Wednesday, 12 June — Jackson to Rumford
I left Jackson under blue skies and bright sun at 6h15, a half hour later than intended. I lost the sun and blue sky in Danbury (Connecticut) for the most part, though the sun made occasional sorties east of there. I ran into the first rain in Massachusetts just before the New Hampshire border; it was “Irish weather” (fog, mist, light to steady rain) in Maine. I reached Rumford at 16h15, very tired out.
After a half-hour nap, I went off to the Skye Theatre to be present for the jam session, which attracted well over a dozen local musicians. The evening’s show featured three fantastic musicians, Winifred Horan on fiddle, Mick McAuley on accordion and whistle, and Colm O Caoimh on guitar, the first two members of the Irish band, Solas, and the third of the Irish band, Caladh Nua. They gave us many tunes, mostly reels with a couple of sets of jigs, several waltzes, and a slow air, along with a number of vocals. It was technically superb playing with varied music but often with too much of a “modernizing” edge to it for my taste, but it sure did whet my taste for some pure Cape Breton fiddle/piano/guitar music!
I’ll be off in the morning early; I hope to make the Causeway bridge by late afternoon.
Thursday, 13 June — Rumford to Port Hood
I awoke at 5h by alarm and peeked outside and saw blue skies, sun, and morning fog; managed to shake out enough cobwebs in my head to leave the motel in Rumford at 5h31 EDT. The fog was high enough off the ground that it proved not to be a problem, so I had a good, nearly trafficless drive on Route 2 to Newport where I had breakfast. I cleared Canadian Customs in Milltown at 11h11 ADT (one hour lost crossing the time zone) after a fifteen minute wait in line. Note to anyone planning to return to the US via Milltown: the US customs building has been torn down and the road is blocked off at the bridge, so you must now return either by the downtown Calais port of entry or the new one on the outer edge of town; Canadian customs at Milltown were open for business today with no indication that it might change (the Milltown crossing has historically been much faster than the downtown crossing in both directions, often by an order of magnitude or more; I have no experience with the new port of entry, but will give it a try on the way back as it avoids going through downtown St Stephen). The skies turned to overcast south and east of St Stephen and, with a few exceptions for sun breaking through slits between moving clouds, remained that way to Cape Breton. It was an uneventful trip, but I was very tired and had to stop multiple times to get the blood moving to stay awake and alert; these two-day drives aren’t as effortless and easy on me now as they were five years ago. I perked up considerably with the first views of Cape Breton east of Antigonish and crossed the Causeway bridge at 17h24. I drove happily and untiredly to Port Hood, checked into the motel, and had supper. I drove 988.459 km (614.2 miles) today! But here I am with a weekend’s music to look forward to!
There were some very welcome changes since my last trip in October: Highway 1 has been completely twinned (made into a 4-lane highway, for US readers) between St Stephen and St John in New Brunswick—no more two lane highway driving there and about 25 minutes quicker; Highway 104 in Nova Scotia has been twinned all the way to Sutherlands River, though the deadly section from Sutherlands River to Antigonish has not and there are no signs that it’s going to be any time soon; the Antigonish bypass is complete, saving 10 minutes or more; the construction on Highway 19 between Creignish and Long Point is complete.
I drove back to Creignish for the Celtic jam session, something new this year. Organized on a biweekly basis by Ian Cameron this winter at the Creignish Recreation Centre when the off-season Thursday jam sessions at the Celtic Music Interpretive Centre were discontinued, they are free to any musician who brings an instrument and plays and by donation to any member of the public who wants to come and listen. There is a designated session leader who changes from session to session; tonight’s was Kolten MacDonnell, who didn’t really have much of a job to do, as tonight’s group was pretty much self-directed. Well over fifteen musicians, most of whom I knew, and more than that number of listeners were present for tonight’s session, which had multiple fiddles, several pianists, several guitarists, two flautists, two small pipers, an accordion player, and a bodhrán player. The repertoire was eclectic, lots of Scottish tunes, a goodly amount of Irish, some Ontario style tunes, and The Ashokan Farewell, which is often heard in Cape Breton. Not everyone played every set or even every tune in every set, but the sound was great and the musicians and listeners alike had a fine time. Some came from as far away as Antigonish and have regularly been doing so. I’m told other instruments would be fine and that “foreigners” are welcomed. I’m often asked by US players where they can sit in on a session when they travel to Cape Breton; I knew of the sessions at the Red Shoe on Mondays and the Thursday sessions at Rollie’s in North Sydney, but now there is also Creignish on alternate Thursdays. Definitely worth taking in! (And, I also learnt tonight about Wednesday sessions at the Governor’s Wharf in Sydney and Sunday Irish sessions at the Town House in downtown Antigonish.)
I will sleep well tonight and can sleep in as late as I want in the morning!
Friday, 14 June — Port Hood
I got up after 11h; I slept like a rock and felt refreshed and very happy to once more be in Cape Breton. It was not a beautiful day: cloudy overcast with a bright tinge where the sun was trying valiantly, but unsuccessfully, to break through; the temperature was in the high teens (mid 60’s), a welcome change from the thirties (90’s) of New Jersey.
I drove over the Colindale Road with the obligatory stop for photos at the guardrails; a couple of lobster fishermen were out in the waters off West Mabou Beach, where it must have been even cooler than on land. I wish them good catches and hope the price they’re getting justifies their hard work, time, and expenses. I began enjoying the fruit of their labours in the Mabou Marina at the Backroads Bistro, about which I have been reading many good things on Facebook. An unprepossessing yellow trailer that moves between the Farmers’ Market and the Marina in Mabou, on a day with few tourists about and not great weather, there was a continuous stream of traffic there. They served me a great lobster panini sandwich, chock-a-block with good-sized chunks of lobster, a fine green salad, and a tart and tasty rhubarb crisp, accompanied by green tea, for a very reasonable price of $15. These folks are green: only recyclable materials are supplied with the food. I wish them well, heartily recommend their fine food, and will definitely be back for more.
It began to rain lightly as I left the Marina; I returned to Port Hood the long way: up Mabou Ridge to Glencoe Mills, where I found the church, fence, and parish hall (where the dances are held) gleaming white under leaden skies, thanks to a new coat of paint; then up “Mount Glencoe” and down to Long John’s Bridge, where there was the usual flow of water in the Southwest Mabou, but I didn’t stop for photos because of the rain; then it was on to Glencoe Station, over the Beaton Road, and back to Port Hood on the Dunmore Road. The backcountry was a symphony of greens of all hues with some admixtures of yellow and whites from the wild flowers in bloom—a very beautiful drive in spite of the rain.
I wasn’t tired enough to nap, so I spent a profitable couple of hours with Wally Ellison’s new book, Waterfalls, a copy of which I picked up last night at the Creignish session. It has lovely photos and some informative text to which I need to return in order to absorb it. I’ve been to some of the places he describes, but a number were new to me and I will seek out those I have a decent chance of reaching. If you have any interest in Cape Breton’s beautiful places, this book is for you!
After tending to a few chores, I set off for dinner at the Red Shoe and a following cèilidh with Shelly Campbell and Allan Dewar. It was one incredible evening of music! Shelly’s effortless playing just poured out of her all night long; some of the initial tunes she played were unfamiliar to me, but great tunes I hope to hear again. Lovely slow airs, fabulous strathspeys, and dandy reels formed sets of brilliance and beauty. Her rhythm and tempo are perfection itself and Allan’s accompaniments are impeccable, laying a solid foundation and adding ornamentation to the fiddle’s driving melodies. This was the purest of pure Cape Breton fiddle/piano music and an absolute joy to hear. Rodney MacDonald did three fine sets with Allan to give Shelly a break, but there were no breaks in the music. It is still early days in Cape Breton’s tourist season and it’s a delight having no problem finding a table at the Shoe for music such as this, but it was really sad to see the Shoe half empty when the music was so incredibly good! It was very nice to see a lot of good friends there during the cèilidh to share in the marvellous music. What a wonderful end to my first full day in Cape Breton!
Saturday, 15 June — Port Hood
I awoke at 7h, looked outside, saw clouds with a bit of blue sky, and went back to bed. I awoke again at 9h30 and saw a lovely blue sky with lots of sun, so I got up straightaway. After breakfast at Sandeannie’s, I changed into hiking clothes and drove down the road to the Port Hood Day Park, which I had not visited in a few years. Huge grey clouds were lying in the Northumberland Strait and in St Georges Bay on the far side of Port Hood Island, but the near side was clear and in sun under blue skies. I walked out to Shipping Point across the dunes on the fine boardwalk, taking lots of photos along the way. Then, I walked south along the beach to its end, from which one usually has a fine view of Henry Island, which was missing today. As I sat there puzzled on my three-legged stool, I noticed that the clouds on the far side of Port Hood Island were moving across the island; they proved to be heavy fog and put on quite a show as they hid parts of Port Hood Island, alternately showing and hiding Henry Island, and, by the time I got back to Shipping Point, had moved across the harbour and covered the south end of the beach. As well, another fog bank moved in from the Strait covering first Murphys Point and then the village itself, all while the sun was out on Shipping Point and the beach. It was quite a spectacle to watch! The fog is explained by the water being so much warmer than the air; I tested it with my fingers and it was definitely plenty warm to swim in, though the cool damp breeze would have been really chilling when one got out! I noticed a new monument in the day park from 2011 dedicated to those who lost their lives in Port Hood’s coal mines; very appropriate, since some of the mines were where the day park now is.
Back at the motel, I showered and changed into good clothes. I then drove the Dunmore Road to Mabou Road to Judique Intervale Road to Highway 19 and on to the Celtic Music Interpretive Centre; I love the back roads and enjoyed the backcountry drive, my first in great weather this year. Paul Cranford, a scholar of the music as well as a fine fiddler, had a book release party to launch the latest in his well-known series of fiddle tunes collections, this one titled The Cape Breton Scottish Collection, featuring 318 Scottish tunes arranged as usually played in Cape Breton. He played through much of the afternoon and was joined by numerous musicians, including Doug MacPhee on piano; Mario Colosimo on piano and guitar; Betty Lou Beaton on piano; Melissa Emmons and Kolten MacDonnell on piano and fiddle; Brandi McCarthy and Allison Mombourquette on fiddle; Bill MacDonald on guitar; and a guitarist and a flautist and a cellist I didn’t know. Lively tunes led by Paul, I presume all from the new book, were joined in by the others in various configurations as the afternoon progressed. I stayed as long as I could, until 18h30; when I left, the music was still going strong. Very enjoyable, low key afternoon.
Then it was on to the Strathspey Place where a concert of classical music for pianos, Ten Hands, was performed by Lawrence Cameron, Marion MacLeod, Tyson Chen, Marilyn Harrison, and Brydon MacDonald. This was definitely a first for me: live classical music, my first musical love, in Cape Breton! With two grand pianos and three electronic keyboards on stage, the concert opened with a Bach suite in four movements, arranged by Lawrence for ten hands. Handel’s The Arrival of the Queen of Sheba, three Brahms waltzes, a Brahms Hungarian dance, a Monti csardas, and the tune Ragtime from the musical of the same name, all arranged for four hands and played by various combinations of two musicians, completed the first half of the concert. The second half opened with Mozart’s Sonata in D Major for Two Pianos, played by Marion and Lawrence, a tour de force performed superbly. Ten hands arrangements of Scott Joplin’s The Maple Leaf Rag and a farandole fron Bizet’s L’Arlésienne concluded the programme to a standing ovation. The encore was a set of Cape Breton jigs played by ten hands, with Douglas Cameron, a piano student of Marion’s better known as a fiddling prodigy, substituting for Marilyn. It was a fantastic concert that was greatly enjoyed by those present, who filled more than half the hall. I hope similar classical concerts are offered in the future. Cape Breton is truly blessed with a treasure trove of superb musical talent! Who knew it extended to classical music performance as well?
After the concert, it was off to the dance at West Mabou with Kinnon and Betty Lou Beaton. It was a classic pre-summer dance, with many fine dancers on the floor, but not crowded as it is in high season. The music, it goes without saying, was perfection itself, jigs and reels played beautifully with exactly the right tempo for dancing (I’m told, as I don’t dance), embellished as only Betty Lou can. During the strathspeys set, Joan Currie and Melody Cameron danced as a duo and then Melody alone gave us some fantastic steps; Melody’s nephew of tender years did likewise; and a young lady I didn’t recognise finished off the set in fine style. A fabulous end to a wonderful day of music! Only in Cape Breton!
Sunday, 16 June — Port Hood
Up at 10h and went off to breakfast. It was a lovely morning, perfect for photography, so I drove to the Government Wharf in Port Hood and then to the Murphys Point Look-Off for photos at both places and some along the way; next to the Colindale Road and much better photos than Friday’s at the guardrails; up Rocky Ridge Road (thanks, Mike), down to Highway 19, up the Alpine Ridge Road (new potholes and very rough going on the southeastern end past the farm, but drivable) over to the Whycocomagh Road and on to Glencoe Mills for photos of the gleaming church, fence, and parish hall; thence to Upper Southwest Mabou for photos of the Southwest Mabou from Long John’s Bridge; over the Rear Intervale Road to Highway 19, and into Judique for the Sunday cèilidh at the Celtic Music Interpretive Centre with Douglas Cameron on fiddle and Howie MacDonald on piano.
As I came in, I heard “I know who you are! Hello, Victor!” It proved to be Ann Marie Blinkhorn, who had corresponded with me this past winter about using some of my photos on her new website, Your Nova Scotia Holiday, for which I granted her permission. We sat together for the afternoon, conversing and exchanging information during the breaks between musical sets.
They were brilliantly played; Doug’s slow airs are so rich and so expressive and the rest of his repertoire is a complete joy to hear. Howie on piano laid down a classic example of Cape Breton chording, spiced up by strategic doubling of the melody at all the right points and his subtle touches of musical humour. Meaghan Sams (a young fiddler from the Halifax area) and Lawrence Cameron spelled Doug and Howie for three sets. Not really a dancing crowd, though four (I think) square sets were danced; no step dancers took the floor. Sorry to have missed out on Kinnon and Betty Lou for what I’m sure was a fabulous session at the Shoe, but I hadn’t heard Doug since last year and was eager to hear him once more.
I saw Blaise MacEachern as I was leaving the Celtic Music Interpretive Centre, but I had agreed to meet with Ann Marie after she checked in, so our conversation was briefer than we’d have liked; we therefore agreed to sit down for a good chat at a later time.
Ann Marie is planning on being in Mabou for the next couple of days and asked for some photo shooting and hiking suggestions; I was, of course, only too happy to oblige. I met her at the kiosk at West Mabou after the cèilidh had finished and we drove up Hunters Road for photos there and then on to the park at West Mabou Beach, where we hiked out the Western Coastal Trail and came back along the beach; we had to hurry because of fears of being locked in behind the damned gate, which is apparently locked at dusk, a royal PITA. But we got some photos and made it out in time. I had more suggestions of places to hike and see than she has time for in her schedule. I’m sure she’ll have a great stay in Mabou!
I drove back along the Colindale Road, but was disappointed in my hopes for one of the famous Sunset Side sunsets: the sun dropped behind grey clouds with barely a glimmer of yellow before it completely disappeared. Wonderful day all the same and not so busy as yesterday. No music tonight, so will be early to bed tonight. Off to Meat Cove in the morning, where I will be until Friday; hope the weather is better than the forecasts, which are not encouraging.
Monday, 17 June — Port Hood to Meat Cove
Up at 9h; it was a cloudy, grey morning with evidence of overnight rain. After breakfast, I drove to Mabou, where I purchased some groceries for the car (fruit and such) and took care of errands. Then, I drove north along the west coast.
Highway 219 (the Shore Road) hasn’t improved any since last year and requires care when meeting another car as the pavement next to the shoulder is often broken or altogether missing, providing a fine opportunity for tire damage or worse.
The Cape Breton Highlands were cloud-covered with fog streamers hanging down the slopes from the Margaree River north. I found welcome construction on the Cabot Trail north of Point Cross. I stopped at the Cape Breton Highlands National Park Visitors’ Centre to renew my season’s Senior pass, on sale for half price until 30 June, and spoke with the lady there about some of the questions that came up while writing my last photo essay, but she had no answers, though a useful suggestion. There was another stop for construction in the Park south of Corney Brook, where it appears that coastal erosion has necessitated strengthening the Cabot Trail’s underpinnings there. I climbed French Mountain enshrouded in heavy fog and on top found close to zero visibility, a real “joy” in an area full of moose, making driving rather tense until the fog lifted a bit at the web cam. I couldn’t see much other than the road down into Pleasant Bay (but was quite happy to see the road all the same), a real disappointment as it’s one of the glorious stretches of the Cabot Trail with its expansive views of the western Inverness County coast reaching all the way north to Tittle Point.
I stopped off at the Whale Interpretive Centre in Pleasant Bay, following up on the suggestion the lady at the Visitors’ Centre made, and met George Fraser, with whom I chatted for an hour and a half. He didn’t have a definitive answer to one of my questions, viz. the identity of the Delaneys for whom Delaneys Point and the Lower and Upper Delaneys Brooks are named, but offered a plausible hypothesis: the area between Chéticamp and Bay St Lawrence was a very fertile cod fishing area and there were Delan(e)ys at Chéticamp (Petit Lac at Grand-Étang is also known as Delanys (no ’e’) Pond) who likely fished along that shore and may have put up drying racks for their catch there in the 1800’s and perhaps even a rude camp in which to spend a night or take refuge in a blow, causing the area to be associated with them. George had answers to some of my other questions and we had a fascinating chat from which I learnt a lot.
Then it was back on the road, first in rain and then heavy fog again on the way up North Mountain. The bad weather ended at the summit; blue skies and the sun brightened my way down to Aspy Bay. The gas station has moved down to the bottom of the hill beside the road into Dingwall, causing a few minutes of real panic when I arrived in Cape North Village with barely enough gas to make Ingonish. After filling the tank, I drove back up the hill and out the Bay St Lawrence Road, stopping at Cabot Landing Provincial Park for photos. It was hazy from Bay Valley Road to Capstick, but better beyond Capstick, just past which I stopped for photos of the Cape North Massif.
It was sunny and clear in Meat Cove, where I arrived about 16h45, as it apparently had been all day. I had a nice chat with Derek MacLellan and then dinner at the Meat Cove Restaurant, after which I drove down to the Meat Cove Beach for more photos; I watched the fog bank which had been off shore move inland and obscure Black Point. Then, I drove back up the hill to the Hines Oceanview Lodge, where I’m staying until Friday morning, and watched a heavy bank of fog roll in over the highlands and down into the valley, completely hiding both the highlands and the village in a thick pea soup, something I’d never seen here before. No sunset tonight!
A couple from England and another from Scotland now living in England are staying in the lodge tonight; we introduced ourselves and had a good chat, after which they made and ate their dinner in the kitchen/dining room. Hector Hines, the owner, came up to check on us after a long day out lobster fishing and we all had a good long visit.
All told, a fine day. The forecast tomorrow is not too great; either a visit to the museum in Cape North Village or a hike to get my legs and lungs better used to climbing, depending on whether it’s rain or just clouds. And lots of peace and tranquility in this fabulous place regardless of the weather! What a welcome change from New Jersey!
Joke: The picture the Yahoo iPhone weather app is currently displaying for Meat Cove’s weather is a foggy road with dashed white lines down the centre of the road! The fog in Meat Cove is actually gone now and it’s clear enough to see lights in the village below and some clouds in the sky backlit by moonlight. But what makes this such a howler is that the road from Capstick to Meat Cove is gravel and hence without lane markings! Oops!¹
Tuesday, 18 June — Meat Cove
I awoke at 5h, saw that it was cloudy, rolled over, and went back to sleep. The other guests left about 7h30, quiet as churchmice, and I hardly noticed. More tired than I thought, I slept until 9h, when I was surprised to see blue sky and sun. The weather forecast was calling for morning clouds and afternoon rain, so I planned on taking at most a short hike and getting back before the rain started. I went down the mountain to the restaurant for breakfast; when I went back outside, it sure didn’t look anything like rain! The purest of pure blue skies and bright sun with nary a cloud anywhere!
