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2017 News and Discoveries

News

The Bealach Brèagha (Beautiful Mountain Pass) Lake Ainslie Trail Officially Opens

As announced here and in time for the 150th anniversary celebrations of Confederation in 2017, the Lake Ainslie Development Association, in conjunction with the Nova Scotia Trails Federation (NS Trails) and the Trans Canada Trail (TCT), officially opened a new 50 km (31 mi) stretch of the Trans-Canada Trail (Great Trail) in Inverness County on 2017 February 4 at a ribbon-cutting ceremony that I was told was attended by well over 150 people. Known as the Bealach Brèagha (Beautiful Mountain Pass) Lake Ainslie Trail, it connects the Celtic Shores Coastal Trail north of Kenloch to the existing Whycocomagh Trail that ends in the village of Whycocomagh near the fire hall on the Trans-Canada Highway.

The route of the new trail crosses the highlands north of Loch Ban to Kiltarlity, where it turns south along the Southwest Margaree River to Lakeview Drive into Scotsville; in Scotsville, it crosses Highway 395 and then climbs back into the highlands to follow a route roughly parallel to, but across the valley of Matheson Glen Brook from, Pipers Glen Road heading southeast inland around Twin Rock Valley, taking Gillanders Mountain Road much of the way back out to East Lake Ainslie; from there, it parallels Highway 395 a short distance south after which it heads back east into the highlands to bypass the Trout River Wilderness Area, passing south of Johnson Mountain and on into Victoria County to join the Trout River Road, which it then follows south to Lewis Mountain; at Lewis Mountain, the Trout River Road becomes the Geldart Road, which the trail follows to the Whycocomagh Mountain Road; a ways south on that road, the trail turns onto a snowmobile trail that leads to Churchview, which it follows until it reaches the Whycocomagh Trail, which it then follows into Whycocomagh. Along the way, there are said to be ten steep climbs and thirteen bridges across streams. For a map showing the route, visit this web site and click on Cape Breton, expanding the map until the route comes into focus (the amount of detail on this map, when opened to its full extent, is superb and includes contour lines, making it a great resource for hikers, even in areas off the trail). Note, however, that as of this writing, the detail it shows for the route the trail follows in East Lake Ainslie is incorrect: the trail does not follow Gillanders Mountain Road to its westernmost end nor at any point south of Gillanders Mountain Road does the trail reach or cross Highway 395—though it does come quite close, it always remains on its eastern side in this area.

In 2017, I hiked some parts of this trail, including some good steep climbs, for me at least, as described in the Discoveries section below. I very much look forward to hiking the remaining parts of this trail that I can handle, as, unlike the Celtic Shores Coastal Trail, this trail has a lot of ups and downs and climbing and some of its sections have no access points from which I can break the hike into segments short enough for my limited abilities.

Kudos and thanks to the levels of government that supported this endeavour and especially to those volunteers whose contributions, efforts, and hard work have resulted in a trail through a beautiful area mostly unknown to those who do not live there.

Discoveries

The Bealach Brèagha (Beautiful Mountain Pass) Lake Ainslie Trail from Kiltarlity to Scotsville

On 2017 June 16, I attempted my first hike on the newly opened Bealach Brèagha (Beautiful Mountain Pass) Lake Ainslie Trail (see above). Having been there before, I knew that the junction of Kiltarlity and Mountain Roads in Kiltarlity is readily accessible by car and offers a good place to park, so I chose the section which runs along Kiltarlity Road from that junction to its junction with Lakeview Drive in Scotsville and continues on from there into Scotsville.

From Scotsville, drive north along Highway 395 through Upper Margaree and turn onto Kiltarlity Road¹ just beyond the one-lane bridge over the Southwest Margaree River. On this day, Kiltarlity Road was in fine shape up to the last house on the road; beyond, it was passable, but with a couple of very soft spots that caused me some concern, more on the way out than in, though I navigated them successfully. At the junction with Mountain Road, which I had driven up quite a long time ago, discovering it led to some communications towers before turning into a snowmobile trail near Masons Mountain, I parked the car and “saddled up”.

