May her mountains dark and dreary be
Today, we drove the Cabot Trail. It was a long day, with a lot of driving, but we saw some fantastic scenery. The day was pretty grey, and rainy and windy, but the landscape was still easily among the most beautiful I’ve ever seen.
The route we took basically goes counter-clockwise around Cape Breton Island. We started at Syndey, in the east, and drove up the east coast, cut across the northern tip of the island, and went back down the west coast to Port Hawkesbury (for the last leg, we switched from the Cabot Trail to the Ceilidh Trail).
The weather started out kind of cool and cloudy, and got progressively worse as we drove. We went through some aburdly patchy showers — places where we’d have no rain, then a massive downpour that lasted long enough for, say, two or three swipes of the windshield wipers, and then no rain again. The wind picked up quite a bit too — in places I’m sure it was at least 60 km/h. This meant that some of the views may not have been as nice as they would have been otherwise (“I bet this would look even better if it was sunny, and it wasn’t raining so hard that no one wants to leave the car”) but others were more impressive (“Look at this size of those waves!”)
Dad in particular was enamoured of the ocean, and the huge waves, and kept pulling over to get another look.
The drive wasn’t just ocean views — the Cape Breton Highlands have steep windy roads that can compete with anything you might get in the Rockies. We went from sea level to 300 meters up more than once, and the poor rental car was really put to work.
During the northern leg of the drive, as it cuts from the east shore over to the west short, the route is totally inland, and you can forget that you’re on an island – or even anywhere near the coast – quite easily. The way the mountains run right up to the coast is pretty impressive: it only takes a few seconds of driving to completely lose sight of the coast behind a hill, and after a few minutes more, you’re totally surrounded by the highlands, and it feels just like driving through mountain terrain anywhere else.
All in all, we have definitely seen the ocean now. Not just harbours and bays and coves, but the vast expanse of the Atlantic Ocean, with water as far as the eye can see, waves crashing on rocks, and salt in the air.
We’re in an Econolodge motel tonight – definitely the poorest hotel of the trip so far. We knew it would be when we booked it, but it essentially came down to “It’s here, it’s not too expensive, and if we book this we can stop looking for a hotel”. We’re hoping for a quiet day tomorrow — less driving, less hurrying, less stress. We plan to spend tomorrow night in Charlottetown.
Other random thoughts that don’t really fit anywhere else:
- We stopped in Chèticamp, which is an Acadian town. After everything being Irish, Gaelic, Celtic, and Scottish, it was really weird to suddenly be in this completely French place, where shop owners greeted us with “Bonjour!” and the locals were chatting in French (well, Acadian, I guess). Then in the next town it was right back to Celtic again, so hey.
- So far, we’ve driven through the home towns of Rita MacNeil and the Rankin family.
- Towards the end of our drive today, we saw Joe’s Scarecrow Village: something like 100 scarecrows. The weather was awful, we stayed for about 26 seconds, and I got some horrifyingly bad pictures.
- The fact that my laptop is still on Manitoba time is really messing me up, because I’m writing these blog entries at night and seeing the clock and thinking “Hey, it’s only 9:30, I can keep going!”
- Pamela and I are hilarious – the time between arriving in our hotel room, and checking out the state of the hotel’s wireless internet access, is getting pretty short.
- At one point in the drive today, we looked to our right, into a rain- and mist-filled valley, and saw a rainbow below us. This was a unique experience.
- We’re baffled by the climate control in our current hotel room. I think we’re running the heater and air conditioner at the same time.
- We’ve now gone as far east as we’re going to go, and are working our way west towards Moncton, which is where we catch our flight to Winnipeg. By some interpretation of this, we’re now on our way home.