Friday, November 25, 2016

Broad Cove Camping Memories

Last year I didn't get to do a whole lot of camping because I was working all summer. Things worked out a little differently this summer and for the first time in over two years, my dusty camping gear came out of storage and I was finally able to indulge in one of my favourite pastimes. In fact, it seems like I spent the better portion of my summer in a tent. First it was those two freezing nights in Engishtown, followed by four nights at Broad Cove Campground in Ingonish, four more days in Cheticamp while attending a family reunion and two more nights at Broad Cove. But it's always my camping trips at Broad Cove that I treasure most. I know that campground like the back of my hand. And I should know it well because I've been going there every summer since I was kid. When I sit at the picnic table at lot 87 and stare up at the night sky, it feels like I am twenty years in the past and a teenager again. I feel so alive and so free. Nothing ever changes in the Cape Breton Highlands National Park and that is what I love about it. Broad Cove Campground stays the same too...well for the most part. I noticed this year that some of the bathrooms were recently painted, the benches on top of the hill by the beach have been moved and a new path created to get to the beach due to some erosion happening there but other than that, it hasn't changed since the first time I camped there more than two decades ago.

Those four nights I spent by myself at Broad Cove were pure bliss.  While the idea of sleeping in a tent sounds awful to most of my friends, I would sleep in a tent 365 days a year if the weather on the East Coast would allow it.  I love the sound of leaves rustling in the trees, waves rolling ashore,  coyotes howling at the edge of the woods, crickets chirping near the lake, and birds singing at first light. I even love the sound of rain landing on the top of the tent and sometimes I am lucky enough to hear the footsteps of an animal creeping around my tent.  More times than I can count, those eerie footsteps have led to impromptu snapshots of moose, coyotes and foxes coming in for a closer inspection of my tent.  I also love the very early mornings before everyone else is awake and when the dew still covers the tent and grass. There is just something so pure and natural about waking up and walking out into the fresh, pristine wilderness. Even being creative with trying to prepare a decent breakfast in the great outdoors is something I embrace. Knowing I can be self-sufficient and resourceful is like challenging myself to see how well I can do without all those fancy, artificial comforts of home.
Broad Cove 
The summer of '94 was when I first discovered Broad Cove. I stayed with friends who rented a lot there all summer.  I liked it so much, I told the rest of my family about it and we continued going there year after year from that point on. My parents liked it so much, they bought a second-hand RV and starting parking it at lot 63 all summer. Years later, I had my own car and I had become very independent. Not a good mix for a restless teenager looking for adventure. It didn't take long before I started making that two-hour drive to my "summer home" on my own. Many times, I had it all to myself. At 17 or 18 years old, staying in the RV was likened to staying in my very own house. It had everything I needed to allow me to spend every moment I could up there.

I moved away in the fall of 2000 and spent almost every day of that last summer in Cape Breton taking in those long, lazy summer days in Ingonish. It's what I missed most when I moved to another province far away from that beautiful strip of heaven deep in the Highlands National Park. That first year away went by fast and before I knew it, I homeward bound. A few years after I moved away, my parents sold that old RV and I was forced to reunite with an old love; camping. I did a lot of camping as a kid but forgot a lot of things like how to set up a tent and how to start a fire.  I bought my first tent at a local Canadian Tire store for 29.99 and a few other things to get me started and packed up the car and headed to Broad Cove.

The tenting section of Broad Cove Campground is quite different from the RV section. It has more trees, it's less crowded and there are more chances to have encounters with wild animals. I drove around the tenting section for quite a while searching for the perfect campsite - one that was close to the facilities and not too remote but far enough away to be quiet and not drenched in light pollution. I found the perfect site that fit all my criteria; lot 87.  And I survived my first solo camping trip and rekindled my love for roughing it in the great outdoors.

