On this page, I will discuss the new trails that have opened this year that I know about as well as the existing trails that I’ve discovered so far this year. While some of the material here necessarily duplicates that which will eventually be found in the individual trail descriptions, my goal here is to recount the hikes and my reactions to them, not to present the trails in detail.
This year was my sixth in Cape Breton, where I have spent twelve weeks this year, ten weeks last year, and from three to seven weeks each of the previous years. As my “to-do" list shows, I have not yet come close to exhausting the hiking resources available on the Island. Each year, as I revisit trails that have become “old friends" to me, I also explore trails that are new to me. This year was a bumper year for me, as I have added six new hikes to my repertoire and discovered the fine views along the MacArthur Trail in the Cape Mabou Highlands Trail System.
Cape St Lawrence and Lowland Cove
Of these six, the most thrilling for me was the hike from Meat Cove to Cape St Lawrence and Lowland Cove. Cape St Lawrence is the most northerly point of Cape Breton Island¹ and juts into the Gulf of St Lawrence, forming the point where the northern coast turns to the southwest Lowland Cove is a large cove about 4 km (2.5 mi) from Cape St Lawrence along the western shore. Since I had first learned of the trail to Cape St Lawrence, I had been eager to get out there, but I had despaired of doing so as the trail up the mountain at Meat Cove looked to be just way beyond what was reasonable for me to undertake alone. This year while I was hiking in the Cape Mabou Highlands, I ran into a couple from Halifax who had been there; they assured me that, if I could climb Beinn Bhiorach, as I can, I could as well do the Cape St Lawrence hike. So, this past August, I decided to give it a go, full well planning on turning around with my tail between my legs if it proved to be just too much.
Bearing a flyer containing a map of the trails in the Meat Cove area, I started up the road by the Meat Cove campground. That road almost immediately becomes a trail which connects Meat Cove first to the Lighthouse Trail, then to the Lowland Cove Trail, and finally to Pollets Cove via a long route following a former telegraph line well inland of the High Capes and which is said to be for advanced back-country hikers only as it crosses many boggy areas, requiring highly honed navigational skills; hereafter, I will call this the “Pollets Cove Trail". It heads directly up the mountain behind Meat Cove, whose name I do not know; very steep at first, it moderates further up. Near the summit, the trail passes by a meadow on the right, but keeps climbing to the left. It took me a bit more than fifty minutes, including several stops to catch my breath, to reach the summit, but it was indeed no more onerous than climbing Beinn Bhiorach.
Once at the summit, the trail offers some nice mountain views and then begins to descend. Four minutes later, I reached the junction with the Lighthouse Trail, the cut-off trail to the right which leads to Cape St Lawrence. It is marked only with some orange flagging tape and a couple of Wilderness Area signs (but with no indications that the trail leads to Cape St Lawrence). An hour later, a little before 10h, I was standing at the automated light now on Cape St Lawrence! Of course, the trail I had just hiked was nearly all downhill, but I was now confident I could make it back up and I had lots of time to do so at my leisure.
The area at Cape St Lawrence is a grassy plain atop cliffs that drop down into the sea; I find it difficult to gauge their height from my photos as there is nothing to measure them against, but I would guess they are from 10-25 m (33-82 ft) high. In spite of my recent exertions on a warm day, I quickly pulled on my heavy sweat shirt, as the wind blowing in from the Gulf of St Lawrence was constant, strong, and cool. There were signs of domestic animals (cows and horses) everywhere, as this area is used as summer free range pasturage, though I didn’t see a single one this day. Ruins of the buildings which once stood on this site in support of the lighthouse and some rusting equipment are the only signs that this was ever an inhabited place. Now, the navigational aid is an automated light that requires no lighthouse keeper. The views from here are fine, though not spectacular, with forest-covered mountains to the southwest dominating the scene and a very picturesque rugged, rock-strewn coast below the cliffs. Unfortunately, a nearby hill ending in Tittle Point prevents one from seeing very far down the western coaSt
When I started, I had planned on going no further than Cape St Lawrence, but, since I arrived there earlier in the morning than I had thought would be the case, after an early lunch, I decided to start along the coastal trail as I wanted to see the western shore beyond the hill. I had to ford a number of rills and brooks—easily done (at least in August) by jumping from one stone to another—and followed a trail that detoured around the hill but took me through a slightly mucky area, though I didn’t get my feet wet at any point. And then I came out on the other side of the hill and found the glorious view I was hoping to see! It was a gorgeous, clear day, and I believe² that the mountain I saw in the far distance was MacKenzies Mountain at Pleasant Bay! Tantalizing as the far-off mountain was, the High Capes, mountains which drop into the Gulf of St Lawrence beyond Lowland Point, were just stunning under the blue sky! That view alone made all the efforts of the day much more than worth while. What a privilege it was to see this wild and lovely landscape!
