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!

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