Nova Scotia: end of a holiday

Our last full day was spent driving back to Halifax. Thing’s didn’t go that well – the weather was awful, it absolutely poured, and we got held up at the causeway because a ship was going through the locks. We decided to go the scenic route on the mainland all the same, and left the main road at Antigonish to join the Marine Drive along the Eastern Shore at Sherbrooke. This was a pretty place with another costumed museum, which we didn’t have time to visit, and a good lunch stop in the Village Coffee Grind. The coast was dotted with little islands and certainly attractive, but there wasn’t much to entice us to stop in the rain. An arch at Tangier where one of Queen Victoria’s sons had landed was about as exciting as it got!

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We chose to stay in a chain hotel in Halifax so that it didn’t matter what time we arrived, we had plenty of space to spread out and repack all our luggage, now consisting mainly of dirty washing, and a late checkout. This worked, and we would definitely stay in Cambridge Suites again. In the evening, we found the Curry Village, because we had withdrawal symptoms for Indian food, which was absolutely excellent. In the morning, it was sunny again and we took the opportunity to stroll along the Halifax Waterfront without all the crowds who were there last time for the Tall Ships. We got some good pictures of it, including some from the roof terrace of the hotel.

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It was also good to see the brewery, Alexander Keith’s, whose beer had been a prominent feature in our travels (along with several other good NS beers and wines).

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Then it was off to the airport to return the hire car (we had done exactly 3000 km) and start our long journey home, filled with happy memories.

For more pictures of our trip to Montreal, Nova Scotia and PEI, see John’s Photo Journals. Can’t wait till the next holiday!

Cape Breton: Baddeck, Louisbourg and Iona

For our last few days in Cape Breton, we stayed in the Chanterelle Inn, near Baddeck. This was the only place we chose to stay which was not in a town or village – it had a beautiful setting and did evening meals, specialising in local food with good veggie options. Breakfast and dinner were eaten on a screened porch surrounded by hummingbirds. We had high expectations and they were fulfilled.

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The scenery, though not as spectacular as parts of the National Park, was beautiful. It wasn’t far to St Ann’s Bay (below) and the Bras d’Or Lake which both sparkled blue in the sunlight.

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We had intended to do a bit more hiking, but didn’t get round to it because we found three fascinating historical sites which took up all our time.

The first of these was Louisbourg Fortress – a recreation of how it was in 1743 built in the 1960s, after meticulous research, on the original foundations in order to provide employment after the closure of many Cape Breton coal mines. As with most of these places, there are costumed workers to tell you about their lives, and there’s also a 2.5km walk around some of the undeveloped ruins which takes you out along beautiful coastline. We spent most of a day there; it was wonderful. Particularly enjoyable was the re-enacted punishment scene where a young man was accused of theft and marched to the stocks, pursued by his sister shouting abuse for bringing disgrace on the family, and a sheep which he was supposed to have stolen. Said sheep caused great amusement by peeing throughout. It was also interesting to read about the Sisters of Notre Dame who had a mission in Louisbourg and founded the first formal school for girls on Cape Breton. This was the community founded by St Marguerite Bourgeoys whose church we visited in Montreal.

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The second site was the Alexander Graham Bell Museum in Baddeck, which is where he made his summer home. I found this fascinating too because although I knew he had invented the telephone, and that it had been an offshoot of his work in teaching deaf people to speak, I didn’t know of his role in developing flight in Canada and in the invention of hydrofoils. I also loved the family photographs, because they were all informal and full of action rather then the stiff portraits you usually associate with late Victorian and early twentieth century photography. There were good views of the water from the museum too, with sailing boats and the obligatory lighthouse.

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We then moved further round the Bras d’Or, including a short ferry ride, to Iona and the Highland Village. This is another costumed affair with a journey through time, starting with a typical black house in Scotland at the time of the Highland Clearances and moving through the different stages of dwelling Scottish settlers might have inhabited in Nova Scotia up until the 1920s. The church was particularly interesting because it had been moved intact, apart from its spire which had been removed in the 1960s, from a village across the lake. One of the guides told us about seeing it floating across in 2003 when he was still at school. The Soay sheep were cute too!