It was now still before noon so I continued walking the coastal trail to Lowland Cove, soaking in the views and snapping pictures as I hiked; I arrived there about noon. I spent half an hour enjoying the beautiful views and taking photographs and then it was time to start back.
From the map in the flyer, I knew that there was a trail back from Lowland Cove to the Pollets Cove Trail. In the absence of any signage (presumably because this is a wilderness area), finding that way back took a while, leading me to upbraid myself for not having brought a proper topographic map with me! Eventually, near an unadorned iron bar stuck diagonally in the ground, I found a track that looked to be promising and that seemed to be going in the right direction: up and predominantly east (allowing for switchbacks and the lie of the land). Once away from the coast, I soon shed my heavy sweat shirt, as I got very warm climbing! It took me nearly two hours before I was able to finally confirm that I had indeed found the correct way out and another twenty minutes to get back to the Lighthouse Trail junction. I can’t say that I was moving at a leisurely pace, as panic that I might not be on the right trail got progressively worse as I contemplated having to back-track further and further all the way to Cape St Lawrence and then have to redo the climb up over the mountain from there. Panic or no, though, I was forced to rest frequently on the way up—and it was almost all uphill even after I got back on the Pollets Cove Trail. The trail out of Lowland Cove follows what I was told was, thirty or more years ago, a drivable road (indeed, I saw several abandoned vehicles along the way up whose presence I couldn’t account for until I had learned this), but that road has since suffered incredible damage and I believe is no longer fit for vehicles of any sort—I can't imagine how even an ATV could make it through many of the narrow washed out spots. Rocks are piled haphazardly on rocks several deep, obviously washed down by the force of water running rapidly downhill, making an unsteady surface and a real obstacle course for the hiker and often impossible angles for any vehicle; while there are some sluices from the old road visible, it is clear that the run-off is taking routes it didn’t previously and the intent is apparently to just let nature take its course. I have no pictures from this portion of the trip as I wanted to move as quickly as I could, which I now regret as it would have been nice to have had some pictures of the trail, particularly as it turned out to be the right one–something I didn’t know at the time. There were also a few views of the mountains on the way up from time to time, but nothing one doesn’t see from the coast.
Once I arrived at the summit of the mountain behind Meat Cove, I relaxed and took my time hiking down. I was tired, but relieved, and it was all downhill. There were nice views to the east I had missed on the way up and I got back into picture taking mode again. I reached the car about seven hours after I had started, very pleased with my day’s accomplishments and a bit smarter about why, in unfamiliar places, one needs to carry a topographic map. After some refreshments at the newly constructed Chowder Hut in Meat Cove, to top off the day, I drove two and a half hours down the Cabot Trail for a Glencoe Mills dance that night to hear Glenn Graham and Jackie Dunn-MacIsaac play. It was one exhilarating day!
In point of time, this hike was actually the first of my new discoveries, happening during my June trip. As preparation, I had visited the highly recommended Victoria County Hiking Trails web site [in 2011, alas, no longer available on the Internet] and printed off the information there for several of the trails it describes, including the St Anns Bay Trail map [which, in 2011, can be found here¹].
This trail is accessed by taking Route 312 at exit 12 off the Transcanadian Highway (Route 105), driving past the Englishtown ferry, and continuing on to the end of the road, which forks: at the left is a driveway for house number #449 while the start of the trail is at the right.
This trail follows an overgrown old logging road that has suffered serious erosion in spots making the footing there rather tricky. It runs along the base of Kellys Mountain and has some ups and downs, but I only had to stop once to catch my breath about halfway down the trail. There is absolutely no signage along the way and I was beginning to think that I had missed a turn off I should have taken, though I saw nothing as promising as the route I was following. I had an occasional glimpse of St Anns Bay through the trees on the left from time to time and I knew that I wasn’t climbing up Kellys Mountain, so I kept going on faith. Seventy minutes after leaving the car, I reached the second bridge over a stream and noticed the short trail to the coast just before it. That trail dumped me out on Little Grappling Beach, a cobblestone beach on St Anns Bay about 1.5 km (0.9 mi) before the western side of Kellys Mountain ends at Cowdy Point. I do not know how long the trail to this beach is, but the straight-line distance measures roughly 6 km (3.7 mi) in The Nova Scotia Atlas and it took me about seventy minutes to hike one way. The trail map shows the trail continuing on to the northeast for a distance beyond the second bridge, but I did not further explore the trail in that direction.
