I woke early and left early.* The Cove Motel was that grim.* First stop was the tourist information centre - something that they* seem to do very well indeed in Canada - and I was furnish with more information than you could possibly imagine, or indeed digest, the most important piece being that all the trails in Cape Breton Highlands National Park were likely to be snowbound and closed. *Seeing as I was heading straight on up there I was somewhat disheartened to hear this but decided to head on up anyway; if only to experience the fabled Cabot Trail - the road which runs around the northern part of the island and which is regarded as one of the most scenic drives in the world.
With my plans to spend a couple of days up in the national park in tatters I decided to slow down and enjoy the rest of the island instead.* Once I had passed the initial 10 or 15km - which looked much the same as anywhere else - the scenery started to change and I started to fall in love with the place.* I was going to enjoy my enforced slowdown; stopping to chat with locals, exploring side roads and tiny harbours.* One particular road was just the ticket and gave me chance to turn off the traction control and practice being Colin McRae for mile after mile of rough dirt track.* Let me say now - and please god don’t let the rental company be reading this - the Dodge Charger is one under-rated car.* For a big car it handles like an absolute dream off road and I had the time of my life driving it.* The only downside was that, being an automatic, it suffered from not doing exactly what I wanted it to do and I almost dropped it into a large ditch at one point… if ever you decide to buy one go for the manual option!
Cape Breton Highlands National Park, when I finished playing off road, was very much open much to my delight.* As ever the rangers in the visitor centre were friendly and helpful and seemed genuinely pleased that I’d taken time out to visit their park.* I found that charming.* After receiving some advice about the wildlife - I should admit here that I have a bit of an issue with the idea of being eaten by a bear - I headed off into the park and towards trail number 7 - the Skyline Trail.* It was a moderate 5-mile trail through a relatively level wooded area which I had entirely to myself with the exception of a curious moose (which scared the crap out of me until I realised it wasn’t a bear - something which took a couple of seconds to digest!)* My reward at the end was a spectacular coastal landscape - utterly awesome - but my hope of sitting there and enjoying the view in peace were dashed when I discovered that three people were already sat at the end of the trail enjoying the view in anything but peace so I made my way back along the - somewhat tougher - return trail.
This slowing down business gave me more time to ‘smell the flowers’ as someone had put but it was pretty damn time-consuming and my mind now turned to where I was going to spend the night.* I pulled out my park map and spotted a small community named Meat Cove which was located at the very north of the island and accessible only along a 10km long unpaved road.* On a whim I decided to head out there and what an inspired choice that proved to be.* That Charger was put through its paces once again - without incident this time - and I arrived at the very end of the road to discover… a campground.* I was told that it had yet to open for the season (surprise, surprise!) but they took pity on my apparent look of disappointment and told me that I was welcome to pitch tent wherever I liked and then refused my grateful offer of payment.*
I chose the most amazing spot on a tiny headland overlooking the ocean and excitedly set up camp.* My tent has been all over the place with me and is so well-used that it is reaching the end of its useful life but there is one thing that I am sure of - not once have shared an evening in such a spectacular location.* I was totally moved by the experience and spent two or three hours sat right out on the rocks watching the sun set and then staring at the stars.* I went to bed around 1am and I did have a little smile to myself that, if I’d have been back in the UK, I’d have been getting up for work around that time.* I have to say I rather prefer this new way of life!
The next morning I woke in time to watch the sun rise whilst I sat in my sleeping bag and then sat there for another hour or two just watching the waves crashing against the rocks and the birds hunting for food.* I had been told that there were whales off the coast but I never did see any.* Eventually I decided that I best head off along that rather marvellous dirt track once more as I had an important mission; last night I had dropped and broken my camera and I needed to buy a new one.*
I had been kicking myself for not bringing my old one as a spare as the scenery was - as ever - simply stunning but everything happens for a reason and I was able to enjoy the ride rather than swinging off the road every five minutes to take photos.* I stopped to do another longish hike - somewhat more strenuous this time - and then left the park in the direction of Sydney where I hoped to find somewhere to pick up a camera.
The last time that I had to buy a new camera I was in Alabama and popped in to the local Walmart and was amazed to receive a high level of help so, when that was the first store that I found in Sydney, I decided that I couldn’t go far wrong in repeating the exercise.* And it was a repeat; the guy (who, it transpired, was from the UK) couldn’t have been any more help and I soon left with exactly what I needed.* It’s not as good as my old camera but it was cheap and does everything I needed it to do.* I know I should have been angry at myself for breaking my old one but I was still so high on the last couple of days that I couldn’t care less.*
I had liked the national park so much - definitely up there with Death Valley and Zion in my top three parks - that I decided to heed the advice of the ranger I met in the park and head on down to the reconstructed Louisbourg Fortress.* Unfortunately, having driven an hour out of my way, I arrived to find that it was… yes, you’ve guessed it, closed for the season.* I was unimpressed to say the least - especially having visited on the advice of someone who should probably have known this - and sat there for a bit not sure what to do or where to go next.
My next destination was Caribou to catch the ferry to Prince Edward Island but, according to the satnav, this was five and a half hours drive away which would have seen me roll into town some time after 11pm.* With the last ferry leaving at 9pm and having had little sleep the previous evening this wasn’t too attractive an option but I decided to head in that general direction and find somewhere to spend the night part way.*I couldn’t understand how it could possibly take that long to cover a little under 200 miles but ten minutes sat at a stop sign waiting to go through some road works (I’m not kidding) and the unbelievably slow driving of the locals soon made me realise.* Eventually I had the good fortune to hook up behind a white van (they’re the same the world over, it seems) whose driver was apparently on a mission and I followed in his slipstream for the next four hours - I will not mention the speeds that we were doing at times in case it is used as evidence against me - until I was just ten miles from the ferry terminal where I turned in to the Tara Motel in New Glasgow.* After going for 36 hours without a shower or a shave it felt so good to finally be able to freshen up and get a proper nights sleep.
Nova Scotia - and Cape Breton Island in particular - have been an absolute blast.* I’ve gone from indifference to the trip to excitement and I felt sad to leave it behind.*