Monday, October 10, 2016

A Fantastic Summer...has Turned into a Fantastic Fall

Summer was awesome. Kicked it off with a relaxing (and cold) camping trip to Englishtown Ridge followed by an endless string of events that saw me fully in my element; at the beach, in the sun, outdoors! The Grand Re-opening of the Keltic Lodge, Canada Day at the Fortress, a family reunion in Cheticamp, several trips to Baddeck and Framboise, camping for a total of 9 nights at Broad Cove, hiking the Mabou Highlands (and a number of other trails!), swimming at Inverness Beach and Chimney Corner and a 3-day birthday celebration in Cheticamp on the Labour Day Weekend. On September 16th, I saw summer off with a bang when I jumped on a flight headed to Glasgow, Scotland where Explored the cities and Highlands for nine days. So now you understand why I have not been posting much lately! I've been busy exploring and traveling and gathering ideas for the posts that will be coming in the near future. This is what happens when I work for three summers straight. I go crazy making up for all that lost time spent in the office when I would rather be in the woods, on the beach or jet-setting off to some faraway land.

Fall is off to a great start. Well, except today. We are getting some of the nasty remnants of Hurricane Matthew and it's not pretty. People being evacuated from their homes, cars floating down rivers that were once streets, more than 200 milliliters of rain in some places - and that fell in less than 12 hours. Only 48 hours ago, I was swimming in the ocean at Inverness Beach! Imagine, swimming in the ocean on October 8th one day and being slammed by a tropical storm the next. We've always had crazy, unpredictable weather here in Cape Breton but the last few years, it seems to be getting crazier. So far this fall, I've kayaked in St. Esprit, I've been around the Cabot Trail and I've been doing a lot of beach-combing. Trying to take in as much of that sun and warm air as possible before winter arrives.

Celtic Colours started this week too and I am hoping to take in some of those events. There is a guided Hike of Mica Hill that I would like to do on Wednesday if the weather is good and also a guided walk in Judique I would like to do. Next Saturday is the big final show of the festival that I go to every year so that should be a a blast as it usually is! I also have some air miles I would like to use before they expire on December 31st so I may just jump on a plane once again this fall and head to the Rocky Mountains of Alberta to visit my sisters in Canmore and Banff. So that is where I'm at with the blog. I'm still here. Lots to come. Stay tuned :)

Saturday, September 10, 2016

Camping Trip at Englishtown Ridge

Anyone who has followed this blog for any length of time knows by now that my favourite camping spot is at a campground called Broad Cove near Ingonish in the Cape Breton Highlands National Park. Over the years, I have explored many areas of my little island home but rarely spend an overnight at any other campground besides Broad Cove. A handful of times, I stayed at familiar ones like Lake O'Law in Margaree and MacLeod's in Inverness, but I almost always end up on the East side of the highlands. My car even seems to instinctively know which way to go when we reach the turn off to the Englishtown Ferry and sometimes I find myself going down that road quite a piece before I realize I didn't intend to go that way at all! But anyway, back in early July, I made that turn with full intentions on going to Englishtown....and no further. Englishtown is that place I pass through to get on that little car ferry that takes me across the little channel that separates the village from that long stretch of road that leads to my favorite spot North of Smokey Mountain.

I arrived at Englishtown Ridge Campground in the early afternoon after what seemed like a short drive compared to what I am used to when I head out for a weekend of camping. I found the place pretty easily and made my way up a gravel road and proceeded to the check-in building. I was surprised by all the amenities and services that are available at this campground. Just within the check-in area, there's a pool table, scenic cafe-like sitting area, snacks and full washrooms with showers. Outside, there's a swimming pool with a slide and a sauna. I'd never stayed at a campground with a sauna before and made full use of it during my stay!
Selection of a campsite was easy. I fell in love with the first site I laid eyes on. It was at the front of the property overlooking the bay and almost right next to the pool, chalet and bathrooms. Despite being so close to such modern amenities, it still felt like I was roughing it. There were trees all around me so it looked like I was in the middle of nowhere. I like to rough it as much as possible. That's what camping is all about for me; being one with the outdoors and escaping the routine of home.
I set up my tent as quickly as possible because the flies were really bad. Once everything was ready, I set out to explore my surroundings. Although I'd been to Englishtown many times, I never spent time there except to stand outside my car while waiting for the car ferry to take me across the channel. Upon arrival at Englishtown Ridge, I promised myself I would make the most of my time in the village to explore as much of it as possible. I started with a walk around the campground to get an idea of who else was staying there, what they did for fun in the evenings and where everything was located. The campground is fairly large with lots of families who seem to know each other, most likely from previous years of camping in the same area. One of the many things I love about camping is the sound of children laughing and running freely in the great outdoors. It brings back many memories of my own childhood summers camping around Cape Breton Island and the friends I made, the people I met and the adventures I went on during those long summer days that seemed like they would never end.

