Thursday Tidbits

Posted on August 1, 2019 under Thursday Tidbits with no comments yet

Highlands Hostel – Cape North

 

Yup. That whooshing sound you just heard was July of 2019 leaving through the back door.

The days. The weeks. The months. The years. The older I get, the faster they go.

I took a road trip earlier this week on Monday with a couple of friends. Armed with our Cape Breton passports, we successfully negotiated the Canso causeway without incident and headed off for the Cabot Trail. My mission was quite simple. I wanted to do a detailed mapping of the mileage (kilo meterage… is that a word?) of The Cabot Trail starting at the Red Barn near Nyanza and going clockwise through the Margaree Valley, around the west side of the island and around to the east side ending up once again at the Red Barn.

We picked a great day to drive. We saw a bear on French Mountain, visited some friends and had an ice cream at the Farmer’s Daughter. Yes. We got caught in that terrific thunder and lightning storm and torrential downpour. I have done a lot of driving in my life and that may have been one of the most challenging except for blizzards in winter.

I think I can safely say that besides the fantastic lunch at Kathleen and Alfred’s in Cape North (her butterscotch pie is a perfect 10!), I think the most interesting stop of the day was at the Highlands Hostel in Cape North. Bricin, a very interesting guy and likely the subject of a full blown story,showed us his property. He bought a church a few years back and converted it into a hostel. It’s hard to describe. They’ve done a fantastic job re-purposing the building and it might be the most unique hostel I’ve ever seen. I have no doubt that I will spend a night there when I circumnavigate the Trail in late August.

I simply can’t drive by the Clucking Hen without stopping in. It’s like there’s a giant magnet pulling me off the road. I stopped in to chat with Melody and Marion, a friend of hers. Marion walked a large chunk of the Trail many years ago and shared some of her experiences.  Even though me and my companions had only had lunch a few hours earlier, we couldn’t resist a bowl of their famous seafood chowder.

Ok. So here’s the deal. I will likely head off to start my walk around the 20th of August. I’ll need to bum a ride to get to the Red Barn. I’ll buy you a coffee and homemade muffin at the Herring Choker as your reward. And gas money, of course. My plan is to find accommodations with families along the way. Tentatively, here’s where I’ll be stopping. If you know anybody in these communities maybe you can ask them if they’ll take in a vagrant for the night. In exchange for a room, I’ll interview them for my book.

Day 1 – North East Margaree

Day 2 – Grand Etang

Day 3- Pleasant Bay

Day 4 – Pleasant Bay *

Day 5 – Cape North

Day 6 – Cape North **

Day 7 – Ingonish (close to Dino’s former restaurant)

Day 8 – Wreck Cove (nearest to the base of Cape Smokey)

Day 9 – Tarbot

Day 10 – Big Harbour exit on the 105

Day 11- Pick up at Red Barn

*My most pressing need is on Day 3 and Day 4. There are no amenities or homes from Cheticamp to Pleasant Bay. I need to find someone from Pleasant Bay to pick me up on French Mountain and take me to Pleasant Bay. If I can’t find a home there, I will stay at the hostel in the community. On Day 4, I need someone to take me from Pleasant Bay back to French Mountain where I stopped walking the previous day. I will then walk to Pleasant Bay and stay there once again at a home or the hostel.

Day 6. I’m thinking of taking a rest day in Cape North after walking for two days in the mountains. I know my quads will need a rest. I’ll either stay at the hostel or with a family if they’re brave enough to have me.

Some of these logistics will be a little tricky to coordinate as there is poor cell phone service for large swaths of the Cabot Trail.

Besides walking and writing a book, most of you know that I am dedicating my walk to Simone MacDonald who suffered a devastating stroke a few weeks ago. I will collect pledges or donation before or after the walk with 100% of the money going to assist Simone during her rehabilitation. You can send me an e-transfer at lenpdmacdonald@gmail.com or mail me your donation at my home address: 8-9B Court Street, Antigonish, N.S. B2G 1Z7.

Any leads on accommodations along the Trail greatly appreciated.

Have a great weekend.

P.S. I was walking home from the bakery last night with a bag of dinner rolls. Nobody stopped to say that I had nice buns. I was mildly offended.

 

The bear went over the mountain to see what he could see.