The cobblestone beach has absolutely stunning views of St Anns Bay and the Atlantic Coast of Cape Breton all the way to Cape Smokey. To the west, one sees the mountains on both sides which create the narrow gap through which St Anns Bay passes on its way to Englishtown; the ferry itself is not visible, being hidden behind what is probably Faders Point, but one can see in the distance Route 312 as it crosses the sand bar to the other side. To the north and northeast in all their beautiful glory are the mountains lining the other side of St Anns Bay and the Atlantic Coast, running 42 km (26 mi) from Jersey Cove to Cape Smokey; except possibly for the views from the summit of Cape Smokey, the views here are vastly superior to anything you can see of this coast on the Cabot Trail itself, as there’s no room there to get back far enough to take in the whole scene. The nearly cloudless blue sky was reflected on the surface of the bay and the ocean, contrasting with the vivid greens of the springtime-coloured forested mountains to give the entire tableau an awesome beauty that made me resolve to return and spend an entire day there just soaking in the gorgeous panorama. The only sounds were those of the lobster boats who were tending to their traps in St Anns Bay and of the waves banging into the rocks at the shore. It is a place of great peacefulness and tranquility, ideal for “recharging one’s batteries”.
I crossed over the shallow stream which enters St Anns Bay beside the trail to the coast and walked down the cobblestone beach towards the northeast until it ran out; if you’ve not done it before, you may be surprised to learn how hard it is walking on cobblestones—sort of like walking on very loose sand, but more difficult. That short walk revealed what appeared to be a sand bar sporting vegetation further down a shore in which Kellys Mountain falls into the ocean; numerous boulders were visible below the mountain adjacent to or in the water. The last visible part of the mountain looked to be too close to me to plausibly be Cowdy Point, which I suspect lies beyond what I was seeing. I assume that the St Anns Bay Trail continues over the bridge and onward to Cowdy Point, but I did not investigate that further, as it was not shown in the web site hiking map.
While on the trail, but not on the beach, this hike was buggy–deerflies and mosquitoes mostly–and I needed to apply Deep Woods Off!® on my neck, face, and hands, as these bugs were very determined. On the way back, I was startled by a partridge hen that jumped out into the trail directly in front of me; I also saw what I think were brown thrashers, a couple of garter snakes, and several frogs along the trail.
As I left the cobblestone beach to start the return trip, I noticed a dead tree around which someone had tied a large blue mesh ribbon in such a way as to resemble a first-prize ribbon at a country fair. I’m not sure what its actual significance was supposed to be, perhaps a signal to a boater, but I interpreted it as an award for a best-of-class view and thought it was appropriate indeed! I know I will be returning here again and again in the future.
Cape Mabou Road to MacDonalds Glen Road to Mabou Coal Mines
Many of my hikes in the Cape Mabou Highlands start from the Cape Mabou Trail Head, which is located on what Route 66, my computer mapping program, calls the North Highlands Road, the Nova Scotia Backroad Mapbook calls the Highlands Road, and Google Maps calls the North Highlands Cape Mabou Road; although I’ve never seen it referred to by those names elsewhere, it does pass through the unpopulated localities named South Cape Highlands and North Cape Highlands on its way northeast to Broad Cove Banks southwest of Inverness, so these names are not inappropriate. Since the Cape Mabou Trail Club map refers to this road as the Cape Mabou Road, that’s what I’ll call it here, since it passes through the central part of Cape Mabou. I once attempted to drive this road beyond the Cape Mabou Trail Head towards Broad Cove Banks and abandoned the attempt when the road deteriorated seriously; I had added it to my list of hikes to do some day and actually also got to it this year, as described below.
The Glenora Falls Road, whose junction with the Cèilidh Trail (Route 19) is 5.8 km (3.6 mi) north of the Red Shoe Pub in Mabou Village, is 5 km (3.1 mi) long and ends in a “T" junction on the Cape Mabou Road. If one turns right at that “T" junction and continues on another 2.7 km (1.7 mi), one arrives at the trail head.¹ I had never before turned left at the “T" junction, though I knew that Route 66 said its southern end began on MacDonalds Glen Road, which runs from the Northeast Mabou Road to the Mabou Coal Mines Road, not far from its end at the Mabou Post Road Trail Head. Why a long-since abandoned road is still in that program’s data base, I do not know, but ever since discovering it there, I had been curious where it came out in both Northeast Mabou and in Mabou Coal Mines and I had been unable to definitively satisfy my curiosity either by driving around (it’s often hard to distinguish an abandoned road from a private driveway) or by asking. This day, which started off with somewhat less than ideal weather, seemed a good time to explore what was to be found if one turned left onto the Cape Mabou Road.
