On this page, I will discuss news items I’ve learned about and existing trails I’ve explored this year that are new to me. 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 reäctions to them, not to present the trails in detail.
Cape Mabou Trail System Partially Reöpened
The Cape Mabou Trail Club trails were officially closed in 2009 and 2010 due to damage caused to the Cape Mabou forests by the spruce bark beetle, which was also widespread elsewhere in Cape Breton. Though many people continued to hike portions of the closed trails, the normal trail maintenance of previous years was suspended.
In June when I arrived at the Mabou Post Road Trail Head at the end of the Mabou Coal Mines Road, I found the map shown at the right: the Fair Alistair Trail (that part of the trail which descends from the look-off to MacKinnons Brook has been mostly relocated along a newly created trail that starts a short distance down the MacPhee Trail, not shown in the photo at the right), the MacPhee Trail, the Beaton Trail, and the Beyond the Mountain Trail (MacKinnons Brook Lane) are once again officially open and available for your hiking pleasure. I had greatly feared that they would remain closed again this year. Prior to its closure, I judged this system to be the best in Cape Breton and I spent a lot of rejuvenating time hiking its trails in the years before 2009. The reöpening was made possible by the hard work of generous volunteers who brought these trails back to their previous state and by that of a work crew of young folk who were paid from club funds.
Hikes last year and this on some of the closed trails reveals that most are still in fairly decent shape and can be brought back to the superb state of years past without too much work beyond normal trail maintenance, a real tribute to the engineering work of Ian Sherman. Throughout most of the system, if there is any problem at all, it is caused by the occasional downed tree or by overgrown ferns obscuring the trail. Alas, however, a number of spots along some of the trails are simply impassible due to massive downfalls and clearing them will take significant work. Last year, the Edge of the Valley Trail was blocked just above the point where it leaves the Beyond the Mountain Trail; had my friend, one of the volunteers who gives freely of his time and labour to work on these trails, not had his axe with him, we’d have had to either bushwhack down the bed of MacKinnons Brook or retrace our steps. I suspect similar blockages exist at the base of the MacArthur Trail and along the Beinn Bhiorach Trail. I have been told that a blockage in the col below Beinn Bhiorach has been removed, allowing the Highland Forest Trail and the Enchanted Valley Trails to be used again.
This year, I can attest from personal experience that the MacEachen Trail from Sight Point to the Poets Ridge Trail and the entire length of the Poets Ridge Trail were both very hikeable, if not in the pristine shape of 2008 and earlier. A landowner at Sight Point told me he had cleared the MacKinnons Brook Trail along its entire length (I can attest from my own experience that it was in excellent shape from Sight Point to the Scree Path Trail, beyond which I did not hike).
The road to the Sight Point Trail Head has been significantly improved in 2011 on the Broad Cove Banks end and well out towards Sight Point, but remains problematic for cars as it gets closer to the trail head (jeeps and SUVs and vehicles high enough off the road will not hit bottom, but will still find it slow going): if you head out there, plan on at least a forty-five minute drive. The Glenora Falls Road up to the Cape Mabou Road and the Cape Mabou Road from there to the Cape Mabou Trail Head by the Community Pastures, on the other hand, are both in generally good shape, presenting no problem for a normal car. You are likely to be saddened, however, by all the damage along the Cape Mabou Road caused by clear-cutting out large swathes of dead and dying forest and by the piles of wood left there to rot or to be burned. And, when you reach the trail head, you will find that the bridge over the bog has been burnt (while it was unsteady in 2008, it was still usable with care); attempting to cross the bog on foot will leave you either stuck in the muck or with very wet feet. A better plan is to follow the fence by the Community Pastures back to the point where you can hook up with the trail some distance down the fence.
2011 was surely the least nice of the eleven years I have been going to Cape Breton. The spring was uniformly grey and cold, with the sun making an appearance only twice in forty days. One day of my June trip was glorious and two others were OK; the remainder were useless for either hiking or photography. My summer trip was no better, with four days when I could be out and about and the remainder lost; I gave up after Broad Cove and came home two weeks early. Summer finally arrived at the end of August: the St. Anns concert took place on a beautiful day and normal summery weather continued throughout the following week. Hay wasn’t harvested until the end of August in Southwestern Inverness County and crops were very late and poor. September and October, however, were generally much nicer than the spring and most of the summer, with warmer days and lots of sun. The colours started coming out during the Celtic Colours festival and reached their peak rather quickly in Southwestern Inverness County, though they were slower to appear further north.
