Les Dicks Head East
Energized by our newish (at least for us) camping equipment, les Dicks decided to flock eastward this summer, the elders having conquered the West last year. So we sent a scouting party, Nana, Marc Andre, Isla, Sophie and Tenbo with the Rough Terrain camping trailer out in early July on the road to the Cape Breton Highlands, via the Bay of Fundy. Initial reports quite favorable- until a minor car problem around Truro. That fixed, the scouts reported excellent outlook at Hideaway camp at the northernmost point in the Cape- until the car just gave up. Suddenly the attractions of this isolated paradise became a great handicap: no garages, no tow truck, no taxis, no car rental = no fun. Car insisted on being towed at huge expense to Halifax. On the way Mark Andre found a pickup truck in Antigonish and the advanced party retreated there to await repairs.
Plan A was that as their holiday wound down, the Nanakins would head home, leaving the trailer somewhere for the colonizers- Ma and Pa- to pick up and do their own circuit of the Maritimes. So Plan B: the elders and Bingo packed up and zoomed to the rescue. Actually, we had a great time in a short stay together in Antigonish, before we headed for the Cape, leaving the Nanakins to await the eventual repair of the delinquent vehicle.
I enjoyed the views as we crossed the Canso strait between mainland NS and the Cape; they brought back fond memories of my trip thru the Strait in 2012 aboard the tall ship Solandt.
Advanced reports were right on- the Cape is spectacular!
The road up the west coast of the Cape, through Cheticamp, is quite beautiful, gradually climbing and becoming more tortuous up to North Mountain, a very high peak requiring a long, gradual climb from the west and a sharp descent on the east, confirming the advice that it is best to do the Cape clockwise. A bit after that dramatic ascent we neared Hideaway, on a hill by the coast, just past this local restaurant.
We retrieved the trailer from storage and passed a couple of days in this comfortable private camp, refreshed with really tasty fresh crab legs and lobster from the locals. Perfect hot and sunny weather, so Bingo and I found a place to swim, down a primitive road to the nearby beach, marvelously perfect and almost completely empty.
On the Nanakins advice we joined the Oshan whale tour late one afternoon. Actually we were supposed to be there in the morning but I mixed up left and right at the first turn- and we missed the boat, literally.
On the Oshan, a charming laid back local crew, some fellow passengers from TO with Siri Lankan roots. For the first couple of hours not much to see except spectacular rock faces, complete with eagle, as the skies clouded.
However, as we headed back to port, a siting! Pilot whale pod. Because we were the last tour of the day, we were able follow the pod for 20 minutes or so. Amazing animals.
Another day we headed for Meat Cove, as recommended. Long tortuous road past miniscule communities, at the end a fabulous view of a rocky cove at the northernmost part of the Cape, nonetheless occupied by a raft of campers including an ubiquitous Westphalia. More swimming for Bingo and me in strong surf, under a watchful eye.
After a delightful couple of days at Hideaway we were obliged to move on towards Halifax because there was no room on a friday night. So we completed the Trail eastwards. Some great views of the coast, but much less impressive than the other side of Hideaway. With 3 days to reach Halifax, we spent some time in Baddeck- a lovely town, great coffee shop cum bakery-then stopped early on the western shores of Lake Bras d’Or at Whycocomagh provincial park.
Just before the camp ground I thought we should take a so-called ‘scenic route’ southward. After a couple of km we were stopped at ferry crossing. For better or worse, the cable ferry was about to land on our side, so we drove right on, no questions asked. As we shoved off the affable lady crew member requested $7. OK, support local industry. For the next 40 minutes of so we trundled along steadily deteriorating roads, past derelict buildings and crushed cars, unfortunately symptomatic of a native reserve. The co-pilot started to complain persistently that we were going in a circle. Finally, I gave in and we retraced the rotten roads back to the ferry. Another $7. The co-pilot was right. However, would have helped if the co-pilot was able to read maps…
Only scenic part was the affable lady crew member.
As it turned out, the damages were more than time and 14 bucks. Shortly after the second ferry trip we pulled into Whycocomagh camp, a rather open hilly place with huge campsites spread far apart. We could barely see anybody else. We pulled up to our pastoral home for the night.
What’s that smell? Something burning. Our trailer brakes, red hot! It quickly became apparent that somehow, probably as we eased off the really bent ferry ramp something caught the emergency brake trigger on the trailer, pulling it off and setting the trailer brakes. We drove maybe 5-6 km with the brakes fully on! Fortunately no real damage. Good thing we were not plowing down the highway.
Once again, Bingo and I found the the nearest swimming hole, and we splashed about in the cool ocean waters of Bras d’Or.