It was a lovely morning with more clouds than earlier but a very strong sun and at +17 (63), a perfect day for hiking as I set off from Mountain Road. No black flies were out, but the deer flies were a-buzzin’, so I applied a good dose of insect repellent to both sides of my “coolie hat”, face, ears, and hands and headed up the hill; the elevation where I parked was 111 m (364 ft).² The initial 1.3 km (⅘ mi) is a slow steady climb through the forest to the top of the hillside, where it levels off and then starts down towards Scotsville (and the cell service begins); this section had several puddles, two spanning the road and one with gluey clay, but both easily bypassed on foot. The road skirts the edge of the plateau with a nearly vertical drop-off on its east side. Somewhat disappointingly, there were only two views in this stretch, both tree shrouded, one of Kiltarlity Road to the north and one of Highway 395—some strategic tree cutting would open up fine views of the highlands and the river valley below. From this point on, the only views descending are tree-shrouded glimpses of the highlands across the valley. In the next 255 m (⅙ mi), the trail drops 55 m (180 ft) and has protruding rocks and deep ruts caused by erosion from water running down the road. At this point, one reaches the bridge over Little Camerons Brook³, which today was very pretty but quiet. From the bridge on, the descent is much more gentle and the road is readily driveable by car. 300 m (⅙ mi) past the bridge, one arrives at the first views of the Southwest Margaree River and the road levels out. Another 400 m (¼ mi) brings one to even wider views of the river and highlands across the way. Here I saw my first wildflowers, buttercups in bloom (later I saw a dandelion in bloom, most of which I hadn’t noticed because they were already in seed, and several others, wee yellow five-pointed flowers and some blue and purplish coloured ones, both tiny and somewhat larger). Another 825 m (½ mi), with some very gentle climbing, brings one to a superb trail sign illustrating the route the trail takes through Scotsville into the highlands on the other side of Highway 395; this section runs along the Southwest Margaree River with good views and then turns inland towards Lakeview Drive, with Gillis Brook at the side near the trail sign. At Lakeview Drive, one turns left, crosses Gillis Brook on Patrick’s Bridge, and turns left again, following a snowmobile trail to the bridge over the Southwest Margaree River on the Strathlorne Scotsville Road, from which there are fine views of the river and the highlands in both directions, a distance of 695 m (⅖ mi). The first part of this section is very stony/rocky and hard walking and the last part was a bit muddy; there is one small bridge crossing a narrow unnamed brook. I stopped for photos along the road and from the bridge and then headed back as I had come. It was a lovely walk, nearly all downhill, which, of course, meant a good climb back to the car at Mountain Road. After passing a lovely tree in bloom, an apple tree I’d guess, I had lunch of a sandwich and a bottle of orange juice at the widest of the river views; I could have sat here all afternoon enjoying the beauty, but, I had a drive to Antigonish ahead of me and a stiff climb (for me) back to the car, so I set off reluctantly. An hour and a half later, with many stops to catch my breath, I was back at the car, having successfully and happily completed my first hike on the Bealach Brèagha Lake Ainslie Trail. My sincerest thanks to all those whose vision and hard work has brought this trail into being! I surely look forward to exploring more of it in the coming weeks.


¹ The pronunciation stresses the second syllable: [kɪlˈtɑr.lɪ.tɪ].

² The distances and elevations given here are those Google Earth shows at the various points on my GPS track. In Google Earth, I measure the distance from Mountain Road to the middle of the bridge over the Southwest Margaree River in Scotsville following the route I took as 3779 m (2⅓ mi); doubling that gives 7558 m (4⅔ mi), but that does not include my meanders (one short section of the trail I hiked twice, as I left my camera behind where I ate lunch beside the Southwest Margaree River, and I also walked around at a few other stops taking photos without making forward motion). The Trails app on my iPhone, which tends to grossly overstate the length, reported a distance of 11.3 km (7 mi), but I know at least 1.6 km (1 mi) of that was “wiggle” (recording the distance in the Trails app when I arrive and when I leave the same spot usually shows an increase of 100-300 m when I’m not even moving!—I refer to this phenomenon as “wiggle”), so the actual distance, including my meanders, was more likely 8.25 km (5¼ mi).

³ This is the name the The Nova Scotia Atlas gives for it.

Judique Community Trails

On 2017 August 9, I signed up for one of the Celtic Music Interpretive Centre’s musical walking tours (described here). At the appointed time, I was piped from the Centre to the trail head on the north side of the Judique Community Centre, a first for me! My guide this day was Joe MacMaster, who had also piped me there, and we set out on a series of well-maintained community trails I had no idea even existed.¹ Joe told me that much of the community trails work had been done by Blaise MacEachern, who was a leader of the Celtic Shores Coastal Trail efforts as well—thank you, Blaise, for all your hard work and organizational skills! Since I last hiked the Judique segment of that trail, signage at one point now directs from the Celtic Shores Coastal Trail to the church and the Celtic Music Interpretive Centre.

My guide provided a good history of the Scottish settlement of the area and was very helpful in other ways, teaching me how to distinguish a fir from a spruce, for example. After a nice walk through the woods, we crossed the Celtic Shores Coastal Trail and continued 150 m (0.1 mi) on the other side to a kiosk and a covered picnic table beside Indian Point Beach, which I had never seen there, as the Celtic Shores Coastal Trail passes inland through the forest away from the shore. A “box lunch” is included in the price of the tour and came in a fine, sturdy bag with the flag of Cape Breton on it; it included a lovely sandwich on a huge roll with a good quantity of chips and a couple of bottles of cold water; I ate as Joe fiddled tunes beside the shore. A chill breeze and damp air off St Georges Bay caused Joe some concern about his fiddle (the hygrometer in his fiddle case registered 100%!), so we did not tarry by the shore.

On the way back, we went north along a different trail than the one we had taken to the shore and visited a pioneer cemetery while Joe recounted some ghost stories and other Gaelic folklore. It was a most enjoyable tour and I highly recommend it to anyone who hasn’t taken it. I later learned from Cheryl Smith at the Celtic Music Interpretive Centre that this activity is popular with tourists on bus tours, whose clients walk the Celtic Shores Coastal Trail from beside the shore where I ate south to Baxters Cove, where their bus picks them up, a very inventive use of two great local resources and a great way for those on the tour to stretch their legs!