I was only 0.3 km (0.2 mi) from this junction when I found myself driving through what turned out to be a deep puddle with water up to the middle of the hubcaps. I quickly decided that I had better park the car and continue afoot. I soon discovered that that puddle wasn’t the only one on this road; since I hadn’t thought to bring my woods boots, I had to do some bushwhacking and fancy balancing to get around them. Wearing woods boots would have been a much better idea and I should have gone back to the car for them, but didn’t, thinking there’d be only a puddle or two, which proved not to be the case. After about twenty five minutes, but still with dry feet, I came to an area which had been logged in the past few years and offered very fine views of the surrounding area in three directions:
To the south, St Georges Bay and Cape George are on the far horizon; Port Hood and the Colindale Road with the MacPhee’s landmark red barn showing clearly are at the right middle ground; the St Georges Bay coast line south of Port Hood is at the left middle ground; and the Cape Mabou Highlands that line the Mabou River span the foreground. This is a view one sees only in part from Beinn Bhiorach because there one is about 4.5 km (2.8 mi) further north and because the Cape Mabou Highlands hide the St Georges Bay coast south of Port Hood, as they do here as well, but not nearly so much.
To the east and southeast, there are fine views of the countryside and the hills behind Smithville and Rankinville, with the Creignish Hills over Glencoe way in the far distance. As well, there are good views of the Cape Mabou Highlands undulating towards Northeast Mabou. These views improve and enlarge significantly if one leaves the road to bushwhack through some of the overgrown cleared area to approach the edge of the ridge.
To the west, the views are again of the Cape Mabou Highlands, but this time towards Mabou Coal Mines and with a view of the Gulf of St Lawrence beyond.
A couple of minutes further down the road, it begins to descend. The trees which line it obscure the view from higher up, but one can glimpse the Gulf and the Cape Mabou Highlands through the trees from time to time. In less than twenty minutes, one comes to a 90° curve to the left with a trail off to the right.² The view down the left fork convinced me that it must be MacDonalds Glen Road, since it obviously led directly to Northeast Mabou. The glimpses of the Gulf I had had made it seem not that far away, so I decided to turn to the right (which I assumed, correctly as it turned out, was the continuation of the MacDonalds Glen Road, now abandoned) and leave the left-hand fork for another day’s exploration.
The right-hand fork traverses the edge of a field and then enters a forested area. It soon meets MacDonalds Glen Brook, very cheerful in nature, which it follows on the rest of its course to Mabou Coal Mines, where it empties into Mill Brook near Finlay Point. The trail is all down-hill, but mostly with either a gentle or a moderate slope. With the exception of one section of about nine minutes length, where the brook has taken over the road and washed it out, making hiking in walking shoes more than a bit problematic (I really should have brought those woods boots!), the trail is still in very fine shape, though certainly not drivable (I did meet an ATV on the way back, so it’s clearly good enough for that, though I’m curious how the driver traversed the aforementioned brook’s preëmption of the road, which looked like it would challenge even an ATV). The day’s weather was rapidly improving as I hiked down; added to the brook’s constant cheery song and impelled by the curiosity of a first time exploration of a new trail, I was in a very fine mood indeed!
A little bit less than an hour later, I was standing at the side of the Mabou Coal Mines Road, where a black mailbox bearing the numbers 1426-1500 and a garbage bin are located. I now knew where the Mabou Coal Mines terminus of the MacDonalds Glen Road is, satisfying my curiosity. As it was by now approaching 13h30, I had my lunch by MacDonalds Glen Road, enjoying once again the gorgeous, if by now familiar, views of Fair Alistair and Mabou Coal Mines from my three-legged stool as I ate. The skies were pure blue over the Gulf, adding to the beauty, though some of the morning’s clouds remained inland, where they were rapidly dissipating.
Given the improving weather and my very fine mood, the hike back up to the start of Cape Mabou Road was not all that hard. I took a number of pictures along the way and stopped to catch my breath when necessary; the hour downhill turned into an hour and a quarter uphill, including pictures and stops, which wasn’t bad at all.