Railway Trail Signage Improvements
The Railway Trail runs along the old railway bed from Port Hastings to Inverness. Incorporated into the Trans-Canada Trail, the trail has undergone significant upgrades over the past years, as mentioned in the news reports of previous years in this section of my web site. I continue to refer to it as the Railway Trail and most locals do too, though usage is beginning to change and one hears Trans-Canada Trail more often these days. The major change to the trail system that I noticed this year was the introduction of signage, in four forms.
Six kiosks were set up in previous years at major access points to the Railway Trail: at the Canso Canal Park in Port Hastings, at Troy Station, at Michaels Landing, at Port Hood Station, at West Mabou, and at the Miners’ Museum in Inverness. In addition to direct access to the trail system, each kiosk provides picnic tables and a place in which to park one’s vehicle while hiking. The new change this year was the addition of superb interpretive panels at each kiosk, most of which are the same but two of which are unique to each kiosk. The common panels:
show a map of the entire Railway Trail with the adjacent terrain and locate it relative to the wider world using smaller maps at the side; as well, it describes the division of the Railway Trail into its constituent community trails (the Ceilidh Coastal Trail, the Judique Flyer Trail, the Chestico Trail, the Mabou Rivers Trail, and the Inverness Shean Trail) [an example is shown at the right]
describe the railroad that once ran along this route, the people that worked for it, and the heritage they have left the area, lavishly illustrated by photos
describe those who transformed the railroad bed into the trail system now seen, again with great and relevant photos
the partnerships between trail clubs, local businesses, corporations, and government that contributed to or otherwise assisted in the construction of the trail
In addition to these common panels, each kiosk has its own interpretive panel describing the history and culture of the people inhabiting the communities nearest the kiosk, again with well-written, fascinating text beautifully illustrated with very interesting photos. A sixth panel has a blown-up portion of the map of the Railway Trail showing the local segment of the trail and contains street maps of local communities and other local community information as well as emergency information and other contact information of use to visitors to the area.
I am impressed with the high quality of these interpretive panels, which contain a lot of useful information packed into a relatively small place. They are a credit to those who conceived of them, to the local informants and historians who provided the text and photos, and to the graphic artists who assembled them into the gorgeous panels now on display.
In addition to the interpretive panels that one sees at the kiosks, one now finds other interpretive panels at various points along the trail, e.g., Baxters Cove, and I am sure more will be put up as time goes on. These are of the same quality as those at the kiosks, but provide additional information relevant to the point at which each is placed.
A third form of signage new this year (or at least very recently) are the ubiquitous blue signs of the form seen at the left, now present at each point where the Railway Trail crosses a road. Each sign gives the name of the community trail and specifies the civic address and locality name that must be provided when emergency assistance has to be summoned. Since the civic address differs for each side of the road, you will see these signs in pairs. In addition to their rôle in emergencies, they make it easy to identify alternative access points to the Railway Trail itself. Most of the roads the Railway Trail crosses are back roads and there is usually little problem in parking along the shoulder and heading off for a hike.
The last form of new signage is the provision of kilometre markers along the length of the trail. They look like the one seen at the right. Kilometre 0 is at Port Hastings and Kilometre 92 is in Inverness, i.e., the numbers ascend from south to north. Kilometre numbers can also be supplied as a locator in an emergency, since each one is unique.
In the past, I have often been asked how one can find the access points to the Railway Trail. Prior to the availability of this signage, I had to reply by saying one should look for snowmobile crossing signs, which were not infallibly correct, but usually were if you were anywhere close to the Railway Trail. Now, I can say, either check out the system map at any of the kiosks or, even easier, just look for these blue signs and you will know with certainty that you can access the Railway Trail at that point.
Kudos to those who contributed in any way to the addition of the interpretive panels and the other signage. They significantly enhance the experience of hiking along the trail.