So, at 11h04, I headed up the Fraser Trail, which I’d never before done; it starts across from the restaurant and runs into the Lowland Cove Trail above its junction with the Meat Cove Road. It was nowhere near as steep as I had thought, though it was no easy climb for me. At that point, I had a choice: return to the village or continue on up the mountain. Since the goal of the hike was to strengthen legs and lungs and since there was no hint whatsoever of rain, I decided to try for the Meat Cove Look-Off, very roughly guessed at 2.5 km (1.5 mi) one way from the restaurant. It’s not all that far, but it’s all uphill. At 13h05, I finally came out on the edge of the mountain and quickly ascertained I was in the right place this time (the first time I was up here, I went right instead of left at a fork in the trail and ended up, though still with great views, further south along the mountain—this time, the trail was extremely well marked and there was no mistaking which way to go). I discovered lots of haze over the water and off Bay St Lawrence way, but the Meat Cove area was less hazy than the last time I was here, so I’m hoping for good photos of the Meat Cove area. I took lots of photos, of course.
During the three hours I spent soaking in the lovely views, I saw a jay (he didn’t like the sound of the shutter and soon flew off); a hummingbird who was gone as soon as I noticed it; an eagle flying at my level above the valley, whom I lost before I was able to photograph it; several lobster boats and one boat too fast for a lobster boat; plenty of trees, wildflowers, and young plants—the young maples still have red leaves, they’re so new. My lunch consisted of an apple, a granola bar, and a bottle of water. I spotted some white cumulus clouds at the horizon to the east and south around 14h, but they didn’t look in the least threatening, though by 15h30, they had begun to encroach on the west enough to occasionally block the sun and to turn the waters of the Gulf less blue. It was then that I noticed a huge, long, white fog bank in the Cabot Strait heading for the Cape North Massif; until then, the fog banks had been low, grey-coloured, and well out in the Strait. Pushed high off the water to above the height of the massif, I assume by winds in the Strait, this one smashed slow-motion head-on into the massif and shrouded it in fog streamers. At around 15h55, another fog bank began rolling in from the northwest and for the first time, parts of the terrain below were in shadow. Not wanting to be at the look-off during a repeat of last night’s pea soup event, I reluctantly headed down off the mountain at 16h05 and arrived at the car at 17h03: much better time descending than ascending, obviously, though I discovered several muscles that were most unhappy on the descent. (A fit youngster, such as one of the lads in the village who jog up the road from the village to the lodge, a very steep climb, without breaking a sweat, could have been up and back in well under an hour.)
I had dinner on the deck outside at the restaurant (I was too smelly from the hike to think of sitting inside and besides I wanted to enjoy the brook’s beautiful song): great pan-fried haddock, mashed potatoes, peas and carrots, a large garden salad, a huge slice (about a quarter of the pie!) of strawberry-rhubarb pie, and black tea—a fine reward for the day’s exertions.
I drove back to the lodge, showered, changed into fresh clothes, and caught up on the news and mail. No pea soup tonight, fortunately, but the sky clouded over and, at first, the sunset was just a band of yellow against the horizon with some very pastel pinks and magentas in the clouds above the highlands; later, breaks appeared in the clouds and the display became much more interesting with reds and brightly-edged clouds. It was still not a spectacular Sunset Side sunset, but very pretty in its own way. The moon was out briefly, but at nightfall, it was hidden by solid overcast. There’s a full house at the lodge tonight; four not particularly social ladies travelling in two groups of two and myself. I will be soon to bed, where I’m positive I’ll sleep very well!
Wednesday, 19 June — Meat Cove
I got up at 8h and soon managed to lock myself out of my room: I had put my room key, which was on a ring with a plastic tag, on my key chain, and had my key chain with me, but, unbeknownst to me, the key had fallen off its ring in the pocket of another pair of pants, hanging in the bedroom behind the locked door! Hector came up to check the other guests out and got me back into my room.
Pea soup filled the valley below and completely hid the village and the highlands as well; cool (it never got above 15° (59°)) and damp, it was not a morning for hiking. I went down to breakfast at the restaurant where Derek MacLellan had an answer to my question about the meaning of Rhu Pillinn from his elderly uncle, a Gaelic speaker (unlike Derek). Pronounced something like [ruˈbɪl.jən], it means “Look-Off Point” and was given that name by Donald Fraser. In the 1850’s, while looking for a place to settle along this coast, he was apparently shipwrecked on Frasers Beach, named for him, and managed to find a path up from the beach, an arduous ascent (see Rhu Pillinn and Frasers Beach). He lived with his family on top of the unnamed mountain west of Meat Cove, where a field with a corral is well known to hikers to Cape St Lawrence and Lowland Cove; an old, now likely impassible, trail connected his homestead to Rhu Pillinn.
After breakfast, I drove back up to the lodge; I thought about hiking out the Meat Cove Brook valley, but I was still tired from yesterday’s climb, so I ended up napping instead. By 11h, the highlands were again visible and by 14h the fog was finally completely burnt off; I thought about a hike up to Little Grassy, but a fair amount of haze lingered in the air, making it less than ideal for photography, so I declared a day off and just relaxed, enjoying the views (and the lodge is a great place to enjoy them!). By 17h, St Paul Island was once more visible in the Cabot Strait, the first time it had made an appearance this trip, though plenty of fog banks remained in the Strait.
I went down to the restaurant for a lobster dinner, which I’d been asking for since Monday (the restaurant has been open only since Thursday); it was a wonderful meal with all the fixin’s and only $13.95!
A sociable American couple, who have been touring Canada in their RV, left behind in Chéticamp to spare it the wear and tear of the Highlands, are the only other guests in the lodge tonight. Another initially mostly yellow sunset (the highlands block the point where the sun sets, so one sees only the colours to the north), turned much redder after the sun went below the horizon. The skies are not cloudless, but very benign looking. Hope to make it out to Cape St Lawrence in the morning; the forecast is still calling for a sunny day with a high of 21° (70°), though I’d guess there’ll be plenty of early fog.
Thursday, 20 June — Meat Cove
Awoken by the sun at 5h, I got out of bed at 6h and, as quietly as possible so as not to awaken the guests upstairs, made myself some oatmeal and green tea for breakfast, as the restaurant doesn’t open until 8h or later and I wanted to be away earlier.
I started up the mountain at 7h45 and arrived at the summit at 9h15, which, for me is pretty good time (and not as much of a slog as on Tuesday). I spooked a young moose a bit ahead of me on the summit, a first for me on any Cape Breton hike—animals usually hear me coming a mile away. I found some new trail amenities since the last time I hiked the Cape St Lawrence trail: written signs (instead of just flagging tape) now mark both trails at the fork at the Cape St Lawrence trail head and the overlook at the upper end of the Bear Hill escarpment has been cleared, considerably expanding the view of the Cape below. Although it’s all down hill from the summit, the footing on small rocks carried into the trail by overflowing streams makes for tricky footing and the steep section descending the Bear Hill escarpment is downright treacherous, so I set no record, arriving at the stake at the end of the trail at Cape St Lawrence at 11h30. (A young couple passed me at the corral, made it to Cape St Lawrence, and passed me on my way down above the escarpment on their return trip, making me really feel my age!) Since I have few trail shots in my photo collection, I stopped often for photos on the descent. I also met a pair of free range horses coming up the trail as I was going down; the tawny-coloured one was wary, but bold enough to pass by me standing in the woods off the trail, while the black one was downright skittish as it waited nervously and then bolted past me to catch up with the tawny one. The horses also explain the lower end of the trail, a lovely grassy section across a meadow, which looked as if it had been manicured by a mower.
I walked out to the automated light which, Derek told me tonight when I got back, is a replacement for the one destroyed a couple of years ago in a ferocious storm; I knew it looked different, but attributed that to maintenance and a not too accurate memory. The wind was blowing out of the west something fierce—I had trouble keeping my sun hat on my head—so, after getting the photos I wanted at the light, I took shelter behind a ridge above the light, where I had lunch and enjoyed the sun shining on a profusion of iris, blooming tiny white and blue wildflowers, and reddish-hued wild grasses.
When writing the last photo essay, I thought I had discerned a possible route along the northern shore to above the “funnel”, so I went exploring to see if I could follow it. I was unsuccessful in both the attempts I made, ending in impenetrable forest on each try; that doesn’t mean there is no such path, but it will take a younger and more intrepid hiker than I am to find it if it exists.
Out of the wind, it was very pleasant and I watched a number of different lobstermen servicing their pots in the waters off shore; Sailor Cove and south are fished by people from Pleasant Bay, while the shores south to Sailor Cove are the province of those from Meat Cove and Bay St Lawrence.
I had told the villagers to not expect me back until dark, but, given my experience the last time I hiked this trail, I was worried about making it back in time, so said farewell to the Cape at 14h10 and started back up. As I had expected, it proved to be a real slog, requiring constant stops for breath, and I arrived at the summit only at 17h23. On the way up, I met the same pair of horses coming back down the trail and they behaved exactly as they had this morning. At the corral, I saw another black horse, this one alone; aloof, but not scared, it continued grazing in the field while I rested there. I then staggered down the mountain, arriving back at my car in the village at 18h34, not a record of any sort. I have the impression, true or not I can’t say, that if I kept at that mountain day after day after day, I’d eventually not be so short of breath; certainly today’s ascent from Meat Cove was considerably easier on me than Tuesday’s even though longer. I wish I could put the theory to the test…
I drove to the restaurant for a repeat of last night’s lobster dinner, just as good and even tastier after the 10 km (6.2 mi) workout. My legs are complaining; I imagine I’ll hear from them tomorrow too on the drive back to Port Hood.
The sunset tonight was a repeat of last night’s. I am the only guest at the lodge tonight. It was a lovely day and will be full of great memories once the aches and body complaints are past. I’m already counting the days until I return to this beautiful place in late August.
Friday, 21 June — Meat Cove to Port Hood
I got up at 8h and moved my things from the lodge back into the car. I then drove down to the restaurant, where I had breakfast, and gave thanks to my hosts and friends for a wonderful stay and said my good-byes until late August.
The air was clear at Meat Cove, but the Cape North Massif was hazy from the Meat Cove Road. I stopped at Black Point for photos of Meat Cove and Cape St Lawrence, but didn’t take any of the massif or Bay St Lawrence on the way there, as I normally would have done, as they wouldn’t have turned out. I did take photos at the Salmon River bridge on the Meat Cove Road and at the North Aspy River bridge on the Bay St Lawrence Road, where the haze was not a problem.
I stopped at the North Highlands Community Museum in Cape North Village, which I had not previously visited, where I found some very interesting artefacts and fine interpretive panels; I was especially taken by video clips shot in the mid-20th century showing the gypsum mines at Dingwall in their heyday, the Cabot Trail before it was paved, and community life in Neils Harbour—definitely worth a stop if you’re in the area. I also picked up a copy of a book on northern Cape Breton settlement George Fraser had recommended to me.
By 13h, thin white clouds had mostly taken over the skies, though without blocking the sun, but colouring the waters grey-blue, and the haze had gotten even worse, so I took no photos on the rest of the trip south. It was a warm day (mid 20’s (70’s)) that really felt like the first day of summer (which, of course, it was!).
I stopped in Ingonish for lunch at the Main Street, where I had a delicious bacon/lobster/crab/baby shrimp concoction in a spinach-based wrapper with a house salad and unsweetened iced tea.
I took the Englishtown ferry and stopped at the Gaelic College where I got my tickets for the 75th Anniversary events I’m planning on attending. I also reserved a room for 5 July at the St Anns Motel (not surprisingly, none was available for 6 July), where the owner has proudly displayed some fantastic close-up shots of eagles; we had a good chat about matters photographic.
I drove on to Whycocomagh and over the back roads to Port Hood. The further south I got, the blacker the skies got; I made it to Port Hood not long before the storm did. I watched a pretty spectacular display of lightening, accompanied by equally fine sound effects, until it was overhead and the skies opened up; the power was interrupted, but only for a minute or so. The storm put paid to what has otherwise been a perfect week of weather.
After a rest, it was off to Mabou for dinner at the Red Shoe followed by a cèilidh with Anita MacDonald on fiddle and Adam Young on piano, joined for much of the evening by Pius MacIsaac on guitar. Lively tunes and fine playing combined to make a great evening. Tyson Chen spelled Adam for three sets; Anita had no relief, though she sat through a guitar set Pius and Adam played. There was some post-storm fog on the drive back to Port Hood. The day was a fine start to summer!
Saturday, 22 June — Port Hood
I awoke at 9h30 to a bright, sunny day, though one with plenty of high, thin white clouds and a fair amount of haze, residual humidity from yesterday’s storm in the air; it was a lovely day to be outside, but a poor day for landscape photography.
I spent some time with friends who were at a music festival when I first arrived in Cape Breton; it was good to see them both looking so healthy and happy.
I then drove to the Doryman in Chéticamp (wanting to stop for photos of the gorgeous scenery all along the route, but I didn’t knowing I’d not be happy with the results) for the afternoon cèilidh, featuring two lovely ladies I hadn’t seen in too long, Dawn and Margie Beaton. I had dinner at the Doryman before the cèilidh began; a humongous filet of haddock, home fries, green and yellow beans, coleslaw, a dinner roll, and a fine house salad, simple food but all done to perfection. Dawn on fiddle and Margie on keyboards gave us an hour and three-quarters of lively sets of thoroughly enjoyable tunes. They were then joined on stage by Kiffie Carter on guitar, a celebrated and highly respected musician from the St Peter’s area I had heard live only once before; he finished out the afternoon with them. At that point, Margie switched to fiddle and they gave us a few sets of dual fiddles with guitar accompaniment, after which Margie returned to the keyboards. Later, Kiffie on lead guitar played a set accompanied by Margie on keyboards while Dawn took a break. Only one square set was danced, attracting five couples to the dance floor about an hour before the end. Andrea LeBlanc on fiddle accompanied by Margie and Kiffie played a set to give Dawn a second break. About ten minutes before the end, Hilda Chiasson took over the keyboards with Dawn and Margie on dual fiddles and Kiffie on guitar to finish out the afternoon in memorable style. Fewer step dancers took to the floor than is usual for the Doryman, but there were a few, including a young lad of perhaps ten who danced well and for several minutes in a style I could not identify, definitely not Cape Breton but fairly close to the floor. It was a very enjoyable afternoon.
I drove back to Port Hood; no photos again as the weather hadn’t changed all day. A fundraising concert featuring local talent (stellar, of course, when one is in Mabou) was on at the Strathspey Place, but I decided to rest for this evening’s square dance at West Mabou instead: I had done lots of driving in the last couple of days and I wanted to be sharper than I felt! After a good rest, I drove out the Colindale Road, where a pastel sunset and the “supermoon” insisted on having their photos taken.
Donna Marie DeWolfe (who is graduating from high school this week) on fiddle, Joël Chiasson on piano, and Sandy MacDonald on guitar, spelled for part of the evening by Bill MacDonald, gave us one fantastic evening of music at West Mabou. The “furriners” have, with a couple of exceptions, not yet arrived, so the floor was not crowded, though full, and the dancers gave us fine steps through the square sets all evening long. During the step-dance segment, Harvey MacKinnon; Mary Elizabeth MacMaster MacInnis’ daughter and Kay Dugas;² and Sara and Raymond Beaton all gave us some very fine steps. One waltz was also danced. After the last square set ended, Donna Marie kept on playing for another several minutes as everyone just sat and listened to the incredible music spilling forth, not only from her but from Joël and Sandy too. I needn’t have worried about not being alert—the energy level of the music and of the dancers was so infectious, it would have been impossible not to have been fully attentive. By some act of serendipity, the American couple with whom I shared the lodge in Meat Cove Wednesday night were my table mates at the dance; we had a chance to converse some more between sets. A memorable evening for sure!
Sunday, 23 June — Port Hood
I got up at 10h to find another sunny, warm day but, alas, again a hazy one with a mostly white-coloured sky. I lollygagged about the motel room, reading Facebook, e-mail, and the news, until hunger sent me to Sandeannie’s for breakfast. While eating there, I met Steve Rankin in person for the first time (we had previously corresponded by e-mail) and congratulated him on his fine photographic “eye” and the many superb photos he’s posted on Facebook that I’ve admired; I asked about a couple of the locations he’s captured that I didn’t recognise.
After breakfast, I drove down the Shore Road to Maryville Harbour, where I took a few photos of boats, wildflowers, and the near shore; I continued on the Maryville Station and Beaton Roads to the bridge over a brook (unnamed in The Nova Scotia Atlas) that empties into the Captains Brook outflow at Little Judique Harbour. I stopped at the brook for more photos, of the brook itself, an adjacent pretty green field, and some flowers and grasses. On to the Dunmore Road, where I found a number of fields covered in buttercups with a sprinkling of daisies and red blooms of clover, I stopped again to get photos of one of the fields. Too much haze was in the air for any but close-up photos.
I returned to the motel for some diet cola in the refrigerator in the room and read for a bit more. About 14h, I headed off for Judique, again by the back roads: Dunmore Road to Mabou Road to Rear Intervale Road, “trolling” for pictures, but never got a “bite”. The Celtic Music Interpretive Centre hosted a CD release party for Chrissy Crowley’s latest, titled Last Night’s Fun”, with her on fiddle; Jason Roach on piano; and Darren McMullen on guitar, mandolin, banjo, upright bass, and whistle. Kenneth MacKenzie on small pipes, Rachel Davis on viola and fiddle, and Colin Grant on fiddle make guest appearances. I picked up my copy today, so haven’t heard it yet, but judging by the music this afternoon, it’ll be a corker! The first two hours and a quarter had Chrissy and Jason giving us some dandy tune sets, some pure traditional and some with a more modern edge, all superbly played, during which time two square sets were also danced. Then, Colin Grant on fiddle with Harvey Beaton on keyboards gave us a fantastic traditional set followed by a square set; it is rare to hear Colin these days in pure traditional mode, which he can play to perfection, and Harvey’s fine accompaniments were the perfect complement to Colin’s playing—as I told Colin afterwards, they should do a CD together! After the square set ended, Chrissy and Jason returned to the stage and played strathspeys, during which Harvey Beaton, Hailee LeFort, and Burton MacIntyre gave us some steps. Chrissy asked Kenneth MacKenzie and Patrick Gillis, who had just gotten back from their Small Halls concerts in PEI, to play with her and Jason; that turned into another square set. Hailee LeFort then took over on fiddle to give Chrissy a break and played some sets with Jason and Pat; it was the first time I’d heard her play and she made an excellent impression. Jason took a break and Colin joined Chrissy on dual fiddles with Pat still on guitar to give us some really rollicking sets; Jason returned on keyboards and the four continued in that super-charged configuration until the end of the cèilidh. This was a high-powered afternoon of fantastic music that I thoroughly enjoyed and am delighted to have attended; I wish Chrissy the best with her new CD and with her musical career. (I was disappointed to have missed out on Dwayne Côté’s cèilidh at the Red Shoe, but I had accepted Chrissy’s invitation before the Red Shoe’s schedule was published—even before the end of June it’s not uncommon in Cape Breton to have to make hard musical choices!)
The skies had become overcast while we were inside, so I didn’t try for any photos on the way back; no sunset either as sprinkles started falling before the sun set and a light rain began falling soon after it had set. Will soon be off to bed, where the wonderful music of this week-end will surely be coursing through my subconscious!
Monday, 24 June — Port Hood
I got up at 8h to a dark grey morning; after breakfast, went to Mabou on an errand and then to Port Hawkesbury, where I got a Telus micro-SIM for my iPhone5 that gives me a phone number (902-623-1119) in Canada, good to the end of October.
I drove back to Port Hood, where I spent a couple of hours reading: although it had brightened up some, the haze was heavy and the air damp and moist, making the day unsuitable for either photos or hiking, though it was a passable beach day.
Then it was off to Rocky Ridge, where friends had invited me for dinner. The menu was incredible: bacon-wrapped scallops on a bed of fresh lettuce, lobsters, spinach salad, potato salad, home-baked herb bread, strawberry rhubarb crisp, and fine coffee. The vegetables were fresh from their garden and everything was prepared from scratch to perfection. What a treat! As was the chance to visit with them and discuss the many happenings since we parted last fall. It was a fabulous evening in the company of friends!
