We started our sunny day with a visit to the Halifax Seaport Farmers Market where we stocked up for lunch: fresh Red Fife organic rye, heirloom cherry tomatoes, two types of local gouda and a freshly smoked "Sweet William" salmon from the fish monger. To complement the lunch: a local Annapolis Valley Zinfandel. Off we were enroute to Cape Breton.
The trip out from Halifax is an easy highway route that took us past Antigonish where we were reminded of our friend, Coach Muss, who coached their football team once upon a time. Shortly after we enter Victoria County and cross the causeway into Cape Breton.
As soon as we merged on to the Cabot Trail, we stopped for our lunch at a small hidden rest area. We enjoyed our fare under the trees in the warm sunshine.
The Cabot Trail is a circular route and we chose the eastern road to take us to Ingonish Beach. The winding highway meanders over hills and mountains, among the waters and through the forests. Truly spectacular. As we cross the Smokey Mountain, we spot the resort on the cliffside. We had reserved a room at the Keltic Lodge on the advise of our friends Gail and Rich. The lodge was formerly the summer vacation home of a US friend of Alexander Graham Bell; in 1951 the home was converted to is present use. To enter the area you must pay a fee at the park gates as the entire region is now a Parks Canada property called The Cape Breton Highlands. The fee for a day's pass is $15 for two. At the lodge there is the main building (where we stayed) which has guest rooms, a formal dining room, a "sitting room" and outdoor pool; there is an AVEDA Spa; a golf course, the Atlantic Restaurant and several cabins adjacent to the main lodge. Upon check in we thought, due to the great weather, that we would stretch our legs on the hiking trail. There is a short trail option (which we took) as the afternoon was fading and the signs warning of wildlife (bears, coyotes and moose) gave us pause. We headed back to the lodge and enjoyed a simple dinner of fish and chips (with Keith's of course) and listened to the live local entertainer. He sang with his guitar and inspired the crowd to join in as he ranged from the local folk songs to John Denver; I was pleasantly surprised to note how many guests sang along to the Gaelic songs that seemed to be like anthems. The lodge staff all live in residence and when I remarked that it was like "Dirty Dancing" one young lady responded: "That's EXACTLY what this is like" -- with a huge smile on her face and clearly loving the experience.
The next morning (another glorious sunny day!) we had a quick breakfast (full breakfast buffet included in the room rates) with delicious coffee before heading out to challenge the "Middle Head Trail" -- a 4 km winding, hilly trail that leads out to the far point of the peninsula. We were hoping to see some whales and other sealife. We did not, and luckily we did not meet any other wildlife either. However, I have a new name for my partner - "Billy" - as I think in a past life he may have been a goat; I was completely in awe of his sure-footedness on the trails. The scenery was a complete amazement and I'm sure the photos will not even do a fraction of justice. The landscape is a rugged (yet surprisingly gentle) combination of rocky crags, crushing surf, wide open ocean views and interesting plantlife (which the plaques explained is due to the ever-present breeze). The round trip hike was approximately 2 hours.
Back at the lodge I purchase a CD with music of the area (Celtic Colours) for our drive around the balance of the Cabot Trail. The trip is a non-stop, jaw dropping, scenic marvel that can only be experienced in person. The roadway is winding and allows for scenic stops frequently. However, the most amazing sight for me were the bikers. These extreme cyclists were carrying tons of gear and navigating the peaks and valleys (at one point the peak was 400 m high!). I can't even imagine.
We pass through Cheticamp, a small fishing village, where the local attraction is: Tim Hortons. We couldn't resist and stopped for a coffee. It seemed so out of place among the fish shacks and other rural businesses.
At the end of the trail we are back on the regular highway and head for our destination: Pictou, NS.
As we pass Antigonish again, we are reminded, again of football, and that the Hamilton Tiger Cats are taking on Montreal in the Labour Day Classique. We pull into Boston Pizza and join the throngs of students to watch the game. No disappointments: Hamilton wins big!