Lorraine Head Trail
In 2008, I had hiked along the western edge of Big Lorraine Harbour, described here, following a trail said to lead to Louisbourg Lighthouse, but turned back because of inappropriate footwear for the boggy areas I had encountered along it. Later that year, I hiked the Louisbourg Lighthouse Trail, which was then still under construction, and continued on a cobblestone berm and a forest foot path to the edge of Brook Landing Cove; I turned around at that point as the trail forward was unclear and I didn’t want to get lost in the forest.
This year, on a gorgeous day that too rarely comes to Louisbourg, I initially hiked much the same path as in 2008. The Louisbourg Lighthouse Trail now sports a finished fine sand tread (over the large crushed stone base that was the tread in several places in 2008) and offers such amenities as interpretive panels, benches, and railed belvédères. A short side path has been built on the east side of the cliff seen in the bottom photo here that leads to a bench at the top of the cliff with the glorious views that I imagined when I wrote that essay.
The Louisbourg Lighthouse Trail ends in a loop along Gun Landing Cove, whence it returns to the lighthouse (see the map in the photo above). The cobblestone berm I remembered from 2008 was there and I crossed it; on the other side, the forest foot path had very recently undergone significant transformation—the path it follows was now cleared to a width of a metre/yard or more and the tread had been improved. Intrigued, I followed it along until I came upon the interpretive panel above Brook Landing Cove,¹ beside which I found a side path along the coast. That path, clearly marked with rocks and a fine gravel tread in the open coastal soil above the ocean, led out to a headland on the east end of Brook Landing Cove and beyond to another headland at the eastern end of Big Cove, offering spectacular views of the rocky coast and of the the lighthouse from all along its path.
From there, the trail continues above Hammer Head Cove (it does not go out to Hammer Head itself) and continues eastward for some distance above and around Moneyhunters Cove to arrive at Lorraine Head, at GPS 45°54.959'N 59°55.403'W. From Lorraine Head, the trail continues to the northeast and I followed it along, descending to water level and crossing on the rocks at what the topographical map labels as Sawpit Cove until the trail picked up again on the cliffs above. I followed it along to its end on a headland the topographical map labels as Eastern Point of Lorraine Head, at GPS 45°55.235'N 59°55.268'W, from which Big Lorraine Harbour was easily identifiable. I did not find the continuation of the trail from this headland on towards Big Lorraine seen in the photo above, though later study in Google Earth revealed that I was only about 500 m/yd from where I had been on the 2008 hike of Big Lorraine Harbour. So, while I haven’t yet completed the trek from the lighthouse to Big Lorraine, I’ve now done all but a short section of it, starting from both ends.
The trail was generally very clearly marked and, being along the coast with a view of the lighthouse from much of the hike, it was impossible to get lost (on a foggy day, this could be a rather different story!). There were occasional mucky spots, often crossed by planks in the soil, evidence that the trail was being actively maintained and enhanced. This is not a level trail, as it follows the terrain with significant up and down while repeatedly descending to cobblestone beaches and then ascending back up to the cliffs on the other side. But that was no problem for me, as the scenery compelled me to stop for photos of the superb coastal views with great frequency. After spending seven hours hiking it on a magnificent spring day, I can highly recommend this trail and its views!
¹ The topographical map lists, from west to east, Gun Landing Cove, Brook Landing Cove, Big Cove, Hammer Head Cove, and Moneyhunters Cove before arriving at Lorraine Head. In the map on the interpretive panel above, Brook Landing Cove and Big Cove are subsumed in Wolfe’s Cove and the other two coves are unnamed. Here, I’m following the topographical map’s naming and not the interpretive panel’s.↩
Sentier de la Mine de plâtre
Inaugurated 28 May of this year, this new trail, whose name can be rendered in English as the Gypsum Mine Trail, connects the Quai Mathieu, in the heart of the village of Chéticamp, to Chéticamp Back Road and to the area between Belle-Marche and La Prairie containing the former gypsum mine that was in operation there between 1907 and World War II. The trail up to Chéticamp Back Road is of the same finished quality as the Trans-Canada Trail, with a fine sand tread astride a more solid base. Like the Trans-Canada Trail in Cape Breton, it is a multi-use trail suitable for bikes, ATV’s, and snowmobiles as well as for hikers.