When I left, the sky was showing some pink clouds above, but I had missed the sunset. Then it was on to Brook Village for the first dance there this season, with Kinnon and Betty Lou Beaton providing great music all night long. Joey Beaton and Mary Graham each spelled Betty Lou one set; Kinnon got no relief. Four waltzes were played and the step dancers were Harvey MacKinnon, David Rankin, Kenzie Greenwell, and Brandi McCarthy. A young man who had been dancing square sets like a Cape Bretoner came up and spoke to me, calling me by name; I didn’t recognize him at the time, but eventually figured out who he was: Jake Brillhart, a talented musician from Vermont who had studied fiddle and dance at workshops organized by Beth Telford and conducted by Jerry Holland and other Cape Breton musicians, and whom I hadn’t seen in several years; when I belatedly realized who he was, I went over and sat at his table and caught up a little with him. Deep in conversation, I missed the first two step dancers, so thanks to David Greenwell for supplying their names. In spite of the less than ideal weather, this was one very fine day!
Tuesday, 25 June — Port Hood to Louisbourg
It was a short night! I got up at 8h30 and left for Louisbourg at 9h30. I drove out the Upper Southwest Mabou Road to the Glencoe Road to the Whycocomagh Road to Whycocomagh; then on to Little Narrows, across the ferry, and on Highway 223 across the Washabuck Peninsula to Iona where I stopped to check some GPS coördinates at Iona Port. Then, it was over the Grand Narrows Bridge and along St Andrews Channel to Leitches Creek. All a very pretty drive and all spoilt by haze (grrrr).
At Leitches Creek, I turned off on Upper Leitches Creek Road, which I came across last winter while looking at the Louisbourg/Mira River areas in Google Earth. It runs to the southwest along the summits of the Boisdale Hills past a huge quarry area (I’m not sure what they mine there, gravel perhaps, but I was sandwiched into a long line of huge ore trucks until I passed the entrance to the quarry, labelled with a sign reading “Leitches Creek Quarry Alva Construction Ltd”.) At that point, the road deteriorates considerably, but remains passable, even for a low-slung vehicle like my Prius, though it requires care. Open views of the Coxheath Hills are available from this part of the road. Some distance later, a side road leads up a hill to what appears to be a radar station, which I first thought might be the weather radar for Marion Bridge until I saw a sign reading “SITE: ISSR-YQY-SI / IN CASE OF EMERGENCY / CONTACT NAVCANADA”, which seems to indicate an air traffic radar installation instead. I didn’t locate what I was actually looking for, a Tower Road leading up to a tower of some sort that The Nova Scotia Atlas shows with a height of 235 m with Georges Lake immediately below. Given the haze today, I’ll have to return anyway for better photos than I got and maybe I’ll find it then.
Upper Leitches Creek Road continues past the radar station to Bourinot Road, which I had driven some years ago, but I turned around at the tower as the road looked even less good than it already was and that wasn’t the way I wanted to go in any case. At the quarry entrance, I turned right onto Gouthro Road, another road I hadn’t been on, which runs sharply down into the valley between the Boisdale and Coxheath Hills and then runs into Frenchvale Road, which I had previously explored. From there, I took the MacMullin Road to the Beechmont Road to Mountain Road to the Coxheath Road to the Blacketts Lake Road to Highway 4, a lovely drive through the mountains of Cape Breton County spoilt by the haze in the air, but pretty all the same. Proceeding towards East Bay, I turned onto Morley Road, freshly graded and in much better shape than my last crossing there, across the hills to the Grand Mira North Road and on into Marion Bridge; again, the fine views from the Morley Road were spoilt by haze. The bridge over Trout Brook is being replaced, so the Trout Brook Road now detours over the Hillside Road to the Louisbourg Highway. I had a fine smoked meat sandwich in Albert Bridge and then took the New Boston Road, which I first explored last fall, that passes over the Catalone River; it was too hazy to make it worth hiking up Devils Hill Road for the views there, as I’d have done were the air clearer. In Louisboug, I got my motel room and, tired from the drive and the short night and frustrated by the haze, I napped until 17h.
Then, I drove out to Kennington Cove, where I took some photos of the beach and Kennington Cove Brook. On the way back, I got some photos of Fresh Water Brook at the Simon Point trailhead. The fortress was in both sun and fog, so I took some photos of it, but don’t have much hope they’ll turn out very well, as they were too far away. Lots of small, not very hungry, black flies infested the Louisbourg area; I had to keep the windows closed to stop them from covering the inside of the windshield.
There was too much fog in the harbour for a trip out to the Lighthouse after dinner. The Louisbourg Playhouse isn’t open yet, so an evening there isn’t in the cards. Rain is forecast for tomorrow, but the forecasts have as often been wrong as right, so I’m hoping… I would like to hike the Lighthouse Trail and the Simon Point Trail once more; then back to Port Hood for the cèilidh at Judique tomorrow night. I hope to recover some of the sleep I didn’t get last night, so I will soon be off to bed.
Wednesday, 26 June — Louisbourg to Port Hood
Fog covered the courtyard at the motel when I awoke at 6h, so I went back to bed. At 7h30, the fog was gone and the skies, while overcast, didn’t appear to be threatening imminent rain. After breakfast, I therefore drove out to Lighthouse Point and hiked the Lighthouse Trail. It wasn’t a great morning for photos, though the sun occasionally pierced through the haze, but I took a lot of photos anyway, many of the wild flowers in bloom all along the trail. Except for a few stragglers still in bloom, the dandelions had all turned to seed though many still had their delicate gossamer seeds intact. The purple iris, one of my favourite flowers, were either out or budded and almost ready to come out. Many wild flowers littered the bog area on Gun Landing Head, where the trail loops around the bog, including some tiny red coloured ones I don’t remember seeing before. Buttercups were everywhere displaying a vivid yellow. Even the ferns had brown spikes. Lobster boats were busy on the adjacent waters; one insisted in getting in nearly every photo I took of the coastal rocks as it followed me up the coast while I hiked back to the lighthouse. This trail, only five to seven years old, with more benches strategically placed for fine viewing than I recall from my last hike there, is one of the finest ways to see the rugged rocky coast of eastern Cape Breton; family friendly and suitable even for young children and tots in strollers, it is a fine tribute to the volunteers who built it and the people and corporations that provided money and supplies. Highly recommended!
Raindrops began falling just before I reached the car, putting an end to the contemplated Simon Point hike. As the skies looked lighter to the north, I turned onto the Main-à-Dieu Road and drove out past Little Lorraine to Main-à-Dieu, but the rain continued there, so I gave up and returned to the Louisbourg Highway at Catalone and turned off in Albert Bridge onto Hillside Road and continued to Marion Bridge. There, I took the Gabarus Highway and drove to Gabarus, where I ate sandwiches (purchased earlier) in the car while watching rain splatter on the windshield. I then returned to the Gabarus Highway and continued on the Fourchu Road, which becomes the St Peters–Fourchu Road near Fourchu and drove south through Gabarus Lake, Fourchu, Framboise, St-Esprit, L’Archevêque, and Grand River to L’Ardoise. The precipitation was by then more drizzle than rain, but still sufficient to preclude stops at any of these beautiful places for photos, as I’d normally have done. On to St Peter’s and Port Hawkesbury and Port Hood, where I arrived around 16h. Oh, well, into every life a little rain must fall (and the land is dry).
After supper, it was off to the Celtic Music Interpretive Centre in Judique for the initial Wednesday cèilidh of the season, with Shelly Campbell, Doug Lamey, Kenneth MacKenzie, Allan Dewar, and Cheryl Smith. With musicians of that calibre, it was, it goes without saying, a magnificent evening of music. Shelly and Doug on dual fiddles with Allan on piano and Cheryl on snare drums opened the cèilidh. Then, Kenneth arrived and made it three fiddles. Next, Doug and Allan gave us some fine sets and a square set, the only one of the evening, was danced by five couples. Shelly on fiddle and Kenneth on small pipes with Allan on piano and Cheryl on snares played next. Kenneth on fiddle and Allan on piano followed; during one of those sets, Shelly gave us some fine steps. Lastly, Shelly and Allan played some sets. For the finale, all five were back on stage. Fine tunes all evening long, superbly played by all. Doug and Kaitlin and James, their 13-month old son, shared my table with Jake Brillhart and his friend. James was an angel, falling asleep in his father’s arms before the end of the concert. A fine evening with music and friends made up for the mostly uncoöperative weather. Rain is forecast again for tomorrow. I really wish the skies and the air would clear up!
Thursday, 27 June — Port Hood
Cloudy skies prevailed when I first looked out at 7h; some sun was breaking through near solid overcast at 8h30, when I crawled out of bed for good, well rested up.
If this had been a decent day, I’d have driven to Isle Madame for a day trip of photography, but it wasn’t, so I chose instead to go hiking on the Railway Trail. Last year, I had hiked from kilometre 0 in the Canso Canal Park in Port Hastings to Christy’s Look-Off in Craigmore, so I decided to resume hiking northward from there. This section has some fine views of St Georges Bay separated by an inland stretch across driveways and through trees. The fog and clouds in St Georges Bay against the western shore concealed the actual mainland and played tricks on the eyes, making it appear as if there were a mountain across the Bay, higher than anything in Nova Scotia. Weird effect! I had planned on continuing to Walkers Cove, but noticed a squall line across the bay and, having once been caught in a fast-moving storm and badly drenched, I decided to head back to the car at kilometre post 21, making for a 7 km (4 1/3 mi) hike total. As it happened, the squall line stayed put and eventually dissipated. The cool day with a nice breeze off the Bay was perfect for hiking; intermittent sun broke through the clouds occasionally to cast shadows and light up parts of the landscape. Plenty of greens in the fields and on the hills and lots of wildflowers in bloom added their beauty to the scene.
I drove back to the motel, got cleaned up, and had supper. Then it was back down the Cèilidh Trail to Creignish for the biweekly jam session, led tonight by Donna-Marie DeWolfe on fiddle and Tyson Chen on piano. I spent an enjoyable evening listening to some fine Cape Breton tunes embellished by different instrumentation, especially George Berry’s flute; there was no accordion tonight, though. Tyson gave us a fine piano solo of rollicking Cape Breton tunes towards the end of the session. I also heard about two (or possibly three) moose seen in the Judique area; they make driving rather tense and night driving especially so!
Friday, 28 June — Port Hood to Margaree Forks
Today is the birthday of Theresa “Glencoe” MacNeil, a sparkling lady of indomitable life and good humour whom I first met thirteen years ago. She brightens the day whenever you meet her and brings joy to the heart and twinkles to the eyes of all those who know her. She was away this morning when I dropped off a card for her, but I’d already seen her at Brook Village and likely will again at Glencoe Mills on Sunday. Even though you’re not on the internet, happy birthday, Theresa!
Today was a dark, rainy, foggy day; even the greens of the trees and mountains were dark, almost black, except those of the new mown fields. After breakfast, I took care of some errands in Port Hood and Inverness. I stopped at the Inverness County Centre for the Arts, where I had hoped to see the quilting show, but I had missed it: the show had been taken down and a new one, due to open tonight at 18h, had been put in its place. I drove on to Margaree Forks, where I spent the afternoon listening to the rain, reading, and napping. For supper, i went to the Belle-View restaurant in Belle-Côte, where, after debating between several seafood dishes on the menu, I had a maple spinach salad, a grilled halibut steak with all the fixin’s, and lemon meringue pie for dessert. It’s not a fancy place, but the food is top notch and cooked to perfection; it’s one of my favourite spots at which to dine in the area.
This was the first dance of the season at Southwest Margaree and it attracted a surprisingly large crowd; it wasn’t packed, as it often is in the summer, but all the tables were filled and lots of enthusiastic dancers, including a goodly number of younger folk, enjoyed the great music of Kinnon and Betty Lou Beaton. Four waltzes were played; Carmen MacArthur was the only step-dancer during the strathspeys set. Joey Beaton spelled Betty Lou for one set. Fantastic musicians and wonderful music helped counteract the darkness of the day. It’s the first summer dance in Cape Breton where I wore a jacket in the hall—the temperature outside was +12 (54) and barely more inside until the heat of the crowd and the dancers warmed it up to something more reasonable after a couple of sets. And here it is two days shy of 1 July! But +12 is way better than the +30’s (90’s) in New Jersey, so I’ll not complain too much!
Saturday, 29 June — Margaree Forks to Port Hood
An interpretive panel along the Louisbourg Lighthouse Trail reads in part:
On a sunny day the scenery here is spectacular, but equally so is the rough, blowing weather, with thick fog, that inspired the Mi’kmaw name for Cape Breton, Unama’ki, “land of fog.”
That name seems unusually appropriate this year: I can recall no other year I’ve been here in late June when so much fog lingered in the air day after nearly sunless day. There wasn’t much of a blow today, which was a much warmer day than yesterday, with temperatures in the low 20’s (mid 70’s), but the heavy overcast (through which the sun tried valiantly but unsuccessfully to pierce a hole as I left the motel), haze, a few low-lying clouds, and rain showers continued unabated. It didn’t deter the salmon fishermen, however, as I noticed both last evening and again this morning more than a half dozen cars parked at the several salmon pools on the Margaree River along the stretch of the Cabot Trail that runs from Margaree Forks to Margaree Harbour.
After breakfast at the Belle-View, where I sat with a local friend who happened to be there, I drove on north to Chéticamp and out to the “weather look-off” (so named after its interpretive panels discussing the effect of the winter climate on the park and the Cabot Trail) above La Bloc, from which one has the canonical north-looking view of the Cabot Trail winding up French Mountain seen in many a tourist brochure and magazine article on Cape Breton. When I arrived, French Mountain was barely visible through a heavy rain shower, but fifteen minutes later, that storm had moved on and the iconic view was once again there to admire, even if under heavy overcast and through some residual haze. The sun occasionally brightened the scene, but never succeeded in piercing through the overcast while I was sitting there soaking in the gorgeous views.
When it was time, I drove back to Chéticamp for the afternoon cèilidh at the Doryman with Chrissy Crowley on fiddle and Joël Chiasson on keyboards. Most of the sets were air/strathspeys/reels with the occasional march substituting for the slow air; a few jig sets and “In Memory of Herbie MacLeod” were interspersed amongst the others. Chrissy’s airs are gorgeous full-bodied songs; her strathspeys are sparkling and full of forward momentum; her reels are blazingly fast. If you can sit without tapping your toes, strumming your fingers, or swaying your head, you’re definitely ready for burial! Joël’s superb accompaniments added the magic needed to make this a fantastic afternoon of traditional music. Two short breaks were taken; no relief players offered to spell either musician. Poor Chrissy has another four hour gig at a wedding tonight; she will surely be one tired lady when that’s done. No square sets were danced. Three ladies and one gentleman each step danced during the afternoon; two of those ladies, sisters I believe, danced together towards the end of the afternoon. At 16h18, the sun made an appearance through the Doryman windows, strong enough to cast shadows on the floor, but it lasted only a few minutes and then it was gone.
I encountered mist and light rain on the drive to Port Hood; some really ugly dark black clouds hung over the Margaree River, but I missed the thunder and lightning I expect someone got. South of Margaree Harbour, the skies lightened up a bit, but the mist and light rain continued to Port Hood.
After a brief respite, it was time for West Mabou. This proved to be the first of the summer dances, with lots of folks from away causing major disruptions (“train wrecks”) in the square sets, especially the third figure. But, hey, everyone who wants to participate in the dance has to learn and how better to learn than by doing? Still, a lot of good local dancers left early. There’s no question that the character of the dances changes significantly with the arrival of the inexperienced CFA’s (“come from aways”). Regardless of what went on on the dance floor, the music for tonight’s dance, provided by Kenneth MacKenzie on fiddle and brother Calum on piano, whom I didn’t get to hear last year (he now resides in the Ottawa area), was top notch and a pleasure to hear. Cullen MacInnis, a lad in his early teens and first cousin to the MacKenzie brothers, made his West Mabou début on fiddle, playing two jig figures on dual fiddles with Kenneth. Kenneth played the reel figure of one square set on highland bagpipes. Kolten MacDonell spelled Kenneth for one square set; there were also two “dry” jig sets, one played by Kolten and one by Kenneth. The step dancers were Melody Cameron; her nephew, Stephen MacLennan; and a young lady whose name I’m not sure of. It was nice to see several people I’d not previously encountered this year and the fine music all day long was a great antidote to a day of unsummery weather!
Sunday, 30 June — Port Hood
Today was another day in the “land of fog” and clouds, bespattered by passing heavy showers and light rain. Occasional brief sunny breaks gave hope of better weather to come, but it didn’t arrive today. I wasn’t very hungry when I awoke at 9h, so I read and surfed the Internet and took care of some on-line chores.
Eventually, I drove to Mabou and went to the Farmers’ Market at the Mabou Arena, where I discovered a much bigger affair than I remember from last year: it has expanded to fill the entire arena and provides a venue to a horde of vendors with an amazing variety of wares and comestibles for sale. After making a circuit to see what was on offer and visiting with friends, I went outside and stood in the Backroads Bistro line to order their crab cakes—they were doing a land office business!—when I discovered I had no wallet, fortunately before I placed my order! No money, no credit cards, no ATM card, and no passport card for reëntry to the US! Total panic! The only possible place it could be was in my motel room, but I couldn’t recall taking it out of my pants pocket. Puzzled as well as panicked, I drove back to Port Hood and, half way there, remembered I had had to provide my driver’s licence number when setting up my Telus on-line account this morning. The “senior moment” was over, the panic ended, and indeed I soon confirmed that’s where the wallet was. But what a scare!!!
I then drove over the back roads to Whycocomagh and on to Baddeck where I assuaged my small hunger with a seafood wrap at a café there and parked at the Yacht Club where I watched the goings on at the wharf and on the water—not a very busy day. Then it was on to St Anns. A lot of events were going on today: Karen and Joey Beaton were at the Red Shoe; Glenn Graham and Joël Chiasson were at the Celtic Music Interpretive Centre; and there was a dinner at the Mabou Parish Hall and a variety concert afterwards. But the opening festivities for the 75th Anniversary week-long celebration of the founding of the Gaelic College at St Anns also occurred today, with a reception, dinner, and entertainment, and that’s where I went.
Shelly Campbell on fiddle, Allan Dewar on keyboards, and Sandy MacDonald on guitar started off the evening’s entertainment with great sets of tunes, played with grace and verve. Mike Macmillan then piped the Cape Breton Fiddlers’ Association onto the stage where they gave us more sets of tunes played by 25 fiddlers en masse (I didn’t count them but that was the number I was told were on stage), accompanied by Janet Cameron on keyboards. The sound of massed fiddles is always a stirring treat and the tunes tonight were no exception. Next, Goiridh Dòmhnallach (Jeff MacDonald) sang “O Canada” in Gaelic. Rodney MacDonald, CEO of the Gaelic College, then formally opened the proceedings with some remarks in Gaelic followed by longer remarks in English. Alec Morrison, chairman of the board of governors, finished the speeches with additional remarks.
Dinner was then served, during which Shelly, Allan, and Sandy returned to give us more great tunes. The dinner began with a soup that surprised everyone at our table because it was cold: a mixture of fruits, likely melons and cantaloupes and perhaps kiwis, garnished with herbs and mints; once the initial surprise was over, it was judged delicious. The entrée consisted of a lobster tail, a generous slice of prime rib in brown gravy, small whole potatoes, and a vegetable medley, all perfectly cooked. Strawberry shortcake and tea concluded the delicious meal.
Following an introduction by Colin MacDonald, the musicians on stage then played for a Scotch Four, danced by Anna MacDonald, Melanie MacDonald, Rodney MacDonald, and Harvey Beaton. Next, David Rankin introduced Goiridh Dòmhnallach and his son, Patrick, who sang the verses to a Gaelic song while both sang the choruses; Goiridh then sang alone two somgs, one in Gaelic and one in English, accompanied by Allan and Sandy. Then, Shelly, Allan, and Sandy gave us some final sets of tunes.
Rodney then introduced the main speaker of the evening, Dr Jim St Clair, who likely has a deeper and broader knowledge of the history and cultures of Cape Breton Island than any other person living today. His talks are always fascinating, full of classical quotations and allusions, erudite yet clear and often humorous, full of information one is unlikely to find so accessible anywhere else, humane, and very well organized. Tonight’s talk, devoted to the history of the Gaelic College, the people who founded it, and their visions and motivations, was no exception. And it was also informed by Jim’s own experience many years ago now as a personal assistant to the founder, A.W. R. MacKenzie. It was a great talk and one that laid out a vision for what the Gaelic College should become twenty-five years from now. A standing ovation greeted its conclusion.
The final entertainment of the evening was the group Nuallan, consisting of Rankin MacInnis, Kenneth MacKenzie, Mike Macmillan, and Paul K. MacNeil on highland bagpipes; Tracey Dares-MacNeil on keyboards; and Colin MacDonald on guitar. They played three sets, during the last of which Anna MacDonald, Margie Beaton, David Rankin, Brandi McCarthy, and Harvey Beaton step danced. It was a fantastic and worthy opening for the 75th anniversary celebrations.