I do not have a map of this trail system and the trails are not shown in the Google imagery, so I do not know just how extensive this system is—I have not yet had a chance to go back and explore the other trails which we crossed on the tour. I can say that the GPS track of the walk appears as a loop in Google Earth, where I measured its length as 2.2 km (1⅓ mi). After listening to a lunchtime cèilidh on one of the weekdays at the Celtic Music Interpretive Centre, consider taking an afternoon walk along these fine trails through the forest and enjoying the views from Indian Point Beach. Or better yet, sign up for one of the musical walking tours and be guided along the trails as I was.


¹ I had observed paths adjacent to and crossing the Celtic Shores Coastal Trail in the area, but assumed they were private, as they are elsewhere along the trail and therefore I never investigated them.

The Bealach Brèagha (Beautiful Mountain Pass) Lake Ainslie Trail on Gillanders Mountain Road in East Lake Ainslie

On 2017 August 10, I made my second hike on the newly opened Bealach Brèagha (Beautiful Mountain Pass) Lake Ainslie Trail (see above). On a previous drive through the area, I had noticed a new red gate in East Lake Ainslie just in from Highway 395 at GPS 46°07.959′N 61°08.378′W, blocking a newly built road off to the northeast. There is room to park off the road directly below the gate, but I decided that would not be a good idea should a vehicle need to exit through the gate (and, indeed, I was to discover ongoing work clearing beneath the power lines, so that was a very real possibility), so I pulled off the road just north of the gate; the shoulders are very narrow along this highway, but I managed to get the driver’s side wheels of the Prius just to the right of the white lines marking the edge of the pavement, though ending up way too close to the ditch—two finger’s breadth more and I’d have been in the ditch (and fortunately, the shoulder didn’t give way under the car’s weight, as it might well have in a wetter year)!

I walked up past the red gate and signage there indicated that this was indeed the Great Trail, which seems to be in the process of replacing the previous Trans-Canada Trail designation, of which the new Bealach Brèagha (Beautiful Mountain Pass) Lake Ainslie Trail is a part, so I went back to the car and “saddled up” (backpack and camera bag, three-legged stool, walking stick, and my “coolie” sun hat) and headed off up the trail.

And it is uphill, climbing 23 m (75 ft) in the first 270 m (⅙ mi),¹ to a junction with a side trail to the MacDonald House Museum. That was enough to establish that the Great Trail map was way off base in this area (it had been very accurate on the Kiltarlity Road hike): specifically, unlike what that map currently shows, the trail does not follow Gillanders Mountain Road to its westernmost end on Highway 395 nor at any point south of Gillanders Mountain Road does the trail reach or cross Highway 395—although it does come quite close, as at the red gate, it always remains on the eastern side of the highway in this area.

From the side trail to the power lines is a fairly easy 75 m (245 ft) respite, gaining only 2 m (6 ft) in elevation. Past the power lines, however, a climb of 21 m (70 ft) over 320 m (⅕ mi) leads to an elevation of 124 m (405 ft), from which one has full, if narrow, views of the lake and the highlands beyond: I judged that I was seeing the Hays River area below Mount Young on the west side of the lake. Before arriving at this point, one can easily see the upper portion of the highlands, but not the lake itself.

The next 100 m (325 ft) are easier, gaining only 4 m (13 ft) in elevation, and then the trail levels off. In the next 400 m (¼ mi), the small gain of the previous segment is erased as one passes by views of MacMillans Mountain rising to the southeast and arrives at the top of a steep hill with a warning sign for snowmobilers. A sharp descent over 125 m (410 ft) loses 14 m (46 ft) in altitude to reach the junction with Gillanders Mountain Road. The remainder of the trail I hiked today follows that road inland in the general direction of Gillanders Mountain. Since the trail I had been on to that point is not yet shown in Google’s imagery, I take it to be a newly built connector trail; a sign at the junction says the property over which it passes is private and that ATV’s are not permitted on that section of the trail. The Gillanders Mountain Road is an existing K-class road, but the last time I attempted to drive it quite a few years ago, I was unable to get very far in from Highway 395.² Today, however, the section I hiked was in such fine shape that it would have been driveable by my Prius, likely as a result of the trail work.

From the junction, the road/trail climbs 19 m (62 ft) over the next 820 m (½ mi), so at a considerably gentler rate than the initial climb, passing by what appeared to be an old cart track and arriving at a brand new snowmobile bridge with a posted weight limit of 5 tons spanning a tributary of Ranalds Brook, today just a bare trickle of water under the bridge. The next 360 m (⅕ mi) loses 11 m (36 ft) of elevation and arrives at a second new snowmobile bridge, again over a tributary of Ranalds Brook, but this one was flowing nicely. Just beyond that bridge, the trail begins a 144 m (470 ft) climb over 3 km (1⅞ mi) up the ridge above the Twin Rock Valley, where Google Maps shows it meeting the southern end of the Pipers Glen Road (out which I had once driven as far as I could before it became a logging road unusable by a car, but I have had to abandon more recent attempts to repeat that drive not far beyond the Egypt Falls trail head, as the road beyond was in very bad shape for my car). Not eager to undertake a harder climb than I had already undertaken, I judged that second snowmobile bridge to be a good spot to turn around and head back as I had come, but first I “unsaddled” and spent a pleasant half hour listening to the gurgling of the brook and enjoying the quiet beauty of my surroundings as I quenched my thirst with the water in my water bottle.