For the next dozen years or so, lot 87 was my second home. My escape. My sanctuary. My little slice of paradise in the Highlands. Every chance I got, I took off and headed for that little grassy spot and set up my temporary home complete with clothesline and dining area. Sometimes I received visitors, both two-legged ones and four-legged ones. Moose, coyote, rabbits and squirrels mostly. The nights at lot 87 were my favorite; laying on the picnic table watching the stars and listening to the distant of the waves crashing onshore. There was nowhere else I would rather be.
Lot 87 at Broad Cove Campground
When I learned I would have the summer off work this year, I immediately decided that much of it would be spent camping at Broad Cove. As soon as I'd see a forecast that promised sun and warm temperatures for a few days straight, I loaded the car and off I went into the wild Highlands of Cape Breton. Although lot 87 will always be my favorite campsite at Broad Cove, I decided to try something different this year. I wanted to be able to have a campfire on my lot. Since lot 87 has no fire pit and is far from the beach, I decided to try out one of the sites at the other end of the campground. As I drove around looking at the sites, lot 171 jumped out at me; spacious, enough trees for a clothesline, close to the bathrooms, close to the beach and equipped with a fire pit. I spent four amazing nights in Broad Cove during that first trip. It didn't rain the whole time and the temperatures stayed warm overnight so I didn't near freeze to death like in Englishtown the week before.  I spent four days all by myself and it was awesome. Nights spent by the fire looking up at the night sky, roasting marshmallows. No television, internet or phone to disturb me. It was heaven on earth.
My set-up at lot 171 at Broad Cove Campground
Whenever I find myself at Broad Cove, I also find myself doing a lot of reminiscing. I hear the children laughing and playing like children do when they are suddenly immersed in the great wild wilderness and when I close my eyes, I can recall a time when that was me and it feels like only yesterday. Nothing ever changes up there. It's easy to go back to that time in my life and I always try to relive those happy days spent on that campground as a kid. I walk along the dark gravel roads at late at night with only the moon and stars to guide me.  I revisit my old "neighborhoods" at lot 63 and lot 87 to see how things are doing. Nothing has changed. I stand and close my eyes and hear the sound of children playing and smell the smoke from their campfire and imagine it is my old summer friends coming to greet me (summer friends are the friends from all over the world who I only saw when I came to Broad Cove every summer). When I open my eyes and come back to reality and see those children sitting around their fire, I wonder if they are the children of any of my old friends. Facebook wasn't a thing back than so as we got older and moved away, I lost track of my old summer friends. I love being brought back to those incredible summers of my childhood and remind myself how lucky I am to have had such an amazing place to spend part of it.

My last stop is always the beach. This is pretty much the only thing that has changed at the campground. The two benches that stood just past the parking lot overlooking the ocean are now gone. Now, you might think that's not a big deal and that the loss of a couple of benches is a minor thing but to me, those benches played a huge role in my time at Broad Cove. I've read entire books on those benches, I drank my first (yes underage) beer on one of those benches. I saw my first unidentified flying object from the bench that was closest to the woods and how could I forget something like that! I've witnessed countless meteor showers, sun rises, sunsets and moon rises from those benches. I slept under the stars on those benches and hid in the wood's whenever I heard the park warden's truck coming after hours. And I stood at alert on top of one of those benches with a giant stick in my hand after being chased by some sort of wild animal late one night. so, as you can see, it was a huge disappointment to see that those benches are no longer there.

The beach is pretty much the same except now you have to go through the woods to get to it. This is no easy feat in the pitch black. I used my cell phone as a flashlight and tried to find my way down the stairs, all the while waiting for a rustle or a growl in the bushes to scare me senseless and send me tumbling. Just like old times. We used to walk the nearby beach path in the middle of the night as kids just to scare ourselves. That night, as a thirty-something adult, I laid down in the cold sand and watched the night sky feeling like I was 16 again. In the back of my mind, I knew I had to pack up my gear and head home the next morning but for those few moments, I imagined I had nothing else to do but lay there without a care in the world. The sound of the waves lulled me into a semi-conscious state while the sound of a lone loon could be heard in the lake behind me. This is my "tropical" paradise.  No palm trees and turquoise water.  Just the rough Atlantic coast, the crisp, clean air and beautiful beaches that stretch for miles.










