(I’m reposting a travel series from a couple of years ago. If you’re like me, you are patiently (or maybe not so patiently) waiting for a safe return to the road. If so, how about traveling along with me on a virtual road trip. To read about our Nova Scotia travels from the beginning, start here.)
From Wolfville, we headed for Cape Breton Island by way of Nova Scotia’s Eastern Shore. The province is divided into seven geographical regions, and this one may be the least well-known. It’s surely the least visited by outsiders and maybe even other Nova Scotians. There are no towns to speak of, only communities—and small ones at that. Places with names like Ecum Secum. According to Wikipedia, the name comes from the M′ikmaq (aka Mi′kmaw) language and means ‘a red house,’ which suggests to me that may be about all that was there at the time. The nearest town of any size is Antigonish on the west coast, 45 miles away, with a population of 4,200.
As usual, we drove as close to the coast as we could get, this time on Trunk 7, also known as Marine Drive. Our Airbnb stop for the night was at Moser River, in what was billed as a former prospector’s cottage. It was an instant hit, and Gail, our Airbnb host, was simply delightful. (More about her in a future post.)
Our Moser River prospector’s cottage Airbnb and area images. (Click on individual photos for larger view.)
We were advised to stop for food or gas in the community of Sheet’s Harbor, about 30 miles away—that’s how unpopulated this place is. People here are mostly connected to either the fishing or gold mining industry.
The Eastern Shore is not a place to go if you depend on theme park style extravaganzas for entertainment (though if you time it right you can join in a sand sculpture competition, a parade, a cakewalk, or a Celtic jam session). But if you want a little solitude away from everyday hassles, it’s perfect. I can imagine hanging out here for a long weekend with a hammock and a good book or hiking boots and a walking stick. It’s the perfect retreat stop—as long as you bring your own meals. Unfortunately, we had only one night at this peaceful place.
And the next day we finally made it to the place that had held onto our hearts for so many decades, Cape Breton Island. We would be here for six days instead of the one of so long ago. It would still be too little.
But first, we made a little detour to the opposite side of the province. We kept having to remind ourselves how short a drive it is from one side to the other. This side trip was to Cape George, near the town of Antigonish. It was well worth the drive.
Our first Cape Breton stop was the town of Baddeck (pronounced Buh-DECK). We stayed at the historic Victorian-style Telegraph House, built in 1861, one of the few non-Airbnb places we stayed during our travels. At one time, the Telegraph Inn contained the office of the first Trans-Oceanic Cable Company. Some of the first telegraph messages in North America emanated from here.
Baddeck is famous for two things. It’s home to the Bras d’Or Lake (arm of gold), actually an inland sea. It’s roughly sixty miles long and thirty miles wide. Pretty darned big. And beautiful, surrounded as it is by low mountains. We could never get a photo that came near to doing it justice.
Baddeck is also where Mabel and Alexander Graham Bell lived for the latter half of their lives. It was here that Bell established a research laboratory—the first Bell Labs. He used the lake to test his huge kites, hydrofoil boats, and airplanes, just a few of his varied research projects.
Of course, there’s a museum, and since the Gnome is interested in anything having to do with inventiveness, we had to go.
Married as I am to someone who observes every little thing, I was especially drawn to this quote memorialized in the museum.
I was impressed to learn that Bell was much more interested in his work teaching deaf students (Mabel was deaf), and later with aviation, than with his best-known invention, the telephone. In fact, he was rarely interested in following through with any of his inventions after the initial creation; he was ready to move on to the next thing, leaving the details to others.
The highlight of our time in Baddeck had to be finding a ceilidh (KAY-lee), or kitchen party, where we got to listen to some lively traditional Cape Breton tunes by fiddler Mike Hall. Mike didn’t just play; he talked about the history of the music and how the Scottish Highlanders who were driven from their homelands with no instruments or written music managed to keep their musical tradition alive and true to its roots. It was mesmerizing—and quite different from the bluegrass jams we attend at home.
Cape Breton is where you might hear not only English and French, but also Gaelic and Mi′kmaq, an Algonquin language. It was fascinating to see multi-lingual signs everywhere. Appropriately, top billing usually matched the primary culture and language of a given area, as far as I could tell. Here’s a little Gaelic for you: Fàilte gu Cridhe Gàidhealach Albainn Ùr. (Don’t bother trying to pronounce it—it sounds nothing like you’d think if English is your primary language.) As best I can determine, it translates to “welcome to the heart of New Highland Scotland.”
We left Baddeck by way of Iona, traveling ever so briefly on a cable ferry to Grand Narrows, then on to Sydney and the Cabot Trail, the subject of my next blog post.
Here comes the ferry. Short crossing—very short.
(Check back next week for more of our Nova Scotia travels as we head to the famed Cabot Trail and Cape Breton Highlands National Park.)