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

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