Its initial course parallels the Barren Road, mostly hidden by a thin line of trees, and then passing by an open field with views of the Cape Breton Highlands to the north. It then leaves Barren Road heading to the northeast and makes a large bend switching from northeast to east to southeast; most of this part of the trail is through woods. As it descends to Chéticamp Back Road, it exits the forest and provides fine open views of the Cape Breton Highlands to the east.
Once the trail reaches Chéticamp Back Road, its subsequent course is not obvious. I walked up and down the road looking for a plausible continuation. Expecting to find a trail similar to the fine trail on which I had been hiking, I was perplexed: no signage is yet up to indicate where one is supposed to find the gypsum mine. As I was descending the trail to Chéticamp Back Road, I had noticed at the base of the mountains in the distance something that looked like a gypsum cliff face. So, I headed down a gravel road about 150 m/yd north of the trail I had left that my GPS showed led in the direction of the gypsum cliff face I had noticed. This road was in poor shape with lots of mud and water holes, but at least it was going in the right direction. Twenty minutes later, I had arrived at the base of the cliffs in what was clearly the area where the mine once was.
Numerous roads left from the mining days criss-cross the mine area, in which one could spend a lot of time looking at the various formations on the cliff faces. There’s a road up a slag heap at the top of which one has enough height to get some wider open views. By the time I got there, I did not have a lot of spare time left, having to meet a friend for dinner and a Candlelight Tour at the Highland Village in Iona later in the afternoon, so I did not spend nearly as much time there as I would have liked. (As it was, I made it to our meeting-up point exactly on time, with not a minute to spare.) I will have to return again to the mine to do it proper justice.
I assume the intent is to eventually transform the road from Chéticamp Back Road to the mine into a trail of the same quality as that between Chéticamp and Chéticamp Back Road (but have found nothing to confirm that assumption). It’s a fine hike with some excellent views. It’s mostly downhill on the hike out from Chéticamp, which I didn’t really notice until I found myself puffing pretty heavily on the return trip—nothing major like climbing a mountain, but a good work-out for an overweight and not-too-fit type like myself!
In 2008 after having discovered the magnificent backcountry panorama at the end of Churchview Road, I mentioned it to a friend who had once lived with her husband on a farm along Glencoe Road. She suggested that I should pay a visit to her old farm, which had passed out of her family; it remains private land, but she told me that she thought the current owner wouldn’t mind if I hiked up there. The driveway is gated, but bears a “No Hunting” sign rather than a “No Trespassing” sign, so I made a mental note that I should follow up on my friend’s suggestion. Nothing came of it until a late August day this year when I found myself along Glencoe Road and, though recovering from an exhausting Cape Mabou hike the previous day, still up for a short hike. So, I stopped there, left the car by the road, and climbed up to the ridge above the barns (the house is no longer standing).
The long driveway is now overgrown with grass and not easy walking; it’s pretty clear no one has done anything with this land for some time. About two thirds of the way up the driveway, one reaches a Y, with the left fork leading on to the barns and the right fork into a triangular shaped field surrounded by trees and hence without views. Apple trees line the upper end of the driveway on the left side heading up and they were full of ripening fruit. I took the left fork and, just before arriving at the first barn, turned northeast and headed straight up the huge open field that lies on and below the ridge. From the barn, the views were already very good, but from the top of the ridge, they were superb!
To the west, one sees the rolling hills and ridges of the coastal plain at Little Judique, with St. Georges Bay readily visible; Cape George lies on the other side a bit south of due west. Henry Island and its lighthouse are visible in the photos I took a bit north of west, but the water separating it from the mainland is barely visible and only at its north end—otherwise, it looks like a large hill at the edge of St. Georges Bay rather than an island well offshore.
To the southwest and south, a long ridge rises above the Southwest Mabou River (itself not visible from the ridge) on its way to West Mabou from its source in the Creignish Hills. The MacLeod Settlement Road parallels its course here, where a huge green field and a smaller one not far off Glencoe Road immediately draw one’s eyes. The ridge, part of the Creignish Hills, is high enough to obscure the view beyond towards Hillsdale and Judique and the southern coast of St. Georges Bay, but the shapes of the summits in the River Denys Mountain area to the south rise beyond the ridge. The long mass of the ridge with its very mixed forest is itself quite interesting to scan, as one attempts to trace the course of the river below (at most a wide brook here) through the gaps in its tree-covered slopes.