Since the town of Baddeck is only twenty minutes away, I decided that first evening to take a drive and see what was going on in the little village that evening. But first, I stopped at the interesting-looking fish and chip stand down the road from the campground and ordered myself a decent plate of rather expensive home fries. The fries were pretty good but it was the eye-catching trinkets the owner had displayed around his little business that caught my attention.
I love Baddeck. I think it's the prettiest little town I've ever laid eyes on. Not very much was going on that evening but there was quite the crowd gathered around a stately-looking super-yacht parked at the wharf. I walked past it to get a better look and whoever was inside gave a friendly wave to the crowd through tinted glass. I'm not usually the starstruck type but with a yacht that size, I had to wonder who that shadowy figure was on the other side of that glass. Surely it would have to be someone with a lot of money so it would have to someone well-known right? One can only speculate! I walked down to the little boardwalk and up to the main street where I did a little window shopping and got some ice cream from my new favorite ice cream shop in Cape Breton where you can have two or three scoops of whatever flavors you want. And yes, you can mix and other words, you can have 3 different flavors on the same cone!

I arrived back to the campground just in time to take a walk down the road. Across the street from the campground is a hall with a wrap around deck where I was able to watch a most spectacular sunset over St. Anne's Bay. I continued walking as far as the ferry loading dock and passed by some horses grazing in a field and some men fishing on some docks. A more peaceful and fulfilling lifestyle than that of city dwellers in my opinion. Back home in town, I'm sure nearly everyone was inside watching television while people in the country were embracing these small things...or big things depending on how you look at the world. I'm realizing as I get older that the things I once thought were small were actually the big things. I know this, because many of those "small" moments are memories I go back to often and cherish more than any day spent in the house watching television.
Back at camp, I tried to get a fire started to help keep the flies away and take a bit of the edge off the cold, early summer air. I ended up with more smoke than fire for the first while, ran out of kindling which had to be sought by the dim light of a flashlight and than, finally, got some decent flamage going and was able to sit back and relax with a nice cold beer and some roasted marshmallows. The night sky was clear and the only sound I could hear was the the Englishtown ferry loading and unloading.
By the time I was ready for bed, the night was dead quiet. Even the ferry was silent as traffic died down for the night. I settled into my tent but it was so cold that I had a hard time falling asleep. I must have dozed off at some point but was awoken by some loud sounds shattering the dead silence. Banging. Some voices. Some scurrying sounds in the bushes. An animal of some sort. And lucky me, I had to leave the not-so-comfortable confines of my freezing tent to go to the bathroom and enter the even more uncomfortable and freezing outside. I didn't bother to go all the way up to the flush toilets. It was dark and no one was around so I risked being eaten by whatever animal was lurking around and ventured into the nearby woods. More scurrying sounds in the bushes but this time they were only feet away from me. I quickly returned to the tent and tried, to no avail to get some sleep. I lay there shivering all night long. At one point, I was so cold, I thought I was in the early stages of hypothermia. The next morning, once I de-thawed, I discovered that the noise I had heard was a rambunctious racoon who raided my neighbors food stash and made a big mess around their site.

After a breakfast made over a Coleman Stove (which included some surprisingly good coffee), I made my way across the little bay on the Torquil MacLean and drove along the windy road along the north shore until I spotted an interesting-looking road I'd never been on before. If you know me well enough, you know that I, of course, drove down this road. I do this a lot. I can't help it. I'm naturally curious and I love seeing new places and exploring new corners of my little island. After I satisfied my curiosity, I settled in for lunch at a restaurant I never ate before. Trying out new restaurants and cafes is something I like to do too. All part of that curiosity complex I am afflicted with. The Clucking Hen was quite packed as I expected it would be with the jump in tourism this year. They say its due to something called the Trump Bump brought on by what was supposed to be a joke created by a local radio station enticing Americans to flee to Cape Breton if Donald Trump wins the election. It turned into probably one of the most effective tourism campaigns ever for Cape Breton Island. I don't know the exact numbers as of yet but based on the crowds and line-ups, I'd say it was a record-breaking year. I took the last table closest to a window as I could possible be and ordered a veggie sandwich. And it was delicious. Actually, it was very delicious with lots of fresh veggies and perfectly-meshed toppings. I must have passed this place thousands of times on the way to Ingonish over the last twenty years and never bothered to stop. Now I will.

