Although I hadn’t planned, much like when I was in Australia my first weekend in Canada happened to be a long bank holiday weekend. In this case Monday was Victoria Day, apparently a day to “celebrate” all things British, as if being treated to a royal wedding wasn’t enough.
With three whole days ahead of us, and no need for me to sit around waiting to open a bank account this time, Ashley and I took to the road and headed to Cape Breton, the island which makes up the western part of Nova Scotia. Our main destination was the Cape Breton Highlands National Park and the Cabot Trail which runs through it. Although this is just up the road from Halifax in Canadian terms, the fact it was a five hour drive is just a small indication of how large this country really is.
When reaching the park we had to stop at the visitor’s centre to purchase our park passes for the weekend, something which does seem a little strange compared to the amount of times I’ve driven through Exmoor, but I guess it’s harder to charge a fee to experience a such a beautiful landscape when people have been calling it home for hundreds, if not thousands, of years before it was established as a national park. Nevertheless, we paid and drove through the unmanned barriers where no-one was there to check our passes, but at least we had made our contributions to the upkeep of such fantastic scenery.
Our first hiking trail was the Skyline, one of the most popular within the whole park, and it was easy to see why. Armed with a plan of attack if we had to defend ourselves against any of the bears which the signs and leaflets had warned us we may see (in order to make ourselves as big and defencive as possible, Ashley would jump on my shoulders and throw the stones I would pass up to her) we set off for what would usually be a circular walk, but was unfortunately a single trail as one of the routes was not yet open. We were still able to make it to the boardwalk at the far end however, and enjoy the views it had to offer, and which had made the Cabot Trail a mainstay of guidebook recommendations the world over.
Our second for the day was the Corney Brook trail, and as one that was less popular and went through more enclosed woodland, for this we paid closer attention to the coyote habitat signs, and each picked up a long stick that had been left where the trail began which we would be able to use as walking poles/weapons where appropriate. Luckily, again, our walk remained attack free but rather than a 360 degree view this trail came to an end at a small waterfall which provided a fresh cool breeze after an afternoon of (potentially) life threatening hiking.
That night we stayed at the HI hostel in Pleasant Bay which had just reopened. As one of the first weekends of the summer season they had just lit their first campfire of the year and most guests were also Nova Scotian ‘locals’. In fact the only other guest who was not from Canada was Turkish, but who now called Ottawa his home.
We started the next day carrying on along the Cabot Trail, stopping for a couple of short trails and at many lookouts along the way. When trying to call out Moose from the woods we were driving past we were lucky enough to catch a very quick sighting of two stood right in the road in front of us. Although this was unfortunately too quick to get our cameras out, it was still a success nontheless. Wild Moose in Canada, and on call as well!
Our big hike in the afternoon was the Coastal trail which took us along a number of rocky beaches on the eastern side of the National Park. Like most things in North America, the rocks were on the larger side and we were often jumping between them one at a time, but even right by the sea there were the last remnants of the winter weather, and so I was also able to add standing on Canadian snow to the list of my trip’s achievements.
Some friends of Ashley’s were also kind enough to let us stay with them at their lakeside cottage that night, and I spent the evening enjoying even more generous Canadian hospitality (complete with generous helpings of Canadian beer). Before departing back for Halifax the next day we enjoyed a traditional Martime game of Washertoss, which is exactly as it sounds (tossing metal washers into a target), and Dave was also kind enough to show us a few beaches around the area.
Watching seagulls follow Lobster boats back to the shore we were able to find a number of shells and even a solitary boot which had been washed up, and before heading west to the Pacific I found the perfect spot to dip my feet in the Atlantic ocean at what would be my most easterly location in this entire country….
And bloody hell it was cold!!!