The return hike was easier as a lot of it was downhill, with the only major climb that up the steep hill from the junction with Gillanders Mountain Road. I just took my time on a beautiful day, perfect for hiking, as I returned to the car. The Google Earth measurement of my GPS track comes in at just a hair over 5 km (2.7 mi) round trip,³ but this does not include the several meanders I made looking at one thing and another and a couple of short backtracks, so my actual hike was longer. It took me four hours all told, as I had to frequently stop to catch my breath on the climbs, I stopped for a number of photos along the way, and had a nice rest at the second snowmobile bridge, but the hike was good for both the body and the soul, a wonderful way to pass a beautiful afternoon exploring new-to-me terrain.


¹ The distances and elevations given here are those Google Earth shows at the various points on my GPS track.

² On another day following this hike, I tried driving this road with the same result: 435 m (¼ mi) in from Highway 395, Gillanders Mountain Road becomes undriveable in my Prius (not that it was in decent shape to start with). Doubtless, higher-slung vehicles were used during the trail building.

³ For comparison, the Gaia app on my iPhone reported that today’s hike came in at 7.5 km (4⅔ mi) round trip with a total ascent of 107 m (350 ft); that, of course, does include the backtracks and meanders, but is still clearly a large overestimate, though much closer than the Trails app’s ridiculous 12.5 km (7¾ mi), which is so far out of line that I ceased using the app forthwith; moreover, I have not yet detected in Gaia’s reporting any “wiggle” [explained here] of more than a handful of metres/yards.

The Bealach Brèagha (Beautiful Mountain Pass) Lake Ainslie Trail heading south in East Lake Ainslie

On 2017 August 15, I made my third hike on the newly opened Bealach Brèagha (Beautiful Mountain Pass) Lake Ainslie Trail (see above). I again parked near the red gate; someone had clipped the grass by the ditch and the shoulder was a whit wider a bit further past the gate. This time, I headed south along the trail. In 265 m (⅙ mi),¹ I arrived at Dieters² Bridge, dropping in elevation from the 78 m (256 ft) at the gate to 73 m (240 ft) at the bridge; just beyond the gate, there is some rough footing on a tread of smallish rocks as one descends the hill, but it becomes a good gravel tread well before the bridge. This segment of the trail parallels Highway 395, with traffic on the highway visible and audible from the trail. The brook, which the topographical map labels MacPhails Brook, gurgled as it passed under the bridge; it comes down from MacMillans Mountain and, near the bridge, flows through a marshy area that offers a good view of the lower slopes of the mountain to the east. From Dieters Bridge, the trail continues just inland of Highway 395 for another 100 m (325 ft) and then turns away from it to the east through a forested area to reach the power lines after another 200 m (⅛ mi), climbing 17 m (56 ft) on the way; this segment is signed as crossing private property and excluding ATV’s.

From there, the trail follows the power lines for most of the next 745 m (½ mi), arriving at the edge of a field with fine wide views of Lake Ainslie. This segment of the trail first climbs 4 m (13 ft) to the top of a knoll beside a power line pole at the top of which sits an eagle’s nest; there were, I believe, four eagles in residence there this day, and I succeeded in getting (poor) pictures of two of the younger ones in the nest from a distance on the way back, but my attempts to capture the birds in flight were completely unsuccessful—they all flew off in different directions when I approached the pole. MacMillans Brook forks into two descending branches on the slope of the forested hill to the east of the power lines and the trail then descends 7m (23 ft) to MacDougall Bridge,³ which crosses the northern branch and then rises 2m (7 ft) to MacMillan Bridge, which crosses the southern branch 85 m (280 ft) further on; the southern branch had more water flowing than the northern one but neither was very deep in this dry summer. The views of the terrain from both bridges are photogenic and I found it quite pleasant sitting at both of these bridges, gathering up energy to continue uphill. From MacMillan Bridge to the edge of the field, the trail climbs 15 m (49 ft) over 165 m (1/10 mi), a good sharp climb. The tread along this section is generally good walking, though there are places where small rocks are more plentiful than gravel, making for tricky footing (especially when descending). Once at the edge of the field, the views more than made up for the climb, as a wide panorama opened up of Lake Ainslie and the surrounding highlands, from West Lake Ainslie near MacIsaac Point around to Loch Ban around to North Lake Ainslie to Shaws Mountain, though not quite all the way to Scotsville. I sat there in the shade out of the hot sun snapping photos on my iPhone (I had forgotten to bring the Nikons with me). The power lines cross these views, but you will find they are not in the way if you climb a bit further above the field.