I noticed something else along that road I'd traveled countless times; a sign indicating a hiking trail called Red Island. Again my curiosity got the better of me and I grabbed my hiking stick and started down the trail to see where it went. In the end, the flies ended up getting the better of me and I turned back. A project for the fall when the air cools and the flies die off.
I took the long way back to Englishtown via St. Anne's with a pit stop at the North River Falls trailhead. I heard there was another shorter trail there and wanted to see if it was true. Turns out, there is another trail so that will be another fall project. My dad and I did the longer 19-kilomtre North River Falls Hike a few years back but I don't think I will attempt that one again for a few years.

The last night wasn't as cold as the first and I slept soundly the whole night and awoke to the sound of birds chirping and trees rustling. I hate tear-down day. Not because of the work involved in putting all the gear away but because it means going back home and back to reality. I always say if we had tropical weather in Cape Breton, I would live in a tent. As it stands now, that tent would be an igloo six months of the year. Cold and snow aren't really my favorite things so I'm forced to rent an apartment. Who knows, maybe the poles will shift someday in my lifetime. I could just move to Costa Rica and live in a treehouse on the beach...but Costa Rica's 365-days-long summers don't even come close to any Cape Breton Summer even though it seems they come and are gone in the blink of an eye.

Thursday, August 18, 2016

A Hike Through the Mabou Highlands and an Evening Spent on A Lovely Beach I Never Knew Existed

I first heard about the Cape Mabou Highlands Hiking Trails about 2 years ago and finally got the chance to try out these trails for the first time only recently.  Now I know more about Mabou than I thought imaginable.  For one, I know it's a lot bigger than I originally thought and I know it's more than just the home of the famous Rankins and the ever-popular Red Shoe Pub.  Mabou is mountains, beaches, wildlife, trails and scenery I didn't even know we had on Cape Breton know, that island I thought I knew like the back of my hands?  Turns out, there is still so much to see on this island and I've made a promise to myself to make this the summer that I see many of those things I haven't seen yet.

I left early that morning to give myself enough time to find the trailhead and to also check out another trail in Margaree along the way.  The other trail was said to be located in Margaree Centre and although I found Margaree Centre after more than a few wrong turns (Margaree is a confusing place), and foundwhat I thought was the area of the trail but I was unable to find an actual trail.  I didn't want to spend too much time looking for it and the place was like a ghost town so I backtracked back to the main road and continued toward Mabou...and took a wrong turn.  When I realized my mistake, I was already a half hour off course.  No big deal.  I just turned around and headed back to the turn off where I made the mistake and found the right road.

I made a quick stop near the Glenora Distillery to check my GPS and figure out where to go to find the first trailhead before turning onto the gravel Glenora Falls Road.  I followed it until I reached a wind turbine. All the directions I read online mentioned this wind turbine and basically stated that once you reach it, the trailhead is nearby and easy to find.  Well, I didn't find it.  The road started to get bad and I didn't feel comfortable going further nor parking my car in such a remote place.  I opted instead to eat my lunch under the giant wind turbine and search for the other trailhead.

Back on the main highway, I drove for about ten minutes before turning onto another road and driving through an area of the island I didn't know existed.  All this time, I thought Mabou was just one road with a strip of shops and houses along one stretch and here before me was a huge area with fishing wharves, beautiful summer homes, beaches and grassy hills.  I enjoyed the scenery along that road until it seemingly came to an end.  By seemingly I mean the wide two-lane road suddenly turned into a one-lane road that was riddled with potholes.  I turned around thinking I had missed the turn off.  Some people were outside doing yard work so I asked them if they knew where I needed to go.  Turns out I was going the right way all along. I turned around and went back to where the road seemingly ended as that was where the trailhead was supposed to be.  Sure enough, I ventured down that one lane road and rounded a bend to be met face-to-face with the signs indicating where the Cape Mabou Highlands Trail started.  Or I guess I should say trails because there were several and I hate when I come upon a trailhead that gives me more than one option where to go because that means I have to make a decision which way to go!

