If the Cabot Trail at Cap-Rouge is iconic of Cape Breton Island as a whole, the view seen in photo #1 is equally iconic of Cape Mabou. You reach the look-off from which the photos on this page were taken by following a relatively short (1.1 km (0.7 mi)), but quite steep (it’s a forty minute climb for me on a good day, but a younger person would make it up in less than half that time), trail which starts at the end of the Mabou Coal Mines Road in MacDonalds Glen. The trail is clearly marked and in excellent shape and, once one achieves some elevation, offers fine views on the way up. Since the look-off sits in a meadow just below the top of Beinn Alasdair Bhain, the furthest mountain visible at the left of this essay’s very first photo, the panorama from the look-off is actually much wider than that seen in this photo, including the Cape Mabou Highlands to the east that are mostly missing in this view.
Although the sun was out this Monday morning, some haze and a good deal of wind-borne humidity was in the air; given that it was possible to make out Cape George across St Georges Bay, it was not the worst of days, but the moisture softens and blurs a number of the details that I wish were sharper in this photo. I also hiked up there on 28 June, but that day was cloudy, so these are the best photos I have from this year. Fortunately, enough is visible here to make the photo usable for this essay.
Directly below Beinn Alasdair Bhain lie the fields, meadows, cliffs, and beaches of MacDonalds Glen, extending out to Finlay Point, in the foreground at the right. Mill Brook winds its way through MacDonalds Glen, flowing underneath the bridge at Finlay Point Harbour and out into the Gulf through the Harbour. Coal Mine Point with its signature gypsum cliff inland closes off the horseshoe-shaped cove lined by beautiful sand beaches. Just the tip of Beaton Point can be seen behind Coal Mine Point and Green Point is completely hidden by the highland south of Mabou Mines. The Colindale shore lies in the distance beyond, with the MacPhee’s signature red barn in the centre of the photo. Sutherlands Cove and Black Point are at the far right of the area along the shore to the right of the barn; the houses sit atop Marble Hill, above Port Hood. The northern end of Port Hood Island is the furthest land on the east side of St Georges Bay. The view in this photo is not wide enough to capture Cape George, which is at the far right and out of scope, but one can see the mainland across St Georges Bay both above the red barn and extending to the far right of the photo. The white objects in the water are white caps (and a few gulls), not lobster floats, as this is well past Landing Day, though on my earlier trip just before Landing Day, many lobster floats did dot the waters all along this shore. Photo #2 is a telephoto view of the central portion of photo #1, in which many of the details are much clearer.
Photo #3 shows the (unnamed) point and gravel beach directly below the Beinn Alasdair Bhain Look-Off; in the upper far left is a sliver of the beach along MacDonalds Glen seen in the centre right of photo #1. Like the coast at Cap-Rouge, the cliffs are a composite of rock and gravel under constant pressure from erosion by wind, water, snow, and ice; also note the dark red soil at the far left of the photo. Some of the many flowers in the meadow are also visible here in the foreground; a rose bush growing there was seen earlier in this essay.
Photo #4 shows the western end of the mainland across St Georges Bay, ending in Cape George. Beyond Cape George, the mainland turns to the southwest towards Pictou [ˈpɪk.to] and is not visible from the Beinn Alasdair Bhain Look-Off. To the right of Cape George is the Northumberland Strait, across from which lies the southeastern tip of Prince Edward Island; the day has far too much haze to see Prince Edward Island from the look-off, though on a pellucid day, I have seen part of the eastern shore of Prince Edward Island.
Photo #5 looks north of east at the Cape Mabou Highlands above the valley at the bottom of which runs the Cul Na Beinne (Beyond the Mountain) Trail, also known as MacKinnons Brook Lane. MacDonalds Glen is at the far right of the photo below the look-off. If you look closely, you will see many dead spruce on both sides of the valley. When I first started hiking these trails twelve years ago, they were all in fine health; they seem to prefer the areas close to the coast, while the deciduous trees are found in the more protected inland areas. Alas, the spruce bark beetle has brought most of the mature white spruce trees low, leading to the complete closing of the Cape Mabou Trail Club trail system in 2009 and 2010. With the clearing of many downed trees and the removal of many dangerous trees that happened while the trails were closed, the fire danger and the falling dead tree hazards have been reduced, allowing seven of the eighteen trails to be officially open in 2012; hopefully more of the trails will be opened for use again next year. If you can help support the trail club with donations of either labour or money, see here for how. Cape Mabou is a precious wild area with many different aspects and vistas; it deserves your support. Check it out!