Because I did not have proper winter tires, I ventured only once onto the gravel roads, on the Wednesday afternoon I arrived; I found them ice covered and very slippery, so I stayed off them thereafter. That meant that a lot of my favourite haunts that I would normally have visited, even on a short trip, such as Glencoe Mills and Mabou Coal Mines, were simply off limits. Next time I go to Cape Breton for a winter trip, I’ll be better prepared!
Southwest Ridge Road (also known as Mabou Ridge Road) starts in Mabou right beside the Mabou River Inn; it is paved up to the summit of Mabou Ridge, so, once I was ready to go on Saturday morning, I decided to head up there first to see what I could see. There was some sun out, but the blue skies that opened up later in the day were still more a promise than an actuality. When I reached MacLeods Road just below the summit, I verified that the gravel road down over the top, which leads on to Glencoe Mills and Whycocomagh, was as ice-coated as I had expected, so I turned around and headed back down as I had come. The lovely view in photo #1 greeted me as I got out to have a look around. I was entranced: the view was beyond my wishes I had for it—not only could I see the highlands at the southern end of Cape Mabou (of which only the mountain closest to the Gulf, Mabou Harbour Mountain, is named), but I could also see the sea ice a good long ways out into the Gulf, though with some breaks near the horizon. Even in the original, it is not clear whether what one sees at the horizon is open water or simply haze above the ice; the ice maps at this point were showing ice all the way across to Prince Edward Island and some ice north from there. What open water one can see here is not very extensive and is mostly close to the mouth of the Mabou River, which enters the Gulf at the far left of the photo beside Green Point (not very green at this time of year!). The Mabou River itself, normally shining bright blue on a sunny day, is here just an expanse of white (it is above the line of trees at the left two-fifths of the photo). Although the wind made it feel quite cold here (it had not yet warmed up above freezing, as it would later in the afternoon), I could not get enough of this beautiful view and I stood by the road for some time taking it all in.
When the cold finally sent me back into the car, just a few metres/yards down the road, the view ahead forced me stop again, where I took photo #2, showing the hills of the glorious Cape Mabou Highlands behind Northeast Mabou. How different they look in the other seasons of the year!
Continuing on back down towards Mabou, I stopped at several other points along the road; at one of these, I took photo #3, looking further to the east, which shows Mabou Mountain spread across the full width of the photo. St Marys is at the far left of the photo with the St Joseph Renewal Centre behind it and to its right, though very hard to see in this reduced version—it’s very clear in the original. The Mabou River can be seen at the middle right of the photo below the cliffs bordered by snow-festooned trees along its banks. In the far distance, mostly hidden by Mabou Mountain itself, the Cape Mabou Highlands to the west of the Northeast Mabou River can be espied in the left half of the photo.
Photo #4 is from the junction of the Cèilidh Trail and West Mabou Road; it looks across the mouth of the Southwest Mabou River and Big Cove in the foreground to the Mabou River and the Cape Mabou Highlands across it. It is one of my very favourite spots in Cape Breton, a peaceful place where the Mabou River Trail system, part of the Trans-Canada Trail (Railway Trail), has a parking area, a kiosk, and some picnic benches. That Monday, I had just returned from my drive to Point Michaud, Marble Mountain, and Whycocomagh and I wanted to make sure I had at least one photo of it before I left Tuesday morning. The weather had warmed up well above freezing, taking an amazing amount of snow with it, so what you see superimposed on the ice is melted water.