Cape St Lawrence and Lowland Cove


I first learned about the Cape St Lawrence and Lowland Cove hiking trails at the northern tip of Inverness County from this web site (the Lowland Cove trail description is on the same page, but you have to scroll down to see it). Other descriptions are in Michael Haynes’ excellent Hiking Trails of Cape Breton, Revised Edition [pp. 93-97], which includes a good map of the area and to which I refer frequently hereafter, and in Pat O’Neil’s Explore More! A Guide to Hiking and Outdoor Adventure in Cape Breton [pp. 50-55]. An anecdotal account of an actual hike can be read here.

Since I was already familiar with Meat Cove, I had despaired of ever getting to Cape St Lawrence, as the trail over the mountain from Meat Cove appeared to be way beyond my physical abilities. While hiking in the Cape Mabou Highlands this year, I ran into a couple from Halifax who had hiked these trails and they assured me that, if I could climb Beinn Bhiorach, as I can, though with much huffing and puffing, I could as well do the Cape St Lawrence hike. So, this past August, I decided to give it a go and had a thrilling hike, which I first described here; the photos in this essay, all taken on the same day, 2006 August 17, resulted. The presentation of the photos generally follows the order in which I took them, though I have reärranged a few to improve the continuity of the accompanying text.

As these photos show, this coast is a wild, stunningly beautiful, and rarely visited place—I was the only person there this day in high summer, though there were a few boats from time to time well off shore. Apparently, in the past, there were some inhabitants here, as this web site listing the 1911 Census of Canada Enumeration District 25 shows the Pleasant Bay poll district as including ”Meat Cove, Cape St Lawrence, Low Lands, Pollett Cove, [and] Fishing Cove”; there was certainly an inhabited lighthouse at Cape St Lawrence at that time and I was also told of a drivable road which used to connect Meat Cove to Lowland Cove perhaps as late as 1975 (it can be seen on the second map below). But today, this area is part of the Pollets Cove-Aspy Fault Wilderness Area and, so far as I am aware, completely uninhabited for the next 30 km (18.6 mi) or so after leaving Meat Cove.

I have not yet made it to Pollets Cove. This web site says that Meat Cove is connected to Pollets Cove ”by a long trail that follows the former route of a telegraph line, but [it is] so far inland that it [passes] through mile after mile of boggy, monotonous terrain”. Haynes advises that ”[a]t present [2002] the Meat Cove — Pollets Cove — Pleasant Bay trail is extremely difficult to follow due to the bogs between Meat Cove and Pollets Cove, and it can only be completed by advanced navigators and backpackers” [op. cit., p. 97]. The usual route to Pollets Cove starts at the end of the road leading from Pleasant Bay to Red River and continuing past Gampo Abbey to dead end 1.4 km (0.9 mi) later. I was told by a much younger couple who had hiked there that it was arduous, especially for a day trip—they camped there overnight; a sixteen-photo slide show of views from the Pollets Cove area, which is available here, indicates why it would involve a lot of climbing, but also why its tremendous pristine beauty so attracts me. After having successfully made the Cape St Lawrence trek, though, I think I am at least going to give it a try. Even if I don’t make it all the way, the scenery along this whole coast is so spectacular that I’m sure to enjoy what I do see.

I hope you find these photos interesting and, if you ever have the opportunity, make this trip! It certainly repaid several times over the considerable effort, at least at my age and in my physical condition, that I had to expend to get there and back. It was a day that I will remember with joy and delight for as long as I live.

Parks Canada, upon paying the entry fee to the Cape Breton Highlands National Park, provides its visitors with a flyer entitled Cape Breton Highlands National Park of Canada: Park Guide and Map; its inside is given over to an excellent, detailed, annotated map of the park, which also covers all the area in northern Cape Breton outside the park. So far as I can determine from my copy, it is unprotected by copyright, so I have provided here an extract from this map marked up with some additional features and the approximate courses of the trails I discuss in this essay (I have been advised by one correspondent that the trail from Meat Cove to Pollets Cove that I show here “can be as much as 500m away [from the actual trail] and is not as straight as shown, which increases the actual distance considerably”). Hereafter, I refer to this map as the ”Parks Canada map”. On this map, paved roads are black lines and gravel roads are dashed black lines; my additions are in red.

Parks Canada map of the north end of Cape Breton Island with my annotations

This Natural Resources Canada web site allows one to download a PDF of a 1964 topographic map of the Cape St Lawrence area with fairly good detail (the contour markings are in feet) and states that the ”[i]nformation on this site has been posted with the intent that it be readily available for personal and public non-commercial use and may be reproduced, in part or in whole and by any means, without charge or further permission from Natural Resources Canada.” I have therefore included a relevant extract from this PDF here for reference, though you may find it easier on your eyes if you download the original PDF to your machine and view it at high scale (it scales up nicely at higher magnification levels). Hereafter, I refer to this map as the ”NRC map”. I do not know why the NRC map names as Lowland Brook the stream that is now called French Brook in all current maps I have available [The Nova Scotia Atlas [p. 1]; the Nova Scotia Backroad Mapbook Outdoor Recreation Guide [p. 52]; the Parks Canada map; the map in Haynes’ Hiking Trails book] nor why it names as Black Brook the stream that the Atlas calls Lowland Brook (and the others do not name). Hereafter, I follow the Atlas and use French Brook for the stream that enters the Gulf of St Lawrence near Cape St Lawrence and Lowland Brook for the stream that enters the Gulf at Lowland Cove.