After it was over, I drove to Glencoe Mills for the Sunday-of-a-long-weekend dance, with music by Kinnon and Betty Lou Beaton, of whose marvellous dance music I can never get enough. Ten people danced the initial set and more danced each of the subsequent sets, as more people continued to arrive, especially after the end of the parish concert. There were few CFA’s here tonight and those who did attend knew the figures from long experience. Lots of enthusiastic youth and seasoned local dancers filled the floor. Then, suddenly, about midnight, most folks left, for what reason I have no idea, and Kinnon played a “dry” jig set and an equally “dry” strathspey set. The few that remained said thanks and left. However, when Allison, who was outside by the door saw me leaving, she shouted to some of her other friends outside “Four couples on the floor!” And, by gum, that’s what she got! So, the dance didn’t end early after all and those eight had a very spirited final square set. What a long day this has been, but I wouldn’t part with any bit of it! Only in Cape Breton!
Monday, 1 July — Port Hood
Je souhaite à tous mes amis canadiens une joyeuse fête du Canada! I wish all my Canadian friends a happy Canada Day. Long live this beautiful country (of which I’ve seen many parts with many more yet to explore)! May its fine people thrive and prosper!
I awoke at 9h to partly cloudy skies with sun shining on the car, but my body said “no way”, so it was back to bed; I can no longer make do on six hours of sleep. When I finally rolled out of bed at 12h, the sun was gone, but the air was considerably clearer than it has been. After a lunch of a salad and a chicken sandwich, I headed out the Hawthorne and St Ninian Roads to the Rear Intervale Road and on to Long Johns Bridge at Upper Southwest Mabou, where I stopped for photos of the river, now somewhat swollen with the recent rains. I couldn’t identify the location of a photo I took along the Glencoe Road last year, so I took down the GPS coördinates of each point where the utility wires cross the road, which, together with the curves in the road at those points, will pinpoint the scene shown in the photo. I stopped again for photos in Glencoe Mills at the bridge over the Mull River on the Glencoe Road and at the Gillis Bridge on the Whycocomagh–Port Hood Road; in both cases, the Mull was flowing smartly and with somewhat more volume than usual. At the top of the Mabou Ridge, I verified that the Google Maps spelling of MacLeod Road with a final ’s’ disagrees with the road sign there—for once my frequently unreliable memory was right (and I now have a photo of the road sign to prove it)! By now, the skies were considerably more discouraging than when I had set out, but I continued on down the Southwest Ridge Road, sad that the views of the hills round about Mabou I had hoped to savour were now darkened by clouds or obscured by rain. I drove out Mabou Harbour Road and out to Mabou Coal Mines, where I got some photos of the boats in Finlay Point Harbour and views of MacDonalds Glen and Fair Alistair just before it began to rain there. The neatly stacked piles of lobster traps on the quais reminded me that the end of the lobster fishing season in western Inverness County had arrived. I drove back to Mabou and out the West Mabou Road onto the Colindale Road to Port Hood, but the rain made it pointless to stop for photos. Thus went my Canada Day drive through the parts of this beautiful island that are so close to my heart.
While reading Facebook after I returned to my motel room, I learned that the Bear Trap Trail in the Cape Mabou Trail Club system is open again; it’s my favourite trail in the Cape Mabou Highlands, as it gently climbs up through a hardwood forest from MacKinnons Brook Lane to the MacEachen Trail following alongside a babbling brook, whose songs are glorious; I can’t wait to get over there on a decent day!
Discouraged by the weather, I took a nap. The rain had stopped when I awoke after 18h, only to be replaced by fog, as I discovered on my way to Mabou for dinner: it had rolled down the sides of the Cape Mabou Highlands on the north side of the Mabou River, creating quite a scene in West Mabou that I stopped to photograph, as I don’t ever remember seeing fog so low on the highlands there in the summer. Even Mabou Mountain was half enshrouded in heavy white fog! Amazing!
I met Rob Wilson in the parking lot of the Mull in Mabou and had a good catch-up chat with him (for those who don’t know Rob, he’s the original founder of the Red Shoe Pub in Mabou, later taken over and now run by the Rankin sisters). I had a dandy celebratory Canada Day dinner at the Mull, in my opinion one of the finest restaurants on Cape Breton Island: steamed mussels with butter laced generously with minced garlic, charbroiled halibut steak moist inside and out, perfect French fries, al dente broccoli and carrots, apple crisp (plain, at my request), and tea, a repast worthy of the holiday.
Then it was on to Brook Village for the dance there with Shelly Campbell on fiddle and Allan Dewar on keyboards. They started with two “dry” jig sets; the third try was long, but eventually four couples took the floor and the first square set was finally underway. Tonight saw lots of folks from the “Boston States” in the audience and, at least at the start, they were way more interested in socializing than dancing. But the second square set had three large groups of dancers and even more took the floor as the evening progressed. There were plenty of minor contretemps on the dance floor, but no major “train wrecks” in the third figure. Two waltzes were played. Rannie MacLellan, with whom I had a good visit when he arrived with Suzanne MacDonald, played a fine relief set for Shelly; Allan got no relief. The step dance sequence was delayed to the end of the dance; Joe Rankin, Allison Beaton, Courtney Thomas (from BC), and Harvey ManKinnon were the step dancers. Had a great chat with Jimmy MacInnis, who was there with Marg celebrating the end of lobster fishing and the engagement of their son, Peter. Said good-bye to my Vermont friends Jake and Aneleisa, who are returning home in the morning. Also saw a very happy Candy Cooke who, after numerous changes in her travel plans, has finally made it back onto the Island and out to the music. With Shelly and Allan, that music was fabulous, appreciated by the dancers once things got going, and by the many people, like me, who were there primarily to listen to it. Rain greeted us as we left the dance hall. Fantastic day all the same; too good for the weather to spoil. But I’m more than due for some clear, sunny, blue-sky days!
Tuesday, 2 July — Port Hood to Inverness
The sun was shining when I peeked out sleepily at 9h; I’d have liked more sleep, but I had to make use of the sun while it was out. And, not only was it out, the air was mostly without haze and blue sky was visible, though thin white stratus clouds covered much of the heavens. This was a state of affairs I hadn’t seen in more than a week!
After breakfast, I drove to Judique and turned up the River Denys Road, which I drove to the Trans-Canada Highway in Melford, stopping for photos along the road, at the St Margaret of Scotland Church dating from 1841, and at the Myles Doyle Falls. I was bemused to find signs along the River Denys Road with wedding bells and arrows pointing the way forward; I was especially amused by the one that read “You’re just about there” at the point where River Denys Mountain Road ends on River Denys Road a short distance from the church; in the entry to the church I found leaflets indicating a wedding had been celebrated there earlier this year, explaining the signs along the road. River Denys Road was in excellent condition on the Judique end, but required very slow going and careful driving to avoid stones and potholes beyond the MacIntyre Mountain Road. A large camping trailer was parked off the road past there, where a dog guarding the trailer while its owners were away ran alongside my car for some distance—first time I’d seen anything like that up on the plateau. The road down to Melford was in better shape than the last time I drove down that way (the River Denys Mountain Road was a much better choice down off the plateau last year), though still generally in pretty poor shape with some nasty ruts, but the washout beside a sluice that so scared me last time had been repaired. But it was a lovely trip and one I usually make at least once a year.
In Melford, I turned onto the Trans-Canada Highway and headed for Kingsville, where I turned first onto Riverside Road and then onto Maple Brook Road, where I stopped for photos at several spots along the way. My goal was Maple Brook Falls, the trail head to which I located last fall. The sign that was there then was gone today, but I recognized the site from last year anyway. The falls were audible to my ears today (they weren’t last fall) and I followed the short, steep, wet, and mucky (from all the rains) trail in a running brook bed down to the falls. There are actually two falls there: the upper ones are about a metre/yard high and fall regularly (as if over the edge of a dam) across the full width of the wide brook; the lower falls are considerably higher, at a guess five metres/yards, and the force of the water flowing over them is greatly increased by apparently unerodable great slabs of stone which narrow the brook to half its width at the upper falls. The trail ends at those great slabs of stone, so the views one has of the lower falls are very close and from slightly above, but lateral, not frontal. Further downstream, I noticed a grassy area beside the brook (it is from there that the photo in Wally Ellison’s book is taken), but saw no way of reaching that area that I was comfortable taking, so I don’t have any frontal views of the lower falls. It is a pretty spot (and noisy too from the volume of the water flowing over the lower falls) and I’d have stayed longer, but the skies were becoming darker and threatening rain, so I climbed back up the trail to the car, a much easier hike than on the way down.
I then drove out the MacCuish Road towards Big Brook, but was forced to turn around by a wash-out at a sluice my low-slung car could not negotiate; there were some nice views from the MacCuish Road, but it was in poor shape and looked like it had seen no recent maintenance in some years. As I was returning past the pasture where a number of cattle were grazing on Maple Brook Road, I noticed two young cows who had crossed the fence and were in the ditch beside the road; I reported them to a man in a truck at the bottom of the ridge, who said he’d notify the owner. Raindrops were falling as I left Glendale, but I lost them soon after.
The room I expected to get in Whycocomagh was unavailable because the hot water system was awaiting a replacement part, so I drove to Inverness and got a room at the Gables. After a good dinner at the Coal Miners’ Café, I drove back to Mabou for the year’s initial cèilidh hosted by Karen and Joey Beaton, tonight with guest fiddler Colin Grant. It was at one of these cèilidhs, in Judique in 2001, that I first heard Cape Breton style fiddle music with Buddy MacMaster as the guest fiddler that night, sparking my interest in this music that has brought me back to Cape Breton every year since. These cèilidhs offer an hour and a half of fine music with the hosts and the guest fiddler; they have a devoted following and attract goodly crowds during the summer months they are offered. Lots of Donald Angus Beaton tunes were chosen by both fiddlers for their sets tonight along with a Jerry Holland tune and tunes played by the Chisholms and Winston “Scotty” Fitzgerald. Joey gave us a piano solo. Harvey MacKinnon step danced to Karen’s fiddle and John Robert Gillis step danced to Colin Grant’s fiddle. A fine musical evening!
No square dance in Scotsville tonight as they have been moved to Wednesdays, at least for July, so a friend and I walked across to the Red Shoe for some beverages, tea in my case, and conversation, after which I drove back to Inverness. Hope the sun continues to shine tomorrow!
Wednesday, 3 July — Inverness to Whycocomagh
I got up before 9h to overcast skies, not the thin white clouds of yesterday, but dense grey-tinged clouds portending rain and with haze in the air. “Cloudy bright” though, as the sun was trying. It was warm and pleasant with a decent breeze blowing off the Gulf.
I had hoped to hike in Cape Mabou today, but decided to postpone it as the views would have been badly compromised. After breakfast, I lingered around Inverness, hoping for the skies to clear. I drove to the beach, where I discovered a new boardwalk parallel to the road leading to the beach boardwalk and a new asphalt paved parking lot at its end with bright white painted stripes marking the individual parking spaces. The sun continued trying, but without success, whereupon I decided to walk the beach boardwalk to give the sun a chance to work. That boardwalk, under constant assault from wind and sand, is one of the glories of Inverness village and a tribute to those who work to restore and repair it after each winter’s ravages. It is a popular spot and even on a cloudy day like today, was frequented by many, both beach goers and walkers, like myself, enjoying the views of the nearby highlands and mountains (and, for me especially, Cape Mabou), which entirely surround the picturesque village on the Gulf. With the recent Cabot Links golf course now adjacent, the views from the boardwalk are even more appealing than in the past. Wild flowers in bloom flourished in the marram grass covering the dunes: wild roses, pink and white striped morning glories, buttercups, yellow Indian paint brushes, a yellow flower with four widely separated petals, tiny white starflowers, and many others I have no names for; beautiful purple iris were in the damp spots draining the golf course and the dunes. But it was the greens of the grasses and the darker greens of the Cape Mabou Highlands at the horizon, brightened by the sand of the beach and the wood in the boardwalk that most drew my eye as I sat at the belvédère at the end of the boardwalk. I walked back to the other end of the boardwalk and climbed up to the monument marking an early burial site and then back to the car. A lovely huge wild rose bush was full of fragrant magenta blooms whose scent reminded me of a stretch of the Broad Cove Marsh Road where rose bushes on both sides of the narrow road fill the air with their lovely fragrance in late July.
The sun had managed to brighten things up somewhat, but was still not casting any shadows and the haze was no better, so I gave up any thoughts of hiking the Railway Trail and drove to Whycocomagh, where I’m staying tonight, got my motel room, cleaned up, and read and surfed the Internet. While I was inside, the sun finally broke through, the heavy clouds were replaced with yesterday’s stratus clouds, and significant portions of the skies were blue; haze, however, remained in the air.
Then, it was over the back country to Judique for the Wednesday night cèilidh, this week featuring Doug Lamey on fiddle and Kolten MacDonell on piano. This is the first time I’ve heard these two as a duo and it worked very well as they gave us many sets of tunes well-played. Doug’s time in Cape Breton has strengthened his playing and he seems both more confident and more at ease. Some very nice slow airs were in the mix, which also included some tunes that were new to me. All in all, a very fine cèilidh! Only two square sets were danced and only one step dancer (I believe a MacDonald but I don’t know her first name for sure) took the floor.
From Judique, it’s an hour’s drive to Scotsville, so I quickly said my thanks and left without lingering. I made it in the door in Scotsville just as Kinnon and Betty Lou Beaton were finishing their sound check for the dance. It got off to a slow start: three jig sets in a row went with no takers, though there were enough folks in the hall to form a square set. Kinnon switched to a waltz, a lovely one I don’t remember hearing before, and one couple took the floor for it. The next jig set turned into a square set with four couples. Six more square sets were danced, all with from five to eight couples; Rannie MacLellan, who relieved Kinnon (Betty Lou got no relief), played a waltz and a square set, and Kinnon played two more waltzes. Even though not that many couples took to the floor to dance at one time, it was a goodly crowd filling most of the tables. Many folks left around 0h30, including a number of dancers, but after a “dry” jig set, enough dancers remained to fill the final square set. There was no strathspey sequence so no step dancers took the floor. Wonderful dance music all night long; what more could one ask for?
Thursday, 4 July — Whycocomagh to Port Hood
Let me begin by wishing all my American friends and family a happy and safe Independence Day!
When I awoke about 8h30, a peek outside the window revealed bright sunshine—and, alas, hazy mountains. Mixed stratus and cumulous clouds covered a good portion of the sky, but left plenty of room for the sun. It clearly wasn’t a day for a Cape Mabou hike, so, after breakfast, I did the next best thing: I drove to West Mabou Beach Provincial Park and hiked the Mabou River trails, from which one has great views of the southern end of Cape Mabou. Coming from Mabou, these trails are accessed by a short road on the right at the point where the West Mabou Road changes from pavement to gravel; beside the access road a little ways in, you will find a parking area and the trail head. (One used to be able to pick up the Old Ferry Road Trail from the beach road, but this is no longer possible and the river trails are now entirely separate from the beach trails.) See this web page for a (now somewhat out-of-date) map of the trail system. Judging by the trail register and by the trails themselves, the river trails are, sadly, now rarely used.
From the parking area, I hiked down towards Whale Cove and turned left onto the Lighthouse Trail, which connects to what is left of the Old Ferry Road, intending to make a loop around Cranberry Pond before heading to the shore at the end of the Old Ferry Road. The trail was followable without too much trouble; strategically placed flagging tape was a great help at points where the ferns obscured the trail. I don’t know what happened to the loop trail the trail maps show and that I hiked in past years, but the Old Ferry Road Trail dead-ended at the outflow of the pond through a marshy area that, even in woods boots, I thought the better of crossing; if memory serves, a somewhat rickety footbridge used to be found here. So, I turned around and continued to the shore at the picnic table across from the Mabou Harbour lighthouse. Again flagging tape was very helpful; in years past, there was enough traffic on these trails that flagging tape was rarely needed and then only in ferny areas, but now there seems to be next to no one walking these lovely trails, so it is much more important. What a shame, as this is a wild backwoods hike with easy and ready access and fantastic views as the reward. There was not as much variety of wildflowers as I had expected; buttercups were everywhere and some other varieties made sporadic appearances, but no profusion. From the picnic table at the end of the Old Ferry Road, lovely Cape Mabou was dressed in a negligée of haze, hiding the details of her profile, but allowing the greens of her fields and forests to show through. Mabou Harbour was reasonably clear across the Mabou River and I watched blue herons at the edge of the island in the tidal flats at the west end of Whale Cove. A lovely cool, if humid, breeze was blowing in off the river, abating the heat of the sun in the shade of the trees beside the shore. Fantastic!
I could easily have remained there all afternoon, but after an hour and a half, I walked along the Arcasaid Trail (so reads the sign, but I think it’s supposed to be the Acarsaid Trail, as acarsaid is the Scottish Gaelic word for harbour), which wends its way through the trees bordering the Whale Cove coastline, except for a couple of inland excursions around marshy spots at the head of Whale Cove, out to Sams Point and beyond to Sams Cove, where it now ends (in previous years, it continued on across the marshy head of Sams Cove and out to MacLean Point and on to end near New Ferry Road, but I understand that this last section has now been abandoned). This trail is much more travelled, rendering the orange flagging less necessary, though still welcome as confirmation. It also, likely because it is more exposed to the sun, exhibits many more varieties of wildflowers, including wild roses and purple iris in bloom. I heard an eagle at several points along the shore, but was unable to spot it; another small bird chirped and squeaked agitatedly at me as I passed, doubtless concerned about a nearby nest. I had planned on eating lunch at Sams Point, where another picnic table is found, but the trees that once shaded it have since died or been blown down; because the sun was beating down fiercely, after walking out to the exposed end of the point (under water at high tide) for photos—what a 360° panorama one sees from there!—I moved a ways down the trail where it reënters the forest and ate in the shade there instead.
The breeze had picked up—the morning’s clouds had been spread wispy thin across the sky by the upper winds—and the heat of the sun had dissipated some of the earlier haze, but enough remained to render the photos less than crisp. It was truly a summer day, for a welcome change! I hiked on to the end of the Acarsaid Trail and took the Old Boatyard Trail, visible still as a cart track, but heavily grown over with grass, back to the Spa Road and out to the car. The whole hike isn’t very long, perhaps 2.5 km (1.5 mi) and, except for the initial part, either dead level or with a small amount of up and down, but it sure was a beautiful one, even with the haze!
As I was about to leave, a gentleman and his dog were coming down the access road; he recognised me, though I don’t recall having met him, and he indicated coyotes were again in the area and were being targeted for removal elsewhere. I remember reading in the Inverness Oran last year of a vicious attack two other coyotes, apparently protecting a litter of kits, had made on his dog, who survived, but was badly hurt; apparently there was another recent altercation with two other coyotes in the past week or so. Coyotes are everywhere (over three thousand are reported living in the confines of New York City, for example); just be prepared and attentive and enjoy the hike and the scenery and you’ll likely not see any. I neither saw nor heard any coyotes on my hike today and in 13 years of hiking in Cape Breton, I’ve only seen one mother and five kits on a trail and they gave me a wide berth; nevertheless, given the reported attacks in Cape Breton, some on humans, it certainly pays to be wary: for information on dealing with coyotes in Cape Breton, see this web page and its links.
I then drove to Port Hood, got cleaned up, had dinner, and relaxed a while, enjoying the lovely evening. Then it was on to Glencoe Mills, with Andrea Beaton on fiddle and Jackie Dunn-MacIsaac on keyboards. The crowd was relatively small, but dancing started on the first jig set and there were from four to ten couples on the floor for the square sets. Kinnon Beaton played with Jackie for one square set and Andrea played with Betty Lou Beaton for another. But when midnight struck most of the folks in the hall took their leave. Andrea played a waltz, a “dry” jig set, and a “dry” strathspey/reels set, and called it a night at 0h15. What is going on? It is so sad to see Glencoe a shadow of its former self; as someone else remarked, ten years ago it was hard to find a parking space near the hall a half hour before the dance started! This is where I saw my first Cape Breton dance and, when I’m on the Island, I have never missed attending a dance there since. Moreover, the hall has a storied past.³ I sure hope the situation improves later this summer; if not, the dances risk being discontinued there. Whatever the cause for tonight’s dance’s disintegration, it sure wasn’t the music, which, as one would expect of these two, was fiery and joyous and technically top notch, a total joy to listen to.
