Melrose Hill and Mount Young are old settlements, now unpopulated, on a plateau that runs from Glendyer and Brook Village on the south northeasterly to MacCormicks Corner and Mason Point on Loch Ban in the north; it is bounded on the west by the Smithville and Blackstone Roads and on the east by the Lake Ainslie Chapel Brook Village, Meagher, and Hays River¹ Roads. Two roads cross the plateau from southwest to northeast: the Melrose Hill Road and the Mount Young Road.
Once, some years ago, I had tried driving the Melrose Hill Road from its end on the Hays River Road and quickly gave up due to the condition of the road; I hadn’t tried it since. A friend had recently told me that the Melrose Hill Road was drivable on the Hillsborough end, so I decided to explore it on a warm, sunny day with heavy haze in the air, commingled with smoke carried there from forest fires in Québec and Labrador strong enough that even my weak sense of smell could pick it up. A local correspondent later informed me that the Melrose Hill Road segment from the Hays River Road to the Mount Young Road, which I didn’t travel this day, is still not passable by car (as I had found when I had tried it some years ago). It can be navigated by truck, but at the cost of scratching your vehicle as the trees are badly grown in. I was also told that, although there are views from this segment of the road, the trees on the road pretty much block them, so one will likely have to leave the road to see them. And there were also two bears then currently roaming the area. So, the best advice seems to be to either hike this segment of the road or use an ATV. The remainder of the Melrose Hill Road is generally decent, although I had to get out and check the path ahead several times at bad spots along the way; still, it can be done with care, at least on a dry day, even in a Prius.
The Mount Young Road, which connects the Melrose Hill Road to the Blackstone Road, is in better shape and has much the more interesting views. It can be accessed from the Blackstone Road, though the junction, at 650 m (⅖ mi) south of the West Lake Ainslie Road (at GPS 46°09.102′N 61°16.577′W), looks like a driveway from that road—there is no signage. As previously mentioned, the haze was very bad on the July trip, but I judged the views I saw then worth returning for on a better day, which I did when I returned to Cape Breton in August. The photos on this page come from both the July and the August drives.
The Hillsborough end of the Melrose Hill Road starts at the head of the very sharp curve on Highway 252 that I call the “Widow-Maker”. What I never realized before is that Elgin Brook flows beneath the highway there; no bridge can be seen from the curve, even if one walks it on foot, but one can hear the water running and, as soon as one turns off the curve onto Melrose Hill Road, a ravine that is at least 30 m (100 ft) deep appears, so deep and narrow that I couldn’t see the bottom from the road. The ravine gets shallower a short ways in from the “Widow-Maker”, but deepens again and changes character as the road climbs steadily to the northeast as it follows Elgin Brook towards its source on Melrose Hill. About halfway to its junction with the Mount Young Road, Elgin Brook crosses the road according to The Nova Scotia Atlas, but all I saw were puddles in the road, so it must be pretty diminutive at that point (or else I missed a sluice while trying to dodge road hazards). The first point of interest I came to were giant rosebushes covered with fragrant blooms, seen in photo #1. I am not sure how Melrose Hill came to be so named, but Melrose is a compound of two Latin stems, mel, meaning honey, and rosa, meaning rose, so, since the rose bushes here certainly smelled as sweet as honey, the name is certainly à propos.
Photo #2 looks at the Melrose Hill Road just a bit beyond the rosebushes. As can be seen, it’s in pretty decent shape here. The shoulders are lined with daisies and clover; the Queen Annes lace hadn’t yet come into bloom. Trees and brush like this are typical on the plateau; the long views are few and far between.
The first open views were of fields, like the one seen in photo #3. This one looks to me like a hay field, but signage said the fields were commercial blueberry fields and that trespassers will be prosecuted, but there were no indications of any recent activity so I don’t know whether they are still under active cultivation. Had the signage not been there, I’d have headed to the top of the hill to see what I could see from up there (given the day’s thick haze, it likely wouldn’t have been much).
As it happens, trespassing wasn’t needed, as another 250 m (⅙ mi) led me to the scene shown in photo #4. The Cape Mabou Highlands are in the far distance, although there isn’t enough detail to make out just where I was looking, probably somewhere between Glenora Falls and Glenville. The ridge in the middle ground lies between the Smithville Road and the Melrose Hill Road; a depression in the plateau lies between that ridge and the one seen in the foreground.
At the 5.3 km (3⅓ mi) mark, one reaches a fork: the Melrose Hill Road descends to the Hays River Valley on the right, while the left fork veers to the north for a stretch, climbing up a sharp hill. Photo #5 looks back down that hill at one of the diciest spots I encountered: although it is hard to see it in this compressed version, the right side of the road has an embedded boulder from which the adjacent soil had been washed away, leaving a hump to get across without bottoming my low-slung car (or, worse, getting it hung up on the hump). I got out of the car at that point to determine whether there was any alternative to backing down the hill. I managed to find a path by skirting the ditch rather more closely than I liked, but made it past the obstacle OK. Again, the heavy haze here precludes identifying any features of the landscape to the south, where one should see the hills to the north of Campbells Mountain behind MacGeehans Road south of Brook Village.
