If you drive to the north end of Nova Scotia you get to Cape Breton. If you drive to the north of Cape Breton, you come to the Cape Breton Highlands National Park. If you drive north through the park and out the other side, you get to Bay St Lawrence. If you head north from there, the paved road eventually turns into a gravel road and five miles further on, the gravel road stops at a grassy headland. Then you have reached Meat Cove, the northernmost community in Nova Scotia, which is where we are now.
Harvey is perched a little precariously on the lip of a steep grassy slope, looking down into the steel-grey waters of the bay. When we first got here, I couldn’t see a place for us to camp. Chris who emerged from the office hut pointed out a slot which I backed into but which required the full extent of Harvey’s adjustable air-bag magic to get us vaguely level. Chris was impressed and asked lots of questions about Harv and our trip. We’ve been further north, but this feels like the tip of our journey somehow. From now on we head steadily south west until we hit Boston, roughly eight hundred miles away.
It was sad to leave Corney Brook this morning. The lovely little bay was blue and beckoning but we had stretched our stay out as long as we could. Back onto the rollercoaster through the park and past our two trailheads. No moose today. There were some steep switchbacks which gave us great views along the coast further north. Velvety green headlands tumbling into the blue ocean.
We stopped off to see a replica of a stone-built cottage of the kind built by some of the early settlers here. They were crofters from the Isle of Sky who were fleeing the “clearances” in Scotland. The hut was a simple round structure with a wooden division down the middle and a thatched roof. It was set in the most heavily protected area of the park which contains the largest old growth woodland in the Maritime Provinces. Tall slim saplings were set amongst big ancient trees; birch and elm and sugar maple, some of which were 350 years old. The saplings bide their time, surviving on hardly any light and when one of the big trees keels over, one of them spreads out to take its place. Sounds rather like life at the BBC…
At Bay St Lawrence we stopped for petrol and a tiny lady came out to fill us up. Harv’s filler cap was almost over her head. She gave us directions to the coop and recommended the chowder at the Meat Cove cafe. We stocked up at the coop and then found the Bay St Lawrence Community Centre and Cafe, which was a plain sort of place with a great lunch menu – delicious lobster sandwiches and “bottomless tea” which came in a white china pot with a jug of real milk. It also had wifi so P and I were able to break several days of radio silence by updating our blogs and firing off some emails. T read patiently waiting for his turn.
Then it was our last bit of northward travel, up the steep and corrugated dirt road to Meat Cove. I took it in low gear at about ten miles an hour, gritting my teeth over the washboard surface. No-one really knows why its called Meat Cove by the way, so don’t ask. The campsite is on one of the last bends in the road and has mostly tent sites on grassy terraces overlooking the sea. From our bedroom at the back we look right down on the water. We can wake up and whale-watch and of course, as usual, we will see many, many whales. With its trademark breezy optimism, the Nova Scotia tourist board wrote something to the effect that Meat Cove is a place where you can stand on the cliffs and watch whales putting on a show for you. I hope its Guys and Dolls.
We played on the beach for a bit and despite the cloud and the cool wind Tom was straight into the sea. I was straight into a book.
The Chowder Hut (as recommended by the diminutive gas-pump lady) is a large wooden hut on the edge of the campground and served Tom chowder, me halibut and Philippa mussels as we sat on plastic chairs on the chilly terrace wrapped up in fleeces. Everyone here is smiling and friendly as if we are all in on the same secret. From our usual perches on the sofas at the back of the GMC I can hear the sea crashing against the rocks and see the flicker of orange camp fires on the slopes below. Otherwise it is pitch black. No stars tonight. Whales in the morning. I hope its not “Hello Dolly”.