Friday, November 4, 2016

Labour Day Weekend in Cheticamp

Since I moved back to Cape Breton almost six years ago, I developed a yearly tradition of taking a road trip every Labour Day Weekend. Usually I end up going on these road trips by myself and usually I go around the Cabot Trail or to Halifax. A few years ago, I went to Digby and stayed at the Digby Pines resort for a night. This year's Labour Day weekend was a little different. I still went away for the weekend but this time I had company.

A friend of mine has a birthday that falls on the Labour Day long weekend. This year she wanted to go out of town for a weekend so she asked me if I would like to join her. I love a road trip and a few days out of town so when she informed me it would be a 3-day long birthday celebration at a bed & breakfast is Cheticamp, I jumped at the chance.

While there is no doubt the weather in Atlantic Canada can be unpredictable any time of year, it's at it's most unpredictable during the late summer and fall. It can do anything that time of year. It can rain one second with temperatures in the high twenties and within a mere few hours be below 0 and snowing. This is especially true of long weekends. It always seems that the weather takes a turn for the worse right before Victoria Day, Canada Day, Labour Day and Thanksgiving. What a surprise we got when this Labour Day weekend arrived and the forecast was calling for warm temperatures and sun all weekend. While I wasn't totally convinced this would remain the case for the next three days, I tried to keep a positive attitude while I was loading up the car with the weekend's provisions.

We reached the Cheticamp Outfitters B&B in mid-afternoon. Check-in was a breeze as our host Veronica set us up in a cozy room with a fantastic view. The property is set quite a ways from the main road and the closest neighbor is quite a ways away too so there is virtually no noise around the property.
Cheticamp Outfitters B&B
After we unpacked, settled into the room and had a tour of the property, we went for a drive and a nice walk on the beach. Plage St. Pierre is a beautiful sandy beach and on this day, it was perfect for wading into the crystal clear waters. Although the air was a little cool with the wind coming from the northwest, the water was still very warm. On this day, there were no rocks or seaweed so it was perfect. We walked the entire beach before heading into the town of Cheticamp to grab something to eat at Wabo's Pizza.
Plage St. Pierre, Cheticamp
For the longest time, I thought Wabo's Pizza only served pizza. It wasn't until a few years ago when I stopped there to get something to eat that I realized they have a pretty extensive menu, pizza being just one of those items. On that occasion several years ago, an item on the menu caught my attention; deep fried cheesecake. I tried it and fell in love. My intention was to order it for dessert that night and to introduce my friend to the wonderful world of deep fried cheesecake...but it wasn't meant to be. The sit-down restaurant area was closed when we arrived so that left us with the pizza take-out upstairs. We ordered a medium pep & cheese pizza to go. A couple of beers on the porch enjoying the clear night sky and peace and quiet of the country before heading to bed and that was how day one of Labour weekend 2016 went.

We awoke early the next morning and headed upstairs for breakfast. Now usually, when I get an included breakfast, it's a few pieces of fruit, some toast and maybe some cereal and juice. Well, the breakfast at Cheticamp Outfitters was certainly nothing like that! Eggs whatever way I wanted, the fluffiest and quite possibly the most delicious pancakes I've ever had along with homemade muffins, toast and juice. Put it this way; I didn't have to have lunch the three days I stayed there because breakfast kept me going until dinner!

I was hoping for at least one last beach day of the summer and it came that second day in Cheticamp. After breakfast, we headed down to the Frog Pond Cafe and grabbed some coffees for the road and embarked on a mission I've been wanting to do for a few years; search for the Cheticamp Gypsum Quarry. For years, no one would tell me where this secret swimming hole was but nothing stays secret for long with the internet! Someone let the cat out of the bag and with the newly-posted directions all over the internet, I was able to find it very easily. It was nowhere near where I thought it would be and was in an area that I drove by all the time. A fifteen-minute hike took us to the quarry which, I must say, is a very nice body of water surrounded by high cliffs. Of course, I forgot my camera in the car so I don't even have the proof that I finally found it after so many years. You'll just have to take my word for it!
The Frog Pond Cafe in Cheticamp