NRC map of the northern tip of Inverness County

You may find it convenient to open two windows or tabs in your browser, leaving this page positioned at the map in one window and traversing the photos in the other.

Victor Maurice Faubert
2006 December 31


Revision of 2012

Well, I did give the Polletts Cove Trail a try on 2007 October 17. The wind was strong and the temperature cold with the wind chill factored in: I needed a tuque, gloves, and a heavy sweatshirt and still the wind penetrated. I had no intention of going to the end of the trail—it was too late in the season to consider doing that—but I just had to satisfy my curiosity about how hard this trail really is. So I hiked to the top of the first mountain along the trail in forty minutes of slow-moving hiking (and sixty-seven minutes of clock time) and started down the other side; as it appeared that I was going to have to climb all the way down and then all the way up again, and as I was feeling quite chilled, I decided to turn around at that point, perhaps a fifth of the way down the trail. However, nothing I saw up to this point indicated that the trail was an impossible one for me, as I had been told. I regret I haven’t since gotten back for another attempt, but it requires warm weather, an early start, and a long period of daylight, which means staying overnight in Pleasant Bay in the late spring or early summer, which, with all the music then available along the Cèilidh Trail, hasn’t fit my schedule very well in the intervening years. Frequent poor weather, declining stamina, and less physical strength haven’t helped either. But it’s still a hike I’d very much like to take—the photos I have seen of Polletts Cove are stunningly gorgeous! One of these days…

When I returned from the Christmas holidays in December of 2008, I found a note from Dave Hope, who had discovered my web site. With a group of scouts in their late teens, he had hiked for five days in July of 2008 from Meat Cove to Red River, not following the Pollets Cove Trail, but instead generally following the coast and going up and down the coastal ravines, an extremely arduous bushwhack and demanding trek involving rope work. They were hit by a suête and heavy rain in the middle of the trip and suffered through the bitter cold and misery it brought, but made it through OK. The old link to his photos taken on that trip ceased working, but they can now be found again here (click on the first photo to view it and on the right angle to advance through the 38 photos in the set); the first third provide additional views of the area at Cape St Lawrence and Lowland Cove and the remainder show some stunning views from the High Capes of the whole area to the north as well as views of the coastal area to the south, including three fine views of the Cape Breton Highlands plateau and two of the Blair River at Pollets Cove.¹

On 2009 June 18, a day as fine as that in 2006, I made this hike a second time, in the reverse direction, i.e., Lowland Cove first and Cape St Lawrence last. It was as incredible an experience as the first time, though without the adrenalin that fuelled my return on that initial trip. It is a long hike for someone my age and I’ll likely not try to do them both in the same day again, but oh, what an unbelievably beautiful hike!

On 2009 August 5, I took a ride on a whale-watching cruise boat conducted by Oshan Whale Watch that, fortunately for me, took us along the northern coast all the way out to (and just slightly past) Cape St Lawrence to find the feeding whales. The scenery along the Meat Cove coast was fantastic and not to be missed! It is a very different view than one has from land and was simply stunning. So, if you can’t hike out to Cape St Lawrence, you can, at least if the whales are feeding off it, still see it from the water.

In late 2009, I heard from Colin Mudle, who had discovered my photo essay after hiking in the Meat Cove area. He has done a series of very useful maps of his hikes in the area using open source mapping software and data which you can find here, including GPS coördinates and tracks; I know of no maps as good, so print them off if you plan on hiking there. A subset of this information is also available here.

The night of 2010 August 21-22 saw the Meat Cove area deluged with over 200 mm (7⅞ in) of rain in a few short hours, a rainfall far more intense than any of the community’s inhabitants could remember during any past storm. As recounted here, Meat Cove village and the bridges on the road leading to it suffered tremendous damage from a flash flood; for more photos and information, see this web site. The roads are now again open and in good condition, though new bridge construction was still occurring in the fall of 2011, and many things are back to their previous state, but the boardwalk has not yet been restored. There was certainly damage to some of the trails, particularly in the Meat Cove Brook valley. The 2011 version of the Hike the Highlands Festival originally scheduled a hike up Meat Cove Mountain, but that was cancelled due to the damage to the trail; the 2012 edition will include a hike up to the Meat Cove Look-Off, so at least that trail is again hikeable. I am told that the trails to Cape St Lawrence and Lowland Cove, which share their initial portion with the Meat Cove Look-Off hike, are open but I have not hiked any of the trails in the area since the deluge and cannot personally attest to their current condition.

Victor Maurice Faubert
2012 January 30

¹ This paragraph was updated 2012 September 4 following a message from Dave Hope with the new link. My sincerest thanks to Dave for making these excellent photos available once again.

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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 my 2009 trip or computed from Google Maps.

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