Thursday, November 29, 2012
Long Weekend Road Trip to Nova Scotia's South Shore
I was born and raised in Nova Scotia and, minus the 11 years I spent living in Newfoundland, I have spent most of my life in the province. My family home has always been on Cape Breton Island in the eastern portion of Nova Scotia and although I wandered far and wide over the years and have seen most of Canada and the United States, I am ashamed to admit that I have not really explored my home province very much. I know every main highway, secondary highway and back road in Cape Breton and I’m pretty sure I know the island better than the back of my own hand but when it comes to the rest of the province on the other side of the Canso Causeway, I can only say I’ve driven through on the Trans Canada Highway to get somewhere else in Canada or the US, I’ve done some Christmas shopping in Halifax and Truro and I visited Peggy’s Cove and a few other notable landmarks and sites as a child. During the most recent Canadian long weekend, I had the opportunity to see a part of my province that I had never explored before; the south shore as far as Port Mouton near Liverpool.
My sister moved to the southern shore of Nova Scotia after finishing work for the season in northern Cape Breton. A few days before the long weekend approached, I booked a rental car and made the 7-hour drive to Port Mouton. It was a great opportunity to spend some time with my sister but also to visit a part of the province I had always wanted to see, especially the town of Lunenburg, a renowned UNESCO world heritage site.
Long weekends don’t come often and rarely do I have the time lately to set out and partake in my favorite long weekend activity – a road trip. I set out that Saturday morning with intentions of making it to my sister’s place by nightfall. I would have made good time if I hadn’t stopped so much. Coffee, meals and bathroom breaks lingered a little longer than they should have because when it comes to new scenery and potential photo ops, out comes the camera and before I know it, a half hour or an hour passes. I ventured off onto a few off-ramps that looked promising only to get lost and have to try and make my way back to the highway and continue on with my journey. I still made it to Port Mouton in good time although it was too dark and I was too tired to go out and explore.
I know long weekends are a time to sleep in for many people but I rarely sleep in anytime. I am one of those strange and rare morning persons. When I sleep in past 7:30, I feel like life is passing me by and I am missing something. This is particular true when the opportunity arises to see or do something I don’t get the chance to do every day. Such an opportunity awaited me that first morning on the South Shore and my excitement would not allow me to sleep in past my normal wake-up time of 7:30. I would have been up earlier if it had not been for the long and exhausting drive the day before. I needed a bit of rest to keep me going for another long day of sightseeing. And what a beautiful day it was; normal temperatures for this time of year in Atlantic Canada hover around zero degrees Celsius and it is not rare for there to be a few inches of snow on the ground but this day was exceptional with a cloudless sky, no snow to be seem and temperatures hovering around the 10 degree mark. Perfect weather for hitting the beach! Well, a walk on the beach in Port Mouton before getting on the highway towards our first destination.
Our first stop was Mahone Bay about an hour from Liverpool. I had heard about the town numerous times but the only thing I really recalled about it was the famous picture of the three churches across the bay that seems to be a part of almost every Atlantic Canadian calendar and graces the front of numerous postcards. With its scenic waterfront, colorful storefronts and colonial buildings, it felt like I had stepped back in time. A walk down the main street of the town revealed many boutique shops with numerous hand-made and hard-to-find unique items in the storefront windows but there was no time for shopping that day. I made a mental note to possibly return closer to the holidays to do some Christmas shopping there.
Next, we made our way towards Lunenburg but were distracted by a street sign that led us in the opposite direction. Anyone who has or does live in Nova Scotia or who has ever indulged themselves in the province’s folklore, has heard about Oak Island and its famous money pit which is reputed to be the site of buried pirate treasure. Many digs have been conducted around the site and although the elusive treasure has not been found as of yet, there are many indications and clues pointing to it being there in the booby-trapped pit that mysteriously floods every time someone gets so far down. So knowing all this history surrounding the area, when I spotted the sign that indicated Oak Island was to the left and Lunenburg was to the right, we both agreed that it was worth the bit of extra time it would take to drive the seven kilometers to Oak Island in hopes of seeing the money pit for ourselves. Unfortunately, the pit currently lies on private property and was gated off to outsiders. We could see the island but we couldn’t drive or walk to it. I don’t really blame the current owner of the land; I can only imagine how many times he or she must have had to endure enthusiastic treasure hunters coming from all over with their digging tools in hopes of finding buried pirate treasure. I would probably stick a sign and a gate up too though there is currently a rumor spreading around the area that another significant search will be conducted in the near future. I don’t know if it is going to be a government-funded dig or independent but there must be a reason why they would try again after so many years. The evidence pointing to there being something there is just too convincing to pass up.
Because Lunenburg was the most anticipated part of this trip for me, we saved the best for last. I had always wanted to go to Lunenburg. The pictures I had seen of brightly colored houses and fishing shacks and the history I had so often read about in locally written maritime history books intrigued me enough to promise myself that someday I would make the drive there and experience it for myself. The drive to the town was scenic with fields and countrified landscapes leading to the coast. We arrived in mid-afternoon and found a parking spot on the colorful waterfront overlooking a bay filled with little boats and a large schooner docked at the wharf. I heard that The Bluenose, the famed schooner that was built in Lunenburg and put the town on the map, might be in town during my visit but I didn’t see it in plain sight. There was a fairly large schooner docked quite a ways down the harbor in what looked like some sort of shipyard area but it was too far away to see it was, in fact, the famous schooner or not.
We walked the narrow streets admiring the old colonial houses painted in bright colors. Popular maritime lure states that many boat owners painted their homes the same color as their boat but I have yet to determine if that is fact or fiction. Either way, both houses and boats in Lunenburg add a colorful character to both the natural and man-made beauty of the quaint little town. In fact, the town reminded me a lot of St. John’s, Newfoundland. Brightly colored buildings lining every street, painted murals of the seafaring history of yesteryears and steep streets leading up the next layer of shops and restaurants just like the “bowl” effect that the downtown area of St. John’s is famous for. We spent a few hours walking around the town, taking pictures, window shopping and admiring the beautiful artifacts and crafts that were for sale and eating some of the best carrot cake I had every had at one of the waterfront cafes. I could live in a town like Lunenburg. A small town with all the amenities of a larger city. It seemed to be bustling when we were there in the afternoon so I can only imagine what it must be like into the evening with many pubs, restaurants, cafes and bars lining every street.
Darkness comes early this time of year and we wanted to be back on the road before dark to make it back to Liverpool to take some sunset pictures and grab something to eat. There was a music festival going on in the area so many venues were jammed packed or had long lineups so we settled on one that didn’t look to be too crowded but was reputed to be one of the best places in the area to eat. Lane's Privateer Inn couldn’t have been a better place for us that night. We were looking for good food, good coffee (good wine for my sister who was not driving), a relaxing atmosphere and friendly service and this place exceeded our expectations. The food was delicious and the portions were just right and, as is often not the case in many places these days, we got exceptional and personalized service from the staff who were happy to make our visit an enjoyable one. It was the perfect end to a great long weekend with my sister but the weekend wasn’t quite done for me at that point; I still had that long drive back to The Cape early the next morning. Don’t get me wrong, I love nothing more than getting behind the wheel and heading out on the highway for a long drive except this one actually had a destination; back home to the start of a new work week…but at least it wasn’t starting on a Monday!
Some links of interest...