The Festival officially ended on Saturday, but the music continued on Sunday with the usual Sunday cèilidh at the Celtic Music Interpretive Centre. Monday was grey and markedly colder, but Tuesday, I awoke to sun pouring in the window with pure blue skies, though a good breeze was blowing off the water and it remained very brisk. I was waiting for a reply to my query about the state of the colours at the top of the Island, so I decided to spend the day on Cape Mabou, the place which is closest to my heart. Accordingly, I set out for Mabou Coal Mines and eventually arrived at the Mabou Post Road Trail Head at the end of the Mabou Coal Mines Road and set off up the Beinn Alasdair Bhain (Fair Alistair’s Mountain) Trail. The photos on this page were taken from three different places among the several at which I stopped during the ascent.¹
I have never been a swift climber, but I am certainly getting slower than I have ever been. The signage gives the trail up to the look-off side trail as only 1.1 km (0.7 mi) long and the trail is not all that steep compared to other trails I’ve hiked, but I now have to pause constantly for breath. I had to stop twice before I arrived at the vista seen in photo #1, only 790 m (½ mi) from the trail head and a climb of 75 m (250 ft); it is the first offering fine landscape views from the trail. Sadly, by the time I reached here, significant haze had arrived to obscure the views, making Cape George barely distinguishable from the adjacent sky (and not at all in this photo). The view at this point is closer to MacDonalds Glen than that from the look-off at the summit and is not as high up, though trees limit the panorama much more here than at the summit. Finlay Point lies in the upper centre of the photo; Finlay Point Harbour is to its left, at the end of Mill Brook, which rises in the Cape Mabou Highlands not far from the Community Pastures and here flows under a bridge and out through the harbour into the Gulf. The Mabou Coal Mines Road is at the far left and a small amount of Coal Mine Point is in the upper left. Black Point is in the far distance in the upper left. Were Cape George visible, it would reach across nearly two-thirds of the photo to the right of Finlay Point (as can be seen in this photo on a much clearer day). There are never a lot of fall colours in MacDonalds Glen as there are not many deciduous trees near the shore; this view, however, shows a nice stand of them in the centre of the photo that are beginning to change colours. There’s even one red-orange tree peeking out on this side of the stand at the centre left. Some of the deciduous trees are already bare, but most of the grey hulks are the remains of spruce destroyed by the spruce bark beetle, which has devastated so much of Cape Mabou.
Photo #2 is a close-up of the unnamed pond seen at the bottom of photo #1. The topographical map shows its outflow passing into Mill Brook. I suspect this pond is quite deep, though on its far shore left of centre there is a shallow area where once can see bottom. In any case, it is certainly beautiful, reflecting back the blue of the sky and the surrounding evergreens, though it is strange that so many of the nearby deciduous trees are bare.
Photo #3 is a telephoto view of Finlay Point, where, on this day, a truck is parked on its summit, an unusual sight and one which did not last long—it was gone by the time I reached the look-off. Left of centre, one can see exposed white rock gleaming in the sun. These rocks are of gypsum and are echoed by other gypsum deposits on the south side of Finlay Point (not visible here, but seen in this photo) and on Coal Mine Point (not visible here either, but seen in this photo). Indeed, many gypsum deposits, most readily visible, are found in the whole area along the Mabou River in Mabou Harbour and elsewhere from there north through MacDonalds Glen.
Photo #4 is another telephoto view that brings the mouth of Mill Brook and its path through MacDonalds Glen into clearer focus. This beautiful stream, which sings so merrily rushing along beside MacKinnons Brook Lane, takes it easy here as it meanders slowly to its mouth at Finlay Point Harbour. MacDonalds Glen Brook, another lovely stream (seen in the photos on this page) draining the inland area along MacDonalds Glen Road and crossing the Mabou Coal Mines Road at the left of the photo and slightly outside its scope, enters Mill Brook behind the evergreens below.
Another 250 m (⅙ mi) up the trail (with an intervening stop for breath) brings one to another open spot and another 50 m (160 ft) higher; this vantage point is more oriented to the inland views than the coastal views. Alas, the haze reduced the visibility both inland and along the shore considerably, obscuring the terrain. Photo #5 is a telephoto view looking along the shore at Coal Mine Point in the middle right of the photo and at the Colindale Shore out to Black Point south of the mouth of the Mabou River, hidden behind Mabou Harbour Mountain. Normally, the MacPhee’s red barn in Colindale would stand out unmistakably, but one really has to squint to make it out in the upper centre of the photo (under magnification, it is easy enough to see, but no brighter). Beyond Black Point at the far right, the northern end of Port Hood Island can be barely made out through the haze. Except for the tree just below the vantage point in the lower foreground, there’s not much fall colour showing here, but then, there aren’t that many deciduous trees either.
Photo #6 is another telephoto view, taken from the same spot, this time looking inland at the valley of MacDonalds Glen Brook on the near side of the closest highland. At this point, one is not high enough to get an idea of the sweep of the southern Cape Mabou Highlands; that will have to wait until one is higher up. But it’s a great spot to catch one’s breath and admire the lovely terrain.
Photo #7 looks at the trail itself as it climbs up from this spot; as you can see, it’s not all that steep, though it sure does wind me these days. This open area appears to have been created by a landslide many years ago and has remained open ever since. The evergreens seen here are typical of the forest through which this trail climbs.
Photo #8 looks back down the trail in the other direction. A lovely tree at the left is wearing bright yellows and a few other deciduous trees are clearly changing on the slopes of what the trail map labels as Cross Mountain. The trail makes a 90° turn to the right when it hits the side of the mountain, one of two such turns in the forest on the trail; at each turn, a small rill that one can easily step over crosses the trail, making them both lovely places to stop and enjoy the forest and the mountain. They are also fine waypoints punctuating the climb.
Another 275 m (⅙ mi) and an intervening stop for breath brought me fairly close to the summit—only another very easy 80 m (260 ft) to reach the junction with the look-off side trail! I stopped here, not so much to catch my breath this time as to capture the lovely red leaves that lined this part of the trail, glowing in the sun filtering onto the shaded path. Photo #9 captures the scene. A few yellow-leafed deciduous trees line the sunny part of the trail, but, pretty as they are, it was, of course, the reds which said stop and look at me!
Photo #10 is a close-up of the beautiful red/magenta hues on the leaves of the bunchberry plants,² some not changed, some changing, and several bearing a gorgeous shade of darker red veering towards magenta. It wasn’t until I wrote this essay that I learned that these plants are the same ones whose lovely green leaves and distinctive white flowers are ubiquitous along the Cape Mabou trails in late spring and early summer and whose flowers become small clusters of red berries later in summer; they just change colours in the fall! They are certainly lovely in all their seasons!
² I am again indebted to my friend Marg Little, who confirmed the identity of these striking plants.↩