Cape Mabou Highlands

[Original] Introduction

The photos linked from this page were all taken in the Cape Mabou Highlands, an area that runs along the Inverness County Coast from Mabou Harbour Mouth north to Sight Point (south-west of Inverness Village) and inland from the coast east to the Cèilidh Trail (Highway 19). Using old roads and trails in this area, the Cape Mabou Trail Club (CMTC) has built a well-maintained and well-marked trail system that offers tremendous views and considerable variety of terrain, from easy walks to very strenuous hikes, along coastal trails, up and down the many mountains, and through the forest. There are three access points to this trail system:

Each of the eighteen trails in this system has an English name and most have a Gaelic name as well, in tribute to the Gaelic-speaking immigrants from the Scottish Highlands who settled in this area. I have chosen photos to illustrate the excellent signage and trail engineering as well as some of the many marvellous views the trail system affords.

This trail system is intended for hiking only; camping and ATV use is not allowed. At many points, trees have been placed across the trails to deny access to ATV’s. The trail system crosses both private and Crown lands and you are expected to stay on the trails and to leave no trace of your presence.

I spend a lot of time in this area each summer; it’s a wonderful place to be because, in addition to its often breathtaking natural beauty, there are nearly always cool breezes blowing in from the Gulf of St Lawrence and the forest hikes allow one respite from the sun. I am 63 and not in the best of physical shape, so I find climbing especially onerous; if you’re out there and come across me panting while I rest on my trusty three-legged stool, you’ll know whom you’ve met. I highly recommend this trail system to all, though supervision of young children is necessary on some trails, as there are sharp drop-offs. At some places along the coast not far from the trails, you need to be careful not to get too close to the edge of the cliffs, as the ground there could give way due to erosion; if you descend to the water, falling rocks from above also require careful attention. Just use common sense and treat such areas with the care they deserve.

If you use these trails, please join me in supporting the CMTC; they are a local non-profit volunteer organization who depend on private individuals for their financial support. They have done a tremendous job in building this network, maintaining it, and extending it as their resources allow. Contributions in any amount are gratefully accepted and can be sent to:

Cape Mabou Trail Club
Box 165
Mabou, Cape Breton, Nova Scotia B0E 1X0

The CMTC publishes a map describing the trail system that is available at a nominal charge ($5 as of 2007 January 12) either in local stores or by writing to the CMTC directly (enclosing a stamped self-addressed envelope). It offers good descriptions of the trails and rates them as to their difficulty, so it is a resource that is well worth having before you set out on the trails.

Victor Maurice Faubert
2005 November 30

Revision of 2012

The second essay of this series was the first that could truly be called an essay, though its descriptions, usually confined to a single paragraph, were still considerably more laconic than those of recent essays.

When this essay was originally written, two CMTC trails, the Beaton and MacPhee Trails (see the 2006 “News and Discoveries” page in the Hiking Information section of my web site for descriptions) had not yet been opened for public use and no photos of the fine views from the Beaton Trail look-off were therefore included; nor was I then familiar with the great views from the Braighe à Bhaird (Poet’s Ridge) Trail, so none of those appeared either. I have chosen to not correct those lacunæ in this revision, but, for those photos present in the original essay, I have sometimes worked additional information into the photo descriptions. Usually, this has been done just by reworking and tweaking the original text, but, where the new information flatly contradicts or significantly modifies the old, usually because of the sad changes that have occurred since it was originally written, I have added one or more paragraphs introduced by the bracketed text “[2012]”.

For the CMTC system has indeed been through very hard times in the past few years. The spruce bark beetle has killed off most of the mature white spruce trees that covered many parts of the Cape Mabou Highlands (a scourge not restricted to this one area, but seen all over Cape Breton Island) and signs of which were just making their appearance in some of the photos in this essay. Fortunately, the forest in most places had an admixture of other evergreen trees and, especially inland, deciduous trees, so the forest is by no means gone, but the terrain nevertheless looks very different in 2012 than it did in 2005 because of the wide swaths of forest devastated, some of which have recently been cleared and returned to fields. See the 2009 and 2011 “News and Discoveries” pages in the Hiking Information section of my web site for the details, which involved closing the entire trail system in 2009 and 2010. A small, but heavily hiked, portion of the system was reöpened in 2011 and it is hoped that more of it will be reöpened in 2012. The amazing engineering work of Ian Sherman (who retired from his leadership position in the CMTC in 2011) and his volunteers over many years, has resulted in those parts of the trail system not affected by the spruce kill-off remaining in very good shape, but the pristine condition of the halcyon years is not yet seen on the closed trails and some are likely still completely impassable because of impenetrable blow-down. Volunteers have done yeoman work in getting the newly reöpened trails back in shape and deserve our support; your assistance to the CMTC is even more important than ever to get the currently closed trails cleared, restored, and reöpened.

What hasn’t changed in 2012 is the incredible beauty of this wonderful place: Cape Mabou has become very near and very dear to my heart over the years and the CMTC trail system remains the very best way to see it “up close and personal”. I hope in the future, when more of the CMTC system has been reöpened, to write a new essay with new photos to show its state at that time. Until then, even if many of the photos in this essay show the terrain in a form that no longer exists, I have left them to stand as a memorial to what once was.

Victor Maurice Faubert
2015 March 26

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Note 1: If you are unfamiliar with the place names mentioned in this essay, a list of map resources is given here. Of these, the best computer-readable map of Cape Breton Island that I currently know about is the Cape Breton Travel Map, produced by Destination Cape Breton and, thanks to their express written permission, available as a PDF file here; I strongly urge you to download it. This map scales nicely, allowing you to zoom in on an area of interest, has a very helpful place name index, and provides a level of detail, both of back roads and streams, that is quite good.

Note 2: See the description here for the notation I use for GPS (Global Positioning System) coördinates. I did not have a GPS device when I took the photos in this essay; the coördinates found here are those written down on later trips or computed from Google Maps; when no coördinate is given, I have been unable to reconstruct where I was exactly when the photo was taken.

Feedback on the photos and the accompanying commentary, including corrections, is always welcome; send it to the address in the footer below. All of the essays in this series are archived here.


To read this essay in sequence, click the “First” link in the footer below (or in the navigation bar at the top of the page) and the “Next” link in each subsequent page’s footer or navigation bar. Click the “Essay Index” link in the footer or navigation bar to see thumbnails of all of the photos appearing at the top of a page in the essay; you may click on any thumbnail to move directly to that page of the essay, perhaps resuming your reading where you left off on a previous visit or searching the essay for a particular topic or main photo. You may return to the introduction by clicking the essay title link in the navigation bar at the top of this or any subsequent page.