Since the skies had cleared and the sun was now shining bright, once I had gotten back to the clearing at the top of the mountain, which, still being uphill, took longer than the downhill trek, I re-shot many of the same views I had taken earlier in the day to get the effects of the very different lighting. Indeed, it was so bright and clear that I was convinced that I could now see Prince Edward Island across the Gulf of St Lawrence, though the two photos I took are not proof positive—distinguishing land at that distance from the sky is always a bit problematical.
Another twenty-five minutes and I was back at the car, one foot wet as I slipped trying to sidle past a puddle by clinging on to trees as I negotiated a narrow strip of land above the puddle. But while it dampened my foot, it didn’t dampen my mood one whit! It was a lovely hike and one I strongly recommend to any hiker on a fine day. The views are very fine indeed! (But do remember to take woods boots!)
As an afterthought, it occurs to me that if one were to hike this route in the opposite direction, one would then do the hard uphill part first and have an easy hike back downhill. Moreover, since there’s little to be seen beyond the clearing at the top of the mountain back to the “T" junction, one would also avoid the puddles in the road, though one would still need the woods boots through the area where the brook has taken over the road.
Several years ago, while preparing for my summer trip to Cape Breton, I came across a web site for the Whycocomagh Summer Festival that in a “things to do" section described the hiking opportunities in the Whycocomagh area. I printed that information off to take with me on the trip and did do a couple of the easier hikes described therein, but I am, at this point, unable to find my copy, though I’m positive I still have it somewhere. The web site itself has apparently also disappeared, as I can no longer locate it either. That’s too bad, as there was a good deal of useful information there. Anyhow, that’s where I first learned about the Salt Mountain Trail, which has since been on my “to-do" list. A July posting by Alasdair MacGillean on the now defunct Cape Breton music mailing list reminded me again that I still had not gotten up there; as well, I found myself hard pressed when doing the Bras d’Or Lakes photo essay I had recently completed to describe in words the lie of the land in the Whycocomagh Bay/River Denys Basin/Bras d’Or Lake area and realized that that task would have been made much easier had I had a good overview picture. So, when I found myself in Whycocomagh this summer on a perfect day, I decided to finally explore Salt Mountain.
I parked in the Visitors’ Parking lot of the Whycocomagh Provincial Camping Park and walked to the park office. The lady on duty there was most helpful, giving me a trail map and descriptions of the three Salt Mountain trails. Since the Highlander Trail starts in the parking lot and its description indicated that it involved the least amount of climbing, I took it to go up.
The Highlander Trail skirts the edge of the parking lot and traverses a grassy area, but soon enters the forest covering the side of the mountain and starts climbing. The hillside was wet and the mosquitos were out, so I needed to apply insect repellent. I found it rough going, with tricky footing across slippery moss-covered tippy rocks and quite a steep uphill climb; I was winded several times on the way and had to rest on my stool. There were tree-obscured views on the way up.
Half an hour later, I was at the junction where the Scout Trail, the Millennium project of the 1st Whycocomagh Scouts, meets the Salt Mountain Trail Loop and took the latter. The trail remained steep and I rested some more, but fifteen minutes later I was very near the summit at a point where I could see through the trees well enough to get pictures of Whycocomagh Bay below. A couple of minutes past that point, I came to the first overlook, which was an open area at the mountain’s edge protected by a cable railing that offered a five star panorama to the northeast, east, southeast, south, and southwest, showing Little Narrows, Whycocomagh Bay, the Bras d’Or Lake, the River Denys Basin, and the countryside for many miles around. Indeed, one could see all four of Cape Breton’s counties from this look-off, though the views of Cape Breton and Richmond counties were only of that portion of the Boisdale Hills which were not hidden by the mountains on the Washabuck/Iona peninsula and the East Bay Hills across the Bras d’Or Lake. This was such a marvellous landscape that I decided to spend half an hour soaking it in while I ate lunch.
Four minutes past that look-off, I came to a dedicatory plaque which reads:
Salt Mountain Memorial Park given by Isabel Stewart Farley of Boston, U.S.A. in memory of her brother, Hugh McLennan, born Sydney January 26, 1887 killed while serving his gun as sergeant 5th Battery R. F. C. A. at the second battle of Ypres April 26, 1915. He loved his native Cape Breton and often sailed the waters of the Bras d’Or Lakes. 1969
Four more minutes down the trail, one comes to the second overlook, a bit more tree-obscured than the first one, but also a little higher up. The views here were much the same as from the first overlook, which is to say, marvellous.
