Port Hood, Nova Scotia. Mile 2833

Its been a damp grey overcast wet blanket of a day. A day for staying in and having tea and crumpets in front of a crackling log fire. A day for watching old movies on the telly or reading a new book. For us though it was a day to drive to Cape Breton.

We woke to rain crashing down and wind howling around the roof, catching on something and making flute noises. Any thoughts we might have had about perhaps playing on the beach for a bit or going on a hike were washed out. We might as well use the day to head north and aim for the Cape Breton Highlands National Park at the tip of Nova Scotia. After all, how often are we going to come back here? After a few days of pleasant scenery P and I are hankering for something a bit more dramatic, something more challenging. I may well live to regret saying that but the next few days promise brighter weather and it would be nice to be somewhere spectacular when it strikes.

We unhooked the electric power and the water, found Tom one of the held-back new books from yesterday and squelched out of the campground. Nova Scotia was hunkering down and there was virtually no traffic on Route 6 which skirts the north coast. The next village along, River John, looked like an eighteenth century painting with a tiny main street lined with little buildings in clapboard and brick, one with a flat false front. We pushed on through Seafoam and Toney River to Pictou. The town is apparently famous for its fish and chips, though the Nova Scotia tourist board does a good job of making sure every community in the province is famous for something. “Come and see our state of the art Civic Centre!” boasts one entry in the guide.

Pictou feels like a small town in Scotland, complete with a tourist shop devoted to Tartan paraphanalia. This though is where “New Scotland” began, with the arrival of thirty three families and twenty five single men in the “Hector” in 1733. Thousands more Scots eventually followed. A fine replica of the leaky old Hector sits at a dock in Pictou, and we hoped to visit it, but the museum was “closed until further notice” which seemd a bit sad and somewhat final. We read the plaque though and also found an interesting granite memorial to Canada’s only regiment composed of black soldiers. They were grudgingly allowed to sign up for the First World War and sent to south central France to chop wood for the supply trains. They were disbanded soon after the war, but the memorial was rather good with photos of some of those who served and tributes to them.

Pictou was once clearly a prosperous place with mansions built up the hill, side-on to the street so they could face down to the harbour. Some that we saw though were looking faded and weather beaten, the Victorian stone buildings were dour in the drizzle and a factory of some sort across the water was belching foul smelling steam.

But there were no less than three fish and chip shops to choose from and we piled in to Murphy’s for  platefuls of thoroughly delicious battered haddock and double fried fries. The second fying gives them the crispness you see. Its one of the many vital life lessons I learned in my summer job at a tourist cafe in Cheddar Gorge. Another one was “people think its funny if the ice-cream machine sprays you with vanilla, but not if it sprays them with it”.

From Pictou we took the Trans-Canada Highway towards Cape Breton, stopping at a WalMart outside Antigonish for some supplies and to let Tom spend his pocket money on a little lego kit he has been saving for. Fish and chips and new lego; this has been an excellent day for T.

Back to the fast road with a view ahead of wooded hillsides, not too steep yet but the road got loopier and curvier the further north we went until we crossed the causeway to the island of Cape Breton. At the inevitable, and superb, tourist office the efficient Annette pointed us in the direction of the nearest campsite and even booked it for us.

It was a half hour drive along the coast with a long stretch by the water, which surprisingly we haven’t seen much of today; its either been too misty or obscured by trees. At Port Hope we found the campsite and a rather boggy spot to park surrounded rather too closely by tatty trailers. Hmm. Its only a night though and with the blinds down we could be anywhere. There was a community lobster supper going on at the sports hall at the end of the car park when we arrived which is high on my to-do list here. But to be honest we were all too full from lunch and when I poked my head around the door it didn’t seem particularly inviting. So we cooked for ourselves, watched a movie together and are now listening to the wind howl around us. Its cosy, but it would be nice to get outside tomorrow.

Author: Richard Lister

Chasing horizons...

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