The great plateau of southern Inverness County, whose borders are roughly the Trans-Canada Highway between Whycocomagh and Port Hastings, the Cèilidh Trail (Highway 19) from Port Hastings to Judique Intervale, a straight line to the northeast from Judique to Highway 252 in the Nevada Valley,¹ and Highway 252 from there to Whycocomagh, excluding settlements, homes, and farms below the plateau along the highways, is today largely depopulated, though it was once dotted with settlements and isolated farms and supported pioneers who eked out a living from the lands and forests. Some of the old settlements are today only names, such as the former localities of Campbells Mountain, River Denys Mountain, and Skye Mountain on the respective mountains; others still hold a shaky existence with a few remaining inhabitants, such as Upper Glencoe and Roseburn; still others are inhabited only part time and often by people from away, descendants of old families once established there, such as Rosedale. The old roads, however, some repurposed as snowmobile trails, are still for the most part there and car-drivable with care, though a number now require an ATV or a motor bike. It is beautiful country, as I have come to learn over the years, with a wild and primitive beauty rarely thought of as a tourist destination in its own right.
The shortest route between Judique and Glendale is over this plateau along the River Denys Road and the River Denys Mountain Road that branches off it and descends to Glendale (the River Denys Road descends to Melford). Because most road maps (and GPS’s) show this route (and some, like Griselda, believe it is the best one!), tourists in Judique heading for Glendale sometimes head out the River Denys Road in Judique, which is paved out to Kintyre Farm at the eastern edge of the community. It is gravel thereafter, but in very good shape, though the further up and out on the plateau it goes, the less good it gets, eventually forcing one to slow to a crawl. Worse, little directional signage is present to make sense of the many side roads, so it is easy to get off the correct road, especially if one is armed only with an incomplete road map. This was exactly my experience in 2002 (I think), when I attempted to follow the road map from Judique to Glendale for a July concert featuring Buddy and Natalie MacMaster, among others, at the church there. Once on the plateau, I turned right at the first right hand turn I came to, since the map showed a right hand turn to go to Glendale rather than Melford, under the assumption that the map showed all of the relevant roads. It didn’t (not even close!) and the road onto which I had turned soon deteriorated into a tangled mess of interconnected logging roads, most traversable, but in very poor shape. By dead reckoning, luck, and sheer determination, I finally came down to the Trans-Canada Highway on the McIntyres Mountain Road south of Kingsville. I wasn’t late (I had allowed two and a half hours to get to Glendale from Judique), but I was late enough that I had to sit upstairs to listen to the concert (which actually proved to be a very good place to sit, except for the heat on a hot summer day). Moral of the story: explore and familiarize yourself in advance with a back road before you attempt to use to it for travel!
My misadventure didn’t discourage me from returning: taken by the beauty and isolation of the plateau and armed with detailed maps, I went back the next chance I had and located the proper route I should have taken. I now know the road pretty well, having since driven it at least once each year. A friend of mine introduced me to St Margaret of Scotland Church on the River Denys Road beyond the turn-off for the River Denys Mountain Road, where church services are still held twice a year, once in the winter for snowmobilers and once in the summer for returning descendants of the settlers who once lived there; the church is in very good repair, being maintained by those living below the plateau and the contributions of summer visitors. My last drive from St Margaret of Scotland down the River Denys Road to Melford left me dubious about the state of that portion of the road; it badly needed maintenance and I judged it to be dangerous in a couple of places adjacent to cliffs where water had badly eroded the roadway; I was not there this year and cannot say what its current state might be, but the River Denys Mountain Road from Glendale is in very decent shape and it would be the route I’d recommend for ascending to the plateau and visiting the church. The MacLeod Settlement Road, connecting Glencoe to the River Denys Road, was drivable two years ago, but in very poor shape a couple of years prior to that—I managed to get through, but only barely, and really should have turned around and gone back.
After returning to the Trans-Canada Highway from Mason Road and Maple Brook Road in Glendale, I had a choice: either take the fast, but much longer, route around the plateau to Port Hastings and Judique or take the slow, direct road over the plateau. Since I always prefer a back road to a main road when I have a choice, because I still had plenty of time before the Sunday afternoon cèilidh, and given that the day had become gorgeous again, I opted for the over-the-plateau route, hoping to get photos of the fall colours up there. The photos on this page were taken at various points as I went along River Denys Road from St Margaret of Scotland Church, to which I paid a quick visit (as is often the case, I was not alone there that day), towards Judique. The trip from St Margaret of Scotland to Judique took about fifty minutes, including stops for photos, for a distance of roughly 13.6 km (8.4 mi).
Photo #1 shows a stand of ferns that no longer sport their summer greens, but are distinctly yellow with, as yet, no apparent brown frost singes. The trees here, at an altitude above 240 m (787 ft), are near the top of the plateau and so exposed to the winds, which have left them mostly bare — the bushes have fared somewhat better, though, as their leaves are only beginning to change.
Photo #2, taken west of the junction of McIntyres Mountain Road and considerably closer to Judique, shows more colours, but not brilliant ones; the mixed red and green tree at the left again shows that the trees are a long way from their peak colouration. The frost seems to have hit here, with little green left in the grasses and lots of burnt leaves showing on the bushes. The road is getting wider and is in better shape, which it will continue to do the closer one gets to Judique.
¹ This northeastern boundary is somewhat arbitrary: the area north of this line to Mabou and beyond Highway 252 to Lake Ainslie is geographically very similar. However, the area north of this line has retained a population, dwindling to be sure, but a population none the less, while the area south of the northern boundary, excluding the periphery below the plateau, now has next to none.↩
Photo #3 shows the first brilliant red trees I had noticed after gaining the plateau. Much of its vegetation is evergreens and deciduous trees are fairly sparse until the road begins its long descent into Judique. Here, just west of Campbells Road, which goes down off the plateau to Judique South (I drove this road from the Cèilidh Trail in 2007 and turned around after finding the road forward very dubious for a car just beyond the bridge over the Graham River (seen here) — it looks like this might be a good hike to try some day), bare trees are again seen, with most of the remaining leaves well turned or at least turning.
Photo #4 is a close-up view of a gorgeous red and gold mixture seen enjoying the sun at the side of the road. How the sun does make the leaves stand out, especially against a background of evergreens!
Photo #5 shows River Denys Road descending into Judique, roughly 2.5 km (1.5 mi) from its junction with the Cèilidh Trail in Judique, on the edge of a ravine above Rory Brook, which rises not far from where photos #3 and #4 were taken. As can be seen from the hill in the centre, a goodly amount of height has already been lost. A lot of wind-blown trees can be seen here, but those that have hung on to their leaves are very colourful, with reds, limes, yellows, and oranges.
What a lovely trip it was on this beautiful early afternoon across the plateau from Glendale! If you have not driven this road, you should check it out, properly armed with maps, that is!