Where else would you go during your first day in Cape Breton – Cabot Trail, Maritime Museum, Forts – nope, we went for a spot of tea and lunch at Rita MacNeil’s Tea Room. Rita from Big Pond, Cape Breton in Nova Scotia was a Canadian Icon, as both a Country and a Folk singer. Many of her albums reached Gold and Platinum status, and in 1990 she was the highest selling country artist in Canada. Throughout her travels around the world, she always invited people back to Big Pond, Cape Breton for a cup of tea. Since both of us are partial to a spot of tea and we enjoy her singing, what better place to go for quick cuppa and bite to eat, but Rita’s Tea Room. Having absolutely no idea where Big Pond, Cape Breton is, Andy headed to Google Maps for directions, gulp it’s 50 miles, each way.
At 100 miles round trip, it better be a spectacular cuppa. Have to wonder if Guinness does a category for the longest drive for a cup of tea, surely we would be close to winning it. Most people probably think we’re nuts, burning 5 gallons of diesel for a cuppa!!! Well, damn the torpedoes, we load the dogs in the truck and off we go on our sojourn.
Fortunately the roads are main highways, so it only took a shade over an hour until we pull into the parking lot. With the dogs, we always look for shade and fortunately found a nice tree at the far end to park under. With lots of shade and windows open, we leave the dogs and head up the stairs into the tea room.
On entering the foyer you notice the walls are adorned with photographs of Rita meeting many famous people from around the globe, including one where she is standing in the queue to meet her Majesty, Queen Elizabeth II. While checking the photos we met by our waitress, who was extremely friendly, pleasant and efficient; she provided us with menus and showed us to a table.
The menu is definitely not extensive, but should have something to tempt most tastes. Our waitress reviewed the menu, mentioning the Lobster Roll was not available today – Andy was devastated. We ordered crab cakes served with baked beans and quiche served with a fresh spinach salad. We also had the obligatory pot of tea, which was served in individual pots with a china tea cup and saucer. She even brought milk, not cream. Andy was a happy camper, finally a business that knows how to serve a proper pot of tea. Lunch was excellent and we even finished it off with a slice of pie, which were home made and simply wonderful.
We read the story on the back page of the menu noting the building started off life as a 1 room school before closing and later being purchased by Rita, as a family home. Numerous people took her up on the offer of coming to Cape Breton for a cup of tea, which sowed the seed for starting the Tea Room. It opened in 1986, with Rita purchasing the necessary equipment from a local department store and receiving many donations of cups and saucers from friends and neighbours. Many of these cups and saucers are now on display around the walls of the restaurant.
After lunch we strolled around looking at the artifacts and memorabilia on the walls before returning to the truck and 2 completely shocked dogs. We had lunch and returned without the obligatory doggie bag, since both plates were empty. Happy and with full tummy we headed back to the campground via the hopefully scenic route around Lake Bras D’Or, which Judi says means Lake Gold Arm.
Here we are heading down the opposite shore of the lake looking across toward the Big Pond area.
The roads started off in fairly good condition, but shortly after where we stopped to take the above photograph they were about the equivalent of an off-road trail. Not very comfortable on a max GVWR F350 that has no load in the back end. Pumped up the air bags, but nothing really helped, other than reducing speed. At times we were down to about 10 mph and weaving through the potholes.
Having survived the off-road experience we arrived at Little Narrows to see the ferry departing, darn – expecting a lengthy delay before it returned. Pulling up to the stop line we couldn’t have been more wrong, not only can you see the other side, but it is only a couple of hundred yards across.
Within 5 minutes the ferry was back on our side and we were driving aboard, once the 2 vehicles disembarked. Calling it a ferry is a bit of a stretch, it is really a barge with 2 ramps connected to a cable. About the size of the lifeboats on my last command.
View down the arm of Lake Bras D’Or from the ferry landing.
Once we reached the other side we had about 1 mile to connect us onto Hwy 105, which took us back to the campground. Great day, we drove about 140 miles for a cup of tea – must be nuts!!