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And that’s more or less the end of the holiday – just one night in Halifax left before the long trek home. As before, check out Pinterest and Photo Journals for more pictures.

Cape Breton: the National Park

From Mabou, we drove north to join the Cabot Trail (John Cabot landed in North America in 1497, though it’s by no means certain it was in Cape Breton). The trail circles the top end of Cape Breton, including the Cape Breton Highlands National Park (founded 1936), and we joined it at its junction with the Ceilidh Trail. The first thing we noticed was the change in names – we’d passed Inverness and Dunvegan and now we were in Belle Cote with road signs again in English and French. We’d caught up with the Acadians, many of whom eventually settled here after the expulsion that I wrote about earlier in my Wolfville post.

Our base was Maison Fiset, a delightful small inn, in Cheticamp, a rather spread out strip of a town along the shore of the Gulf of St Lawrence just before the national park.

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The town’s focal point was the Church of St Pierre, a dominating presence after so many pretty white churches. There always seemed to be something going on there every time we passed.

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For example, this concert on the steps:

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There was a pretty boardwalk at one end of town and, as luck would have it, two suitable restaurants at the end of it. We could even have eaten on the boardwalk itself at Wabo’s Pizza – had it not been raining the night we were there. At the Harbour Inn, John had a lobster dinner, I was adequately catered for and we listened to an Acadian folk singer, Sylvia LeLievre, who mixed in Lennon and MacCartney, Simon and Garfunkel, and the odd Scottish song when she heard where we were from.

We did the two most popular trails in the park, along with a couple of shorter ones. We intended to do the Skyline Trail on the day we arrived but the weather was being very Scottish and it was shrouded in mist so, as the main point was the magnificent view at the end, we went back the next day and had much better luck. It’s just under 6 miles return trip, but the path is very easy and there’s a well constructed boardwalk at the end. Although you walk along a ridge and end up high over the sea, you start at a high level too so the only climbing is the wooden steps back up from the boardwalk. The views:

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We talked to a ranger at the beginning who had examples of moose antlers, skulls and hoof prints which showed just how enormous these animals are. You can’t judge a moose by the size of his antlers apparently, because they grow them EVERY year, then once the rutting season is over they drop off. In this case, size does matter because the bigger the antlers, the healthier the moose.

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Despite some people just coming off the trail telling us they had seen a moose, by the time we got there it had gone, much to John’s disappointment and my relief.

The other main trail we did was over on the east side on the way out of the park, Middle Head. This goes out along a narrow peninsula at Ingonish dividing two beautiful bays.

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After this, we left the park and continued on the Cabot Trail to our last destination in Cape Breton. More pictures on Pinterest and Photo Journal.

Cape Breton: Mabou and the Ceilidh Trail

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The last week of our trip is on Cape Breton Island – named in 2011 by Travel and Leisure magazine as one of the world’s best islands to visit, although it’s not quite an island because you get on to it by a causeway. It’s a fairly small area, 3981 sq mi and only Canada’s 18th largest island, but with very distinctive regions. We wanted to spend the first couple of days on the Ceilidh Trail for obvious reasons – up the west coast where many Scots settled, and all the signs are in English and Gaelic. So much seemed the same as home – the scenery, the music, the whisky and, for part of the time, the weather.

We stayed in Mabou because it had a good place to eat, drink and listen to music. This is the Red Shoe (above), owned by the Rankin family – award winning Canadian musicians. We ate there both nights, sampled their own beer (of course) and enjoyed the food – good veggie choices I’m happy to say, including possibly the best hummus ever. We were too late for the music the second night, but the first night we listened to Maggie Beaton on the fiddle (only 14 or 15 but a very good player) and a young man, whose name I didn’t catch, on piano.