Friday, 5 July — Port Hood to St Anns
Another warm and very hazy day greeted me when I awoke at 9h. Thin overcast, through which the sun was breaking with some frequency, covered the skies. I had breakfast at the Backroads Bistro in the Mabou Marina. With no energy for a hike in the humidity, I drove out to Mabou Coal Mines, where the haze was so thick that the Colindale shore was but a blurry grey blob in the distance; not much visibility offshore in the Gulf either. I drove back to Mabou Harbour and out to Green Point, where the Colindale views were better, but still very blurry through the haze, though with just enough clarity to make out the MacPhee’s red barn, a landmark on this coast. I drove down to the wharves and light house, but took no photos.
By now the sun had disappeared and grey clouds were overhead; it was brighter and better looking inland, so I decided to head for St Anns for the dance tonight. I drove beyond to Boularderie Island, where I reserved a motel room for tomorrow night, and then continued south on Kempt Head Road to Ross Ferry Marine Park, a lovely spot on the Great Bras d’Or Channel with superb views of the waters below the massif which runs from Baddeck north to Cape Dauphin. Unfortunately, only glancing views of the gorgeous terrain are visible from the road, but, at the park, they open up into a wide panorama, mostly garbed in gauzy haze today, alas, but fantastic on a bright, sunny day. Ross Ferry sits across the water from Big Harbour and was the location of one of the two ferries connecting Cape Breton Island to Boularderie Island used before the Seal Island Bridge was built. The clouds were white here with good patches of blue sky showing and the sun was fierce; fortunately, I found one of the roofed picnic tables at which to sit in the shade and enjoy the views, the cries and yells of teens and young adults diving off the end of the wharves (one gifted athlete took a run and executed a double summersault on the way down—impressive!) and swimming and splashing in the water, and the fine stiff breeze that made the heat tolerable. For it was an unusual day in Cape Breton, with temperatures reaching into the 30’s (high 80’s/low 90’s) and uncomfortable humidity, but very enjoyable nonetheless in the shade at the park. The haze had diminished some by 16h and I took a few photos.
I then headed back to St Anns where I’m staying tonight, had a cooling bath, and took a nap. The excellent Lobster Galley is next door to the motel, so I went there for a lobster “feast” (including mussels and a berry crisp for dessert). As I was making my way to my table, I was surprised to be greeted by Marlene Gallant and June Marie Harper, both of Prince Edward Island and here for the dance tonight. We chatted briefly and more at length at the dance at the Gaelic College, to which I drove up after dinner. The heat of the day was significantly diminished, the humidity was not so oppressive, a good breeze was blowing, ugly clouds were over the Cape Breton Highlands, and the insects were hungry as we waited outside the Great Hall of the Clans for the doors to open. I eventually went back to the car and dosed myself liberally with Off and when I returned, the doors were open.
This was billed as Danns Mòr (“The Big Dance”), a part of the Gaelic College’s 75th Anniversary celebrations begun on Sunday, and what a night it was! The first square set had Andrea Beaton on fiddle, Jackie Dunn-MacIsaac on keyboards, and Colin MacDonald on guitar. The second square set had Howie MacDonald on fiddle with Jackie and Colin accompanying. I noticed some confusion on the floor and then realized it was caused by some dancers dancing different figures than the Inverness set that the others were dancing; this continued for the rest of the evening—I thought they were Sydney sets, but Rodney told me at the end of the dance that they were Cape North sets. The third square set had Glenn Graham on fiddle with Jackie and Colin again accompanying. Kinnon Beaton on fiddle, accompanied by Jackie and Colin, played a waltz and the fourth square set. After a short break, at 0h, Kinnon, Andrea, Glenn, and Jackie on fiddles, Howie on keyboards, and Pat Gillis on guitar, played the fifth square set. What an amazing sound it was with all these powerhouse musicians just a-drivin’ ’er! I’ve heard a sound similar to this at the Buddy MacMaster School of Fiddling Master Concerts over the years, but never at a dance before. Absolutely electrifying! With Howie and Jackie switching instruments and with Colin replacing Pat on guitar, they next played a waltz. They then gave us a final square set where none of the folks on the floor were dancing the Inverness set. After the dancers had finished the set, the musicians kept on playing more tunes with that incredible sound and soon step dancers took to the floor: a gentleman I have often seen step dancing at the Doryman who, I was told, is from New Waterford was first; then David Rankin gave a fine set of steps; next, a lady I don’t know whom the first gentleman enticed onto the floor; then Allison Beaton with another nice set; and, finally Rodney MacDonald with a long and intricate dance. The music ended well after 1h. The square set dancers needed no encouragement to get out on the floor and large numbers danced the evening away. Lots of happy folks were broadly smiling on the way out the door. Danns Mòr indeed! A simply amazing evening and experience!
Saturday, 6 July — St Anns to Boularderie East
I awoke around 9h to sunny skies and clear air across St Anns Harbour, though it was hazy up Murray Mountain way and further north to Cape Smokey and it was obviously on track to reach up into the 30’s (high 80’s and low 90’s) again. After taking some photos, I drove to Boularderie Island, where I got my motel room key for the night. I stopped at the Cedar House for a breakfast of beans and fishcakes; I waited fifty-seven minutes for the food to arrive—the popular restaurant wasn’t even very full at the time—which, however, was delicious once served.
This made me later than I had planned on getting back to the Gaelic College festivities, but it didn’t matter that much as they started late. On a small outside stage at the north end of the Great Hall of the Clans, highland dance performances by various of Kelly MacArthur’s students were intermixed with several pipe bands; Angus and Kenneth MacKenzie, accompanied by Pat Gillis on guitar, performed at the end of the session; Kenneth played both fiddle and highland bagpipes.
After they had finished, Pat invited me to a shaded porch for a beer (which I rarely drink, but it was one of those days where it quenched my thirst and was therefore welcome) and conversation with Mike Shepherd of Lakewind Studios, whom I’d not previously met, which I found fascinating as they reminisced about the days when they were 19, when they worked on Mairi Rankin’s First Hand CD, and about the way things have since evolved in the Cape Breton music scene. We were later joined by Colin MacDonald of “All Fired Up”, who said he and his twin brothers are still playing together, and by Brittany Rankin, whom I’d not previously met. Sound checks on the stage of the amphitheatre were ongoing as we chatted and clearly audible on the porch.
As it got time for the Grand Finale Concert to begin, I took my field chair and headed for the entrance; once inside, I saw Sara and Raymond Beaton with Candy Cooke and sat and chatted with them until the concert started, when I moved forward to get better photos. The first segment was by Mary Jane Lamond, Wendy MacIsaac, Cathy Ann Porter, and Seth Peters, who performed cuts from their acclaimed CD Seinn. A fine and enjoyable performance by master musicians, as always.
The second segment was by Ashley MacIsaac, with Chris Babineau on guitar and Jay, another musician on percussion/mixing whose last name I didn’t get. Ashley is certainly one of Cape Breton’s top traditional fiddlers, a technical virtuoso, but also a gifted interpreter of the music. And he proved it in spades this afternoon. Alas, from my perspective anyway, he is also a fan of roots-based techno “music” (this stuff is so far outside my musical tastes I’m not even sure that’s the right description) and included a lot of it in his segment, incorporating pre-recorded tracks from an Apple MacBook into the program over which he, Chris, and Jay added other sounds, producing a whole that appealed to some in the audience and that I perceived as unwelcome noise. This was not a surprise to me—I came prepared to grit my teeth through whatever he played of this stuff (listen to his Helter’s Celtic CD if you need to know what I’m talking about)—but it’s also why I’m no great fan of Ashley concerts, unless I know in advance that he’s going to stick to traditional music. His first set was gorgeous, a slow air followed by strathspeys. An Irish jig set and a march Ashley composed followed. Then a techno set. A fine pianist as well as a fiddler, he then gave us My Mother and a Cape Breton lullaby on piano before switching back to fast tunes on fiddle. Another techno set followed and somewhere in there (my notes got junbled), he did Sleepy Maggie with Mary Jane Lamond: this was the piece that rocketed to the top of the pop charts in Canada when it was released in the ’90’s). Rodney MacDonald joined Ashley for a dual fiddle pure traditional music set, accompanied by Hilda Chiasson on keyboards and Chris on guitar; an incredible set starting with Trip to Mabou Ridge (one of my all-time favourite tunes), well worth sitting through the other stuff, during which both Ashley and Rodney step danced. After Rodney left the stage, Ashley played one last traditional set, beginning with Home I’ll Be in tribute to the late Rita MacNeil, who was a real help in launching Ashley’s fiddling career; a second air followed and then Tullochgorum⁴ and several reels. Another fantastic set! For an encore, he gave us a techno music version of Devil in the Kitchen, which I’d have happily done without. Oh, well, that’s Ashley for you!
The third and final segment was by Jimmy Rankin and his band, the pride of Mabou and of a lot of Cape Breton. He’s a rocker (I’ve hated rock ’n’ roll—and all its progeny—ever since it first burst onto the music scene), a singer (I’m not much for songs sung in English either), a guitarist, and a super star, a member of the acclaimed Rankin family, but only one of his pieces has ever connected with me, The Mull River Shuffle, so I left the concert and removed myself as far as I could from it without leaving the grounds, eventually taking refuge in my car which insulated me pretty well from the ubiquitous sound on the campus. I had supper from the canteen before Jimmy’s segment started and then started working on this post, which kept me busy until the concert was over.
It was soon time for the closing pub night; standing in line was miserable, as the breeze had pretty much died and the mosquitoes were terrible: in spite of vocal complaints, the security folk wouldn’t let us wait inside. The doors finally opened about 9h45 and that misery mercifully ended. Buddy MacDonald, a folk singer self-accompanied on guitar, gave us a half dozen Cape Breton classics. After a pause, Beòlach took the stage. It is a group formed of five super-talented musicians: Wendy MacIsaac and Mairi Rankin on fiddles, Mac Morin on keyboards, Pat Gillis on guitar, and Ryan J MacNeil on pipes and whistles. Beòlach’s members have pretty much gone their separate ways, but they occasionally get together for reunions, such as tonight’s, the first in nearly three years; if you don’t have their CDs, Beòlach and Variations, get them as they’re essential to any collection of traditional Cape Breton music. It didn’t take them long to get back in their groove; their sound is unique and their set selections (a number of them incorporating Ryan J’s compositions) and arrangements sound as fresh and vibrant as they did when they were first conceived. It appears that mosquitoes made it inside to the stage area as well, as the musicians were swatting them as well as playing. Two square sets were danced, both abbreviated by skipping the second figure. After a break, Buddy took the stage again and gave us more songs while Beòlach had a chance to catch their collective breath. Beòlach returned for more fine sets, on one of which Mac played accordion, and then Wendy invited Buddy to the stage, where he sang additional songs, this time backed by Beòlach—incredible sound! It ended after 2h, way past my bedtime, and I drove back to the motel on Boularderie Island. What a privilege it was to hear Beòlach live once again! I hope it’s not so long a stretch until they next get together again.
Sunday, 7 July — Boularderie East to Port Hood
I awoke at 9h, after way too little sleep, but had to be out of my motel room by 10h, so I couldn’t just roll over and go back to sleep. Another sunny, hot (by Cape Breton standards), and hazy day greeted me at the car.
Last night at the motel, I discovered that my camera’s GPS attachment had somehow become separated from the neck strap holder that keeps it in place; I remembered unhooking it from the camera’s GPS port to save draining the camera’s battery, but in the past it has always remained attached to the neck strap at the other end. A thorough search revealed that it wasn’t in the car and I remembered using it at the Gaelic College outdoor concert, so I drove back there and enquired of the young lady at the desk there whether the Gaelic College had a lost and found department. As luck would have it, she was part of the clean-up crew for the Beòlach pub night last night at the Great Hall of the Clans and, when I described it to her, she immediately recalled having seen it there after the concert. There is no lost and found department, so she took me back into the hall and a quick search turned it up there.
Yesterday, I neglected to thank the Gaelic College staff and crew for the superb job they had done in organizing and running the 75th Anniversary events I attended, so let me do it here: things generally ran on time in an orderly and professional manner. Kudos to a fine team! And a special thanks also to the young lady who so helpfully reünited me with my lost GPS attachment.
I drove into Baddeck, where I had breakfast at the Yellow Cello Café; I found very quiet streets in Baddeck on a high summer Sunday morning! After breakfast, I drove back to Port Hood, where I got my motel room key and rested briefly before driving to Judique for the Sunday afternoon cèilidh at the Celtic Music Interpretive Centre.
Today featured Andrea Beaton on fiddle and Allan Dewar on piano. The crowd contained a large number of locals, but also a hefty sprinkling of recently arrived CFA’s, and they were definitely in a dancing mood. By the time Andrea was relieved at 16h42, five or six (I lost count) square sets had already been danced as well as two waltzes and only a handful of non-dance sets had been played. Donna-Marie DeWolfe gave us a fine non-dance set as well as a square set. Glenn Graham then took over the fiddle and played another fine square set. (Aside: Comparing the playing styles of Andrea, Donna-Marie, and Glenn, each different and unique and wonderful, is sufficient argument for me for bringing up fiddlers in a non-competitive environment—it would be worse than a catastrophe to have forced them to learn a single, arbitrary style, no matter how prized by the judges.) Andrea returned with a beautiful waltz in a minor key I hadn’t heard before; Andrea said afterwards that it was a French tune she’d learnt from Matthieu, as was another fine but unfamiliar tune in a minor key in a jig set. A set of step dance tunes went with no takers other than a Chéticantin now living in the “Boston States” who shall go nameless and who is notorious for screwing up every square set he dances in (and he dances every one) and for dancing impromptu solo step dances in short bursts every two minutes when the floor is empty; childlike, he is totally unaware of the adverse reäctions of those around him, which, while sotto voce, were irritated and not kindly. Head-shaking case, really. Another square set followed and then another set of step dance tunes, which saw Allison Beaton and Joan Currie take the floor along with multiple appearances by Nameless. I sat with Lester MacKinnon, who was kind enough to share his table with me; he runs dances and works to propagate Cape Breton music and dance in the Halifax area; we had a long and interesting chat before the cèilidh started. Kate Macmillan joined us later. It was an afternoon of the very best tunes superbly played; Andrea makes it look so easy and effortless when in fact it’s high art. With nearly non-stop performances since Glencoe (she played both the Doryman and West Mabou yesterday as well as the Danns Mòr Friday night), she must be exhausted! But she didn’t sound tired: quite the contrary! Lively, spirited, and effortless, her music sprang forth in an unstoppable torrent. And though Allan got no relief, playing throughout the afternoon, his superb accompaniments were the perfect complement to her playing. They sounded effortless too, but surely weren’t. Just a marvellous afternoon of music!
I drove back to the motel room where I looked through the Celtic Colours programme I had picked up this morning at the Gaelic College and made my show selections—tickets go on sale tomorrow. I was horrified to see two impossible conflicts: two great fiddle shows (Tunes for Scotty and For Alex Francis) scheduled on the same night and the same insane Saturday matinée pairing of the Pipers’ Cèilidh and the fiddle show at the Strathspey Place that caused me so much grief last year. Yet there are other days with no fiddle offerings at all or so contaminated with other stuff in which I have no interest that I will be able to better spend my time outside the confines of the festival! I will be indicating my displeasure by buying fewer tickets than last year. Guess I’m just a cranky old geezer. Although it’s unlikely, I hope I feel less upset after a good night’s sleep!
Monday, 8 July⁵ — Port Hood
I awoke refreshed from a long sleep at 8h and discovered that the heat wave had broken; four days in a row in the 30’s (high 80’s/low 90’s) is an extraördinarily rare occurrence in Cape Breton. Today’s low 20’s (70’s) were a welcome relief, especially as much, though not all, of the haze was gone as well. It was by no means a perfect day, with mostly white skies and sunny breaks, but the forecast called for fair weather and sunny skies at 14h and partly sunny weather the rest of the afternoon.
I therefore decided to go hiking on Cape Mabou and attempt to get to Beinn Bhiorach (Steep Mountain) once more, now possible for me with the reöpening of the MacEachen Trail. When I ascended the Glenora Falls Road, I encountered a very different road from that of past years: it had been widened, many of the ruts had been filled and the road graded smooth, and the rocks which littered the upper section of the road, carried there by running water in the road, had been pushed to the side; drainage in that section remains somewhat problematic, with water still running down the side of the road, but it’s a superhighway compared to its previous state. The section of the Cape Mabou Road to the Cape Mabou trail head is similarly improved, with the deep puddles that once interrupted the road at multiple points a thing of the past.
Apparently the cause of these improvements is the ongoing erection of a wind turbine, as a new road just past the trail head parking area leads up the hill to a newly cleared area where the initial construction of the pedestal is underway. While I was at the car, a Bell-Aliant truck and a flat bed truck carrying a telephone pole and a back-hoe arrived.
The MacEachen trail is once again officially open, though a sign to the contrary remains in place. The parking area sign that once marked the trail head parking area is gone, but the grassy area is easy to spot, as it lies at the left of the road just before reaching the community pastures (and now the new road on the right).
I left the car a little past 11h and found a new foot bridge spanning the bog in place and a slightly relocated trail to accommodate its new siting. The trail itself is in generally fine shape, though grass grows quickly and there are not enough people hiking to keep it tramped down; the needly parts are clear and wide and it is a joy to see the cart track restored to its superb state before the trail system was officially closed down in 2009; all of the many downed trees have been cleared away and bushwhacking around them is no longer necessary. The trail register noted bear sightings in June, but all I saw (as usual) were a couple of piles of bear scat—the only animal I saw all day was a chipmunk, though numerous birds were singing and flitting about. The section of the trail beyond the cart track is grassy and ferny, but this is no different from before and the orange markers on the trees and flagging tape make the trail easy to follow through the overgrowth. The sun made more of an appearance as I reached the junction with the Bear Trap Trail, but the skies were still mostly white. The cell phone service, available at the trail head, had disappeared by now.
Soon after leaving the Bear Trap junction, I reached the Highland Link Trail, which I followed to the MacArthur Trail, and it to the Highland Forest Trail (still officially closed, according to the signage). These would have all been impossible for me to follow without the markers and flagging tape (and doubtless the experience of having walked these trails many times in the past was also a help). The old look-off under beautiful trees just before the switchback and descent to the Beinn Bhiorach col was gone; the trees are gone and everything is overgrown; I noticed many changes due to dead trees in this area, but it’s not all bad: open views at the switchback and during the descent that were either partially or completely obscured before now greet the eye.
By 14h, I was finally again on the summit of Beinn Bhiorach; from the col to the summit is a mere 0.2 km (0.1 mi), but it’s unrelentingly steep and with plenty of huffing and puffing, it took me fifteen minutes to make it up, but I got ’er done, admiring a few lilies-of-the-valley blooming along side the trail on the way up. The last time I stood on this beautiful grass and tree-covered summit was 2008 July 28, far too long ago! Alas, the sun promised for 14h wasn’t there, hidden by heavier grey-tinged clouds, but in spite of the distant haze (Sutherlands Cove was fuzzy, if visible), the views weren’t as bad as they might have been: those across the MacKinnons Brook valley to Fair Alistair were reasonably crisp, though sunless. I was also surprised to find cell phone service available on the summit again (that’s the only place it was other than the trail head). The distance from the car to the summit is 4.8 km (3 mi) of mostly level with some up and down hiking and only the very steep and mercifully short final ascent really taxing, so, after lunch and a long photo shoot, I decided I was game for a more challenging return.
The Beinn Bhiorach Trail was reöpened last year via the coastal cutoff on the lower end (the main trail remained closed due to blowdowns); I knew it was very steep on the upper end with very treacherous footing on small loose stones, but I’d forgotten just how steep the rest of it was (or perhaps it’s just age and a heightened sense of caution kicking in). It’s but 1.7 km (1 mi) from the summit to the MacKinnons Brook trail head, but I was an hour and a half getting there—and it’s all downhill! In part, this was due to about fifteen minutes of lost time at the coastal cutoff trail sign trying to figure out where the trail was (I finally found a tiny piece of flagging tape that put me aright again), but mostly it’s because of the steepness of the trail and the need to pick one’s steps very carefully, especially when the grass hides what you are stepping on (a walking stick is essential equipment!). But the views are superb much of the way down and I stopped several times to capture some of the lower terrain not visible from the summit.