Next day we quietly exited Cape Breton, to pursue another scenic route down the meandering east coast highway rather than the expressway. Road two-lane, but surface good to mediocre, lots of very small villages and beautiful inlets. At our leisurely pace, we stopped in Sherbooke, which turns out to have a significant historic village attached. After closing, we toured through the classic hotels, shops, churces, blacksmiths and homes. Our private camp on the edge of a field bordered a modest river, where Bingo and I of course enjoyed our mandatory swim among the rocky rapids.
We enjoyed a fine country dinner nearby, featuring very good home-baked pies, from a Germanic kitchen I think.
Then, onward to Halifax. More small fishing villages and deep inlets. The NS coast is incredibly crenullated, and the road followed it. But we got to Dartmouth in good time- then began the always tricky job of locating the campground. Despite my normally fine skill at map reading and direction-finding I had developed a new ability to get things backwards- see our flawed search for Oshan whale-watch, above. So we wandered back and forth on old Highway 2 looking for Laurie Lake, about 30 km north of downtown Halifax. Once found, turned out to be a lovely provincial park, big lots among huge pines.
Once again, Bingo and I headed for the water. Laurie Lake is quite large. We were on the northern end, where the land ends in steep rocky cliffs that plunge into very deep water. Makes for great swimming- and diving. All the kids were hopping right off the high rocks. Getting out of the water and back up the cliff was a challenge, but Bingo and I mastered the task and had good swims every day.
Incidentally, in our campground a crew was filming some advertising for the Park system. The crew leader told me they spent most of their time doing ‘True Crime’ episodes for commercial TV…
From our base at Laurie we ventured into the city, remarkably easy to get to the very heart. Still really beautiful weather, clear skies, around 30 C. So the city shone at its best. We parked at the end of the waterfront boardwalk, which runs for about 2km along the harbour.
Quite thoroughly developed since our last visit in 92 or 93, with restaurants and museums and other entertainments set against the harbour activity.
The corvette Sackville we had toured in 92 or 93 with my Dad; boat-building heritage was on broad display, especially in the excellent Maritime Museum where we spent several hours, as Yoshiko especially wanted to learn about the great Halifax explosion in 1918; the statue interestingly paid tribute to Lebanese immigrants’ contribution to the city; and the mime, Rocket Lady, was tirelessly entertaining in the heat, really expressively funny, especially for kids and even Bingo. Naomi and family had seen her a week or two earlier, and she was still going strong…
We lunched on the boardwalk, walked the streets taking in the impressive variety of restored and modern buildings.
And we visited the Citadel atop the city, which I had never seen up close. Bingo was not allowed to enter the rooms on display (security risk?) but we had a good walk around the perimeter.
We had a great time in the truly charming city and our modest camp. Then, back on the move for another nostalgic visit, this time to Halls Harbour on the south shore of Fundy, which I had visited during an IBM conference at Acadia U around 2000. At that time, Halls Harbour was more a functioning lobster pound than a tourist attraction. But we enjoyed the boiled beasts right out of the sea at simple picnic tables.
Now there are crowds, and waiting times, and fancier digs- but still fine boiled beasts- the lobsters, I mean!
After this late lunch we tracked back through Wolfville to Windsor where we turned eastward to try to make a shortcut to Truro on a combination of rural highways, like 236, 202. Another geographical adventure, sometimes on huge rolling hills, sometimes in deep forest, always in the middle of nowhere. Nova Scotians are really spread out in small gatherings isolated from one another. Anyway, narrowly avoiding being lost in space we finally made it to Truro and back on the turnpikes to dash past Moncton, towards Sussex and down another lonely road to Fundy National Park. New Brunswickers are similarly spread out, separated by zillions of spruce trees.
We arrived in the evening, heading for our remote camp at Wolfe Point.
We were assigned to the RV section, on the plains rather than in the bush, surrounded by lots of friendly families from Moncton to Germany via Massachusetts. We spent the next couple of days hiking, first through mossy valleys along the coast to a spectacular waterfall.
Another time to the shores while the gigantic tides were out, where I spotted 2 rock formations that looked like a whale and a giant clam…
Again along the coast to fascinating coves.
Every where we went we were struck by the great views of Fundy itself.
When it came time to leave, we headed along the coast on highway 114, through the charming little town of Alma on the banks of the Alma river…
…first through isolated villages and farms on rolling hills, then through dense cottage country on the way to Moncton (missing Taro et al. by a day on the same road), and back to the Nova Scotia border. There, noonish, we stopped for the usual reasons at the tourist joint and then asked if there was a good seafood restaurant nearby. The tourism guy consulted the web and came up with “Diane’s Restauant”…OK, but that’s in Five Islands, out destination, not nearby Amherst.
However, that advice turned out to be propitious, as we will see later.
