The last post in this blog was about the two days we spent in Halifax. It was great but too short. Now we were compounding the problem by trying to cover the rest of Nova Scotia in seven days. The aim was to cover as much ground as possible without sitting in the car 24 hours a day. A difficult circle to square. High on our list were the Cabot Trail, which runs round the north end of Cape Breton Island off the Nova Scotia coast, whale watching, seafood and traditional music. We managed three out of the four.
In our usual obtuse way, in order to get to the north eastern edge of Nova Scotia, we set off westwards along the southern coast. Are you still with me?
Our destination was Lunenburg an old maritime port that is recognised by Unesco as the best example of a planned urban heritage site in North America. The fishery buildings were amazing and the backdrop of coastal scenery was stunning. Looking round the town we could not believe how perfect it was. The harbour forms the focus for the historical buildings and old sailing craft.
The Spinnaker Inn, was one row back from the harbour with a superb view from the café bar terrace over the whole of the bay. The centrepiece of the view was a two-masted schooner called the Bluenose. We’d come across this name before at the laundromat in Halifax but only now did the name gain real significance. The original Bluenose was built in Lunenburg and launched in 1921. It won many international sailing championships. The current boat, a replica of the original, is used to give tourists an opportunity to experience going out to sea in a classic sailing ship. The original boat is known to every Canadian as the symbol on the reverse of the Canadian dime (10 cents coin) which is known colloquially as the “Bluenose”. Hence the name of the laundromat, it being a place where dimes are used to operate machines.
When we got to our room at the top of the hotel building, on the wall was a glazed tile picture of the dark red buildings that adjoin the harbour. We could not believe our eyes. We have the exact same tile on our kitchen wall, bought in the NE Scotland fishing port of Lossiemouth, a place with many similarities to Lunenburg and where, fifty year ago, we spent part of our honeymoon.
The hotel did not do breakfast but suggested the Savvy Sailor just along the road. What a good choice. They served the best thick cut, locally smoked salmon on a muffin topped with arugula (rocket), two poached eggs and a horseradish mayonnaise. A really great start to the day.
The next part of our journey took us northwards across the province to the Bay of Fundy then hugging the coast eastwards to the city of Truro. During the first section we were mainly in forests of mixed deciduous and coniferous trees, typical of Nova Scotia. Once we’d reached the coast, the road passed through farming country where the farmhouses mostly had great views over the sea. Just before Truro the road crossed a river where boat trips were organised to ride the tidal bore. We decided that wasn’t for us.
At Truro we joined the TransCanada Highway. This road runs from Victoria in British Columbia on Canada’s Pacific Coast to St Johns in Newfoundland on the Atlantic Coast. At the beginning and the end the route involves ferries. The total distance is not far short of 8,000 kms or 5,000 miles. It is the longest highway in the world.
Our destination for today, off the TransCanada to the north, was the small port of Pictou. As Scots this was a very significant place as it was the port through which the first Scottish settlers arrived in Nova Scotia in 1773. They arrived on a boat called “Hector”. The immigrants on the ship mostly came from the Ullapool/Loch Broom area of Wester Ross. Their journey sounded horrendous given that they were all packed below decks with typically one bunk per family. Just when they thought they were reaching their new homeland, the weather changed and the boat was driven back across the Atlantic to nearly the mid-point until it could turn round and resume the journey to Nova Scotia. They arrived just before the start of winter which meant they had to survive in make-do shelters with little food throughout the first six months. With the arrival of spring their fortunes changed and they started to establish a province that to this day has a strong Scottish tradition as we were to find out.
Why is it, that away from cities, the restaurants, and often even the bars, have such early closing times? It’s not unusual for dinner to finish at 7 or 8 pm and for bars to close at 9 or 10. That evening we went to the only place in town that seemed to be serving, Carvers. It was open-mike night which was very lively. We got a good table in a relatively quiet corner and enjoyed the variety of musicians and singers over a few beers, some glasses of wine and a snack. When we left at about 11.30 the evening was still in full swing but we knew we had a reasonably long drive the next day.
Our hotel, the Auberge Walker Inn, is right in the centre of the town. The owner, Sam, had greeted us with her two dogs, both extremely well behaved. Sam is English but has lived in Canada for many years. In the morning, we shared the breakfast dining room with two French Canadians from Montreal and Sam herself. The conversation flowed easily, mostly in English, as we discussed the usual trio of life, the universe and everything. This was a fine place to stay and we’d booked another night for our return trip.
On departure, taking a few books from the library on the promise of their return, we headed back towards the TransCanada Highway which we joined near the town of New Glasgow. From here it was a one hour drive to the Canso Causeway. This was opened in 1955, replacing a ferry, and is 1.4 km (nearly 1 mile) long. It carries road and rail traffic and has a lock at the Cape Breton end to allow the passage of shipping.
The guidebook strongly recommended a stop at the visitor’s centre and who were we to ignore that advice. After a few minutes looking at the vast array of leaflets and selecting those that took our eyes, one of the staff asked if she could help. We asked her advice on the best routes to follow, where to hear Cape Breton music, how to see whales and a host of other things. She answered every question and offered advice on subjects that we hadn’t even thought to ask about. First class.
For the next four days we would be on the island and enjoying its wildness and its remarkable friendliness. We couldn’t wait to get moving.