 

 

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Thursday Tidbits

Posted on July 25, 2019 under Thursday Tidbits with no comments yet

Athena and Ivory

 

“I scream, you scream, we all scream for ice cream.”

Ice Cream. Howard Johnson.

I’m absolutely incorrigible.

I arrived home in early June after walking the Camino. With the exception of my marathon years, I was probably in the best shape of my life. My weight dropped below 170 lbs for the first time in a decade and I was lean and mean.

Now I’m just mean.

Walking 713K required a great deal of fuel. When you’re walking 31K a day, you can eat just about anything (which I did!) and your body will burn it up. But when you’re not walking all day, every day and you keep eating like you were on the Camino, bad things happen. Look no further than your belt buckle.

I have had the pleasure of spending the month of July with two lovely 11 year old ladies from Montreal. They’re leaving for home on Sunday which is bittersweet. We’ve had a lot of adventures. They’ve kept me on my toes. We’ve gone to the beach frequently; played board games, visited the library and did a big trip around the Cabot Trail. But the primary occupation every day was the quest for ice cream.

Someone (not me) promised the girls that they could have ice cream every day of their stay in Antigonish. That’s 30 days. I am not one to shirk my duties lightly. I took this as an order and not a suggestion.

I’m sure we didn’t get to every single ice cream stand but we got to most of them. Michelle’s Grill in the mall parking lot was on our list. Besides ice cream, Michelle also serves a delicious pineapple curry chicken stir fry, my personal favourite on her menu. The Koala Cone is dangerously situated about a 4 minute crawl from our apartment. We got to know the staff very well. Just off of the far end on Main Street on Adams Street is Granny’s Antiques and Gifts. Granny’s greatest gift is ice cream!

On our way to Bayfield to go swimming, we often stopped in at Brosha’s Short Stoppe to get our daily fix, especially if it happened to be a Monday. You see, when you’re an” ice cream hunter” you get to know the hours of operation of ice cream stands and on Mondays, the ice cream stand at the Bayfield Community Centre down at the wharf is closed. We had many pleasant walks along Bayfield beach to go over to the wharf.

No drive to Arisaig would be complete without visiting an authentic lighthouse which happens to be the location of the local ice cream stand. Grab an ice cream just as the sun is setting over the Northumberland Strait. If you have a hankering for maybe the best seafood chowder in these parts, drop into the Dockside Café just a few steps away from the lighthouse. While you’re eating chowder or a slice of their homemade pies, you can learn about the life cycle of lobsters with the interpretive display in the café.

On one of our many day trips, we stopped in at Fish and Ships (not a typo!) at Ballantynes Cove. Besides excellent ice cream, they have really good fish and chips and the setting is beautiful. You can stroll over to the Bluefin Interpretive Centre while you’re waiting for your food.

Speaking of the Cabot Trail. I am going to walk around the Trail in a few weeks and I know for certain that I will stop in at the ice cream place in Pleasant Bay. It’s in a convenience store/souvenir shop just after leaving the village and heading south towards Cheticamp.

When we wanted to mix it up a bit (we’re not a one trick pony), we would go for soft ice cream. We paid our annual visit to Snow Queen Leisure World to do the rides and have hot fudge sundaes. We also made treks to DQ and McDonald’s.

And that, folks is how you are forced to let your belt buckle out a notch or two and don’t even get me started on strawberry shortcake. Because the strawberry season was delayed because of crappy spring weather (is there such a thing as spring anymore in Nova Scotia?), strawberry lovers were forced to make up for lost time once the berries ripened. We had shortcake every day for the first week of strawberry season. Honestly.

It’s not that I want to walk the Cabot Trail. I NEED to walk the Cabot Trail.

I swear to God that they’ll put a sweet tooth on my tombstone.

Have a great weekend and if you get the chance, grab an ice cream cone!

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Thursday Tidbits

Posted on July 18, 2019 under Thursday Tidbits with one comment

Mary Ann Falls

 

In recent years, I have taken an annual pilgrimage around the Cabot Trail, one of my favourite places on the planet. Occasionally, I’ll do a solo trip but the last few years, I have had company. Three summers ago, I took two friends from India who were attending a summer program at the Coady. Last year, I took my granddaughter and this year my traveling companions were my granddaughter and a friend of hers from Montreal. Seeing the Cabot Trail through the eyes of 11 year olds in an education.