To the northwest, one can see the three silos of the farm on Justin Road below Rocky Ridge in Dungarry, and panning further to the east, one can make out Rocky Ridge as far east as Glengarry, above the mouth of the Southwest Mabou River. To the west of the three silos, the communications tower on Dunmore Road clearly identifies its location. Port Hood Island, if it is visible at all, blends so seamlessly with the shore that I am unable to positively identify it while Port Hood itself hides below the hills to its east, which rise up to Rocky Ridge.
After soaking in the marvellous views for a long while, I ambled south along the ridge for a ways to see whether other features to the north or south might come into range: trees line all but the west edge of the field on the ridge, interfering with the views to the north and south and completely blocking the views to the east. The improvement was slight, so I then turned to the northwest and started descending the ridge, intending to come out at the second barn. Brambles and brush two thirds of the way down forced me me to turn to the south before I had planned, so I came out between the two barns. From there I made my way back down the driveway to the car.
Like those from the summit of Churchview Road, the views from the ridge are magnificent, giving an excellent panorama of this corner of Inverness County. I expect I’ll be returning here again.
Lewis Mountain Road (eastern end)
Lewis Mountain Road is an old pioneer road that connects the Bras d’Or Lake system at Little Narrows over the (unnamed, so far as I can determine) plateau to South Lake Ainslie. I have been familiar with the “Four Corners” at GPS 46°01.845'N 61°04.375'W since my first trip to the plateau on 2005 August 1, which my log book records as “SNS 104 / Trout Brook Road / Geldart Road” with no mention at all of the Lewis Mountain Road that Google Maps shows at the same coördinates. I went back there 2009 August 3 to look for the locality of Lewis Mountain, which The Nova Scotia Atlas shows at roughly GPS 46°01.500'N 61°03.000'W, but lacked the proper coördinates and didn’t locate anything that looked like a former settlement or even a hiking trail. Since then, I have been searching for the eastern end of Lewis Mountain Road, which I finally located earlier this summer exactly where it should have been: beyond the electric substation across from Exit 6 on the Trans-Canadian Highway. That I found it was apparently due to much less tall grass this year, which concealed it when I looked for it a couple of times last year.
With a friend who is able to tolerate my slow hiking pace and frequent stops, we climbed up from Exit 6 to the Four Corners, a distance my GPS device and software together compute as as 7.25 km (4.5 mi) one way. The first third of the road follows along and often above the eastern banks of MacPhersons Brook (i.e., actually along the flanks of Northside Mountain rather than those of Lewis Mountain, which is across the brook), which rises due south of the Four Corners. This was a stunningly beautiful walk, both visually and aurally, with lots of water falls, rapids, and deep pools along this part of the trail, all inside a canopy of beautiful fall colours. Moreover, even though I had not hiked for nearly two months, the trail up was gentle enough that I was rarely forced to stop to catch my breath. Given the way the terrain lies, there are no views at any point along the road of the Bras d’Or Lakes below, which are hidden by the flanks of Northside and Lewis Mountains.
As we ascended, we noticed the old wooden sluices installed by the pioneers, which were still eminently serviceable; those who built this road built it well! Further up, lack of maintenance has caused these sluices to become blocked, with the result that water now runs down the road, making walking in oxfords a wet mess. For most of this part of the hike up, we attempted to keep our feet dry by walking on the banks and even bushwhacking, but eventually we got our feet wet anyway, after which we gave up and often just splashed through the water oblivious to it. The upper portion of the road is in poor shape, with muddy and mucky spots and standing water: woods boots would definitely have been a better choice there than walking oxfords. My friend noticed fingerlings in the standing water, a sign that fish have made it up the brook and spawned high up on the plateau.
After two hours and ten minutes of hiking, not including photo stops and stops to rest, the trail turned into a gravel logging road. After a stop for lunch near the locality of Lewis Mountain (though recent and current logging activities hide any evidence of the pioneer settlement), we followed the gravel road on to the Four Corners, whereupon we turned around and retraced our steps. On our way there, I recognized where my 2009 attempt to locate Lewis Mountain Road went awry: I went to the right at a T junction where I should have continued straight ahead on a less good, but still drivable, road.