We didn't swim that day at the quarry as the water felt very cold. Instead, we drove to Chimney Corner Beach near Margaree. Chimney Corner has been my favourite beach as of late. Any time I go there there's no rocks, no seaweed and no jellyfish...except this day. Actually, I don't think I've ever seen as much seaweed on any beach as there was on that beach that day. The piles were almost as tall as me. We waded into the water a bit but were too grossed out by the large amount of debris floating around and thousands of these strange little green fish swimming around us. We dried off and drove toward Inverness to see if we would have better luck there.
Massive piles of seaweed on Chimney Corner Beach

By the time we got to Inverness, the air had cooled so we didn't bother changing into our swimsuits before going down onto the beach. We walked for a bit enjoying the last rays of the early evening sun and collected some beach glass. (I've recently developed an addiction to beach glass and pick up every piece I see. I recently found a piece of rare blue glass, which is the equivalent to winning the lottery in the beach glass world). The water looked rather cloudy, rough and rocky until we got to the end of the beach closer to the wharves. There, the water was crystal clear much like the water you see in pictures of beaches in the Caribbean. No Seaweed, no rocks, so jellyfish. It looked very enticing and when I put my feet in to check the temperature, it too was much like the waters of the Caribbean. That did it for me. I decided right than and there to go back to the car and change into my swimsuit and go for an evening duck. The cool air made the water seem so warm that it ended up being more than just a duck. The sun was setting when I got enough nerve to leave the warmth of the early-September ocean and brave the chilly, evening air. I soaked up every moment of that refreshing swim thinking it would be the last one of the year. Little did I know that more than month later, I would again be again taking a dip in that exact same spot. We've certainly had a nice fall this year on The Cape!
Some sort of stone monument built by beachgoers at Inverness Beach

That evening, we were supposed to meet friends at Le Gabrielle for supper. Our little jaunt in the ocean set us back a little and we were running late. In fact, we were so late that we didn't have time to stop at our room to change! Into the restaurant we strolled with our damp swimsuits under sundresses, sandy flip flops and dripping hair. We got a few stares from curious onlookers but things like that don't bother me anymore. The older I get, the more I realize that opportunities need to be jumped on when they appear as they may never arise again. The conditions were perfect for that evening swim and it's a memory I will never forget. I'm willing to accept a few stares from total strangers I will never see again in order to jump on an opportunity like that.

We sat in the lounge area at the back of the restaurant where some live music was being enjoyed by a fairly large crowd. I ordered some delicious nachos (some of the best nachos I've ever had actually!) and enjoyed listening to a mix of modern and classic rock mixed with some traditional Acadian songs. Later, back at Cheticamp Outfitters, I retreated to the porch and cracked open a beer to enjoy on that clear, crisp evening. I was only sitting there a few minutes when I heard a very loud commotion in the bushes a few feet away. I didn't stay out there long enough to see what it was. I bolted inside and stayed inside until the next morning when the culprit revealed himself. I was sitting on the porch checking my email and phone messages when I heard a commotion in the bushes a few feet away from me. Yes the same sound and the same bushes as the night before. The brightness of the morning sun made me more bold and I stood up, eyes on the bushes to await for the creature to make an appearance. With the amount of noise being made, I was expecting a coyote or a bear or something fairly large to come out. I waited...and waited....and out popped a rambunctious little chipmunk! Imagine. A little chipmunk scared me enough to send me running indoors! He ran around in circles knocking everything in his path over. Little flower pots and ornaments went flying. He stopped and stood up on his back legs, took a good look at me and retreated to a hole in the ground.
The rambunctious little chipmunk that frightened me the night before he posed for this picture.