I decided to take the path that led to a scenic look-off.  Can't go wrong with scenic look-offs.  It was also shorter than the other one that would have taken me into the late evening and was best saved for another day.  I was only out of the car a few seconds and still applying sunscreen when the flies started coming around me.  Dozens, than hundreds and than so many that I could barely stand up straight from swatting at them.  I applied some bug spray with that sunscreen.  Not a pleasant combination but necessary to keep my sanity.

I set out on a fairly-well-groomed trail and wasn't a minute into the hike when something moving in the bush startled me.  A frightened partridge can make a lot of noise that can be easily mistaken for something bigger.  There were some indications that something bigger had been lurking on the trail fairly recently as there were footprints and some scuffed dirt and holes in various places.  Most likely a deer.  Possibly a moose.  I was hoping not a bear.  The only other living things I met on that trail were some fellow humans coming from the look-off area just as I was walking in.  A mailbox-looking-thingy caught my attention as I was pushed to the side to allow the other passed.  My curiosity revealed a guestbook.  I signed my name and browsed the others to see where they were from.  It still always surprises me when I see signatures of people from Europe, Asia and everywhere in between.

I wasn't expecting the views on this trail to rival those in the Highlands of Cape Breton but that is exactly what they did.  I was shocked and than surprised to learn that these amazing views existed without me knowing all along.  Lobster boats hauling traps, colorful homes on the peninsula below, a sandy beach and the blue ocean all laid out before me in what looked like a giant painting.  How on earth did this remain off my radar for so long?  Perhaps I've been focusing my undivided attention on one part of the island for too long (I usually end up in the Northern region of the island in the Highlands) and its time to start exploring other areas that I'm less familiar with.
From that point on, the trail got steeper and more difficult.  I came to a junction that gave me two options; 1) a shorter trail that would take me back around to my car and 2) a longer one that went who knows where.  It was too late in the day to even consider that longer trail so the shorter won.  I planned to return to do the rest of the trails anyway.

Old foundations started to become visible along the path so I stopped to investigate.  Not much was left of whatever it had once been and there looked to be some sort of stone wall along part of the trail. It seemed like such a remote place for there to once be a homestead but that may very well be what it once was.

I was descending a steep incline when the unthinkable happened.  Well, the unthinkable for a hiker who didn't pack an extra pair of shoes in her backpack. The souls of my shoes came off.  I felt it in the left foot first.  A feeling of something getting trapped under my foot and swinging back.  I tied it back on with some orange ribbon I had in my pack and continued on.  I felt the same sensations in the right foot next.  That one stayed mostly intact for the rest of the hike.  My band-aid job on the other shoe lasted until I was able to see my car through the trees.  My local shoe-repair guy said he could bring them back to almost new for 25 bucks.  Beats having to brave the mall in the summer (I hate the mall all the time but even more in the summer) to buy a new pair.

I always thought Mabou was kind of a small, drive-through-too-fast-and-you-might-miss-it kind of place on the side of a rural highway in the middle of nowhere.  That was before I heard about the Mabou Highlands Trails and the beautiful beach that is located in the community.  I found the directions to this beach online and found it quite easily.  West Mabou Beach Provincial Park is another place on this small island full of secrets that I, the non-stop adventurer and off-the-beaten-path-location-seeker.  And not only does the park feature a long, sandy beach, it also features quite a few hiking trails which I plan to check out in more detail the next time I am in the area.  It was getting late in the evening and I was getting hungry so I took a walk down a part of the beach and sat with my feet in the sand before heading back to the main part of town to try and find something to eat.

My heart was set on having dinner at the Red Shoe Pub.  That's the famous pub in Mabou owned by the famous Rankin sisters who happen to be from Mabou.  I found a parking spot in the lot across the street and checked out the menu online before entering.  I didn't need to see anything past the item called "Pair of Shoes" which sounded delicious.  I crossed the street and opened the see that there were no tables left and about a dozen people waiting to be seated.  Disappointed, I walked back to my car and headed to the nearby town of Inverness to see what I could find to eat there.
It still being June (which is considered low season here) and also being late in the evening meant not many restaurants were open.  I thought I would have to settle on pizza to-go-and-eat-it-by-the-beach (not that there is anything wrong with takeout at the beach) when I noticed an "open" sign on a little diner with a pizza shop attached.   I ordered a veggie wrap, ate it up as quickly as I could and headed to lovely Inverness Beach for an evening stroll along the beautiful boardwalk just as the sun was starting to set over the ocean.  The end of another epic day on The Cape.
Sunset at Inverness Beach...The most beautiful sunsets on the island!