Once rested, I continued up the trail for another 135 m (440 ft), gaining another 16 m (52 ft) in elevation, to a four-way crossroads. The trail continues straight ahead, but is crossed by a road up from Highway 395 leading up to a quarry 125 m (410 ft) east of the trail. I turned off the trail at this point and reached the quarry, a 5 m (16 ft) climb; unfortunately, from the end of the quarry road, the views are blocked by trees, but I scrambled up the sides of the quarry to near its top. Again, the same wide panorama opened up as I had seen at the edge of the field, but this time, at a height of 121 m (397 ft), the views were wide and grand. What a fantastic vantage point! Well worth the hike on its own!

I descended back to the main trail and continued south along it as it climbs up a two-track-and-grass-crown road unnamed on Google Maps; at this point, the Great Trail map gets back in synch with the trail and stays that way for the rest of this day’s hike. This 630 m (⅖ mi) segment reaches a height of 131 m (430 ft) before descending back down to 117 m (384 ft) where it meets a private road that leads out to Highway 395. I would have turned around at this point but for a sign which mentioned a MacLean look-off ahead: it intrigued me as I love look-offs! It gave no distance, so I assumed, very incorrectly, as it turned out, that the look-off was just up ahead, and the terrain, on the side of Johnson Mountain, supported that assumption—it was not unlikely that there would be as good views as at the top of the quarry. Since I had the time and was not tired, I decided to keep going.

The segment from the access road is a good gravel road laid out over a switchback 1065 m (⅔ mi) in length that climbs 83 m (272 ft), inflected about halfway up where a road to the south leaves it. Given the steepness of the climb, I was tempted to call it quits at the halfway point, but, in for a penny, in for a pound, so I kept going, with lots of stops to catch my breath on the way up; the shrouded views through the trees on the upper half of the climb were also very encouraging and a nice breeze was very helpful. I then arrived at a fork in the road with a stone monument in the middle bearing the inscription “MacLean Mountain Look-off”. There was no look-off in sight, just the two forks, and the signage was inadequate to decide which of the two forks went to the look-off and which was the main trail.

At this point, my notes read “I’m crazy, but to have come this far without going the rest of the way is stupid, so will go on”. I made the assumption that the look-off was on the right fork, since the monument sits closer to it, and headed off, still uphill, though on a much easier grade, continuing on for another 570 m (⅓ mi), climbing another 15 m (49 ft) in the process, when I finally reached my limit, both of energy and of time; there was no look-off in sight nor really any very good prospect for one. After a great drink of water and a granola bar from my backpack, I started back.

The return was much easier, of course, much of it being downhill, and offered views to distract me. On the way back down to the fork, a narrow view of Shaw Mountain to the northeast across the lake came into view about 135 m (440 ft) before the fork. I also found a nice, though narrow, view of Cape Mabou across the lake as I came down the switchback just above the junction with the access road to Highway 395. The upper portion of Shaw Mountain also appeared on the two-track-and-grass-crown section descending towards the quarry road. Somewhat wider views of the lake and highlands at North Lake Ainslie were also available as one descends from the knoll where the eagle nest rests on a power line pole. All told, the six hours I spent on this hike were well worth the effort, even if I did not make it to the MacLean Mountain Look-Off. This is a fine trail through beautiful country with great views.


¹ The distances and elevations given here are those measured in Google Earth at the various points on my GPS track. The entire hike, including the excursion to the quarry, comes in at 7.7 km (4¾ mi). The Gaia app on my iPhone reported a total distance of 9.6 km (6 mi), over-reporting by 25%, as there were no significant backtracks nor meanders.

² I enquired locally about this name and, although no one could explain its origin, I was told that it uses the pronunciation inspired by the disyllabic German name, [ˈdi:tɚz], not the trisyllabic English pronunciation, [ˈdɑ͡ɪ.ə.tɚz].

³ Each of the three bridges mentioned have signs identifying them, a reflection of the local Gaelic culture, which gives nearly every bridge on the island, however small, its own name, though it often fails to give names to the surrounding mountains and highland prominences, a dichotomy that has always tickled my fancy.

⁴ MacLean Mountain does not appear on the topographical maps; I subsequently learned that it is the name the owner gave to the land on Johnson Mountain on which the look-off sits.

⁵ I later learned that I was not the only one to have made that assumption. As I was to discover, I should have taken the left fork, which does lead off to a fantastic look-off constructed by D J MacLean in the quite recent past. At a later date, a good friend drove me up there in his pick-up. 540 m (⅓ mi) from the stone monument on the left fork, one arrives at an open area on top of a highland with an elevation of 205 m (673 ft), with open views around the compass rose, i.e., they include both the lake and the terrain inland. It is a fantastic spot and well worth the effort of getting there on foot! I’d have been there on foot had I but known which fork to take!

The Bealach Brèagha (Beautiful Mountain Pass) Lake Ainslie Trail on Godfreys Mountain

On 2017 August 21, I made my fourth hike on the newly opened Bealach Brèagha (Beautiful Mountain Pass) Lake Ainslie Trail (see the news item above), this time exploring the western end of the trail on Godfreys Mountain to the east of Inverness. Since I knew I was in for a bout of climbing, I had hoped to find an access road to the trail off the Strathlorne Scotsville Road, as Google Earth shows a road at the point where the road heads down towards Highway 19 that leads from the Strathlorne Scotsville Road to the start of the trail, but I found only a private home there and saw no signage referring to the trail.¹ I therefore drove back to the Kenloch churchyard, a convenient place to park off the road because the Celtic Shores Coastal Trail passes by its edge, and “saddled up”, remembering to bring the Nikons this time.