First on the agenda for our last day was a hike of the Skyline Trail. I've done this trail hundreds of times over the years but my friend had never done it. I agreed to take her which was no problem for me since it's one of my favorite hiking trails. I often take people on hikes along this trail. So much so that I think I should be officially named the Skyline Trail Ambassador. Cape Breton Island experienced a record-breaking year in tourism for 2016 and the traffic that lined the road near the trail head of the Skyline was one of many indications of just how many tourists were around at any given time. I'd never seen so many cars parked along there before. The trail itself was the same. People everywhere. Crowds of people of every nationality on the planet. I heard languages that I didn't even recognize and saw license plates I had never seen before in these parts. For example, I saw my first Alaska license plate in Cape Breton this past summer. New Mexico, Colorado, Nevada, Arkansas and Texas were some others I spotted multiple times this past summer. That day on the trail, I spotted my first moose of the season. Poor thing was being tortured by tourists. I stood watching as, one by one, people left the trail and went into the woods where this poor moose was trying to get some rest. They got right in his face with their cameras. It was a bull too. I tried to explain to several people that it was very dangerous to be getting that close to a bull moose but to no avail. This has always been a problem on The Skyline Trail where moose are fairly common. It hasn't happened yet, but it won't surprise me one bit when I someday hear that a tourist got mowed down by a giant bull moose who finally got tired of having a camera shoved in his face.

Since we were already in the area, I drove to Pleasant Bay to show my friend where Gampo Abbey is. She had heard there was a monastery somewhere around the Cabot Trail but didn't know where. I love going to Gampo Abbey, especially after a long hike or drive. It's such a quiet, relaxing place with little nature trails and spectacular scenery.
Gampo Abbey

We drove straight to Cheticamp Island after our restful stroll at Gampo Abbey and tackled another hike we had heard about in the area. I never attempted this one before so I was quite excited to be hiking a new trail. There was some confusion as to where it started and what way to go once we came to a fork in the trail but we managed and got to see some great views. Part of the trail winds around one far end of the island around a grassy area and along rocky cliffs. An old graveyard lies near the trail and someone obviously still takes care of it although the headstones date as far back as 1846.
The old gravesite near the hiking trail on Cheticamp Island

On the way home that evening, I planned to stop at the Dancing Goat to grab a coffee and snack for the road. I thought that place never closed but lo and behold, it was shut down that night when we drove by. Disappointed, I decided to do the next best thing; Make a detour to Baddeck and get some of that ice cream I love in the little ice cream shop on the main street. Thankfully, that was open. After a little walk around the town, we were on the home stretch and unfortunately, close to the end of the Labour Day long weekend.
Part of the oceanside trail on Cheticamp Island








Monday, October 31, 2016

Finding the Fabled Marble Mountain of Cape Breton Island

The summer of 2016 is going down in history as the summer of seeing new places around my beautiful island home of Cape Breton. And one of the places I discovered was a previously-unknown-to-me swimming hole in a little village called Marble Mountain. All along, I thought the only other Marble Mountain was in Western Newfoundland but after hearing that there was such a place in Cape Breton, you know I had to go check it out. I did a little research and saw the pictures of the clear, blue water and a beautiful beach surrounded by cliffs and mountainous terrain. I had no idea where such a place could exist in Cape Breton but I wasn't all that surprised to learn it was on the Bras d'Or Lakes and in an area that I've been meaning to explore for years and never really had the chance. That chance came in Mid-August when I made an impromptu decision to head out on a mini road trip in search of the elusive Cape Breton Marble Mountain.

With the help of Google Maps, I soon had a good idea where this Marble Mountain was located but copied down some directions from just in case. I drove for almost 2 hours all the way to Whycocomagh where I found the turn off to Orangedale where Marble Mountain was said to be located. As most of you probably know, google maps doesn't let users know when a detour is in place and you will be sent off onto a rugged, old gravel, pot-holed ridden road into the unknown. Unfortunately, that is exactly what happened to me...but not right away. I made the turn off and there was the blazing orange sign telling me that a detour was in place. Nowhere on this sign did it say where the detour would take me, how long I would be rerouted for, what the condition of the road was and whether it would lead me back on the right track. And to make matters worse, I had no cell coverage and there was no one around to ask. I wanted to go swimming so badly that day so I decided to go the other way towards Port Hood instead and try to get some beach time in there. Usually Port Hood is good for swimming and I figured if it wasn't, there was always West Mabou and Inverness beaches which were also nearby.