Five minutes after leaving the second overlook, I came to the Scout Trail junction, but I continued on the loop trail as the third overlook was down it a couple of minutes further on. The views from this overlook are to the southwest, west, and northwest. Immediately below lies the Whycocomagh Provincial Camping Park, whose manicured grass lawns stand out from the generally forested landscape, the Trans-Canada Highway, and, across it, the Whycocomagh Provincial Picnic Park. In the near distance, Whycocomagh village lies below the mountain, curling around the shores of Whycocomagh Bay. Skye Mountain and Whycocomagh Mountain are prominent in the middle distance, while the Creignish Hills out Glencoe way lie beyond. This too is another marvellous panorama!
Backtracking, I returned to the Scout Trail junction and continued on another four minutes to the fourth overlook, where the views are much the same as from the third, except that one can see further north. A minute further on brings one to the last overlook, with views very similar to the last two.
I then began the return trek to the car via the Scout Trail. When, forty-five minutes later, I had reached the end of the trail where it debouches into the park, after having climbed over and around boulders, jumped from rock to rock, and found the footing very tricky on several steep slopes, my rather outraged comments were that “it made the Highlander look like a four-lane highway; it’s a nasty obstacle course fit more for mountain goats than humans and this was downhill!" To be fair, when reaching the Scout Trail, a sign does advise “Rugged trail ahead. Sturdy footwear and hiking stick recommended." And the Scout Trail description echoes that: “Rugged trail. Very steep in spots." “Rugged" is the understatement of the year—this trail wins hands down the blue ribbon for the most difficult trail I’ve hiked in Cape Breton; it is far better suited to a vigourous sixteen year old than to a sixty-four year old codger.
Once back on terra firma in the Park at the end of the Scout Trail, there’s a lovely fifteen-minute walk through fields and along the roads on the grass through the camp grounds back to the Visitor Parking Lot, for the Scout Trail starts a good distance away from there. There are some nice views during this walk, as one is high enough still to see Whycocomagh Bay over the trees. As I reached the park office on my way back, I thanked the lady there for her help; I was very glad to have had with me the trail descriptions and the map she had provided.
In an earlier posting by Alasdair MacGillean on the Cape Breton Music list, he wrote that an old Gaelic song translates as:
On my eyes there fell a vision
Which with gladness fills me now
Standing on the grassy height
Of Salt Mountain’s lofty brow
Whycocomagh, head of the waters
Spread out large before me lay
Such scenes to far horizons shone
Pained I tore myself away
And, indeed, that well sums up the great beauty of the stunning views from the top of Salt Mountain, which even now “fill me with gladness". I’m definitely planning on hiking up there again, though for sure I’ll be taking the Highlander Trail in both directions next time!
I usually go to the square dance in Southwest Margaree on Friday nights when I am in Cape Breton and stay the night in Margaree Forks. Since the Doryman in Chéticamp has a cèilidh at 14h, this leaves me some time on Saturday mornings in which to explore the Margarees and the Chéticamp area, with the proviso that I do nothing to work up a sweat.
On one of these Saturday mornings this summer, I was in the Cape Breton Highlands National Park just beyond Chéticamp. After having shot some pictures of the Chéticamp River and reviewed some of the interpretive panels at the look-offs along that part of the Cabot Trail, I found myself in the Corney Brook area, which I had driven past without paying it any attention all the previous times I had been here. It was about noon and I thought I didn’t have time to hike the entire trail anyway, even if I didn’t have to worry about not working up a sweat. I left the car in the parking lot on the Cabot Trail and set off across the road on a very wide, beautifully maintained path along the brook with the occasional wooden bench along the path on which to rest and contemplate the scenery.
The trail is essentially flat, but after about ten minutes, one is well above Corney Brook, with good views below of the gorge through which it flows. White water is visible as the brook cascades over boulders and through a number of rapids on its way through the gorge to the Gulf of St Lawrence. There are some views of the mountains to the south, but, since the trail passes through beautiful woods, those views are often obscured by the trees. After about twenty-five minutes of leisurely walking, one arrives at a wooden bridge over a side stream where I reluctantly ended my walk and returned to the car as it was time to get back for the cèilidh.
In October, I returned and hiked this trail to its end at a much brisker pace—I had only two hours of daylight in which to hike in and back out. It took me forty-five minutes to reach the falls at the end of the trail at this faster pace; I estimate it would have taken about an hour at this summer’s slower pace. The park map lists the distance as 6.5 km (4 mi) and another source as 6.4 km, so I must have really been moving, though I wasn’t aware of having moved quite that fast!