Once up the hill, one arrives at another commercial blueberry field, at least according to the signage. This one, like the one on the Melrose Hill Road, doesn’t show signs of recent activity, though there were blueberry bushes in the field along with significant amounts of hay. It is, however, a very large field with excellent views on a clear day, the first vantage point I have found from which I can see the terrain to the west of Lake Ainslie in good detail; in fact, the views were so wide that I couldn’t get the whole panorama into a single photo. The next three photos form a connected panorama from left to right and were, like the remaining photos on this page, taken on the August trip when I drove back to this field on a day whose air was far clearer than it was that July day. As photo #6 shows, the views to the left of the field are partially blocked by a row of trees at the edge of the field: the scene is to the south of southeast towards that part of Lake Ainslie south of Mason Point that narrows into an arm and proceeds southeast of MacLeans Point to South Lake Ainslie; as well, it looks towards the highlands to the west of the lake that separate the lake from the Skye Glen valley. In the far distance, the highlands of the “Great Central Interior Plateau” (see footnote one on this page for a definition and discussion) ranging from the Trout Brook area to Lewis Mountain to the eastern end of Whycocomagh Mountain. The lower and nearer hills mark the eastern side of the Hays River valley.
Photo #7 continues the panorama to the right. The prominence in the far distance right of centre is Whycocomagh Mountain north of Whycocomagh Village, whose “notch” makes it readily identifiable; Whycocomagh Mountain continues from there across the photo to the far left. Campbells Mountain is the prominence at the right of the photo in the far distance. Between Whycocomagh Mountain’s “notch” and Campbells Mountain, Skye Mountain can be seen as a grey semicircle below the sky. The lower ridge at the far right in the middle ground this side of Campbells Mountain is the edge of the hills above Skye Glen, which sits between them and Campbells Mountain along Highway 252. To the left of the photo in the middle ground one sees again the hills along the east side of the Hays River valley.
Photo #8 completes the panorama, reaching the other edge of the field at the far right. Campbells Mountain spans the entire photo, from Churchview to the Nevada Valley (except for the nearer hill at the far right, which is Melrose Hill). The contraption left of centre at the edge of the field, which I noticed only once I looked at the photos in detail back home, reveals itself under magnification to be two closed-circuit cameras on a tripod, apparently intended to transmit photos back to the owners of any trespassers who might ignore the signage, venture into the field, and pick blueberries; whether the cameras are still operational, I do not know. I do know that, in spite of the signage, I was very sorely tempted to cross the field for the better views that are surely available along the edge of the field, but contented myself only with mounting a stump by the fence to get an extra half metre/yard of height. If anyone knows to whom I should apply for permission to photograph from this fine vantage point, please contact me at the address in the footer below.
From the blueberry field seen in the previous photos, the Mount Young Road continues along a plateau with any good vistas there might be blocked by the trees along the road. At the 3.8 km (2⅜ mi) mark, the Mount Young Road begins its long descent down to the Blackstone Road and continues along the edge of Mount Young, where occasional vistas open up. One such, still not far below the plateau, is shown in photo #9, a view of Cape Mabou. The barns at the right are along the Blackstone Road, whose end on the Cèilidh Trail (Highway 19) in Riverville can be seen as a blurred grey spot right of centre near the middle of the photo. As can be seen in this photo, Mount Young is lower than Cape Mabou (Google Earth gives its height at the blueberry field as 231 m (758 ft) and at the point from which photo #9 was taken as 189 m (620 ft), while Cape Mabou above the Blackstone Road at the Cèilidh Trail has a height of 304 m (997 ft)). At the time that this photo was taken, the windmill at the Community Pastures had not yet been erected; had it been, it would have been seen towards the left of this photo.
Another 515 m (⅓ mi) further along, where the road is still the same height as at the previous stop, the view of Foot Cape and Broad Cove Banks seen in photo #10 is available. Alas, the camera decided to focus more on the trees in the foreground than on the distant scene and significant haze in the air near the water compounded the error, but this is the best I have of this view and so will have to suffice. The Foot Cape Road climbs to the col between Cape Mabou on the far left and the hill on which the telecommunications tower is seen left of centre. As best as I can make out under magnification, the cleared area on the hill to the right of the tower is a gravel pit. The blue of the Gulf of St Lawrence can be seen in the far distance beyond the banks at the far right. The rounded hill in the middle ground hides the Cèilidh Trail on its far side, where Church Road leaves it to connect Strathlorne to Kenloch.
Just a short way from the spot where I took the previous photo, the view of Inverness seen in photo #11 becomes available. The haze again obscures the details somewhat, but this view shows the entire village of Inverness. The buildings just left of centre are those of the Inverness Consolidated Memorial Hospital. Above and to the right of the hospital buildings, one can just make out the tops of the two towers of Stella Maris Church rising behind the trees; the spire of St Matthews is a bit further to the right. Cabot Links is marked by the building whose west end is catching the afternoon sun right of centre. Many of the other significant features in the village are hidden by the many trees in the village, one of its endearing features. The lower hill in the middle ground again hides Church Road on its way to Kenloch.
Just a short way past the previous stop, the road begins to descend very rapidly and soon turns to the northeast, revealing a narrow view of Loch Ban through the trees, as seen in photo #12. The buildings on the far side of the lake are along the Strathlorne Scotsville Road; Godfrey Mountain is at the far left and outside the scope of the photo, as is Shaws Mountain on the far right.
In spite of a few bad spots, what a lovely drive the Melrose Hill and Mount Young Roads turned out to be! Although one might wish for more open vistas on the descent, where the stunning views are narrowed by the surrounding trees, I will certainly return there again, hopefully convincing the camera to focus on the distant scenes rather than the nearby trees.