Coast at Baleine Head

Coast at Baleine Head
Photo 1 of 25: Coast at Baleine Head
Taken 2007 June 19 in Baleine from the Cape Breton Trail near Baleine Head
GPS 45°56.6??'N 59°50.0??'W

Baleine is a tiny fishing community on the Atlantic coast of Cape Breton Island. The mouth of Baleine Harbour is at the right of this photo and the Atlantic Ocean is at the left. Baleine is the inhabited community closest to the geographical feature for which Cape Breton Island is named, viz., Cape Breton. If you are not familiar with this corner of Cape Breton north of Louisbourg, you may want to locate the area on the map referenced in the introduction.

The Nova Scotia Atlas shows a trail following the coast line from Baleine to Cape Breton and around it to Main-à-Dieu; Michael Haynes describes an 18 km (11.25 mi) loop hike following this same route in his Hiking Trails of Cape Breton, pp. 130-134, and includes a map. The province gives a short description of the trail here and provides a detailed map here, including warnings about “quick mud” along Kelpy Cove between Hummocky Point and Cape Breton and the comment that “the path occasionally has an uncanny habit of disappearing over a cliff”. But, if any formal trail exists, I haven’t found it on two different trips to the area. An ATV trail does lead over the cobblestone beach from Baleine along the harbour to Baleine Head, the rocky promontory from which this photo looking west was taken; from there, there are occasional paths along the coast to the east, but nothing like what I think of as a hiking trail with even rudimentary trail markings.

As one can see from this photo, there was some sun when I started this hike, though the sky was predominantly cloudy—the normal state of affairs along this coast in summer in my experience. A very strong wind was blowing from off shore, as one can see in the spray of the surf being blown backwards out to sea. I made better progress down the shore towards Cape Breton than during my previous visit here a few years ago, but was forced to turn back when it began to mist: my outer garments were soaked in seconds by the driving winds which would have torn the lightweight plastic rain poncho I carry in my pack to shreds had I tried to deploy it.

Even though it has twice frustrated me from reaching Cape Breton, this coast is a wild, beautiful place well worth visiting. As can also be seen from Louisbourg Lighthouse and from the Louisbourg Fortress itself, the Atlantic coast here is very rocky; Haynes describes the land bordering that coast as ”glacial till, sand, and gravel”; it is covered with mossy peat bogs of a reddish hue, making for a springy walking surface that is criss-crossed with rills and standing water, which one can avoid by keeping to the rocky shore. It is no wonder that the French thought that Louisbourg was impregnable from the land around the fortress, where the landscape is the same as here, as dragging cannon from the coast overland to attack the fortress seemed to to require such superhuman efforts in those days that they concentrated their defensive efforts on the harbour (though they were proven wrong in the siege of 1745, when the attacking forces used sleds designed by the shipwright Lieutenant Colonel Nathaniel Meserve of the New Hampshire Militia to slide their cannons across the waterlogged terrain—see this Wikipedia article Wikipedia article for more background on this siege).