But now at the bottom, I had to climb back up to the plateau again, no easy task for me. Taking the Cul Na Beinne Trail (MacKinnons Brook Lane) to the Bear Trap Trail and it back up to the MacEachen Trail spreads that climb over roughly 4.7 km (2.9 mi), though, with one short downhill section into MacIsaacs Glen, it’s all steadily uphill and therefore a real workout for me. But once on the Bear Trap Trail (which really should be named the Singing Brook Trail), the lovely music of the running water was my constant, cheerful companion as I made it up through the, by now dimlit, valley to the MacEachen Trail. The Bear Trap Trail is not in its old pristine shape, but it is pretty easy to follow nevertheless—Ian Sherman’s incredible engineering feats have survived the four years of trail closure intact and markers and flagging tape were godsends. It was wetter than I remember from past hikes, but nothing oxfords couldn’t handle.
The last 2.4 km (1.5 mi) back to the trail head, although mostly level, took me an hour and a quarter; I was one tired puppy and had to stop often to rest; as well, I lost the trail at a fire break and that took time and effort I didn’t really have to spend (I recovered by taking a photo of where I was and checking its GPS coördinates against one I took in the middle of the same fire break on the way in—I’m really glad I got the camera’s GPS attachment back!) It is surprising how difficult it is to see in the forest at dusk; I was one very happy guy when I finally climbed back up the bank above the bog and saw the car at 20h30! It was much brighter up there than in the forest, though the sun was already below the highlands. I didn’t quite, but almost, bit off more than I could chew! But it was still a great hike and one I’ll always treasure, full of great memories of my favourite place on earth, glorious Cape Mabou! And, for me, a real personal accomplishment as well: 13.6 km (8.5 mi) over nine and a half hours on non-level terrain! Thank heavens for long summer days!
Tired as I was, I couldn’t miss the dance, so I hurried back to the motel, showered and changed into presentable clothes, and drove back to Brook Village, where I arrived a bit after 22h with the dance in full swing, with Glenn Graham on fiddle and Mac Morin on keyboards drivin’ ’er for a square set, likely the second one of the evening. Then, Andrea Beaton and Mac played the next square set. And then it was Andrea and Glenn on dual fiddles with Mac on keyboards. The next three square sets followed the same rotation: Glenn and Mac; Andrea and Mac; and Andrea and Glenn with Mac. Said good-bye to Candy Cooke, who flies back to Texas in the morning. Kinnon Beaton on fiddle and Betty Lou Beaton on keyboards played a relief square set starting at midnight. Then, Andrea, Glenn, and Mac played the final square set of the dance. About 0h55, the strathspeys began: Annemarie Barry started it off and Harvey MacKinnon followed; then Brittany Rankin and Sarah;⁶ Joan Currie went next followed by Mary Graham; two more young ladies whose names I also don’t know; Mary MacGillivray ended the set. (I hope I have these names right; because of my late arrival, I wasn’t in my usual better positioned seat and had only brief glimpses at faces.) Tired and slow-moving as I then was, my feet still couldn’t stop tapping to the fantastic music all night long. What an interesting contrast there is in first cousins Andrea’s and Glenn’s fiddle styles, both a delight to listen to. And Mac’s accompaniments are ne plus ultra. It was both a privilege and a delight to listen to these fine players playing for avid and energetic dancers. What a fabulous end to a fantastic day! By the time I had made it back to Port Hood, there was only one thing on my mind—sleep, blessed sleep, so I didn’t post this report, which then only existed as disjointed notes. I extend my apologies for the lateness of this post.
Tuesday, 9 July — Port Hood to Whycocomagh
I got up at 9h to a bright summery looking day, though haze sat asea (I could barely make out Cape George across St Georges Bay) and the skies continued to have a lot of white. It was slightly warmer than yesterday, but still in the mid-20’s (70’s). I could have done a road trip for photography as the haze inland, while perceptible, wasn’t prohibitive, but my slow-moving body had only one thing in mind: extended inactivity. None too steady on aching calves, I got packed, had breakfast, drove to Rocky Ridge for a brief visit with friends and to arrange a dinner out with them to attempt to repay them for their incredible banquet at their place earlier this trip. I had a good visit with them about their experiences at the PEI Bluegrass and Old Time Music Festival at Rollo Bay this past week-end, which they attended. Then, I drove to Whycocomagh, where I’m staying the next two nights, sank into the comfortable green chair in the motel room, and whipped yesterday’s scattered notes into a connected narrative, that I posted late this afternoon (rather than in the morning as I indicated last night).
I had supper and then drove to the Strathspey Place for a reprise performance of The Weddin [sic] Dance, a musical which débuted this spring to rave reviews in the Inverness Oran. It was somewhat different than I had expected, but it was nonetheless very enjoyable. With my impaired hearing, I missed some of the dialogue and, even had it been perfect, there would have been many instances where the dry Gaelic humour would have passed me by. But the music and the overall plot came through loud and clear. What talent this island has! Kudos to the entire cast!
I drove back to Whycocomagh after the show was over and took care of some on-line errands. I have mostly recovered from yesterday’s outing, but will sleep very well again tonight, I’m sure.
Wednesday, 10 July — Whycocomagh
Today, I sing of Argyle Brook and the Logans Glen Road on Whycocomagh Mountain, in the locality known as North Side Whycocomagh Bay.
I awoke at 8h30 and discovered another summery day, with sun and mostly white skies with haze at the horizon. After breakfast, I decided to try to find Logans Glen Road, which I had discovered in Google Earth at the time I was trying to find the Lewis Mountain Trail. This road is not shown in The Nova Scotia Atlas and repeated reconnoitring along the Trans-Canada Highway had turned up nothing looking like a road where it should be, so, after breakfast, I changed into my hiking togs, fired up Google Maps on my iPhone, and set off down the Trans-Canada Highway towards Baddeck. Google Maps directed me to turn into what appeared to be a driveway marked with house number signs 11103, 11111, and 11123, which I did after overshooting it the first time (traffic moving at 100 km/h (62 mph) on a two-lane highway makes that very easy to do). Once off the Trans-Canada Highway, Google Maps directed me to turn left immediately, onto what looked to be a driveway for a house at the left, but Google Maps had it correct: it was a road, not a driveway (the house has a driveway of its own off the road). My interest in this road was twofold: (1) it continues, according to Google Earth, all the way up Whycocomagh Mountain to the Lewis Mountain Road, a route I was unable to discover from the other end, littered as it is with a maze of logging roads, and (2) it is the site of Logans Glen Falls as described here. Just past the house, Logans Glen Road makes a 90° turn to the northwest and a short distance past that I got very uncomfortable driving, so I backed down the road and parked at the side just beyond the curve.
I was pretty much recovered from Monday’s hike, but still wanted to go fairly easy on myself today, so I strapped on my backpack and set off in search of the falls, which are not far off the Trans-Canada Highway. What I found for falls not far up the road from where I parked the car, while very nice, looked nothing at all like the big falls shown in the first photo on the referenced page (which I’m now convinced must be at some other location), but much more like photos 2, 6, 8, and 9 on that page, though not really that similar to any of them. The other photos must have been taken when much more water was flowing than was the case today, which I still considered to be a pretty good flow for this time of year and weather. So, I continued on up the road looking for falls that matched those on the referenced page.
After several hundred metres/yards of steady, but fairly gentle uphill climbing, I looked up and was startled to see a vehicle coming down the road. A lady and her father were in the truck/van, much higher slung than my Prius, and we chatted a bit. They told me that the falls I’d seen were the Logans Glen Falls and that there were no higher falls further up the brook, but that they had an old homestead on the mountainside and invited me to walk up there from which there were views of Whycocomagh Mountain I might be interested in photographing. As the distance involved was only 2 km (1.25 mi) from the Trans-Canada Highway and since the brook was singing so prettily as I climbed, I decided to take them up on their offer. They said that the road was provincially maintained up to their homestead (originally granted to a Logan family and passed on eventually to a daughter who married a MacLeod, the name of the current owners) and a logging road thereafter; the part I hiked was in generally very good shape, though there were a few problematic spots for my Prius, so I was glad I was walking.
With some huffing and puffing, I made it up to the homestead and sat near the house enjoying (and photographing) a long ridge on Whycocomagh Mountain above Argyle Brook. The grass hasn’t been cleared off the fields for some years (the homestead was for 100 acres) but they remain open, if somewhat overgrown. Lots of wildflowers were in bloom all around the house. Lovely spot with lovely views!
I returned down to the road and debated whether or not to continue on up the mountain (I’d guess I was about three-fifths of the way there by height), eventually deciding to leave it for another day as I wasn’t up to another long hike today. So I started back down and soon met the owners coming back up, this time in two separate vehicles, and gave them thanks for their kind invitation.
Very similar to MacPhersons Brook along the Lewis Mountain Trail, Argyle Brook is a lovely, active brook that runs alongside the lower part of Logans Glen Road, with lots of miniature falls and cascades making it sing merrily as it descends the valley it has carved. In no hurry, I stopped frequently along the way down for photos; sadly, I had no way to capture the brook’s music, but the many photos I took of it will certainly bring back to mind the wonderful hours I spent in its presence. It is the plethora of such absolutely enchanting spots as this that make Cape Breton such a joy for me!
Back at the motel, I showered and changed, and, after a quick dinner of salad and haddock burger, headed off through the back county for the Celtic Music Interpretive Centre; the skies were by now clouded over and heavy haze hung over the back country hills. The Wednesday cèilidh featured Kinnon Beaton on fiddle and Andrea Beaton on piano. It was a smallish crowd, with more than half the seats empty, but the music was not affected—it was marvellous. Betty Lou relieved Andrea on piano and then Andrea relieved Kinnon on fiddle, after which Kinnon and Andrea resumed their initial instruments. Three square sets were danced as were three waltzes; Mary Graham was the only step dancer for the strathspeys/reels sequence.
It was then on to Scotsville where Andrea was on fiddle and Betty Lou on keyboards. Not enough people were present to form a square set when the music started up; two jig sets and two waltzes attracted one couple each. A few people filtered in gradually, allowing the first square set to be danced with four couples starting at 22h35. Two more square sets were danced, the second with six couples and the third with four. Kinnon relieved Andrea and played a waltz, a jig set that got one couple on the floor, and finally a square set with five couples. There were never many people in the hall, far fewer than last week, likely because the first three-fiddler concert and following (called) square dance at the Normaway Barn took place tonight. And many of those few that were there began leaving, why, I again have no idea. At midnight, Andrea began playing fiddle again, this time with Robbie Fraser (who arrived home from out west this morning for his summer vacation) on keyboards relieving Betty Lou; she started with a jig set, but segued into strathspeys when there were no takers; a young lady whose name I should know but can’t pull out of my memory went first; then Joan Cameron and two friends step danced together. Another “dry” jig set followed. With Betty Lou back on keyboards, the music continued with jig sets, a waltz, and more strathspeys, but the very few left in the hall showed no interest in dancing, though the bar stayed open. At 0h36, I left so as not to keep them from leaving, though I’d of course have happily listened as long as they were playing. Not a very successful dance, in sum, through absolutely no fault of the wonderful music. Scotsville, like Glencoe, has to be considered as endangered; the move from Tuesdays to Wednesdays didn’t help and, splitting crowds with the Normaway will only make things worse, as was shown tonight. Sad situation indeed.
Light rain on the way back to Whycocomagh; tomorrow will likely see another change in the weather.
Thursday, 11 July — Whycocomagh to Port Hood
I awoke at 9h to a warm but severely overcast morning; clouds were below the summits of Whycocomagh, Skye, and Campbells Mountains and it both looked and felt like rain. I drove to Mabou; the sun broke through the clouds in the Nevada Valley, but after breakfast at the Backroads Bistro, threatening clouds covered up the sun. Undecided as to what I wanted to do, I stopped at the West Mabou kiosk on the Railway Trail and enjoyed the haze-obscured views of the river and the Cape Mabou Highlands while pondering the possibilities. I drove out Hunters Road, from where it looked like it was raining in Smithville, and was generally cloudy elsewhere, except for a few sunny green fields at the base of Mabou Ridge. I drove up Justin Road, which I hadn’t visited since a fire destroyed the barn beside the triple silos that are visible from as far away as the summit of Churchview Road in Upper Glencoe. I drove to Port Hood and up to the Railway Trail kiosk there, where I enjoyed the views of Port Hood Island and watched the weather alternate between sunny breaks and threatening clouds. I was just about as undecided as how to spend the day as the weather was! And then I dozed off! I guess my body was trying to tell me something, so I drove to the motel and went back to bed. When I awoke at 17h, the weather had not much changed, though there was no evidence of rain whilst I was asleep (though I later heard reports of rain, some heavy, in Mabou). Pretty much a wasted day, but at least I got some apparently needed rest out of it.
At the invitation of two kind ladies, friends I made at my first dance at Glencoe in 2001, Elizabeth Beaton and Theresa “Glencoe” MacNeil, who shared the cooking duties, I drove to Mabou for dinner at Theresa’s, also attended by Elizabeth’s sister Kay. Spent a lovely evening with them, catching up on news and enjoying a lovely meal with a delicious stuffed chicken breast as its centrepiece with biscuits and all the fixings, capped off by a butterscotch pie for dessert. Elizabeth and Kay left a while after dinner and I stayed on for another hour or so, talking with Theresa. What kindness these two dear friends have shown me over the years! And what a pleasure it was to get to spend some time with them again!
Then, I drove to Glencoe Mills for the dance tonight with Douglas Cameron on fiddle and Robbie Fraser on keyboards. Tonight was the best of the Glencoe dances I’ve attended so far; that’s not to say it was a success, as only around forty people showed up, so I think the dance organizers again lost money, but there were no dry jig sets and avid dancers were on the floor for every square set played, with as many as ten couples on the floor at once. There were even a number of younger folk on the floor. I’m not sure just what was going on, but the fiddler took very long pauses between each square set, so that only six square sets were danced rather than the usual eight, plus an initial march and about midnight a step dance sequence during which Michelle Greenwell and Jenny Cluett gave us their fine steps. But, when played, the music was superb on both fiddle and piano, a real treat to listen to on both instruments. Another fine Cape Breton day!
Friday, 12 July — Port Hood to Margaree Forks
Heavy rains in the night started just after I went to bed. I awoke this morning to another overcast day in Port Hood and just as undecided about what to do today as I was yesterday: the range of choices is very weather-dependent and I want to be outside and active as much as I can while I’m here and no musical events are going on. The forecast wasn’t great, but it’s seldom reliable anyway and I’ve learned from experience that morning overcast often becomes afternoon sun. After breakfast, I had some errands to take care of in Mabou, so I drove there. As I neared West Mabou, the Cape Mabou Highlands appeared much less hazy than yesterday and there were patches of blue sky off Mabou Harbour way, so, after finishing the errands I decided to drive out to Mabou Coal Mines, where I discovered a lovely sunny day. The skies inland continued to be overcast, but to the west of a line roughly parallel to the Mabou Coal Mines Road, blue skies littered with wind-scattered thin white clouds made the waters of the Gulf a blue that was a tad more grey-coloured than pure blue, but photogenic nonetheless. Well, that did it! I now knew how I was going to spend this day!
I drove to the end of the road, changed into my hiking clothes, and, at 11h28, set off for the summit of Beinn Alasdair Bhain (Fair Alistair’s Mountain) and the look-off there, a mere 1.2 km (3/4 mi) away. My best time for climbing this pretty steep section was 40 minutes and that was some years ago; today, it took me twice that, but I was in no hurry and stopped often to savour all the special places along this marvellous trail. I scared the wits out of a garter snake sunning itself in a sun-drenched stretch of grass not long after starting the climb and it returned the favour. Water was flowing in a rill that crosses the trail at the first of the sharp turns and I stopped for photos in the lovely tree-shaded mini-glen there on the side of the mountain and stayed for several minutes basking in the beauty of the place and the day. When I reached what I think of as the “scree path”, a gravelly path across an open area cleared by a landslide many moons ago, I was disappointed in the amount of haze, but the sun was shining bright and that was enough. Below the summit, great huge bushes of wild roses were in bloom on both sides of the trail, filling the air with their beautiful fragrance. At the look-off, a helicopter had just come in off the Gulf and was overhead when I arrived: it had a blue tail, a yellow and a red stripe, and a white cabin; I don’t know what its purpose was, but it headed inland off towards Strathlorne way. Cape George was just barely visible through the thick haze over St Georges Bay. The Colindale shore was much better defined, but it was still hard to pick out MacPhee’s red barn. A couple of hikers doing the Fair Alistair/MacKinnons Brook Lane loop arrived while I was busy soaking in the views. What a lovely place!
A little after 14h, I left the look-off and, after paying my respects to la grande Allée, a lovely section of the old trail between huge aromatic spruce trees since destroyed by the spruce bark beetle, I hiked on to the relocated section of the trail, which offers fine open views of the MacKinnons Brook Valley and Beinn Bhiorach across the valley. As on Monday, the views in the valley were effectively hazeless and, today, they were under bright sun; I hope the photos I took turn out well!
I think often while I’m hiking in Cape Mabou of the hardy pioneers who lived along these trails and somehow managed to scrape out a living from these lovely highlands and the adjacent waters; instead of the hustle-bustle of modern life and all its conveniences, they got to enjoy the peace and beauty of these magnificent highlands every day in what had to have been very primitive living conditions with no ready health care for illnesses and accidents. Yet, bold, defiant, free, beholden to no man, and no doubt often desperate, they survived and somehow prospered, passing on to their descendants the grand culture that lives on so vibrantly on this beautiful island. We owe them a great debt of thanks.
About 15h, I climbed the short distance back up to the MacPhee Trail and continued along the ridge to its junction with the Beaton Trail. I was without enough time (at least at the very leisurely pace I had been setting) to hike out to its glorious look-offs, so I continued on down the MacPhee Trail to the Cul Na Beinne Trail (MacKinnons Brook Lane), having an apple and a diet cola beside Mill Brook before proceeding back to the car. A lovely hike (4.2 km (2.6 mi)) on a very fine summer day!
On my way to Margaree Forks, I noticed how crisp the edges of Cape Mabou now appeared: the haze which has been bedevilling me since my stay in Meat Cove was either gone or nearly so! I didn’t have time to stop for photos, but hopefully the clear air will persist past this week-end’s musical events and allow me a photo shoot day on Monday. North of the Deepdale Road, Highway 19 is being resurfaced and is now bereft of its white lines, so important for safe night driving—the temporary centre markings are useless at night with oncoming headlights. The clear air continued all the way to Margaree Forks, making for a gorgeous drive.
I got my motel room, showered, and went off to Belle-Côte for another fine dinner there; the hot blueberry bread pudding in a caramel sauce for dessert was extraördinary! On the way back to the motel, the skies had become overcast again, though the sun was still brightly shining through breaks, and the edges of the highlands were not so crisp as earlier.
Soon, it was time to leave for tonight’a dance at Southwest Margaree with Mike Hall on fiddle and Kathleen LeBlanc-Poirier on keyboards. It was a large crowd, not the largest I’ve seen, but the hall was full with some standing; the dancers needed no encouragement to take to the floor. Folks started leaving around midnight and only five couples were left in the final square set. Joey Beaton spelled Kathleen for one square set; Mike got no relief. One waltz was played; a young lady whose name I do not know and Carmen MacArthur were the step dancers during the strathspeys/reels sequence. I had trouble hearing the music at first, but once the volume was turned up enough to mask some of the ambient noise, I was ok. Good music well played by both—a fine dance.
Saturday, 13 July — Margaree Forks to Port Hood
I awoke at 9h to an almost perfect day for photography: bright sun, predominantly blue skies, and clear air. I skipped breakfast and drove out the Cabot Trail to Northeast Margaree and circled the Margaree Valley (East Big Intervale Road, Hatchery Road, West Big Intervale Road, and Cranton Crossing Road, with an excursion out the Marsh Brook Road, whose views are the equal of those at the informal look-off on the West Big Intervale Road, though the photogenic horses usually in the field by the apple trees were missing today), with numerous stops for photos all along the way. The 360° panorama of the highlands from the Margaree Airstrip is very fine and gives a good idea of the layout of the Margaree Valley. The views at the Portree Bridge and from the (unofficial) West Big Intervale Road look-off are superb; the Aspy Fault is very clear from the latter and the highlands towering over the valley are magnificent at both locations. All shades of green today, they are perhaps best seen in their fall colours, but were plenty gorgeous in greens.
