My guy and I took off on an adventure a week ago today.
We were excited to see that they’d rolled out the red carpet
and welcome mat.
We rested our weary bodies at the Colby House B&B in Sydney each night and gorged on delicious three-course breakfasts every morning–think pumpkin scones followed by blueberry cobbler topped with two scoops of frozen yogurt, fresh mint and a raspberry, followed by toast topped with guacamole, tomato and an egg, plus crisp bacon and orange slices. Each day, it was something equally decadent. Yeah, we didn’t eat again until about 9pm.
We walked along the beach near Port Hood, where the skipping stones begged to be set free.
Our discovery of the Mabou trails was one of our favorite finds.
Around every bend the scene changed.
We hiked here on our first day when the sun was shining.
And returned for a five hour hike on our last full day, when the raindrops glistened.
We found all kinds of animal sign, including plenty of scat and even a few moose bones.
The lady ferns decorated the slopes of the enchanted forest
and lungwort on many trees let us know that we were in a rich, healthy ecosystem.
The Cape Mabou Highlands encompasses about 5,000 acres of coastal wilderness centered around MacKinnon’s Brook on the western coast of the island.
The trails are well signed and maintained.
Of course, no trip to the island is complete without a journey on the Cabot Trail.
We followed the Skyline Trail and found plenty of moose prints beside the boardwalk.
We walked through a gated area along the path intended to let all but moose pass through. The hope is that this area that has been fenced off because the moose had browsed it extensively, will eventually return to a boreal forest. The jury is still out on that one.
We followed the boardwalk and descended to the lookout where the wind nearly blew us off the cliffs.
On our way back, we saw a young moose standing beside the trail. By the time I focused the camera, it had turned.
Through the woods, we could see its mother and a sibling.
On other trails, we hiked to a small waterfall,
through an old growth sugar maple forest and
beside the lone sheiling, a rectangular structure closely modeled after Scottish traditional dwellings for crofters or tenant farmers, with its rubblestone walls, rough-hewn timbers and thatched roof.
One of my favorites was the pitch pine forest, where the contrast of color and growth habit was most evident.
We discovered that life on the cliffs is abundant and lush.
We saw how wild raisins earned their common name.
Everywhere we looked we saw fruit, like these cherries,
mountain ash berries,
beach rose hips,
and blue beads (Yellow clintonia).
But the tree that had us wondering the most caught our attention on the first hike. We saw apples in the brook far below.
My assumption was that there must be a homestead nearby. Then we began to notice apple trees growing alongside many roads we traveled (and we traveled on many). Apparently, they are descendants of ancient trees planted by early settlers. The climate is obviously agreeable–while the growing season on the highland plateau is shorter and experiences harsher extremes, it appears that in the lowlands, the amount of sun and rain is just right. Life is good and plentiful. Wildlife that is.
While we did hike in some rain, we also spent a couple of rainy days learning about local history. Our favorite museum was the Miners Museum in Glace Bay.
Our guide and former miner, Wishie Donovan, played a huge role in making this the best of all tours.
As he lead us down the tunnels, he shared the story of mining for coal miles beneath the ocean–based on historical facts and his own experiences.
We donned capes and hardhats and had to bend low to avoid bumping our heads.
Horses like Fred, well, not really like Fred because he’s not real, helped haul the mined coal and rats were actually important. We’ve always heard about the canaries in the mine, but rats lived there and if there were no rats running about in the morning, the men took that as a sign not to enter.
We came away with a greater understanding of this enterprise.
In Baddeck, we stopped at the Alexander Graham Bell Museum.
There were many interesting things on display and we learned about the vast variety of interests and knowledge Bell had, including a look at the common water skater model built by his friend, Hector McNeil. They used this to better understand nature’s own hydrofoil, so they could apply its basic principles to the hydrofoil they were building.
I do have to wonder, though, if Alec and Mabel Bell sat on the bench looking out over St. Patrick’s Channel and wondered why there weren’t any truly interactive displays at the museum. In a film clip, one of their daughters mentions how he would bring science projects to the dinner table for them to investigate. We spent way too much time reading about him and not enough time actually experiencing the discoveries he made. Or trying to make our own–which is what he apparently encouraged.
I did spot a bit of wildlife at the Bell museum–a Canada lynx. We saw plenty of cat scat on our hikes. Apparently, the lynx were the top cats on the island until the Canso Causeway was built and the bobcats found their way across. I’m not sure which cat owned the scat we saw, but the lynx are the main cat predators in the higher elevations, while bobcats inhabit the lower elevations. I’m in awe of either one of these elusive animals.
It poured as we raced from one building to another at the Highland Village Museum in Iona.
I liked this portrayal of life as it was presented in a timeline from building to building. The Scottish Gaelic culture came alive as we traveled from one setting to the next and watched life transform.
We almost got to watch life transform for longer than we’d intended. While in the schoolhouse, we heard the door close and then a latch moved. We were about to be locked in for the night.
On our final day, as we left Cape Breton, the sun shown brightly over Bras d’Or Lake.
The waning thistle signaled the end of our Cape Breton tour.
But the fun wasn’t over. We stopped in Saint John, New Brunswick, and connected with family. Another leaf on the family tree for my guy.
It also meant a stop at the sight of the former parish his ancestors knew so well.
And a photo op beside their grave stone.
No trip to Musquash is complete without a visit to his namesake’s home.
And this time we met the fire chief who knew the family well and pointed out the original homestead site.
The chief obviously values his local history. He took us upstairs in the firehouse and pointed out other photos he’s collected. We suspect some of my guy’s ancestors are students in the lower righthand photo.
At last, it was time to cross the border–back to reality. Mondate to Mondate. Cape style.
This post is dedicated to our friend, Dick Olmsted, who passed away this week. Dick knew the value of family and friends. We’ll forever be enriched by our memories of time well spent with him. And the wise guy he could be 🙂
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