Every second summer when I was a kid, my parents would pack my four sisters and me into their much-too-small Ford car and head for Cape Breton. We lived in Nova Scotia’s Annapolis Valley then, so we’d drive from Middleton to Halifax, then 4 hours to Baddeck where the Cabot Trail starts, and finally to the eastern side of the island, to Ingonish Beach. Although Cape Breton is an island you don’t take a boat to get there because there is a causeway made of rocks that you drive across.
I remember this being a long drive and before we got there my sisters and I would be fighting and my mother singing, “She’ll be coming around the mountains” in an attempt to keep the peace.
Singing about mountains made sense because we were on our way to the Cape Breton Highlands and there are several mountains there. There’s also a 300 km-long Cabot Trail that loops around the northern part of the island. It was great fun to drive this trail because of its sharp turns and near vertical drops. We’d make bets on whether our old car could make it up a mountain and then worry if the brakes would hold as we made our way down. Someone would be assigned to look out for moose. No one wants to run into a moose!
They say that you should drive the Cabot Trail from west to east for the best views coming down MacKenzie Mountain and Cape Smokey. That means starting at Chéticamp on the western side of the park and ending at Ingonish on the east. You do want to do the full loop though, because ocean-mountain views regularly change. There’s water all around the park, to the west and north the Gulf of St. Lawrence, to the east the Atlantic Ocean, and in the south the enormous inland sea that’s called Bras d’Or Lake.
We always spent our vacation at Ingonish Beach on the Atlantic Ocean side of the island. People with lots of money probably stayed at Keltic Lodge Resort, perched high on a cliff and once the summer home of a wealthy American suffering from tuberculosis and in need of fresh air. We stayed in a humbler dwelling, a big green canvas tent that we pitched in the park. I loved staying there because we could walk to the beach from the campsite. There are actually two beaches, one for the ocean and the other for the lake and we would split our time between the two. More precisely, we’d spend the first part of every day jumping around in the salt water before walking over to the lake—aptly named Freshwater Lake—to wash all the salt out of our swimsuits.
Some days we’d take one of the hiking trails (there are 26 of them in the park). And every night we’d toast marshmallows around the campfire and play board games until the fuel in the Colman lantern ran out.
It wasn’t the end of the world if it rained once or twice during our holidays because then we’d visit Baddeck, another favourite spot, particularly the Alexander Graham Bell Museum. Dr. Bell (aka the inventor of the telephone) and his wife Mabel had a house and laboratory in Baddeck. Dr. Bell was involved in many experiments besides the telephone, such as man-carrying kites, hydrofoil boats and the first airplane to fly in the Commonwealth, the Silver Dart. This museum tells you all about them in the most interesting way. You’ll leave a lot smarter.
I’ve since returned several times to the Cape Breton Highlands with my kids and plan to go next summer with the grandkids. The Cabot Trail is said to be one of the best road trips in the world. Hey, Gilbert Grosvenor, longtime chairman of the National Geographic Society, said it was his “favorite landscape on planet Earth”.
See the ever growing: Bucket List for Kids in Canada
By Sylvia Fanjoy
Photo credits Sylvia Fanjoy
© Riding the buses™ 2015