We got an early start. You can’t do justice to the Cabot Trail in one day but if that’s all the time at your disposal, you can do a lot. Neither the girls nor I were much interested in visiting local artisans or going whale watching, not on a day when the temperature was supposed to be in the high 20s. Our quest was simple: find water and go swimming.

The drive from Antigonish to Auld’s Cove is quite scenic as St. George’s Bay funnels into the Canso Causeway. The Causeway is purportedly the deepest causeway in the world. The drive from Port Hastings to Iron Mines is non-descript. Passing by the small airport outside of Port Hastings, I wondered if governments would pony up $18 million dollars to build another small airport near the world renowned golf courses in Inverness.

The Bras D’or Lakes seldom disappoint but because of our early morning getaway, I couldn’t get a coffee and treats at the Herring Choker deli and bakery in Nyanza. The Englishtown ferry wasn’t in operation so we had to skirt St.Ann’s Bay via the Gaelic College. This is not the route I normally take but it has several beautiful vistas.

We were getting quite peckish after nearly two hours in the car. No trip around the trail would be complete without a stop at the Clucking Hen in North Shore. While we waited for our breakfast, I chatted with Diana. She’s been there for years and she always has a smile on her face. The ethos of this wonderful establishment can be seen on staff T-shirts: “No Fowl Moods”. I also had a chance to speak briefly with the owner, Melody. I told her that I was “hatching” a plan to walk around the Cabot Trail later this summer.

Swim #1 took place at Ingonish Beach. I couldn’t get over how the beach had changed in one year. It looked like the Parks people had brought in heavy equipment and covered the entire sandbar with tons of mid -sized, round rocks. Not so according to the lifeguard on duty who said that this was the work of none other than Mother Nature earlier in the spring.

Swim #2 was at Mary Ann Falls, a short jaunt from Ingonish. You have to be paying attention to the signage. For some unknown reason, there is a huge sign for Warren Lake as you’re heading north from Ingonish but Mary Ann Falls, which is the same exit, is nowhere to be seen on this sign. If you’re traveling from Neil’s Harbour in a southerly direction, Mary Ann Falls is on the sign. Go figure. Maybe someone from up that way can explain this discrepancy. The girls agreed that this was the highpoint of their day as they jumped off the rocks into the deep, chilly pool below the falls.

Their bathing suits didn’t have time to dry before we stopped at Black Brook for swim #3 .After a picnic lunch, they spent a short time playing in the waves. The promised hot day never quite materialized and they once again found the water quite chilly.

Just a footnote for anyone heading around the Trail. There is still a lot of road construction.

With time on our side, we took a short detour off the trail and went through the village of Neil’s Harbour. This is a beautiful drive and takes you through Smelt Brook, White Point, rejoining the highway near South Harbour. The scenery is spectacular and a hidden gem that most people miss and probably don’t know about.

With thoughts of walking the Cabot Trail, I paid particular attention to the stretch of road from Cape North to Cheticamp. There are some serious climbs and equally challenging descents. If you’re a walker or hiker, you know that walking down a mountain is much harder on your legs than the ascent. We stopped at the ice cream place just south of Pleasant Bay. I learned from the staff that there’s actually a hostel in Pleasant Bay which I’ll check out as part of my planning for my walk.

My granddaughter has a great memory and insisted that we stop for supper at Le Gabriel in Cheticamp. I always have a chat with Brenda Lee who runs the floor operations at this busy restaurant from her wheelchair. I told her about my plans to walk the Trail. She gave me a look that suggested that I was bonkers. She said she didn’t want to hear a report about an old guy getting eaten by a bear. I took exception to her calling me old! The meal was excellent. The girls were too full for dessert but with a cooler in the car, were able to get take out desserts.

Swim #4 was in the rapidly growing town of Inverness. Two world class golf courses have transformed this once sleepy and dying town into an economic juggernaut as evidenced by the helicopter pad near Cabot Links and many new eating establishments and lodging options. Inverness Beach in the evening is sublime. The (slightly) warmer waters of the Northumberland Strait were welcomed by the girls as they frolicked in the waves for the better part of an hour. The father of a young family was sitting in his wheelchair with warm sun bathing his face while his wife and children walked the beach.

A magnificent sunset greeted me as I crested the Havre Boucher hill. My two charges were fast asleep in the back seat. All felt well with the world.

Have a great weekend.

 

Keltic Lodge

 

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