I think we ended up in a Macdonald’s or something in Amherst. Then we headed cross-country down rural roads towards Five Islands, on the Fundy coast. On the way, I diverted down even more-rural roads, to ‘Joggins’, an unlikely destination, but I had heard of it as a UNESCO heritage site renowned for spectacular carbon-era fossils.We got there in time for the last tour of the beach.
The tide was out, but the real attraction was the cliffs exposing rocks formed a billion years ago,in the Carboniferous Era, dominated by giant pre-coniferous trees. The abundant well-preserved fossils formed an important part of the foundation for Darwin’s early theory of evolution. We poked around looking for our own samples, then spent an hour in the really excellent museum full of amazing fossils and informative displays.
This fine little museum is one of several independent local initiatives designed to preserve significant historical information. We would visit a couple more in the area. The whole northern end of Fundy is a remarkable display of geological history, documented by 30 or so ‘Geoparks’.
Back on the rural roads we were soon in Parrsboro on the extreme end of Fundy Bay. A short bit down the coast towards Truro we were approaching our camp at Five Islands when, lo and behold- Diane’s restaurant!
We set up camp high on the hilly fields of the provincial park overlooking the very Five Islands.
Then we set off for Diane’s, a simple bungalow, distinguished only by a big sign and a really full parking lot. Inside, the maybe ten tables were full too. But a couple invited us to join them at their table-for-four. Turned out they came all the way from Truro, 80km or so, just for the steamed clams. On that recommendation, we ordered the same- a huge plate of totally delicious local clams. Worth the trip!
The next couple of days we hiked along the cliffs, went clamming on the beach. On one outing sharp-eyed Bingo spotted a porcupine high in a tree. His highlight.
Another time we went back past Parrsboro to a place with an unlikely name- Ottawa House. Turns out Parrsboro, a fine little town, played an important part in Canada’s early history. Ottawa House was the home of major business leaders in the mid 1800s, and at one time a Prime Minister. Now it is another locally-run museum, full of ancient stuff, on a beautiful site near another imposing island, Partidge. We dallied there, then visited another local geological museum adjacent to the old lighthouse in Parrsboro. Again, a fine little museum with excellent displays and geological samples.
Five Islands was a major discovery. Astounding scenery, great history, great food. We ended up there only because we were originally scheduled to be in Cape Breton at this time, before events dictated otherwise.
All’s well that ends well…
Next, the last phase. Back on the rural roads, past Amherst to Confederation Bridge and PEI (with a fine fish lunch at the Big Truck Stop on the way).
PEI was simply PEI…gorgeous scenery, friendly people, quiet life.
Stanhope was of course simply Stanhope. Some superficial changes, but still Stanhope.
On our second day Bingo alerted us to a familiar sound: the sputter of the Green Machine delivering Taro and crew to an adjacent campsite, spilling out his busy girls.
We did all the usual rituals: fast food at Shirley’s, now run by young Chinese guys, sign of the times; desert at the ice cream shop across the road; rainy day at a street festival in Charlletown; long afternoons at Tracadie Beach, now transformed by the tides, much beloved by the free-ranging dogs. There we spotted a hippie VW a few years younger than Taro’s.
Another ritual was a visit to Richard’s Lobster Pound and its restaurant. Apparently many others have adopted this ritual- there was a huge lineup at 1 in the afternoon. Half an hour to get to the kiosk window to make an order, half an hour to receive the order. People everywhere. I stood in line in the burning sun, while Yoshiko and Bingo found some shade. The guy behind, thirty-something, local looking, with a wife and new baby waiting in the car, was quite friendly, so we began to chat. Coincidentally, he was visiting from Springhill NS, through which we had just passed, where he managed a major international firm making batteries. He said he had a mech eng degree from U Moncton. I said my son had the same degree from Concordia. Oh, he said, I have a good friend, a neighbour in Acadie, who has that degree from Concordia as well. Lives near me but has been commuting to Montreral for work in aviation. Hmmm I said right away. Is his name Bruce?
Indeed it was Bruce! Bruce was Ami’s boyfriend via Taro for a couple of years a while ago, and became a close family friend. Small world, as it is said…
BTW the fish and chips was still great.
One new adventure was the beach at Blooming Point, across the channel from Tracadie, but which required a long circuitous journey guided by Taro. Fantaaastic beach, stretching forever, but empty except for us and a few other dog lovers.
Another adventure was our first visit to the Charletown festival for a performance of a one-man show about the author’s childhood in Newfie. Quite fun!
The Mom and I stayed 8 nights, all punctuated by the never-failing Stanhope sunset- and spectacular moon-rises as well because we had full moon.
Back on the road, homeward, uneventful except for another new discovery- the town campground in Degelis, just over the NB border on the magnificent Lake Temiscouta. Charming little camp, good stopover about midway from PEI.
Soon home after about 3 weeks on the road. No better welcome than a feast from the Mom!