THE COLOURFUL CABOT TRAIL
"A little wildlife and some colour would be nice to see," my husband, Brent, says wistfully. "Along with the occasional ocean view. But then, that's a given." We'd planned this trip to Cape Breton on Canada's East Coast with hopes of getting some visual overload, not only of the many dramatic coastlines, vibrant bays and empty beaches, but also the burst of colour that happens every fall. Unfortunately Mother Nature seems to be a bit tardy this year in delivering the eye-popping goods and everything is still pretty green.
The Cabot Trail, a three hundred kilometre route that loops around the Cape, is touted to be one of Canada's finest road trips. While embracing the area's Scottish heritage, it showcases some of the East Coast's spectacular vistas and landscapes. And during this time of year it's usually ablaze with colour. Fingers crossed!
The views are more dynamic when traveling counter-clockwise around this magnificent land mass, so after taking a ten minute cable ferry from Englishtown, we veer north onto the Cabot Trail that parallels the shoreline. Within short order, shimmering St. Ann's Bay melds into the endless Atlantic. "Can you see Europe out there," Brent jokes. "That's the next neighbour to this body of water."
The first must-stop is Ingonish, a seaside hamlet where there's something for everyone. In warmer weather, swimmers are lured to its expansive beachfront, golfers zero in on the Highland Links Course, and the pamper-set make a beeline year-round to the Keltic Lodge, a hilltop haven that offers everything from chichi accommodation and dining to a pool and spa treatments.
"Did I tell you that my wish list also includes a hike?" Brent asks. "Which one do you want to go for?"
I check our trusty map that pinpoints the many trailheads and provides a brief synopsis of each. A few lead to tranquil lakes, others to cascading waterfalls and many to panoramic viewpoints. It's too difficult a decision just yet, so we mosey on.
Although there's nothing commercialized within the park boundaries, whenever the road veers outside of its borders, restaurants, galleries and gift shops pop up. Faux lighthouses selling ice cream, quaint diners featuring fresh lobster, cozy cottages that promise a quiet stay.
We stop at Dinena's to fuel up on fresh out-of-the-oven pastries, then continue, carving our way through the lush mounds of still-green deciduous trees. Scenic viewpoints are etched into this route where, in a couple of weeks, the now vague hues will really pop, transforming the rolling landscape into a Monet-like masterpiece.
Today, we check out a few picnic stops; the picturesque Big Intervale that straddles the North Aspy River, the trickling falls at MacIntosh Brook, the scenic platforms that view the Gulf of St. Lawrence. After traversing the pristine parkland we're now looking Northwest over this massive waterway. We cruise through Pleasant Bay, a quaint community settled by Scottish immigrants in the early 1800’s and now coined the Island's Whale Watching Capital.
A few minutes down the road is MacKenzie Mountain lookout where there's an opportunity to witness these breaching mammals. Unfortunately none are performing for us today. "Let's hit the next trail," Brent says, "So at least one of my wishes comes true."
The easy-graded gravel Skyline is so well maintained that even baby buggies are welcome. We take the road less travelled and go the longer more rugged route and soon after dividing from the masses, one of Brent's wishes comes true. Bordering our byway is lower vegetation that's ablaze with colour. An orchard-size patch of burnt orange ferns ignite the way and lead to a fork in the trail where we literally cross the path of his next wish, a long legged and gangly female moose. Fortunately no calves are around and she is comfortable with being photographed fifty or more times.
The last wish comes to fruition when we re-join others at literally the highpoint of this jaunt. Wind-torn, stunted trees edging our route are an indication of sub zero temperatures brought on by Old Man Winter, and a boardwalk that stretches over these Scottish-like highlands protects the fragile alpine growth beneath.
At the end of the path, we can see the winding roadway far below that will soon take us by more villages, townships and vistas along the final leg of this Cabot Trail. But for now, we're riveted to Mother Nature and her glory, a panorama of the craggy headland and the shimmering blue water that stretches beyond –another amazing must-see, and final wish-come-true for one happy husband.
IF YOU GO:
PHOTOS by Jane & Brent Cassie
#1_Taking Ferry From Englishtown
#2 St Ann's Bay melds into the endless Atlantic
#3 The Keltic Lodge a hilltop haven
#4 Faux lighthouses selling ice_cream
#5 Dinena's fresh-out-of-the-oven pastries
#6 We carve our way through still-green deciduous trees
#7 Trail vegetation that is ablaze with colour
#8 Moose crosses our path
#9 The winding roadway far below will soon take us to other villages
#10 Panorama of the craggy headland and the blue water that stretches beyond
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