I took the East Margaree Road to Belle-Côte and drove to Chéticamp, where I picked up the wildflower book Aneleise recommended at the bookstore in the park’s visitors’ centre and then drove back to the Doryman, where I ate lunch before the cèilidh started.
Mike Hall on fiddle and Kathleen LeBlanc-Poirier on keyboards were the afternoon’s musicians. And what a fabulous afternoon of music it was! Fiery, energetic playing with some pretty ferocious strathspeys and some lovely slow airs (not enough for my liking, but they don’t seem to be all that well appreciated) mixed in with the jigs and reels played superbly well. Mike had a few tunes in the mix that were new to me. He’s a hard worker and is constantly expanding his repertoire. Two square sets were danced. Around 16h, Robbie Fraser took over the keyboards from Kathleen and continued playing them for the next 45 minutes. During this time, Mike played Tullochgorum. Several step dancers, both male and female, including Kathleen, took the floor thereafter and fairly often during the rest of the afternoon; I recognized many of them, but don’t have names for their faces. Chéticamp is second to no other Cape Breton community in its love of and passion for Scottish traditional music and dance, especially step dancing! A spoons player whose name I don’t know played one set of tunes and step danced at the start of the next tune set. After a short break, Kathleen returned to the keyboards and Robbie took over the fiddle, giving Mike a break. When Mike returned on fiddle, Robbie took over the keyboards again. The afternoon’s final set had Mike and Robbie on dual fiddles and Kathleen on keyboards. The house, which was nearly full, though not packed, gave the musicians a standing ovation after the final set. Fantastic afternoon!
I then drove back to Port Hood and got my motel room. As I drove out the Colindale Road to the dance at West Mabou, I observed that the days are now noticeably shorter and this will likely be the last time I drive that way to the dance this year, since there’s now insufficient light to make it worthwhile. It was also quite brisk—my car’s thermometer registered +13 (55) when I arrived at West Mabou and +10 (50) when I left after the dance.
The musicians tonight were Wendy MacIsaac and Howie MacDonald; both are masters of both fiddle and piano and they switched off as the evening progressed. It started with Wendy on fiddle and Howie on piano in a dry jig set because there weren’t yet enough people in the hall to fill out a square set. The second jig set went on for a good length of time, but eventually there were enough dancers on the floor for the first square set. Thereafter, as the hall filled up, each square set was full as soon as the music started. After the second square set, Howie and Wendy swapped places and played two more square sets in that configuration. Robbie Fraser took over the piano and Wendy went back to fiddle, giving Howie a break. Then, Howie came back to the piano and Wendy stayed on fiddle to finish out the evening with a step dance sequence, a square set, and a waltz; the step dancers were Michelle Greenwell, Stephanie MacDonald, and Harvey MacKinnon. I rarely hear Wendy and Howie playing together, so this was an especial treat for me, as the great music kept rolling on all night long. What an absolutely fantastic day this has been!
Sunday, 14 July — Port Hood to Whycocomagh
Joyeuse fête nationale à tous mes amis français! Happy Bastille Day to all my French friends!
I got up at 9h30 (somewhat unwillingly because of the short night) to a bright. sunny day to which, alas, haze had returned. I drove to Whycocomagh where I got the key to my motel room and had brunch (it was too crowded in Port Hood to consider staying for breakfast there—summer folk are arriving by the day). At the motel, the owner pointed out a huge luna moth, a species I’d never seen before; I took several photos of this interesting insect.
After a much too brief rest at the motel, I drove to Glendale and took my place on the field for the afternoon’s concert. I immediately applied thick sunscreen to my arms, face, and neck as the sun was fierce and I would otherwise have been badly burnt. Although a warm breeze was blowing, the sun felt hot; I was told the temperature reached into the mid-30’s (low 90’s) and it sure felt at least that hot to me. The field was alive with very small black flies who weren’t biters and weren’t repelled by repeated applications of Off; I kept brushing them off my arms all afternoon.
The concert started a couple of minutes after 14h15 with an invocation by Father Francis Cameron, who then started the music with a set of tunes with his sister, Janet Cameron. The music, the vast majority of which was traditional Scottish fiddle music, was excellent. Many of the participants had other engagements later today; it was a credit to them that they still made the effort to play at Glendale. The Antigonish County Fiddlers, a group of several fiddlers led by Brian MacDonald, and accompanied by Marion Dewar on keyboards and Junior Fraser on guitar, played a couple of fine sets; I regret I didn’t get a chance to speak with Marion or Joan Dewar, a fiddler in the group, before they left. The Cape Breton Fiddlers’ Association, led by Eddie Rogers and accompanied by Janet on keyboards, also played two fine sets in commemoration of the original Glendale festival in 1973; Burton MacIntyre, Frank MacInnis, and Father Eugene Morris were recognized as the three founding members of what became the Cape Breton Fiddlers’ Association who were present today. Tracey Dares-MacNeil was a mainstay on keyboards, playing many of the sets. I won’t list all of those who played, which would be way too long, but simply confine myself to the sets that most appealed to me: Rodney MacDonald with Tracey and Junior Fraser on guitar; Andrea Beaton with Tracey and Junior, during which Rodney gave us some superb steps; a fantastic guitar-pickin’ set with Brian Doyle and Chris Babineau; Donna-Marie DeWolfe with Tracey and Chris; Colin Grant with Tracey and Brian; Stephanie MacDonald with Tracey and Pius MacIsaac; Chrissy Crowley with Tracey and Brian; Chrissy and Colin on dual fiddles with Tracey and Brian; a group of adorable youngsters from Tamarac Elementary School in Port Hawkesbury singing Home of Our Hearts, Cape Breton; Wally Ellison on small pipes accompanied by Gordon MacLean and Derrick Cameron; Mary Jane Lamond singing puirt a beul to which Peggy Lamey step danced; Steve Simon and the Boys, a group playing in a style that sounded to my ears very much like that of Lee Cremo and Mooney Francis; Melody Cameron accompanied by Tyson Chen on keyboards and Derrick on guitar; Brenda Stubbert with Tracey and Brian; and the final set by Brian MacDonald of the Antigonish County Fiddlers, accompanied by Tracey and Brian Doyle. There was lots more music, highland dance, step dance, and (if I heard right) a daughter of Brian MacDonald’s whose name I didn’t get playing highland bagpipes. It was a very fine concert and a credit to the organizers.
I drove back to Whycocomagh, where I had supper and a dish of Scotsburn maple walnut ice cream, my favourite treat when on the Island and especially effective in cooling me off. No music tonight, so will soon be to bed to hopefully make up for the short night last night. Another great day in Cape Breton!
Monday, 15 July — Whycocomagh
It is way too hot in Cape Breton! My car registered +33 (91) this afternoon; not unprecedented but rare, especially two days in a row.
I awoke around 8h30 and, after breakfast, drove out the Trans-Canada Highway to the Little Narrows exit to check out the distant views across Whycocomagh Bay; there was too much haze to make climbing Salt Mountain worth while even if I had been able to tolerate the heat, which had already become excessive by 11h in spite of a decent breeze; after yesterday’s stint in the blazing sun, there was no question of that! Any plans for doing anything else were cancelled when my body went on strike, so I went back to bed and slept until 14h; my room was mercifully cool even without air conditioning (which it does have).
I took care of a couple of errands after I woke up and spent some time surfing the Internet. I tried to make a ferry reservation for Friday, but was told that’s not possible as I’m leaving Prince Edward Island by the bridge, so I’ll have to get there early and hope there’s a spot.
Then, it was time to head for the Tulloch Inn in West Lake Ainslie, where I had arranged to meet friends for a birthday dinner (his on the 24th and mine on the 18th); it was still so hot on the way there that I had to turn on the car’s air conditioner, a rare occurrence in Cape Breton. As always, the food was superb and I enjoyed an evening of conversation with good friends.
By then the temperature had moderated to a much more reasonable +25 (77), so I then drove the Lake Ainslie Chapel Brook Village Road (according to the Prius’ GPS), the Old Mull River Road (with a stop for photos at the Miramichi Brook), and the Mull River Road; it was then time for the dance at Brook Village.
Andrea Beaton on fiddle and Betty Lou Beaton on keyboards played the first two square sets. Kinnon Beaton on fiddle and Andrea on keyboards played the next two square sets. Andrea and Kinnon on dual fiddles and Betty Lou on keyboards played the fifth square set. Andrea and Betty Lou played the sixth square set. Kinnon on fiddle and Betty Lou on keyboards played a waltz; The Fields of Athenry; and the seventh square set. Andrea and Kinnon on dual fiddles and Betty Lou on keyboards then played for the step dancers, who were: Joe Rankin and Katie MacLeod dancing together; a lady I didn’t know; Burton MacIntyre; Emerald Rae; and Allison Beaton. In the same configuration, the musicians then played Faded Love and the eighth and final square set. The hall wasn’t packed, but still full: at the height of the evening, there was no empty space on the dance floor. The dancers were enthusiastic, making the building shake whenever they danced in unison. Another in a series of great Brook Village dances!
Tuesday, 16 July — Whycocomagh
I awoke at 8h30 to a very hazy, sunny day in Whycocomagh, noticeably cooler than yesterday, but still quite warm. After breakfast, I drove out the Trans-Canada Highway just past Blues Mills to the Old Glencoe Road and drove as far on it as I dared; as I had expected, I didn’t get very far before the road became too rutted for my car to handle. It looks like it would be a nice hike across the mountains to the Upper Glencoe Road in Upper Glencoe. It’s a defined snowmobile trail through the forest and should be fairly easy to follow, though I suspect it would also involve some significant climbing. A couple of years ago, I found the other end of the road in Upper Glencoe at the drivable end of the Upper Glencoe Road where the Bornish Road forks off it towards the MacLeod Settlement Road. My curiosity satisfied as much as it could be, I drove off to Mabou to tend to some errands.
On the way, I stopped for photos of some white clouds being pushed over the tops of the mountains above the Nevada Valley, apparently due to the arrival of a north wind; there was significantly less haze and heat in the Mabou area than in Whycocomagh, a pattern I’ve noticed more than once. I then drove out Mabou Harbour Road, where, at the bridge over the Northeast Mabou River, I found myself behind a mini home on a trailer that I followed until it turned up Mountain Road. I spent the afternoon catching up with a friend in Mabou Harbour and helping him get a hard drive set up for backing up files on his machine.
Then it was back to Mabou for dinner at the Mull and the Tuesday night cèilidh hosted by Karen and Joey Beaton at the Mabou Parish Hall, tonight featuring Father Angus Morris and Bonnie Jean MacDonald as the guest fiddlers. Father Angus Morris is the parish priest at St Mary’s in Mabou and is a noted and respected player of an older style of fiddle music associated with Mabou Coal Mines; he is always very interesting to listen to. Bonnie Jean is a lovely player in the more contemporary style whose slow airs are particularly lush and stunningly gorgeous. Neither regrettably has CD’s of their own, but Father Angus Morris has tracks on a couple of CD’s in my collection, though I have no cuts of Bonnie Jean. Father Angus and Bonnie Jean each played two sets with Joey accompanying on keyboards, as did Karen, who also accompanied on muted fiddle Joey’s piano solo, a non-Celtic round dance tune played at Cape Breton dances 50 years ago between square sets. In addition there were two triple fiddle sets with Joey on keyboards and a dual fiddle set with Father Angus Morris and Bonnie Jean MacDonald on fiddles and Mary Ann Jewell on keyboards. As always, the music was top-notch and the cèilidh was over too soon.
I drove back to Whycocomagh, where I’ll get an early start on tonight’s sleep, as there’s no dance tonight.
Wednesday, 17 July — Whycocomagh
It was another warm sunny day, about +25 (77) with heavy haze in the air, not only in Whycocomagh but also on Cape Mabou, commingled with smoke carried here from forest fires in Québec and Labrador strong enough that even my weak sense of smell could pick it up.
I got up at 8h30 and had breakfast. Since the views would have been poor, I decided against a Salt Mountain hike and chose instead to do some back road exploration. Many years ago, I tried driving the Melrose Hill Road from its end on the Hays River Road and quickly gave up due to the condition of the road and hadn’t tried it since. A friend told me recently that it was drivable, so I decided to do that today. The Hillsborough end starts at the head of the very sharp curve on Highway 252 that I call the “Widow-Maker”. What I never realized before is that Elgin Brook flows beneath the highway there; no bridge can be seen from the curve, even if one walks it on foot, but one can hear the water running and, as soon as one turns off the curve onto Melrose Hill Road, a ravine that is at least 30 m (100 ft) deep appears, so deep and narrow that one can’t see the bottom from the road. The road up Melrose Hill follows the brook towards its source on Melrose Hill as it continues to the northeast; the ravine gets shallower a short ways in from the curve, but deepens again and changes character as the road ascends. About halfway to its junction with the Mount Young Road, Elgin Brook crosses the road according to The Nova Scotia Atlas, but all I saw were puddles in the road, so it must be pretty diminutive at that point (or else I missed a sluice while trying to dodge road hazards). The road is drivable, but only barely—I had to get out and check the path ahead several times along the way—but it can be done with care. The first point of interest I came to were two giant rosebushes covered with fragrant blooms. Next were fields that provided the first open views; they were part of a commercial blueberry farm according to the signs warning that trespassers will be prosecuted, but there were no indications of any recent activity so I don’t know whether they are still under active cultivation. A short distance further, an open view reaching to (a very hazy) Cape Mabou greeted me.
After more open fields, I reached the junction with Mount Young Road, which I took. Not too far beyond that junction, across more blueberry fields, there would have been some fine views of Lake Ainslie, the Hays River valley, and the mountains south of West Lake Ainslie had the haze not been so thick as to nearly completely blur anything in the distance; I have made a note to return there on a better day (which will also give me a chance to explore the part of Melrose Hill Road I didn’t drive today).⁷ As I approached the northern end of the Mount Young Road, which comes out on the Blackstone Road, there were also good views of Cape Mabou in the distance. Although the driving remained tricky, it improved significantly as I neared its end, which is a long descent down the mountainside. The last point of interest was a rosebush in full bloom sitting beside the road in the middle of nowhere that someone must have shaped with pruning shears, as it looked like a basket of roses sitting atop a slender tree trunk. As I turned left onto the Blackstone Road, I noted the complete lack of signage at the end of the road—not even a stop sign—making it look like a private driveway rather than a road, which is why I’d never considered checking it out before.
I continued on the Blackstone Road, which offers some good open views of Mount Young and Melrose Hill from below, and turned onto the Smithville Road, which I drove back to Highway 252 and on to the Widow-Maker, making a loop.
Given the lack of good views, I drove back to Whycocomagh and hung out in my motel room until it was time to leave for the Wednesday night cèilidh in Judique, with Donna-Marie DeWolfe on fiddle and Betty Lou Beaton on keyboards, where I made my way over the back country under now quite cloudy skies. Two square sets were danced as were two waltzes. Kinnon Beaton relieved Donna-Marie for one of the waltzes and one of the square sets. Harvey Beaton relieved Betty Lou for a couple of tune sets. By request, Harvey gave us a long, fine sequence of steps during one of the sets with lots of strathspeys that Donna-Marie played; during the final blast o’ tunes, Donald Holder, Allison Beaton, and Dale Gillis (in an especially lively set of steps!) step danced. Generally fine playing all evening long; I especially enjoyed Donna-Marie’s “Beautiful Lake Ainslie”, a gorgeous slow air by Elmer Briand.
Since the kitchen was closed at the Celtic Music Interpretive Centre tonight, where I had planned on eating my evening meal, I stopped in Port Hood and grabbed a sandwich from the convenience store, which I ate in the car. Then it was off to Scotsville for the dance, with music by Kenneth MacKenzie on fiddle and Calum MacKenzie on keyboards. The music was great; the dance not so much. Three (!) square sets were danced; many of the jig sets went with no takers, as did most of the waltzes and the strathspeys sets; to fill in the time, since it was obvious most people weren’t going to dance no matter what was played, Kenneth and Calum gave us some cèilidh sets (march/strathspeys/reels sets and the like). Joan MacDougall step danced twice during the evening and a young lady whose name I should know but can’t remember also step danced at the end of the evening. Most folks left before 0h25, so I also said my thanks to the musicians and took my leave.
Rain had fallen while I was inside, as the road was wet and foggy in places on the drive back to Whycocomagh.
Thursday, 18 July — Whycocomagh to Port Hood
You know high summer has arrived in Cape Breton when a motel posts a “No Vacancy” sign at 10h!
I started my 72nd year on this planet with many blessings, not least good health and being in Cape Breton, under very grey skies in Whycocomagh with cool temperatures (+20 (68)); I feel sorry for those on the East Coast suffering through temperatures in the upper 30’s (high 90’s) or worse, among whose number I’ll find myself next week, alas!
The cleaning lady at the motel, with whom I’ve been chatting these past few mornings, asked me about my day yesterday and, when I mentioned Melrose Hill, she lit up as she recounted her happy childhood memories of outings there with her father and siblings to pick blueberries, one of the special treats the summer offered her as a child.
After breakfast, I headed toward the brighter skies to the south along the Trans-Canada Highway. I stopped in Glendale for photos of Maple Brook from the bridge on the highway, which is close to the point where it empties into River Inhabitants; the sun was out briefly as it found its way through a break in the clouds and a small patch of blue sky was visible. I turned on to Riverside Road in Kingsville and followed it to its end in Cleveland (though the sign at the bridge said MacLeods); there are no views of River Inhabitants from the road except at the end, which I knew from previous trips there, but I enjoy the pastoral scenes along this road and was curious to see the southern part of the road, which was under reconstruction last year; I found it in very nice shape indeed, a far cry from its sad state in previous years. I also discovered a vantage point at the church on the hill above the road for views of the hills at the edge of the plateau west of Queensville and Lexington, to which I will return for photos on a better day; it may, however, be a bit tricky avoiding all the utility lines I noticed.
After photos at the bridge in Cleveland/MacLeods, now under good sun, I turned onto the Lower River Road, another beautiful drive, but a frustrating one since it does have several views of River Inhabitants, but no public vantage point from which to photograph them—they’re all hidden behind lovely private homes. At the end of that road, I turned onto the 104 and drove on to Port Hood, where I had lunch, stopping at Baxters Cove on the way, a spot I hadn’t yet visited this year and where I found a new Railway Trail kiosk and parking area (at least I don’t remember them from the last time I was there). The sun had by now driven the grey clouds out of the sky, though white cumulus clouds had arrived along with the blue sky and was shining bright, while the haze remained thick enough to make Cape George invisible across St Georges Bay. The temperature had climbed as well into the upper 20’s (low to mid 80’s), though with a good breeze, which, with the high humidity, made it too warm for hiking, but a fine beach day. I was disappointed that the ice cream barn was out of maple walnut ice cream (again!), so I had to settle for butter pecan instead—excellent but not in the same exalted class as maple walnut.
After getting my motel room key and changing into wear more suitable for the shore, I headed off to West Mabou Beach Provincial Park and took my field chair to a shaded area on the cliffs above the beach and enjoyed the gorgeous scenery across the Mabou River—Green Point, Mabou Harbour Mountain, and the southwestern end of the Cape Mabou Highlands—as well as the long beach below in both directions. The surf, pushed by strong breezes, roared in off the Gulf and crashed continually onto the beach. The beach was not as crowded as I’d have thought, with perhaps fifteen people, most young children in the water. I drove back to Port Hood as I had come, along the lovely Colindale Road, saying goodbye for now to the gorgeous views from there.
After changing into presentable clothes once again, I returned a dish I’d forgotten to give my friend when we met for dinner Monday and then drove on to the Shoe for a celebratory birthday dinner. I then drove to the kiosk in West Mabou, where I watched the sun set over Rocky Ridge and again admired another of my favourite views: the Cape Mabou Highlands across the Mabou River. I then drove up the Southwest Ridge Road to the summit, where I stopped for a final look at the Cape Mabou Highlands from there and took several photos of them edged by the sunset’s pinkish red orange colours.