Friday, August 12, 2016

Gooseberry Cove and Devil's Hill Falls

It's only early in the season, but already I've done several new hikes that I never knew existed on Cape Breton Island until recently.  I was lucky enough to recently knock two off my list in one day - Gooseberry Cove and Devil's Hill Falls.

I was undecided when my chosen morning to do these hikes arrived because it was calling for rain and the weather was changing every 5 minutes.  First it said sun and cloud.  Than it said mostly cloudy with showers.  Than it said heavy showers.  Finally, I stopped checking and took a chance and headed towards Louisbourg.

I made it to the turn off to Little Lorraine and located the stretch of road where the trail was said to be located.  The directions I found online said to drive a few kilometers down and park on the left side of the road.  I assumed the tail would be on the left side and was looking for it when all of a sudden, I realized I was in Main-a-dieu and must have missed it.  I turned around and, this time, set my GPS to take me right to the trail...and of course, the trail was on the other side of the road.

It looked like I could drive up the road leading to Gooseberry Cove but I wasn't taking any chances in an old gravel road in the Spring.  I grabbed my camera, changed into my hiking boots and walked along a somewhat rough but seemingly driveable road.  It was apparent that someone drove up there recently because there were fresh tire tracks.  I saw more evidence of recent visitors when I reached the parking area near the beach; empty lobster claws and an empty bottle of Bud.

I thought there would be signs marking the start of the trail but I didn't see any so I considered going to the right where there was a beach until I noticed what looked like a little trail going to the left.
I carried on even though I lost the trail a few times.  It wasn't hard to find the beaten trail again but eventually it brought me to a dead end...or I suppose it was a look-off since it was a spectacular view atop a cliff overlooking the ocean.  I didn't take into account the fact that many hikers before me caused the path to be there and it would be only common sense to assume they might veer off the main course to have a better look at the view or stop for a picnic somewhere. That path took me right to a dead end atop a cliff with nowhere to go but down....or back the way I came.  I backtracked and noticed another trail going the other way and decided that that must be the right one.
I don't know if the Gooseberry Cove Trail is just shorter than I expected it to be or I took another wrong turn because I ended up on a very high, thin ledge looking down at some pretty jagged rocks.  The ground started to feel unstable enough under my feet for me to carefully retrace my steps to end up back where I started.  It was getting too late in the day to start looking for another trail so I just stuck around that area for a while admiring the view and looking out to sea.  Lots of lobster traps were set according to the number of colorful  buoys I could see bobbing in the waves, some sea birds were floating around and ducking every now and than to grab fish, a fin broke the surface....wait, a fin?  I thought I must be seeing things, whales don't come that close to shore.  I stopped dead in my tracks, made myself as still as possible and watched the section of water where I thought I saw the fin.  Sure enough, seconds later, a clearly-defined black fin broke the surface.  It was a whale for sure.  A small one, perhaps a Pilot Whale chasing a school of fish.  He must have sensed he was heading to close to shore too because almost as quickly as he made himself visible in front of me, he started back to the open sea and was gone.
I started back toward my car with the intention of returning another day to find the real Gooseberry Cove Trail.  But the day wasn't over yet; I still had one other place to check out while I was in the area.

I thought I knew about every waterfall on Cape Breton Island until I found information online about all the waterfalls in Cape Breton and there are dozens I never knew existed.  Of course, being the adventurous waterfall-loving soul that I am, I will eventually see each and every one of them.  On this day, I decided to knock Devil's Hill Falls off my list.

While I had directions on my phone, I still had trouble finding the entrance to the falls.  I found New Boston Road with little trouble but the entrance to the falls eluded me for some time.  I drove up and down the road several times (and had my car accosted by some angry-looking dobermans when I turned around in their driveway) looking on the side that was mentioned in the directions and just couldn't find anything that even remotely looked like a trail.  Finally, I stopped to ask a woman doing some work in her yard if she knew where they were.  Turns out, the entrance is on the other side of the road and I would later find out that the directions I had were correct.  The problem, it turns out, is New Boston Road is a loop and the person who wrote the directions assumed most people would enter from the other way.
I finally find the entrance to the falls with a clearly marked sign with "Devil's Hill Falls" that I would have seen had I been looking in the right place.
It wasn't a long walk to the falls, perhaps five minutes.  I could hear them as I approached and than I could see the top of them....but I couldn't figure out how to get to the bottom of them to look up like I had seen in other hikers' photos.  I looked around for a good ten minutes trying to find out how to get down to the falls.  I was looking for a path or some stairs but saw nothing.  It was a hint of yellow tied around a tree that tipped me off; the only way down involved descending a steep embankment while holding onto a rope for balance.
I must say, the falls are quite impressive and worth the climb down that steep embankment.  The cozy little area at the bottom of the falls has a some benches but be sure to bring bug spray if you intend to hang around a bit!  The black flies were out in full force that day.