The trail follows the lower edge of French Mountain, which twists a bit through hardwood forest in a gorge carved by Corney Brook. Beyond the first bridge, the trail has its gentle ups and downs, but poses no difficulty. About ten minutes from the first bridge mentioned above, one crosses two additional bridges a couple of minutes apart over Corney Brook itself that offer nice views of the brook and the mountains rising above the gorge. At least on this hike, when the brook was gorged with water spilling over huge boulders on its way to the Gulf, the initially soft murmur of Corney Brook becomes a roar the closer one gets to the falls. There is a short moderate climb beyond the third bridge a few minutes before one reaches the falls that had me panting, but that was the only spot that caused me to stop to catch my breath.
The waterfalls themselves are very pretty and well worth the hike. I didn’t really have much time to linger and the light was such that my flash came on for the pictures I did take. Even on a bright day, there would not be a lot of light, given the cramped nature of the physical site. It’s hard to estimate the height of the falls, but I’d guess them to be about the height of a three-storey building; their width is perhaps 4-6 m (13-20 ft) at their widest point. A very short and steep side trail rises above the main viewing area to give a better view of the upper part of the cascades. The falls first run down a narrow channel at the top and fall for roughly one storey, after which they spread out over a cliff face and fall the second storey—this is their widest point; they then make a 90° turn and fall the third storey into a pool in the brook below. It is primarily this lowest cascade that one sees from the main viewing area at the end of the trail. Their song was loud, but not overpowering, and I don’t recall being hit by spray as I enjoyed their beauty.
This is a trail I’ll definitely be back to do many more times in the future, especially since I love waterfalls. I am delighted to have discovered such a beautiful and easy walk for the Saturdays I’m in Chéticamp.
Cape Mabou Road from the Cape Mabou Trail Head to Broad Cove Banks
I described above how the Cape Mabou Trail Head is reached from the Glenora Falls Road. As I mentioned there, I once attempted to drive this road from the trail head towards Broad Cove Banks and abandoned the attempt when the road deteriorated seriously, at which point I had then added it to my list of hikes to do “some day”. That day arrived this fall when I arrived at the Cape Mabou Trail Head and found low-hanging clouds and fog that made it obvious that the views from Beinn Bhiorach would be limited at best and non-existent at worst. Since I was already there, I instead set out along the Cape Mabou Road towards Broad Cove Banks southwest of Inverness, a distance I take from a map to be about 7.25 km (4.5 mi) one way.
This part of Cape Mabou Road runs to the northeast along a plateau through communal pastures where cattle from all over the island are trucked in to graze for the summer months, so there are many open green fields in the gently undulating landscape, bordered by stands of trees. A few short minutes past the trail head one arrives at three communications towers surmounted by antennas of varying forms whose purpose I do not know. As one continues on, one passes a barn which presumably houses supplies and feed for the cattle. On this day, there were herds on both sides of the fenced road who were most curious at this stranger who was walking in their midst, though the calves were quite skittish when I passed near them. The road is positioned high enough that there are good views across the pastures to the forested hills towards Foot Cape; on a better day with a more coöperative sun, they would have brought the golds and oranges and greens of the trees to life, but this day, they were fog-shrouded and fairly dim to the eye.
About a half hour from the trail head, one reaches the top of a ravine carved by White Brook and the road starts sharply down through a forest that covers the ravine’s hillsides. It traverses a series of switchbacks, a couple of which have some erosion, though not enough to trouble the three cars and one truck which passed me while I was on this hike. Indeed, the deterioration before the start of the White Brook ravine I remember from my previous attempt was nowhere to be seen: this year, at least, the route would certainly be drivable for a car along its whole length if one employs a certain amount of care.
It took only ten minutes to descend to the bottom of the ravine, but a good thirty more before I had regained the plateau on the other side; I had to stop for a rest twice on the way up. During one of those stops, a grouse or partridge (I don’t really know the difference between them) came out of the woods into the road below me, pecking and clucking at heaven knows what as it slowly crossed over to the other side and disappeared back into the woods there, apparently completely oblivious to me a few feet away busily snapping its picture.
About three minutes before I reached the top of the hill, I passed a road to the right; since I saw no other plausible candidate, I assume that this road leads to Foot Cape from here, as shown on maps. I have added this road to my “to-do” list for a future hike as it did not appear to be in as good condition as the Cape Mabou Road.