I arrived at Port Hood around noon and took a little drive around the village. I went down a road I've never gone down before and found another section of beach I never knew existed so I checked it out. It was too crowded for my liking but perhaps a nice spot to check out again in the future. The main section of beach where I usually go wasn't to my liking that day either; too rough, too much seaweed and too rocky.

West Mabou Beach was next...and unfortunately for me, not to my liking that day either. I set up on the beach and at least tried to go in the water but it was just too rough and too murky with seaweed and debris. I love swimming in the ocean as long as I can at least semi see the bottom. I like knowing what is around me by seeing it, not by feeling it brushing up against me!

I didn't bother to go to Inverness that day as it was getting late. I decided to chance the road to Marble Mountain as a last ditch attempt to get some swimming in before dark. The detour I had avoided earlier took me onto a gravel road that wasn't in the best of shape. I drove and drove forever, only waking from my semi-consciousness brought on by boredom when I hit a pothole that was so bad I thought I would have to call a tow truck. I figured a flat would be inevitable but thankfully that didn't happen. It seemed like I was driving for hours by the time I reached the main road again. And than it felt like I was driving on that road for hours too. It felt like I was driving for so long that I began to think I took a wrong turn somewhere and soon, I realized that I didn't know where I was.

I drove for so long and it was getting so late that I succumbed to the realization that I wasn't going to find Marble Mountain that day. I was headed in the direction of Eskasoni or St. Peter's so I figured I would eventually come out near one of those places and there would be signs telling me which way to take home. I was hooking up my iPod to the car stereo and settling in for a long drive home when I saw it; a green sign with the words "Marble Mountain" on it! I pulled into a look-off on the side of the road and got out to stretch my legs and have a look below. I could see the beach from this look-off. I knew it was the right beach because it looked exactly like it did in the pictures online. After driving up and down that strip of road looking for an entrance and stopping a woman in front of her house to ask for directions, I finally found the road that lead to the beach area. I paid the three dollars (a small price to pay to finally get to cool off in the clear waters of the Bras d'Or Lakes) parked the car, got changed in one of the changing rooms and walked down to the water. There was a family enjoying an evening dip so I didn't have to swim alone. The water was absolutely beautiful. Warm and crystal clear with no seaweed or jelly fish. It was a little rocky but not too bad. I just floated on my back as they last rays of the sun started to disappear behind the hills. The air might have been cooling off, but that water seemed to be getting warmer and I had some trouble forcing myself to head back to shore. When I did, it was almost dark.

The steep hill I had to come down to get to the beach area was much harder to get up than it was to get down. I got so far and my car started to struggle and than started to slide backwards! In an instant my foot instinctively hit the gas pedal and with some effort, I finally made it to the top. Instead of backtracking the way I came and going through that dreadful detour again, I turned left and kept heading to what I was pretty sure was the St. Peters area. When I reached the sign for Dundee, I knew I was on the right track. I never really gave Dundee a second thought when passing through in the past. It's always just been that place I drive through to get to St. Peter's when I go that way. But on this drive through Dundee, I really noticed the sheer beauty of the area. Stunning. I have no idea how I didn't even notice how beautiful that area is until that night. As I got to the edge of the village area, I noticed something on the side of the road that started to move and it took me a second to realize it was two deer. A doe and a young fawn still with spots on her coat. They slowly passed in front of my car and went into the woods. A few minutes later, I spotted another deer on the side of the road.

In St. Peter's, I got a coffee for the road and headed towards Sydney via Route 4. I only got as far as the turn off to Loch Lomond where a blockade was in place with a sign pointing me in the direction of Loch Lomond, another long, gravel road in the middle of nowhere. It seemed like I was driving forever on that back road. It must have been an hour before I reached the highway again but a significant amount of traveling had been cut off my trip as I came out near Big Pond. They say things happen in three's and that night, I witnessed a 3rd deer-crossing but this time, the deer was erratically running all over the place and I nearly hit it...right in front of my father's house on the South Bar Highway!











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 match...in 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 Island...you 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 door....to 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. 










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