The sound of waterfalls is the most relaxing sound in the world to me (well, tied with the sound of crickets in a pond at night) and I could have stayed there at the bottom of those falls all day if it hadn't looked like the sky was going to open up any minute.  The trail keeps going for quite a bit according to what I read online so I made a promise to myself to return and stay longer at the falls and also hike the rest of the trail. Back at my car, I hadn't even turned the ignition yet when the rain started.  Another successful day on the trails!

Saturday, July 23, 2016

The Grand Reopening of The Keltic Lodge Resort

As a youngster with a wild imagination, I thought the Keltic Lodge Resort in Ingonish, Cape Breton was a place where royalty and movie stars stayed when visiting the island.  Every time I came across a picture of the resort or admired it from nearby Ingonish Beach, it's well-manicured lawns and stately main lodge reminded of something from an enchanted fairy tale. I envisioned women with big fascinator hats and Victorian-like dresses strolling through the gardens and men in tuxedos sipping Brandy and smoking cigars in a chandelier-lit lounge. The closest I got to the place was an impromptu mini photo shoot orchestrated by my parents who thought having us kids sitting together in one of the Adirondack chairs (or Keltic Lodge chairs as I called them because that's the only place I ever saw them) would make a fun, unique photo.  My curiosity about the place was fueled even more by rumors that well-known celebrities and politicians frequented the lodge.  Many years later, I would find out what it was that attracted so many visitors from around the world.
I was already living away in another province when I found out my sister would be working at the Keltic Lodge for the 2002 season.  My first thought upon hearing this news was "she can get the inside scoop on the place and tell me what it's really like inside and who stays there".  Before she was able to spill anything, I had the opportunity to get the inside scoop myself when I traveled home that summer and visited her at her home-away-from-home at the on-site staff residence.

I was a little uncomfortable with having to drive up to the resort and trying to find my sister.  Would I look suspicious?  Would security stop and question me?  It was, after all, a grand resort where the rich and famous took their vacations and I didn't want to look like some crazed paparazzi.  I was reassured that there would be nothing to worry about and that those things I heard about the rich and famous were just fairy tales fueled by local children trying to impress us city slickers who camped in Ingonish on summer weekends.  Was she serious?  Just fairy tales?  Or was she sworn to secrecy?

I arrived one evening in the early summer of that year and parked in the main parking area in front of the Balmoral residence.   I already had the back seats of my parent's mini van taken out and a sleeping bag set up in the back as I wasn't able to stay in my sister's room.  Because this post is supposed to be about the grand reopening of The Keltic Lodge, I'll sum up my time spent there that summer like this:
I learned that The Keltic Lodge is not some untouchable place where only the rich and famous stay.  It is not a stuffy, snobby resort with gold-plated railings, crystal chandeliers and bowtied garcons.  It is, however, a beautiful, magical place that caters to people from all walks of life.  That summer was one of the best summers of my life.  Through my sister and my time spent around the lodge while visiting with her, I met lots of people from all over the world, I sampled ice cream from the Atlantic Restaurant, I embarked on a tour of the inside of some areas, I enjoyed some wonderful evenings in the Sitting Room while Cyril MacPhee performed, I was introduced to the Thirsty Hiker Pub at the nearby Glenghorm Resort and even took my turn as the designated driver back to base and, most importantly, I fell in love with that iconic white building with the red trim that I'd admired from afar for so long.

Although I never had the opportunity to actually stay at the Keltic (besides sleeping in a van in the residence parking lot), I've visited the grounds many times and often park in the big parking lot near the restaurant during lightning storms (best place in the area to watch lightning, hands down!) when it's too stormy to stay in my tent at nearby Broad Cove.  I've always wanted the resort to succeed partially because my sister worked there, partially because it employs so many local people but mostly because it belongs on the Middle Head Peninsula.  It's the heart of The Highlands and without it, the area just wouldn't be the same.  A few years ago, rumors started to spread. The beautiful resort needed some major repairs and that it was for sale and that perhaps it would even have to close.  Those are just some of the things I heard.  That's why when I recently learned that some major renovations were done and there would be a grand reopening to show the public that the Keltic was, in fact, still alive and not going anywhere, I clicked on that "attending" button on the Facebook event page and made plans to attend it back on June 25th, 2016.  I wanted to be there and show my support for the new initiatives being taken to revive Cape Breton's premiere vacation destination.

