The Southwest Mabou River

[Original] Introduction

This month’s subject is the Southwest Mabou River, a lovely stream that rises in the Creignish Hills east of Judique and flows generally north to northwest through forest, field, and marsh, passing by MacLeod Settlement, Upper Southwest Mabou, Glencoe Station, Southwest Mabou, West Mabou, and finally around both sides of Nicholsons Island in West Mabou to empty into the Mabou River at Mabou Harbour, west of Mabou Village. Its total length is roughly 25 km (15.5 mi).

Public access to the upper part of the river is problematic, as it flows through private lands and is not visible from the nearby roads, with the exception of the junction where the Judique Intervale Road meets the Upper Southwest Mabou and Glencoe Roads, at which point the Southwest Mabou River flows under a bridge that affords the only good views of this part of the river that I know of. It also passes beneath the Cèilidh Trail (Highway 19) just north of Hermiona’s Gardens in Southwest Mabou; the bridge there also offers views of the river.

The Railway Trail follows the Southwest Mabou River along nearly all of its course from Southwest Mabou to near its mouth in West Mabou. By far the best way to see the Southwest Mabou River, it is an easy walk, suitable for people of any age; as a multiple-use trail, the Railway Trail is great for bikes too, should you prefer biking to walking. This part of the Railway Trail, which I have walked each year I have been in Cape Breton, usually more than once, is one of my favourite segments, offering, as it does, beautiful views of both the Cape Mabou Highlands and the Southwest Mabou River.

Views of the Southwest Mabou River are also available if one follows the Railway Trail in Southwest Mabou towards the southeast, but the trail soon turns away from the river, after which it offers no further river views. Hunters Road in West Mabou (the first left off West Mabou Road after leaving the Cèilidh Trail) follows a ridge well above the Southwest Mabou River and affords striking views of its mouth (as well as a marvellous panorama of much of the Mabou area); because it is too close to the ridge, the remainder of the river is not visible from this road, although the valley through which it flows can be seen. There are also fine views of the mouth of the Southwest Mabou River from the West Mabou Road as it traverses Nicholsons Island, particularly at the two bridges over the river, and views of Nicholsons Island are also available from the Mabou Harbour Road.

To hike the Railway Trail along the Southwest Mabou River, park at the edge of the West Mabou Road near where the Railway Trail crosses it (just after turning off the Cèilidh Trail) and begin walking towards the southwest; alternatively, you can park where the Railway Trail crosses the Cèilidh Trail just south of Hermiona’s Gardens in Southwest Mabou and proceed towards the northwest. If you don’t know where the Railway Trail is, in either location, look for the snowmobile crossing sign and you will see the trail nearby.

On my first trip in July, I took a leisurely four hours to hike from the West Mabou Road to the Cèilidh Trail and back, including a half hour for a picnic lunch and time to take lots of photos and enjoy the views and the wildlife—birds of all sorts abound, including the occasional eagle fishing in the river’s mouth, and wild flowers are plentiful and beautiful in summer. The distance on the Cèilidh Trail from the West Mabou Road to the point where the Railway Trail crosses the Cèilidh Trail at Southwest Mabou is 5.3 km (3.3 mi), but the Railway Trail is somewhat longer than the road, as its course follows many of the river’s meanders and is therefore not so direct. If that’s too far, you can shorten the trip by turning around at the steel bridge, which is fifty minutes at the same leisurely pace from either the West Mabou Road or from Southwest Mabou.

The photos in this essay follow the river as it proceeds downstream in its course to join the Mabou River. Many were taken from the Railway Trail, but photos from most of the other locations mentioned above are also included. Boiling the more than 450 photos I have taken of or along the Southwest Mabou River down to the 25 allowed for this essay required many excruciating choices; I hope the result is complete enough to give you a good sense of this river’s views, serenity, and tranquil beauty in the hopes of encouraging you to discover it for yourself if you have not already done so.

Victor Maurice Faubert
2006 August 29

Revision of 2012

I have since learnt of another place with good views of the Southwest Mabou River: Moran Road, off the Upper Southwest Mabou Road southeast of Glencoe Station; the junction is at GPS 45°58.945'N 61°25.737'W and the bridge is 900 m (0.56 mi) down that road at GPS 45°58.918'N 61°25.123'W. The views from bridge are quite good; if you drive beyond the bridge, you will see an access down to the river where you can stroll along the river banks in either direction (it’s apparently a fairly popular fishing spot).

With the upgrades to the Railway Trail since this essay was originally written, you would now park at the kiosk at the junction of the Cèilidh Trail and West Mabou Road, rather than along the side of West Mabou Road, as described in the original introduction. The recently installed signage at the road crossing there is now seen also at Southwest Mabou; although there’s no official parking there, you will see the Railway Trail crossing the Cèilidh Trail about halfway up the hill, where there’s a generous off-road area where you can leave your car.

This segment of the Railway Trail remains one of my favourites; in the years I have been going to Cape Breton, I have missed out on hiking it only once (2010). I highly recommend it if you have not yet discovered it.

Victor Maurice Faubert
2012 January 26

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Note 1: If you are unfamiliar with the place names mentioned in this essay, a list of map resources is given here. Of these, the best computer-readable map of Cape Breton Island that I currently know about is the Cape Breton Travel Map, produced by Destination Cape Breton and, thanks to their express written permission, available as a PDF file here; I strongly urge you to download it. This map scales nicely, allowing you to zoom in on an area of interest, has a very helpful place name index, and provides a level of detail, both of back roads and streams, that is quite good.

Note 2: See the description here for the notation I use for GPS (Global Positioning System) coördinates. I did not have a GPS device when I took the photos in this essay; the coördinates found here are those written down on later trips or computed from Google Maps; when no coördinate is given, I have been unable to reconstruct where I was exactly when the photo was taken.

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