax sightseeing with our next door neighbors, Ron and Louise.  They are full timers from Florida, and we hope to see them again this winter when we are there.

Ron and Louise

Next up:  Colorful Lunenberg!