A number of people were already roaming the grounds when I arrived but I was still able to find a parking space close to the building before it got too crowded.  I entered my name in the draw to win one of several great prizes (one of which was for a stay at the resort) and walked around the newly-renovated area.  I started to explore the Inn area on my own when a very friendly, well-mannered young man offered to give me the grand tour.  I was very impressed with what had been done with the suites and especially loved the ones with the glass doors overlooking the bay.  The spa was also very impressive and I especially loved the hot tub on the outside deck looking toward majestic Cape Smokey Mountain.  As I wandered around admiring the spectacular work that had been done to an already spectacular place, I heard the faint sound of a lone piper. And than I heard another.   
The ribbon cutting ceremony wasn't due to start for another couple of hours so I decided to take a spin around Ingonish to visit some of my favorite places.  I went to Black Brook, Warren Lake, Broad Cove, North Bay Beach, The Point and Ingonish Beach.  I even stopped along the way to buy a Frisbee at The Outdoor Store but there were none left. Guess a few people had that in mind for the weekend seeing as, in Ingonish, you are surrounded by beautiful sandy beaches perfect for a game of Frisbee.  On my wanderings, I noticed that there seemed to be more tourists around than usual for that time of year.  A telling sign to come?  Word is getting around.

I returned to the Keltic just in time for the Ribbon Cutting Ceremony and speeches.  Everyone involved in the resort's present and future success were so full of energy and promise for a bright future.  There was even mention of making the Keltic a year-round resort which I think would be fantastic! Unfortunately, I didn't win any of those door prizes but I felt privileged to be in attendance at such a wonderful event in honor of the resort and to be among the first people to learn more about what is coming from Cape Breton's premiere destination...which may sooner than later become Nova Scotia's premiere destination or even Canada's premiere destination.  And why not?  It has everything - The world-class golf course, beautiful scenery, sandy beaches, fun activities, warm hospitality and scrumptious food and drink.
I ended that afternoon with a hike on the Middle Head Peninsula Trail.  I hadn't done that trail in many years and thought it would be a fitting end to the day.   The breeze coming off the water was nice and there were no flies.  I walked right to the end of the peninsula and stood at what felt like the edge of the world and admired the awe-inspiring views.  On the way back, the wind died down and the flies came out in full force.  The final leg of the trail was pure torture.  I stopped at one point to get some bug spray from my backpack (I found everything but) and heard something fairly big moving in the bushes not far from where I stood.  I froze in terror thinking it might be a bear and when I got the nerve, I started moving slowly down the trail before speeding up again.  Fortunately, I was closer to the end of the trail than I thought and within minutes I was back in the safety and comfort of my air-conditioned Sonata.
I ate supper at the Seagull Restaurant before heading to my favorite cafe in the area for dessert.  One of my traditions when in Ingonish is to have a piece of that delicious carrot cake they serve at the Bean Barn Cafe and grab a coffee to go and enjoy it along the shores of Freshwater Lake while the sun sets.  But, much to my disappointment, The Bean Barn was closed early that day.  Despite that one hiccup, it turned out to be a great day in The Highlands.  One that made me appreciate that shining star on the Middle Head Peninsula even more.  The Keltic Lodge has always been special.  Amazing.  Spectacular.  Grande.  Now it will be all of those things and more for generations to come. And perhaps someday, I will leave the tent in the trunk and forego a night at Broad Cove Campground to spend the night in one of those luxurious rooms with a view. 

Sunday, May 15, 2016

A Spring Hike, A Foggy Beach and Lots of Old Houses

Spring may have started a while ago but Spring-like weather only came about fairly recently here on Cape Breton Island.  That means hiking season is just around the corner but it officially started for me with a hike in Framboise on a foggy but warmish April spring day.

I awoke that morning to the sun splitting rocks and abnormally high temps for the time of year.  The drive to the coast was nice until I actually reached the coast where everything was engulfed in a thick fog and the temperatures were about ten degrees cooler than they were inland.

Ferguson Road was my first stop.  I drove all the way down to the beach and than back to the half-way point in the road to take a rest and a little stroll along an old wood road that ran along a long-ago abandoned property.  It was so quiet there and all I could hear was the soft breeze in the trees and a few birds chirping.  Much quieter than the racket I'm exposed to at home where all I can hear 24-7 is the loud hum of a nearby power generating station.