Then it was on to Glencoe Mills, where the music was supplied by Jennifer Bowman and Kolten MacDonell. This was the first successful Glencoe dance I’ve been at this year, thanks in large part to a numerous contingent of dancers said to be from the mainland and to some fine and energetic dancers who drove down from the Gaelic College and stayed through the end. The musicians were in the hall and set up even before I arrived very early as is my wont, but there weren’t enough dancers in the hall so the first jig set had no takers, but that was the only one of the night; there was no problem getting dancers on the floor for any of the following seven square sets that were danced. Kolten was on fiddle and Jennifer on piano for the first two square sets; Jennifer was on fiddle and Kolten on piano for the next two; Kolten was on fiddle and Jennifer on piano for the last three square sets; Jennifer was on fiddle and Kolten on piano for the step dance set, which followed the fifth square set. After the second square set, the floor was filled with as many as three groups dancing until the last two square sets, after many folks had left, when there were still several couples in each square set. David Rankin, Stephen MacLennan, Brandi McCarthy, Kelly MacLennan, and Marielle Lespérance (a highland dance instructor from Ottawa currently teaching at the Gaelic College [thanks, Brandi]) shared their steps and all had long and intricate step dance sequences. A fine evening enjoyed by all and a great way to celebrate a birthday!
While I’m sad to be leaving this wonderful Island, even if it is to attend the Rollo Bay Fiddle Festival to which I look forward all year long, it is with the knowledge that I’ll soon be back here again for the Cape Breton Fiddlers’ Association festival at St Anns in August. Life is good, even at 71!
Friday, 19 July — Port Hood to Rollo Bay
Still full from dinner last night, I awoke at 9h and, without eating breakfast, left Port Hood for the Rollo Bay Fiddle Festival in PEI at 10h, crossing the Causeway bridge at 10h41, and arriving at the ferry docks at 12h01. The “hungries” returned by the time I got on the ferry, so I had brunch there; it’s cafeteria style, but the food was surprisingly good and filled me up again. Skies were whitish grey and sprinkles, mist, and light rain fell at various points along the way; cool temperatures—+19 (67) when I left Port Hood and no warmer at Rollo Bay. (I’m not complaining! A heat wave is due to hit tomorrow, alas.)
I checked in to the Rollo Bay Inn at 15h45 and, not ravenous after the brunch on the boat, had a nap before a superb light dinner at the Sheltered Harbour on Breakwater Street in Souris.
Then it was off to the festival for some pre-concert socializing with friends I’ve made here over the years. Tonight’s concert was a departure from the youth concert of previous festivals; instead, it featured five fiddlers, three from PEI and two from Cape Breton, each talking about and then playing Tunes I Wish I Had Written. The first set was by Chrissy Crowley, sitting in for Ellen McPhee who couldn’t make it, with Kevin Chaisson on keyboards and JJ Chaisson on guitar; her usual energetic and fiery playing won everyone’s hearts with a fine traditional set. Next, Jesse Francis, with Kevin on keyboards and JJ on guitar, gave us an excellent set; I do not recall having heard his playing before and was taken with his style. Anastasia DesRoches with Kevin on keyboards and JJ on guitar, gave us a set in still another style; I have admired her distinctive playing since I first heard it at a Rollo Bay festival some years ago. Mike Hall, who arrived after the concert had started, with Kevin on keyboards and JJ on guitar, gave us another great set of tunes in a fine performance. Lastly, JJ on fiddle with Darla MacPhee taking over the keyboards, finished up the first round of tune sets with a masterful performance. Chrissy, with Darla on keyboards, gave us another fine set of tunes. Jesse, with Darla on keyboards and JJ on guitar, gave us some great jigs. Anastasia, with Mylène (Ouellette) Chaisson on keyboards and JJ on guitar, played two fine tunes I’d not heard before. Mike, with Kevin on keyboards and JJ on guitar, gave us another great set. JJ, with Kevin on keyboards, played some beautiful waltzes and then launched into strathspeys, which the other fiddlers joined later, that brought step dancers onto the floor: Gillian Head went first; Anastasia and Chrissy danced together; Donna Chaisson (JJ’s mother), Diane (Chaisson) MacKinnon (JJ’s sister), Julie Chaisson (JJ’s wife), and Sophie Stevens (a highland dancer from Scotland), danced as a group of four.
After the formal concert, anyone with an instrument was invited to join the others for a jam session, during which Chrissy and Anastasia alternated leads, with Kevin on keyboards. The quality of most of the players was quite high, as the sets were played at tempo and sounded very good.
To close off the evening, a resurrected Kindle, which began life as the Celtic Tide fifteen years ago and has not been active in the past few years (other than an appearance at last year’s festival) played to an enthusiastic crowd of free form dancers: a huge number of young folks who came to hear “their” band intermixed with older folks equally enamoured of the traditional music played in a Celtic rock band style. I don’t usually go for that sort of thing, but I recognized all the tunes and the playing was so infectious that I was happy to hear them play. This wasn’t quite the original incarnation, but four of the original members were there: JJ on fiddle, Darla on keyboards, Brent Chaisson on drums, and Kurt Chaisson on electric guitar. Koady Chaisson played bass instead of Elmer Deagle, who played mandolin in the original band. It was a joyous performance greatly appreciated by those in attendance. That closed out the evening’s official music, which continued in the tuning barn not long afterwards.
My PEI friend, June Harper, traditionally makes a big pot of clam chowder and biscuits to celebrate the festival and she invited me and several of her friends to have a bowl in her trailer. I got to meet some new people while enjoying the delicious food. Then, it was back to the Inn to get rested up for tomorrow’s full day of music. The fiddle festival is off to a fine start indeed!
Saturday, 20 July⁸ — Rollo Bay
I got up at 9h30 for breakfast and went back to bed and napped until 12h30, when it was time to head for the festival field, which lay under clear blue skies and blazing sun with a welcome cooling breeze off the water: a day for mandatory sunscreen and constant rehydration! (It was claimed to be the hottest on record in PEI.) I skipped the morning workshops in fiddle and step dance (and likely others) in favour of resting up for tonight.
When I arrived, the buzz on the field was about a fabulous night of music in the tuning barn during the wee small hours of Friday night (Saturday morning, actually) with blazing music from Chrissy Crowley and Mike Hall among others—at Rollo Bay the music never stops!
And what an afternoon of music it was! At 14h03, Marlene MacDonald, the emcee these past years, opened the afternoon concert. For those who’ve never been to a Rollo Bay concert (and for those who have but couldn’t make it this year), here’s the afternoon’s playlist (most performers played two sets or one very long set):
Stephen Chaisson on fiddle accompanied by Kevin Chaisson on keyboards and Koady Chaisson on guitar
Chrissy Crowley on fiddle accompanied by Kevin and Koady
a youth fiddlers group (ages 8-13) led by Kathryn Dau-Schmidt that meets at the Rollo Bay school on Mondays, accompanied by Kevin on keyboards
Anastasia DesRoches on fiddle accompanied by Mylène Chaisson on keyboards and Brent Chaisson on guitar, during the second set of which Mylène’s sister, Geneviève Ouelette, step danced
Allan MacDonald on fiddle accompanied by Kevin and Koady
Andrea Beaton on fiddle accompanied by Kevin and Brent
Ben Miller on Scottish border pipes accompanied by Andrea on keyboards, during which Sophie Stevens (Scotland) step-danced
Melanie Chaisson on fiddle accompanied by Kevin on keyboards and father Peter Chaisson on guitar
Buddy Longaphie on fiddle accompanied by Kevin and Koady
Shelly Campbell on fiddle accompanied by Allan Dewar on keyboards and Koady on guitar
Koady on banjo accompanied by Brent on guitar
the Monday night kitchen fiddle group led by Peter (who only played the second set) accompanied by Kevin on keyboards
Mike Hall on fiddle accompanied by Allan and Brent
sisters Donna (Deagle) Peters and Charity Deagle singing with guitar accompaniment a tribute consisting of songs their late father loved
Ward MacDonald on fiddle accompanied by Allan
Quite a list, eh? While it was blazing on the field, a lovely cooling breeze off Rollo Bay made it tolerable and the music was so compelling on stage there was no time to think about the heat anyway.
After the concert ended, I got a chance to catch up with friends before the evening concert started, by which time the temperatures had returned to a much more seasonable range and the skies to the west had clouded over.
Here’s the evening’s amazing line-up:
Chrissy accompanied by Kevin and Koady
Buddy Longaphie accompanied by Kevin and Koady
Melanie accompanied by Kevin and Koady
Kenny (Joe Pete) Chaisson accompanied by daughter Darla MacPhee
the Thursday night fiddling group from Morell (PEI)
Rannie MacLellan accompanied by Allan and Junior Fraser
Gillian Head accompanied by Kevin and Koady
Stan Chapman accompanied by Allan and Junior
Andrea and Mathieu Gallant on unaccompanied dual fiddles playing some fine “crooked tunes” (in Québécois style)
Doug Lamey accompanied by wife Kaitlin and Junior
the somewhat misnamed Celtic Ladies, two fifths of whom are men (Darla MacPhee on keyboards; Jocelyne Ludgate on vocals, bodhrán, and bass; Jaime Bell on percussion and stepdance; Jon Matthews on guitar, vocals, mandolin, bouzouki, and bass; and JJ Chaisson on fiddle and vocals)
Jesse Francis accompanied by Troy MacGillivray
Mike Hall accompanied by Darla and JJ
Francis MacDonald accompanied by Kevin and Koady
Shelly accompanied by Allan and Junior, playing for John Pellerine to step dance
Troy accompanied by Allan and JJ
JJ on fiddle accompanied by Kevin and Koady, playing a set of the late Elmer Deagle’s favourite tunes dedicated to his memory, during which several people step danced, including an endearing dozen or more of the very young (under seven) Chaisson clan, who were dancing and playing below the stage after darkness fell
The concert ended at 22h22, occasionally lit up by flashes of lightning and a sprinkle of raindrops, but nowhere near enough to disrupt the concert—everyone stayed through until the last notes of JJ’s fiddle had faded away. Magnificent sound throughout the entire day, the best I’ve heard at any outdoor festival; kudos to the hard-working sound crew who made it so.
The music, of course, didn’t end with the concert: the round and square dance in the barn followed with several musicians playing; I didn’t make a list, but Melanie, Kenny (Joe Pete), Troy, Andrea, JJ, Kevin, and Koady all played at various points. Brent looked after the sound and, as during the Friday evening concert, it was superb.
When the dance ran down, I headed out to the tuning barn for some fine sets of tunes by:
Jesse Francis and Jana Cheverie on piano (with Norman Leclair on guitar and a player I don’t know on either small pipes or a flute-sounding whistle accompaniment)
Rannie MacLellan and Jana and Norman on guitar, with Suzanne MacDonald replacing Jana for the last set, my first time hearing Suzanne play
one great long blast o’ tunes from Mike Hall with Allan Dewar on piano.
I wanted to stay longer—it was by then 2h—but my body was shutting down and I had to either leave or fall asleep to the floor.
A more perfect day of music I cannot imagine. Folks, if you’ve never experienced a Rollo Bay festival, you’re missing something incredible that happens only in PEI! What a fabulous day, hot in so many ways! And then there’s still another, even fuller day to come on Sunday! Simply awesome!
Sunday, 21 July⁹ — Rollo Bay
I awoke at 9h and went down to breakfast. I returned to my room and finished up yesterday’s post. I drove to Souris for an errand and then out to the festival field. The temperatures had reverted to norm, low 20’s (70’s), and yesterday’s wonderful cooling breeze was still around. The skies were littered with white puffy cumulus clouds, a few with an ominous grey tinge, but the sun was out in force whenever it was not hidden by the clouds. Mandatory sunscreen day, again. Near perfect day for an outdoor concert!
It got underway at just after 13h. Here is the performance listing for the afternoon concert:
Shelly Campbell on fiddle accompanied by Allan Dewar on keyboards and Brent Chaisson on guitar (a lovely slow air followed by strathspeys and reels giving a fantastic start to the concert and setting the standard very high for the following performers)
Ben Miller on Scottish border pipes in another superb set accompanied by Ward MacDonald on fiddle and Richard Wood on keyboards—Sophie Stevens step danced during the set
Kenny Chaisson on fiddle accompanied by Allan on keyboards
Mike Hall on fiddle accompanied by Kevin Chaisson on keyboards and Brent on guitar
several folk songs by the Fiddlers’ Sons, a popular PEI folk group (Eddy Quinn on bodhrán and vocals, John B. Webster on guitar, and Garth Matthews on bass are the fiddlers’ sons and are joined by Sheila FitzPatrick on fiddle)—I normally wouldn’t have much cared for this, but these guys are good!
a very fine set by Rannie MacLellan on fiddle accompanied by Allan on keyboards and Junior Fraser on guitar
three sets by the Queens County Fiddlers (a large group of fiddlers based in Charlottetown) with Jennifer Garrity on keyboards—very nice sound indeed!
a fantastic set beginning with an air and continuing with strathspeys and reels by Troy MacGillivray on fiddle accompanied by Allan on keyboards and Brent on guitar
Corrine Gallant and Mathieu Gallant (probably very distantly related) on dual fiddles accompanied by Andrea Beaton on keyboards playing a beautiful waltz and two dandy reels à la québécoise
another fine air/strathspeys/reels set by Richard Wood on fiddle accompanied by Allan on keyboards and Brent on guitar
a fast and furious set not in Cape Breton style by youth fiddler Liam McGlashon accompanied by Richard on keyboards
songs by Louise (Chaisson) MacKinnon, daughter of the late Lemmy Chaisson, singing with her own guitar accompaniment songs her father loved, accompanied by Kevin on keyboards and Peter Chaisson on backing fiddle
a fine set by Melanie Chaisson on fiddle accompanied by Kevin on keyboards and her father Peter on guitar
a marvellous set with Troy and sister Kendra (Rainnie) on dual fiddles accompanied by Allan on keyboards and Brent on guitar
JJ Chaisson on fiddle accompanied by Kevin on keyboards during which wife Julie and young son Brady step danced briefly
presentation of the PEI Fiddlers’ Association award to Ward MacDonald, richly deserved for his tireless and fruitful efforts in promoting traditional Scottish music in PEI and elsewhere over the last many years
Peter on fiddle accompanied by Kevin on keyboards and Brent on guitar
a happy birthday to Peter, who celebrated his birthday today
a wonderful set by Andrea on fiddle accompanied by Troy on keyboards and Brent on guitar during which Shelly step danced
and to finish the concert off, a set by JJ on fiddle (holding a squirming and curious son Maguire on his lap) accompanied by Kevin on keyboards and Brent on guitar
Four hours can be a long time, but it passed way too quickly as flashes of brilliantly played music emanated from the concert stage during the fast-paced afternoon. Towards the end of the concert, Marlene MacDonald, the emcee, drew a ticket for the 50/50 draw that matched mine! Was I some surprised!
When the concert ended, I joined friends at their invitation for a lovely outdoor dinner outside their trailer with songs by Norman Leclair accompanying the meal, a nice taste of the campground life I’ve been too little exposed to and for which I thank my friends.
By the end of the concert, the skies had been covered over with thin white stratus clouds, but they started to clear away by the start of the evening concert and were mostly clear blue again by 19h45; the temperatures dropped as dusk approached with the breeze continuing to blow pretty steadily and forced me into a jacket as the humidity off Rollo Bay rolled in, making it seem even cooler than it was—from Saturday’s exceptional heat wave to Sunday night’s retreat into the low teens (fifties) was a really radical shift, with most of us greatly preferring the cool weather.
The evening concert’s performers were:
Andrea on fiddle accompanied by Troy on keyboards with a great set during which Allison Beaton step danced
fine set by Allan MacDonald on fiddle accompanied by Troy on keyboards and Kevin on guitar (!)
Rannie on fiddle accompanied by Kevin on keyboards with another gorgeous set beginning with a finely rendered Beautiful Lake Ainslie
the Southern Kings Fiddlers from Montague, a group ranging in age from 13 to 80, with Beth Knox on keyboards
an amazing set by Mike Hall on fiddle accompanied by Troy on keyboards and JJ on guitar that the crowd greeted, when it had ended, with repeated shouts of “More! More!” as Mike was leaving the stage, forcing him back to play a second set, which was then greeted with a standing ovation
Mary Chaisson, another of the late Lemmy Chaisson’s daughters, sang more songs in his memory with her own guitar accompaniment
Vanessa Bernard on fiddle played a set in a more Acadian style accompanied by Richard on keyboards and father Jacky on guitar
Richard on fiddle accompanied by Troy on keyboards and JJ (in a hoodie to ward off the cold) on guitar, during which the young lass Carly Robertson (I’m unsure of the last name) step danced
Ben Miller on Scottish border pipes in another fine set accompanied by Richard on keyboards (JJ was going to accompany on guitar, but ended up holding the “pitch bender” on the keyboards in place so they would stay in tune with the pipes), during which Sophie again step danced
Shelly on fiddle accompanied by Allan on keyboards and JJ on guitar played another magnificent set in high bass tuning beginning with The Last March by John Morris Rankin and continuing with strathspeys and reels to which Vanessa step danced
a fine set by Jesse Francis accompanied by Ward on keyboards
a set by Cassie and Maggie MacDonald from the Halifax area
a beautiful set by Stan Chapman on fiddle accompanied by Allan on keyboards and Junior on guitar
a neat tune composed by Ward that he played on fiddle accompanied by Richard on keyboards
the Grand Finale with Peter, Kenny, Andrea, Melanie, Shelly, Ward, Richard, and JJ on fiddles (I hope I didn’t leave anyone out—it was a crowded scene!) accompanied by Kevin on keyboards, during which the youngest dancing members of the Chaisson clan, who had been eagerly awaiting their chance to get on stage all day long, danced to the massive music with parents and grandparents in a long line that filled the whole stage from left to right, including a seated Dianne Deagle who, no longer able to dance standing up, danced sitting down! What a fabulous and heart-warming sight! And what an effective way of passing this wonderful music on to the next generation!
Once the concert was over, we all moved over to the barn for the dance, during which Kenny, Kevin, Troy, Shelly, Allan, JJ, and Andrea all played (and there were likely others I didn’t see from where I was seated). Some lively dancing took place as the end of the festival approached.
A number of folks headed over to the tuning barn for what must have been some great concluding sets; I didn’t follow them, as I had done in previous years and wanted to do again for as long as I could hold out, because I needed to get in a good sleep for the long drive ahead of me in the morning.
So ended, for me, another wonderful Rollo Bay festival. Where else in the world can one get three days of music of this fantastic quality (the roster is a who’s who of Maritime Scottish traditional music) for $30 (which includes camping privileges if you’re a camper)? I cannot thank the Chaisson family enough for all their hard work, both on stage and behind the scenes, in making this the premier fiddling festival in the world and keeping it welcoming, orderly, clean, fun, and family-friendly. I know that many Chaissons worked over this weekend with little or no sleep to pull this amazing event off. It is an incredible testament to their love of the music that they have done this every year now for 37 years! And thanks too to my PEI friends for their many acts of kindness. I have already booked my reservations for next year at the Inn; I can’t wait for the 38th edition! If you love Scottish traditional fiddle music, block out the Friday, Saturday, and Sunday for the weekend whose Sunday is the third Sunday of July and get ready for a fantastic time!
Monday, 22 July — Rollo Bay to Lewiston
I left Rollo Bay a little past 9h and arrived in Lewiston (Maine) about 19h (both times ADT). Long enough for one day!
I missed a sign on my way into the new US customs in Calais, my first time there, and ended up in the commercial area; they couldn’t seem to figure out why anyone would spend five weeks in Cape Breton hiking and attending as many music events as was possible, coming back with a car well-decorated with Glencoe dust, so they sent me inside for forty-five minutes while a team went through the car looking for anything I hadn’t declared. Fortunately, I remembered at the last minute that I’d forgotten to leave the bear spray (actually a defence against coyotes that have never bothered me) with my friend before leaving Cape Breton, so I declared it, which left them with nothing but dirty laundry to discover, but now I have to figure out how to bring it back with me in August and not get turned away at the Canadian border. Forgetful me!
Tuesday, 23 July — Lewiston to Jackson
I left Lewiston later than anticipated at 7h52 in heavy rain and ground fog at +19 (66); visibility was very poor to Portland and better further south where the rain tapered off. It remained foggy to Massachusetts and cloudy to Sturbridge, where the sun broke through heavy rain clouds. Alternating sun and clouds the rest of the way home, where I arrived without event at 15h30.
It feels like a sauna here: +31 (88) and really humid, though a small breeze is helping modestly; thunderstorms forecast for tonight. It must have rained a lot recently, as puddles of standing water lined the road from the Turnpike to my house. I am exhausted from the week-end, the heat, and the drive: ’twill be early to bed tonight!