I then crossed the Strathlorne Scotsville Road and headed north on the trail; it’s an essentially level hike of 1445 m (9/10 mi)² from the churchyard to the start of the Bealach Brèagha (Beautiful Mountain Pass) Lake Ainslie Trail at GPS 46°11.910'N 61°16.571'W, just past kilometre marker 84 on the Celtic Shores Coastal Trail. No Great Trail signage marks the junction on the Celtic Shores Coastal Trail, but a green and yellow snowmobile junction sign is present on the west side of the trail and, 30 m (100 ft) in from the junction, a small Trans-Canada Trail sign is sandwiched between other signs, the bottom of which reads “OHV 105 North”.

From the junction, the trail heads east up the southern slopes of Godfreys Mountain, veering this way and that to take every advantage of the terrain, but still climbing inexorably and often sharply. For me, it would have been a veritable slog up the mountain had it not been for the constantly changing views behind as the trail winds up the slopes; I had to stop frequently to catch my breath and I was delighted to sit and, while I did so, to succumb to the enchantment of the gorgeous views that opened up as I ascended. My much more irregular GPS track attests to the twists and turns of the trail, a contrast with the much smoother track shown on the Great Trail map, but the latter is a reasonable first approximation to the trail and in the correct geographical location, unlike the section along Highway 395 discussed above.

When one sets off down the trail, the terrain gives no indication of the climb that lies ahead. The first segment is a short 125 m (410 ft): after passing by the aforementioned signage, it ascends briskly up a short hill gaining 11 m (36 ft) in elevation; the trail on the hill is badly eroded by water running down it, but that is not a problem for the hiker, who can easily avoid the ruts. From the top of that hill, one has backward views of the junction with the Celtic Shores Coastal Trail and of what I took to be the access road heading towards the Strathlorne Scotsville Road, but the scene is dominated by the slopes of Cape Mabou south of Foot Cape rising in the background—one has already gained enough altitude in this short distance to clear the tops of the trees that line the Celtic Shores Coastal Trail. But this is just a taste of things to come!

Another stiff climb of 17 m (56 ft) over 175 m (1/10 mi) brings one to a “Slow” sign with views of the fields at Foot Cape and the object of that sign, a wide curve, is reached in another 120 m (400 ft) after ascending another 18 m (59 ft), from which Cape Mabou from south of Glenville to north of Foot Cape is in view. In both cases, trees on the slopes beside the trail obscure the base of Cape Mabou, but a surprising amount is visible all the same. The tread here is dirt/gravel commingled with small rocks for stability, perfectly fine for hiking; it remains that way all the way up.

The next 140 m (460 ft) climb up 22 m (72 ft) more, bringing one to an elevation of 127 m (417 ft) and grand views to the south with most of Cape Mabou visible as far south as Mabou Mountain. Alas, there was some haze in the air and it worsened as the afternoon progressed, but not enough to preclude identifying the slopes along the eastern edge of the Cape. What a gorgeous panorama is to be had here, featuring a vista I had seen from nowhere else!

The trail curves again, this time to the north and then again to the east, ascending a very long steep hill (so labelled by a warning sign), rising 43 m (141 ft) over 215 m (⅛ mi). This segment has recently seen considerable engineering work: it is well drained with wide and deep capacious ditches leading to a culvert under the trail at the heel of the curve. The lower portions of the hill have only tree-shrouded views of Cape Mabou, but as one ascends, views of the tree nursery at Strathlorne and later of the highway department buildings in Strathlorne are revealed in all their glory sitting below Cape Mabou, with the views of the latter reaching to the south of Foot Cape. From this higher elevation, the base of Cape Mabou is fully visible. As well, one can now see Broad Cove Banks and the Gulf of St Lawrence beyond.

The next segment of 215 m (⅛ mi) briskly climbs 22 m (72 ft) but then levels out somewhat and crosses what my trail notes call an “easy patch”—not level, but compared to the climb up to that point, it was easy going. The end of that easy patch was also the first place that had no great views to contemplate as one rested for what proved to be the final ascent, just the adjacent trees and the trail. Another climb of 23 m (75 ft) over 295 m (⅙ mi) brings one to the summit³ at GPS 46°12.109'N 61°15.764'W and an elevation of 215 m (705 ft). Somewhat disappointingly, the views from the top are quite narrow and show only Broad Cove Banks and the Gulf beyond: trees block the rest of the views. Since the views on the way up are so superb, I did not mind all that much, as I had them to look forward to again on the hike back down the mountain.

