The Cabot Trail – Cape Breton

Black Head Cove looking along the coast at White PointWe planned 2 relaxing days meandering along and enjoying the abundant sights of the Cabot Trail, but weather forecasts were rather unfavourable, with Saturday being the only nice day. Decision time – do we complete in 1 day or stick to the original plan of 2 days and get wet .

Judi’s back is still bothering her, therefore we wouldn’t be able to hike any of the trails, so we elected to be fair weather visitors to the Cabot Trail, and drive it in 1 day.

Bright eyed and bushy tailed we got an early start to a Saturday morning, requiring Andy to miss all 3 English Premier League games. Judi made the sandwiches and prepared the picnic, while Andy walked the dogs and then took Kona for a run, or more precisely Andy throws the ball and Kona runs. By 09:30 we were loaded and the intrepid travellers were off to conquer the Cabot Trail.

You can travel the Cabot Trail in both clockwise and counter-clockwise directions, with the guide book recommending clockwise, as a visitor centre is located at the park entrance and it puts you on the inside lane, rather than hanging off the cliffs. We also read another version that recommended counter clockwise, as it isn’t so busy and you get better views in the outside lane. We elected to be daring and navigated counter-clockwise.

Englishtown ferry and the short hop across the inlet

Englishtown ferry and the short hop across the inlet

Our first obstacle on the journey was the Englishtown ferry, across the inlet, about 10 mins after we left the campground. However, shortly before arriving at the ferry we saw a sign advising, “No overhang > 5 feet” on the ferry. Andy with over 30 years with BC Ferries got thinking and said, they have a steep ramp onto the ship. Sure enough, when we arrived at the ramp, it was down hill followed by an incline up the ship’s ramp. No way we would get our RV on board. This is the ferry docked on the good shore, the opposite shore with the steep ramp was the problem. We stop for a photo-op and the dogs go mental, as they see the water, but the current is substantial and we don’t feel comfortable lest they get swept away in the current.

Indian Brook downstream from the bridge

Indian Brook downstream from the bridge

After a couple of quick photos we’re off on the Cabot Trail. The initial sections were slightly inland with limited water views and gently undulating – nothing spectacular yet. Judi sees a pottery shop and has an over-riding desire to browse within; Andy, not so inclined went back to the bridge we just crossed to snap a few photos. The lady in the shop provided Judi with a map of the Cabot Trail and asked if she wanted a listing of all the Cabot Trail artisans, to which fortunately she declined.

Our next stop was at a view point just before Cape Smokey, which is a few miles south of Ingonish. We had just got out of the truck when we heard cars coming and Andy exclaimed, “Mustangs”. Sure enough, it must have been a Mustang convention as there were about 20, mostly SVT’s, Cobras and Shelbys, with a couple of GT’s. Andy was drooling, since he sold his before we started this trip. We also met a pleasant couple from Holland who were touring Canada and U.S. in a rented motorhome. After chatting with them for a while, we headed up to the top of Cape Smokey, stopping at the view point in Cape Smokey Provincial Park. Wow, our first elevated view of the coastline, just spectacular.

View of the coast from Cape Smokey Provincial Park

Judi and Duke at Cape Smokey Provincial Park

Judi and Duke at Cape Smokey Provincial Park

Very happy with our first elevated view, we continued our journey, heading downhill into Ingonish and around the harbour before entering the Cape Breton Highland National Park. Fortunately we purchased annual passes when at Banff, so we hang the pass on the rear view mirror and by-pass the ticket booth. The first sign we see is for Ingonish Beach, so we head in that direction. It has ample parking and a wooden boardwalk across the dunes and down to the beach.

Boardwalk leading to Ingonish Beach

Boardwalk leading to Ingonish Beach

The dogs were desperate to get into the water, but we didn’t have any towels with us to dry them, and the beach also had a good surf running. Therefore, much to Kona’s disbelief, we kept them on leash and didn’t let them into the water. Above is the boardwalk leading to the beach.

Ingonish Beach

Ingonish Beach

After a short walk on the beach, dry but definitely disappointed dogs jumped back into the truck and we continued along the Cabot Trail. Our next stop was at Black Brook Cove scenic lookout. Walking out to the point afforded excellent views of the coast.

Black Brook Cove viewpoint

Black Brook Cove viewpoint

Black Brook Cove coastline

Black Brook Cove coastline

Neils Harbour Lighthouse looking out to sea
Neils Harbour Lighthouse looking out to sea

 

The next point of interest being Neils Harbour, which is a small fishing village with a lighthouse. We drove out to the end and meandered around the light, which is fully automated and not available for tours, then headed downhill to check out the harbour and fishing boats.