Once back on the plateau, the road continues northeast towards the Gulf, passing through forest. Eight minutes later, I encountered a huge puddle that would have given me pause were I driving; I had fortunately brought my woods boots along for just such an occurrence and changed into them to get past the puddle. The water wasn’t as deep as it looked, but it would certainly have left me with wet feet had I been in my oxfords. This is the only spot on the road where woods boots are needed.
Just beyond the puddle, the forest on the right of the road gives way to hay fields with views of the Gulf of St Lawrence in the far distance. Given the cloudy and overcast nature of the day, it was hard to make out what one was seeing, but on a clear day the views would certainly have merited a picture and probably more. As it was, the rolling fields were quite beautiful on their own. Fifteen minutes later, the forest returns to both sides of the road, which continues on without further views for the next half hour, passing by a gated road, a dwelling with the number 781, and several roads to the left and right.
The road then begins to drop precipitously towards Broad Cove Banks. I stopped at that point for lunch and walked on perhaps a third of the way down the hill, just far enough to see good views of Margaree Island and the Broad Cove coast (but not of the Sight Point area), though they would, like the other views this day, have been greatly improved by clearer air, sun, and blue sky. (I proved that when I returned three days later on a beautiful day: I could then see all the way to Chéticamp Island on the far horizon! These views were in fact so stunning that this will become a spot I will revisit again and again.) I didn’t hike all the way to the end of the Cape Mabou Road, where it joins the Broad Cove Banks Road to Sight Point: my schedule didn’t allow sufficient time and I was tired enough and facing a steep climb at the White Brook ravine on the return, so I quit 0.8 km (0.5 mi) before the end of the road (a distance I measured by car when I returned the following morning).
It took me two and a half hours to hike back to the car at the Trail Head; the sun briefly pierced through the clouds, enlivening for a short while the forested hills, but all was fog again by the time I reached the car.
Since it’s so readily drivable, at least this year, there is probably no compelling reason to hike the Cape Mabou Road from the Cape Mabou Trail Head. The best views are definitely on the Broad Cove Banks end. Still, if one likes pastoral views, as I do, this road makes for a fine hike throughout its length, as it passes through a pleasing and pleasant variety of terrain and I may well do it another day when stymied by low-flying clouds.
I have long been familiar with the upper portion of the MacArthur Trail, as one uses part of it in hiking to Beinn Bhiorach either from the Cape Mabou Trail Head via the MacEachen and Highland Link Trails or in hiking from the Mabou Post Road Trail Head via MacKinnons Brook Lane (the Cul Na Beinne Trail) and either the Bear Trap (Trap à Mhathain) Trail—a favourite route of mine—or the Edge of the Valley (Oir à Ghlinne) Trail. But, until this year, I had never seen the lower portion, so I used it to ascend from MacKinnons Brook Trail Head while returning to the Cape Mabou Trail Head.
The trail starts off very steep, though the many switchbacks help a great deal in providing good footing for the climb. My three-legged stool got lots of use as I had to stop to catch my breath numerous times on the way up. While there are tree-obscured views most of the way, about twenty minutes up the trail (including stops) and thereafter until one reaches the summit, there are also a number of spots where one has unobstructed views of Beinn Bhiorach, the area around MacKinnons Brook Mouth and the Gulf of St Lawrence, and MacKinnons Brook Lane as it makes its way through the Cape Mabou Highlands to the south. There is a very fine look-off about an hour (including stops) from the trail’s start. About six minutes later, one reaches the summit (actually the ridge along which the trail runs on its way to meet the Edge of the Valley Trail and the Highland Link Trail and terminate where it meets the Highland Forest (Coill à Bhraighe) Trail). It took me a total of 1h40 (including stops) to hike from the start of the MacArthur Trail at MacKinnons Brook to its junction with the Highland Link Trail. That’s the same amount of time as it took me last year to climb the Bear Trap Trail from MacKinnons Brook Lane. Earlier in the year, it took 1h13 (including stops) to climb Beinn Bhiorach via the Steep Mountain (Beinn Bhiorach) Trail, which also has great views on the way up.
I will certainly be returning again to this trail, as its beautiful views rank it among the most scenic trails in the system. I suspect, however, that I will be descending the trail in the future, rather than ascending, as it’s certainly a hard climb for me. One of the fine features of the Cape Mabou Trail System is that it allows for a great variety of different routes. I can already contemplate a loop such as Mabou Post Road Trail Head—MacKinnons Brook Lane—Bear Trap Trail—MacEachen Trail—Highland Link Trail—MacArthur Trail—MacKinnons Brook Trail Head—Fair Alistair’s Trail—Mabou Post Road Trail Head for next year!