After enjoying a good drink of water and a pear from my backpack, I explored the trail east of the summit. I expected it to drop very sharply into the valley Jack MacQuarries Brook has carved on its way to Loch Ban and so it did: after a fairly level stretch of 85 m (280 ft) through the forest in which it dropped only 1 m (3 ft) in elevation, the trail changed from dirt to crushed stone and started down sharply, dropping 5 m (16 ft) over the next 60 m (200 ft), and gathering steam beyond that point. I had done about all the climbing I was going to do this day, so I turned around there at GPS 46°12.085'N 61°15.662'W, 1435 m (9/10 mi) from the trail junction. Before leaving, though, I got a couple of shots of Shaws Mountain through the trees.

As I descended from the summit, the haze had significantly increased, seriously impacting the views to the south, which were indistinct. But the nearer views were still fantastic and I greatly enjoyed dawdling along the way, taking them in. A bit more than six and a half hours had elapsed when I regained the car in Kenloch churchyard and I was some tired from the climbing. But oh, what marvellous views! I’d happily do it all over again on a great photography day!


¹ As I was soon to discover, the access road shown in Google Earth, at least at the start of the Bealach Brèagha (Beautiful Mountain Pass) Lake Ainslie Trail, does not appear to be drivable in my Prius, so I’d not have gotten far had I found it and tried to drive it.

² The distances and elevations given here are those measured in Google Earth at the various points on my GPS track. The entire hike, including the hike on the Celtic Shores Coastal Trail from Kenloch churchyard to the junction with the Bealach Brèagha (Beautiful Mountain Pass) Lake Ainslie Trail, comes in at 5.76 km (3⅗ mi). This time, the Gaia app on my iPhone reported a total distance as 5.56 km (3½ mi), under-reporting by 3%.

³ This “summit” is the highest point on the Bealach Brèagha (Beautiful Mountain Pass) Lake Ainslie Trail over Godfreys Mountain, but it is not the highest point on Godfreys Mountain, which is further north and rises to 247 m (810 ft) per Google Earth.

The East Bay Hills Trail

I had known of the East Bay Hills Trail for some years, but had not heretofore been in the area with enough time available to tackle it and had remained unaware of its precise location. Earlier this year on a trip from St Peter’s to Sydney, I happened to notice the sign along Highway 4 in East Bay (at GPS 46°00.439'N 60°23.376'W) and drove into the parking lot, where a map of the trail is posted in a glass-covered board along with some other information; at that point, I determined that I should make time to tackle it. I did so on 2017 September 5.

The trail is a community effort on family lands donated for the purpose by its previous owner. In the words of the Welcome interpretive panel:

The Logue Community Property is a treasure of natural history and a testimony of European settlement in Eastern Cape Breton Island. The Property is situated on gently sloping upland covered with different stands of trees. These trees associate with a diverse ground vegetation of shrubs, flowering plants, ferns and mosses. The forest cover and plant life show the natural potential of the land but also reflect the settlement history of the 19th and 20th century. A round walk of approximately one hour will show you mixed forests of birches and maples, groves of large hemlock, tall solitary pines, and a remnant beech hill.

The trail is in superb shape with a coating of fine sand in most places and fine walking throughout; sturdy boardwalks cross wet spots and a couple of small brooks. If you hike the loop counterclockwise, as I did, the distance markers every half kilometre (⅓ mi) will be in ascending order. The short side trails are forest tread with roots and rocks, but readily navigable. Benches are placed at numerous points all around the trail. There are no vistas, but compensating for the lack of grand views, this trail offers a beautiful forest illuminated by a plethora of interpretive panels. The identification of trees is given in five languages, the four still spoken in Cape Breton (English, French, Gaelic, and Mi'kmaq) plus the scientific name in Latin; you will see larch (tamarack), yellow birch, red maple, sugar maple, balsam fir, eastern hemlock, paper birch, and white pine, all of which grow along the trail and each species of which is identified by its own plaque. But there are also panels devoted to other topics relating to the forest and its use: land settlement and the consequences abandoned farms had on the forest; the use of the forest by humans and industries; the impacts of non-selective wood cutting (e.g., by clearing land for a farm) on the health and content of the forest as a whole; the interdependence of various kinds of trees; forest regeneration; and other facts about the various tree species. All in all, a very fine introduction to a topic on which I am woefully uninformed. The welcome text cited above specified one would spend an hour on the trail, but I spent 1h50 hiking the 3.1 km (1.9 mi) trail, reading and photographing its numerous panels, and spending some time just sitting on the benches enjoying a beautiful day in the forest and admiring its fine trees. Other than a lady coming out as I went it whom I took to be a grandmother with her two young grandsons, each less than five years old who were both having a ball on the trail, I was alone on the circuit, a shame as this trail merits wider use.