I walked a piece up the gravel road towards the main highway taking in more of those nature sounds and felt at ease and more relaxed than I had in weeks.  It was like all my stress was lifted off my shoulders and tossed into the brush where I hoped it would stay.  Alas, upon returning to the real world, those stresses always come back but they are easier to manage after a long spell in the woods.

After my little leg-stretcher on Ferguson Road, I drove back to the main road and down a piece until I found a partially grown-in driveway to park in while I hiked in an area I had heard about.  I followed an old beaten path through a wooded area that led toward the ocean.  I expected to see some nice scenery but what I didn't expect to see was a few old houses. I love walking around the old, abandoned houses in that area.  I like to imagine the families that once lived in them and what their lives were like.  However, upon closer inspection of this particular house, I realized it was  still in use and was in the process of being renovated.  The American flag in the window gave away some clues to the ownership. And what a spot it is to renovate an old country farmhouse and turn it into a summer retreat that no one even knows is there...unless they venture on foot into the woods as I did.

Fog was rolling in as I broke through the trees and approached the coastal area.  I could faintly make out the rocky coastline and hear the waves crashing onshore but everything beyond that was a haze. I spotted an interesting-looking grassy area atop a giant rock and climbed to the top of it to get a better view of the ocean.  A couple of seals bobbed in the waves but I couldn't see very far. I took a seat in an area that was sheltered against the cool wind and ate my usual lunch - an egg sandwich, a muffin, an energy bar and some tea -  and walked some more along that rugged coastline until I came to a grassy area with a semi-beaten trail on it.  I followed it to see where it went....and, due to my curious nature, kept following it until I came to another clearing with some more old-weather-beaten houses.  These ones were most certainly abandoned and had been for some time.  A light mist was beginning to fill the air and I thought I could hear the faint yelp of coyotes in the distance as I headed back to my car but my day wasn't over yet.
A short drive took me to my next stop on Frank MacDonald Road near Grand River. It was getting later in the evening and the crickets were starting their nightly chorale.  I parked my car next to the gently flowing river and crossed the deserted road to walk up an old wood road towards the tree line.  I heard there used to be some old houses on that road and I wanted to check them out.  To my disappointed, the old houses that were said to be there were replaced by new ones.  I'm sure these homeowners weren't a bit disappointed when they laid eyes on that beautiful piece of land and decided to make their home there. I didn't linger too long on that land that was obviously private property and heard some more coyotes off in the distance as I walked back to the car.

Just up the road a bit was another old wood road...or at least the faded remnants of an old wood road.  There was a clearly defined ditch to the sides and a power line but the old road itself was all grown in.  I knew there had to be something in there - a house or business - as the power line led somewhere or at least it did at one time.  Alas, I hiked into that brush until it started to get dark and out of fear I might get lost or approached by a prowling coyote, I turned back towards the car having not found whatever it was the power line hooked up to.

There was still enough light left in the sky when I drove passed an old house on the side of the road that looked like it had been abandoned for many decades and was about to fall in on itself.  Of, course, as you probably already guessed, I got out of the car to explore a little.  The property was quite large as was the house and when I closed my eyes, I could almost hear the children who once played in the yard and the adults having tea on the back patio.  I imagined what it must have been like to live in such a remote place so many years ago, how hard the winters must have been but how peaceful it must have been in the warmer months surrounded by all that nature.  I could tell that it was once a very stately property and it pained me to think that somewhere out there there are grandchildren and great-grandchildren of the people who once lived here who have no idea their ancestors once stately home still stands with some of the furniture inside still intact.  And there I was admiring it and thinking how they would love to know about the place.  Who knows what other treasures are held in the confines of the walls, old dressers and floorboards.  

It was almost dark when I returned to the car for the last time that day and started back the way I came - over the dark, lonely country road through Framboise, Forchu, Gabarus and Mira - and met an abnormal amount of traffic when I hit Marion Bridge.  I soon realized that these carloads of people were headed back to their country homes after spending the evening Chasing the Ace in Sydney.  For anyone who is not familiar with the Chase the Ace Phenomenon that has hit Cape Breton, it's a charity/lottery event with a huge jackpot that draws tens of thousands of millionaire wannabes from all over the Maritimes.  It's not for me.  I'd rather spend a day in the woods or along the seashore any day over waiting in line for two hours to play a lottery.  To each their own I suppose but for the last few Saturdays, it meant more room on the beaches and trails for me!


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