There are some good trails in the Cape Mabou Highlands created and maintained by the local Trail Club, all volunteers. We bought their map at the post office and set off. Of course, “Highlands” is relative but the route we chose took us over two hills of around 1000 feet so you could say we had done two-thirds of a Munro. It’s very peaceful – in fact the only other people we met were members of the Cape Mabou Trail Club out scouting the trails to check all was well. They do an excellent job. It was a wet day, but the rain was fairly gentle and it was still quite warm so it didn’t affect our enjoyment or the views:

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After our walk, we had time to catch a tour at the Glenora Distillery, home of Glen Breton, Canada’s only single malt whisky. It’s a very pretty place which also has rooms, a bar and a restaurant so, if we ever come back, that might be another good place to stay. There was a sample of the ten-year old on the tour and we had one as a digestif in the pub that night. It’s quite light, both in colouring and in flavour, and slipped down well.

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As always, the Pinterest board has a few more pictures.

Wolfville, Nova Scotia

Wolfville is a pretty little university town at the other end of the Annapolis Valley. While we were in the area we visited:

Halls Harbour. Part of the attraction of this area is the extreme tides – the difference between low tide and high tide is immense. We visited here at low tide and there was no water in the harbour at all!

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Cape Split. This is a 14km return hike from Scots Bay to the north of Wolfville. You climb gently through trees, which is good as it was very hot and the shade was welcome, then emerge on a meadow on cliffs high above the Bay of Fundy.

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Grand Pre. This was a very sad site commemorating the Acadians, descendants of French settlers, who were forcibly deported from the area in the 1750s by the British because they wouldn’t swear an oath of allegiance. (Many Acadians ended up in Louisiana, where the name became corrupted to Cajun.) There’s a very well-presented film, a memorial chapel set in a pretty park and exhibits about the Acadian way of life. Much of the land they were forced to give up had been created by them in the first place by building dikes along the shoreline. Not a matter for national pride for we Brits!

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Food and lodging.We stayed in the Stella Rose B&B where our hosts, Arlene and Dan Gibson, could not have been more charming or helpful. Although there are many vineyards round about, we didn’t visit any (very restrained). We did, however, sample Nova Scotian wine for the first time in a restaurant called Tempest and were quite impressed. Tempest is apparently rated number 13 restaurant in Canada (not sure on what list) and was certainly the smartest one we have been to. The next evening we resisted the temptation to go to the Library Pub and went to Paddy’s Brewpub instead, mainly because Dan had given us vouchers for free drinks. I wouldn’t expect too much from somewhere that looked like this at home (pseudo Irish pub), but the beer and food were both good with the most vegetarian choices I have seen. There was also live music so, all in all, a successful evening. Though perhaps a little too much beer!

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More Nova Scotia pictures on Pinterest.

Annapolis Royal, Nova Scotia

Annapolis Royal is one of the oldest European settlements in Canada. It started in 1605 as Port Royal and changed hands between the French and the British many times in the next century or so, becoming Annapolis Royal, in honour of Queen Anne, when the British captured it in 1710. We had 3 nights there, here’s what we enjoyed:

Eating and drinking

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We stayed at the Bailey House (above), the only B&B on the waterfront and the oldest inn in the area. It was beautiful inside and the breakfasts were outstanding – no lunch required. However, by dinner we had usually recovered our appetites. There aren’t many restaurants and one ruled itself out entirely by a) closing at 8pm and b) having nothing vegetarian on the menu, but we liked Bistro East enough to visit twice and Ye Olde Pub was fine for bar food, as you might expect from the name. John is eating a lot of fish and I am eating a lot of pasta, pizza and the odd veggie burger. Not a very slimming diet!

In Annapolis Royal

Suzan, the B&B owner, strongly recommended the Candlelight Graveyard Tour, so we did that on our first night. We met at Fort Anne at 9.30pm, were all given a lantern to carry and taken round the Garrison Graveyard by an undertaker-garbed guide. It was very skilfully done, and the stories of the dead served to bring history alive. We went back to the Fort and graveyard in daylight to have another look and were amazed at how many stories had been packed in to such a small area. The Historical Association, which provides this and other tours, also has a leaflet with a self-guided stroll around the town which tells you the history of many of the old buildings, takes you to the Historic Gardens and, if you do the whole thing as we did, French Basin Nature Trail.