Neils Harbour village and fishing docks

Neils Harbour village and fishing docks

Neils Harbour Lighthouse

Neils Harbour Lighthouse

By this time it was already approaching 8 bells, or high noon so we had to decide if we were ready for lunch, or where to stop. The consensus was not quite ready for lunch and we would hold off until reaching the top of the island. Back in the truck and we had to make yet another decision – take the main road or more coastal route. You guessed it we elected the more coastal route. Didn’t see much scenery, but the road was dreadful, almost the equivalent of off-roading. One benefit is we climbed gradually, so on reaching the coastline we again had spectacular elevated views.

Black Head Cove looking along the coast at White Point

Black Head Cove looking along the coast at White Point

Endeavouring to complete the Cabot Trail in 1 day we elected to belay the trip down to White Point until the next time. White Point is the low headland seen in the above photograph and is a dead end, so same road in and out. So onward we charge, continuing our journey North to the end of Cape Breton, arriving in Bay Saint Lawrence about 13:30.

Hoping for a park with picnic benches, etc to have lunch, we were unfortunately disappointed, as the road ended at the harbour breakwater. So we ate lunch sitting on the truck tailgate.

Bay St Lawrence harbour entrance looking along the North Coast

Bay St Lawrence harbour entrance looking along the North Coast

This is the view along the coast from the end of the harbour breakwater,

Judi checking out the ocean for whales at Bay St Lawrence

Judi checking out the ocean for whales at Bay St Lawrence

Judi searching the ocean for a possible whale sighting, unfortunately no success today. After lunch we got the dogs out for a walk on the breakwater and gave them some water, before heading out and turning South down the opposite shore.

Shortly after lunch we pulled into Cabot Landing Provincial Park, a small park, where Cabot is said to have arrived on Cape Breton.

Cabot Statue where he landed ashore

Cabot Statue where he landed ashore

On returning to the main Cabot Trail we started climbing a serious hill, not quite the Rockies, but close. They had a number of view points and we pulled over to check them out, seeing only trees. Andy is looking at the trees and thinking nice, but don’t see the point in having viewpoints, when Judi said, “We’re to early, this is to check out the Fall colours”. Bingo, this will be spectacular in a few weeks.

Looking down the Aspe Fault line to the ocean

Looking down the Aspe Fault line to the ocean

The valley results from the Aspy fault line. It must be an amazing sight when the trees are changing colours.

Continuing down hill we finally reached the opposite coastline at Pleasant Bay, where we stopped at a souvenir, et al shop. Picked up a couple of trinkets and noticed ice cream. Thinking the dogs needed a treat for being so good, we decided to also get a cone for us. We ordered ours and asked for a single scoop for each dog in a bowl. The clerk was surprised we also include the dogs in ice cream treats and advised that dog treats are complimentary. Sure enough she made up 2 bowls with a scoop of vanilla. If and when we return to the Cabot Trail, we will definitely return to this store.

Pleasant Harbour and The Pond

Pleasant Harbour and The Pond

Unfortunately high clouds rolled in so the clear blue skies of the past few hours are no more. This unfortunately degraded the quality of the photo opportunities. The above photograph was taken from a viewpoint after a steep climb out of Pleasant Harbour.

Cabot Trail highway heading to Cheticamp

Cabot Trail highway heading to Cheticamp

Cenotaph on the Cabot Trail just north of Cheticamp

Cenotaph on the Cabot Trail just north of Cheticamp

This is the view of the highway snaking along the cliffs towards Cheticamp. At this stop we were chatting to a young couple from Halifax who were completing a weekend sweep through the Cabot Trail. They mentioned heading to a restaurant owned by the Rankin Family for dinner, which has live music in the evening. This was a timely meeting as we had been discussing options for dinner – either stop on the road or leftovers when returning to the campground about 19:00.

We really enjoyed our lunch at Rita’s Tea House, and expected the other Cape Breton singing sensations would have a similar quality establishment. So we decided to try out the Rankin Family pub for dinner. The young couple mentioned it was on the Cabot Trail road, but when we eventually found it, it would require an additional 35 to 40 miles. No problem, it came recommended, so off we went.

On arrival, cars were parked everywhere, so that’s a good sign, a busy restaurant/pub is usually a great advertisement. On entering, we found a table, but quickly noted this was not on par with Rita’s Tea Room. The walls had a few photographs, but we found it stark and noisy, with no sound deadening materials. It is literally a store with bar at the rear and tables crammed at the front. I tried the Oatmeal Stout, which should be full bodied with a rich and creamy head. What I got was bitter, ice cold fizzy coloured water. Undoubtedly one of the worst pints I have ever been served in 50 years and that’s been a few. Oh well, everyone can have a bad day, so tried their own beer. Really big mistake, as it was even worse. Very, very seldom do I not finish a beer, but this only got 2 sips. Even the lady, who joined us at the table commented about the lack of a head when it arrived. Unfortunately the food wasn’t any better, fish and chips had very thick batter that was cooked until almost black. It was also really greasy. Highly disappointed, we paid a substantial bill and headed back to the campground.

 

 

 

 

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