The initial 520 m (⅓ mi)¹ lead from the parking lot to the start of the loop on what I took to be a gentle uphill climb as I paused to read the panels, although one actually gains 34 m (112 ft). Taking the right fork at the loop junction, the climb continues, a little more briskly, to the top of a hill, a distance of 260 m (⅙ mi) and a gain in elevation of 23 m (75 ft). The trail then bends and drops 1 m (3 ft) over 115 m (375 ft) to bring one to a long boardwalk across a wet area and a small brook. 260 m (⅙ mi) and a descent of 8 m (26 ft) brings one to another long boardwalk across a wet area, this one with no brook. In another 65 m (215 ft) and an ascent of 3 m (10 ft), one is at an amazing specimen of a beech, labelled “The Big Beech”. Here, the trail turns definitively to the east (it has been on a generally southeastern track) and starts the bottom of the loop. After another 145 m (1/10 mi) and a descent of 12 m (40 ft), you next arrive at a side trail labelled “To the Big Birches”, a short 48 m (155 ft) walk with an ascent of 1 m (3 ft) that leads to some very large birch trees. Returning to the main trail, one arrives at another side trail in 100 m (325 ft) after descending 5 m (16 ft), this one marked by a “To the Brook” sign; that side trail is a level 55 m (180 ft) long and leads to a viewing platform at the side of a small brook bestrewn with small rocks. Back at the main trail, a 145 m (1/10 mi) segment rising 2 m (7 ft) turning first to the west and then to the north closes the bottom of the loop and brings one to a short 2 m (7 ft) boardwalk over a small rill. The next 255 m (⅙ mi) were an unexpected stiff climb of 24 m (80 ft) up past two rail fences to the top of a hill with a very welcome bench at the top! The next 140 m (460 ft) lose 8 m (26 ft) as it proceeds to the northwest to arrive at the 2 km (1¼ mi) sign; my notes for this segment read “very professionally done tread of fine sand/gravel/small rocks”—indeed, the entire trail shows similar attention to detail. The final 545 m (⅓ mi) lose 20 m (65 ft) in elevation with occasional short “ups” intervening between the longer “downs” turning midway more to the west to arrive back at the start of the loop and the trail back to the parking lot. On the way back to the car, be sure to watch for a view of the upper portion of the highlands across East Bay, the only distant vista I noticed on the trail.

In addition to its fine education on the local forest and its sylvan members, this trail offers a great cardio-vascular workout through a beautiful area on a very finely built and maintained family-and-child-friendly trail, full of spots for young children to explore and enjoy and for the adults to savour as they make its circuit. If you have not yet visited this trail, by all means do. It’s a great example of what a community working together can achieve.


¹ The distances and elevations given here are those measured in Google Earth at the various points on my GPS track. The entire hike comes in at 3.17 km (2 mi), including the two side trails. This time, the Gaia app on my iPhone reported a total distance as 3.76 km (2⅓ mi), over-reporting by 19%.

Chronological List of My 2017 Cape Breton Hikes

Date Where Route
Friday,
16 June
Kiltarlity/Scotsville hiked the Bealach Brèagha (Beautiful Mountain Pass) Lake Ainslie Trail
from the junction of Kiltarlity and Mountain Roads
to the bridge over the Southwest Margaree River in Scotsville,
returning the same way I went
Wednesday,
21 June
Northwestern Cape Breton hiked the Cape St Lawrence (Lighthouse) Trail
from the end of the Meat Cove Road to Cape St Lawrence,
returning the same way I went
Tuesday,
27 June
St Peters Junction hiked the Little River Reservoir trail
from Highway 104 across the earthen dam and
around the far end of the dam to Little River,
returning the same way I went
Wednesday,
9 August
Judique walked the Judique Community Trails as part of a
musical walking tour organized by the Celtic Music Interpretive Centre,
a 2.2 km (1⅓ mi) loop as guided
Thursday,
10 August
East Lake Ainslie hiked the Bealach Brèagha (Beautiful Mountain Pass) Lake Ainslie Trail
from the red gate on Highway 395 in East Lake Ainslie to
just past the second new snowmobile bridge on Gillanders Mountain Road,
returning the same way I went
Tuesday,
15 August
East Lake Ainslie hiked the Bealach Brèagha (Beautiful Mountain Pass) Lake Ainslie Trail
from the red gate on Highway 395 in East Lake Ainslie south,
taking an excursion to the top of the quarry on a short side road,
and continuing up into the highlands on Johnson Mountain
beyond the fork leading to the MacLean Mountain Look-Off,
returning the same way I went
Monday,
21 August
Strathlorne hiked from Kenloch Churchyard along the Celtic Shores Coastal Trail to
its junction with the Bealach Brèagha (Beautiful Mountain Pass) Lake Ainslie Trail
and ascended Godfreys Mountain on the latter until I reached the point
where the trail heads down towards Jack MacQuarries Brook,
returning the same way I went
Friday,
25 August
Glendyer hiked the Celtic Shores Coastal Trail
from the bridge over Glendyer Brook in Glendyer
to the bridge over the Mabou River,
returning the same way I went
and then continuing on to the ford at Glendyer Brook
and then back to the bridge
Monday,
28 August
Cape Mabou hiked the Cul Na Beinne (Beyond the Mountain) Trail
from the Mabou Post Road Trail Head to MacKinnons Brook,
the MacKinnons Brook Trail to the new excavations at the Meadows
and then returning back to the Beinn Alasdair Bhain (Fair Alistair) Trail
and taking it over Beinn Alasdair Bhain and thence back to the trail head
Tuesday,
5 September
East Bay hiked the East Bay Hills Trail from the parking lot to the start of the loop,
counterclockwise around the loop, exploring each of the short side trails,
and then back to the car, returning as I came