Outside Annapolis Royal

The original site of Port Royal is on the other side of the Annapolis River from today’s town. You can visit a reconstruction of the habitation which itself is historical – it was built in 1939/40, which makes it an early example of this type of preservation.

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Also across the river, and over the North Mountain, is Delap’s Cove Wilderness Trail which takes you down to the Bay of Fundy. It was pretty, but only half of it was open when we were there.

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On our second day, we went down the “Digby Neck”. This is a narrow peninsula running parallel with the shore and connected by ferries to Long and Brier Islands. We started at the end and worked our way back up. Brier Island was the prettiest area with hiking trails, two attractive lighthouses (there are a lot of those in Nova Scotia) and a nature reserve full of nesting gulls.

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Long Island’s main claim to fame seemed to be its Balancing Rock – however the 4km hike left us underwhelmed, it wasn’t that spectacular.

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Finally, Digby itself had an interesting harbour with both lobster boats and pleasure craft.

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As before, there are a few more pictures of all the above on my Nova Scotia Pinterest board

Lunenburg, Nova Scotia

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On Tuesday, we drove across NS from Halifax to Annapolis Royal, and it RAINED – the sort of rain we’d left home to avoid! We had decided to detour via Lunenburg, and also stopped in Mahone Bay, which is where the rain caught up with us, absolutely bouncing off the pavements. Fortunately, there were plenty of little coffee shops to choose from and we found somewhere to shelter.

Lunenburg is a pretty, colourful fishing town (see above) which has been designated a UNESCO World Heritage site. Tourism is therefore more important than fishing these days, and finding a place to park was tricky. Tables at lunchtime were at a premium too, but I’m not sure if this was despite the weather or because of it – be prepared anyway to do a bit of hunting around. We had originally intended to spend a night or two here but were quite glad we had changed our plans for somewhere quieter.

As before, there are a few more pictures on Pinterest.

Halifax and Peggy’s Cove, Nova Scotia

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(For more photos, see my Nova Scotia Pinterest Board and John’s photo journals.)

Halifax is just over an hour’s flight from Montreal. We arrived on a balmy Saturday evening to find the Tall Ships in town. After a stroll along the waterfront, we ate Thai in a lovely little restaurant called Gingergrass just a few doors from where we were staying, the Waverley Inn. This is a place of Victorian charm, built in 1866 and a hotel since as long ago as 1876, but still very comfortable.

The next morning, we set off to walk around town and were just in time to catch the changing of the guard at Government House.

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This was only the first bit of Scottish culture we encountered. At the Citadel, there was a lot more. Nova Scotia is obviously a whole lot more Scottish than we are back home! I wasn’t sure if I wanted to visit the Citadel – I’m not really interested in army history – but because there was so much live action I enjoyed it.

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We found a great place for lunch – the Wooden Monkey, very near the Citadel and specialising in organic food, humane meat, gluten free and vegan dishes. I had a delicious chickpea salad, and the beer was good too. (So far, we’ve tried beer from three Halifax breweries – Alexander Keith, Propeller and Garrison – including blonde, amber and IPA – what a brilliant place to stay!)

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Afer lunch, we did some more strolling and ended up in the Public Gardens, which, according to the guide book, are considered to be the finest Victorian city gardens in North America. I can believe that – they were just beautiful, and as an added bonus there was a band playing because it was Sunday afternoon.

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After that, it was back down to the Waterfront to look at more Tall Ships before heading back to the Inn for a rest before dinner – pizza at Piatto with more beer and a free dessert because our pizzas were ready at different times. Thanks guys!

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On Monday, we drove down the coast to Peggy’s Cove, a lovely little fishing village with a much photographed lighthouse:

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For dinner, we returned to the Wooden Monkey because we liked it so much the first time. And that is the end of our brief stay in Halifax. We’ll have one more night here at the very end before we fly home, but for now we’re off to Annapolis Royal.