Lewis Mountain Road continues through the Four Corners to end on Highway 395 in South Lake Ainslie, where a newly erected highway sign identifies its western end. The hike up from there is a shorter one than the hike up from Exit 6; I have added it to my “to do” list.
The weather up was cloudy with occasional attempts by the sun to pierce the clouds, but those clouds won out and, on the way down, a drizzle was unable to dampen our spirits as we listened to the glorious song of the brook during the final third of the downhill hike. My lack of recent hiking experience resulted in a slower descent than ascent, as I had to stop more frequently to rest, but that allowed me more time to enjoy the glorious brook.
This is a superb hike and one I will surely repeat again, at least up to the end of the water falls (about GPS 46°00.248'N 61°01.454'W), a hike of about forty-five minutes. Other than this one trail description, I have found no information about this gorgeous hike. It has to count as another of the many unsung and unknown beautiful hikes in Cape Breton. Fortunately, that will change, as Lewis Mountain Road will eventually be incorporated into the Trans-Canada Trail, making it much better known than it currently is.
Chronological List of My 2011 Cape Breton Hikes
Because of the weather, I got in far fewer hikes in the spring and summer than I normally do. The relatively short table below lists each one.
hiked the Louisbourg Lighthouse Trail to the end of the loop
on the western side of Gun Landing Cove;
thence across the cobblestone berm and into the forest on a newly improved trail
to an interpretive panel above the western lobe of Wolfe’s Cove;
thence via a side trail along the coast to a headland
forming the east end of the western lobe;
thence to the other side of Wolfe’s Cove above the eastern lobe;
thence to the western edge of Moneyhunters Cove;
thence along the shore to the eastern side of Moneyhunters Cove;
and thence out to Lorraine Head, returning more or less as I came; see description above
St Georges Bay Coast
hiked the Judique Flyer Trail, part of the Railway Trail,
from Michaels Landing to Baxters Cove, returning as I came
West Mabou Beach Provincial Park
short hike out the Western Coastal Trail to Cnoc na Smuain
and returning as I came
hiked the Chestico Trail, part of the Railway Trail,
from Beaton Road to the Cèilidh Trail in Southwest Mabou,
returning as I came
hiked the Sentier de la Mine de Plâtre (Gypsum Mine Trail)
from the Quai Mathieu to the Gypsum Mine, returning as I came; see description above
Cape Mabou Trail System
from the Mabou Post Road Trail Head,
hiked up the Fair Alistair Trail to the MacPhee Trail,
thence along the MacPhee Trail to the Beyond the Mountain Trail
and back to the Mabou Post Road Trail Head
Uisge Bahn Falls Provincial Park
from the parking area via the Falls Trail to the Uisge Bahn Falls
and back to its junction with the River Trail,
thence along the River Trail back to the parking area
from the Cèilidh Trail (Route 19)
along the Mabou Rivers Trail, part of the Railway Trail,
to the steel bridge over the Southwest Mabou River,
and beyond to kilometre marker 60, returning as I came
Cape Mabou Trail System
from the Sight Point parking area
up along the MacEachen Trail to its junction with the Poets Ridge Trail,
thence along the Poets Ridge Trail to its junction with the MacKinnons Brook Trail,
thence to the Scree Path Trail, returning along the MacKinnons Brook Trail¹
from Glencoe Road via an overgrown driveway
to the ridge above an abandoned farm,
thence back and forth along the ridge, returning as I came; see description above
West Mabou Beach Provincial Park
from the parking lot along the Western Coastal Trail
to Cnoc na Smuain and the Sheep Trail
returning via the park entrance road to the parking lot
Lewis Mountain Road
from Exit 6 off the Trans-Canadian Highway
to the four corners on the plateau above
returning as we came; see description above
¹ Our original plan was to return via the MacKinnons Brook Trail and the Fair Alistair Trail to the Mabou Post Road Trail Head, where we had left my car; however, I missed the MacEachen Trail at Sight Point (it was my first time going up the MacEachen Trail from the Sight Point Trail Head) and we wandered on a private road and paths until we found ourselves on the MacKinnons Brook Trail, whence we took the the cut-off to the MacEachen Trail, which my friend spotted the second time around. That wasted enough time and way too much of my energy for me to feel comfortable returning as originally planned, so we turned around at the Scree Path Trail and came back to the Sight Point Trail Head.↩