Saturday, September 10, 2016

Camping Trip at Englishtown Ridge

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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