Thursday, 30 July — Jackson to Hawkesbury (Ontario)
I left Jackson this morning at 8h43 and arrived in Hawkesbury (Ontario) at 17h55. It was overcast with some sunny breaks from Jackson to Kingston (NY). There was some clearing north of Kingston and blue sky appeared between the clouds. I stopped at the Malden rest area and had a small sub. I lost the sun again at Albany and rain started at the Saratoga County line, becoming a torrential downpour intermixed with fog for a goodly ways. I stopped again at the Glens Falls rest area. It continued raining, though with much less vigour, all the way to the Clinton County line, where the rain stopped and the sun came out through the clouds. Most of the mountains were cloaked in clouds with streamers of fog on the lower slopes, so I again saw nothing of the peaks on this trip (that makes three years in a row where I've seen next to nothing on this beautiful route through the Adirondacks! Grrr!). I picked a different route in Québec this year from the last two years: instead of crossing at Châteauguay (NY), I crossed at Mooers (NY). The connection from Hemmingford (QC) to Autoroute 30 is much simpler and shorter than the other way and with much less congestion, effectively cutting off an hour of driving time, though it does incur a toll, which I find a great trade-off. There were sprinkles through Québec, but the sun was out, though accompanied by lots of dark clouds, in Hawkesbury. The temperature was in the high 20’s and low to mid 30’s (80’s and 90’s) until the downpour, after which it was in the mid 20’s (upper 70’s) but very humid; the a/c was on nearly all the way. It was much less humid in Hawkesbury.
After checking in to the motel, I drove downtown for dinner at L’Escale. Hawkesbury is a lovely francophone village, though everyone is bilingual, along the Ottawa River. The restaurant is on a bluff on the river slightly downstream from the marina below, with a fine view of the river and the tree-lined Québec shore, broken here and there by houses mostly hidden by trees and boats docked beside the river. There wasn't much activity on the river, just a couple of boats moving about. The restaurant offers both inside and outside tables and I chose tonight to sit outside. Its menu is large and varied and everything I've had there has been done to perfection; since it’s one of the very few places I know that offers cuisses de grenouille (frog legs), I ordered them tonight; they were done in a very delicate light batter and cooked perfectly, served with garlic butter; somewhat different in character from those my mother made, I thought them as good. They were served with rice, roast potatoes, and mixed vegetables (broccoli, cauliflower, and carrots) al dente. I was good and ordered no dessert, just tea, and watched the golden rays of the setting sun glint off the boats below and colour the scene, a wonderful way to relax after a long drive. I returned to the motel and unpacked, as I'll be here three nights. I'll soon be off to bed, resting up for a feast of fiddle music tomorrow afternoon at the Glengarry Highland Games in Maxville.
Friday, 31 July — Hawkesbury
I arose at 7h15 to a sunny morning with blue skies and few clouds, little humidity, and a very pleasant +23 (73). After breakfast at the Inn, I drove to Embrun to visit my two first cousins, daughters of my father’s sister, now in their early 80’s. The younger’s youngest, a son, now a few years from retirement, joined us. It doesn't seem all that long ago I spent time in the summer on her farm and he was a toddler! Now, he has two daughters, one in university! How time has flown! We went to lunch at a restaurant downtown, where I enjoyed a smoked meat sandwich and a garden salad.
After saying good-bye, I drove back to Maxville, arriving about 20 minutes after the start of the youth fiddlers concert, which ran from 14h to 17h. I purchased grandstand tickets and walked to the nearby Arena Hall where I listened to the youth, varying in age from 4 years old to young adults, though mostly preteens, for an hour, until it was time for Wendy MacIsaac to play in Metcalfe Hall. While I was there, Gert and Stan Chapman sat down across from where I was seated. I walked over to Metcalfe Hall and talked with Donaldson MacLeod. Gert and Stan also came over with Junior Fraser and his wife. Wendy played four sets with Jake Charron, who alternated between guitar and keyboard; the sound equipment was a little shy of being able to fill the large packed hall, but one could make it out through the din of ambient conversations fuelled by the beer available at both ends of the hall, though by the last set, the power of their music had captured the attention of most of those present. I then returned to the youth concert in Arena Hall, where I now found a somewhat older set of players; the concert ended with the MacLeod Fiddlers, an group of teens and young adults whose sound is smooth and polished, lush even. I spoke with Donald and Anne MacPhee and, part of the time, sat by Burton MacIntyre. More than fifty youth fiddlers performed this afternoon, many of them already accomplished players. Clearly, Glengarry fiddling is thriving in the young generation! Wendy and Jake then played for over a half hour, Jake again alternating between guitar and keyboard, with excellent sound this time; Burton, in kilt and full Scottish kit, step danced during their last set with two young ladies and another kilted gentleman I don't know. When Wendy and Jake finished, the massed Glengarry fiddlers, roughly seventy strong, assembled at the front of the hall and played several fine sets. They have just released a new CD, a copy of which I purchased but didn't get a chance to listen to yet.
I then walked about a bit, stretching my legs, and then made my way to the grandstands for the pre-concert entertainment, the massed Glengarry Fiddlers on the main stage, who played the same sets as they had in Arena Hall. They were followed by the evening tattoo. The opening speeches and ceremonies (three anthems, Scottish, American, and Canadian) were succeeded by two large cohorts of pipers and drummers, each formed from several of the competing pipe and drum bands, who each marched onto the field and played several sets of tunes. Once they had marched off the field, the stage was turned over to a local group called The Brigadoons, a multi-instrumented group who sang several Scottish or Celtic songs with fine and varied instrumentation. They then played for the MacCulloch dancers, who must number over one hundred and were dressed in highland dancing attire, who gave us several finely choreographed dances, some highland dances and some step dances, spread out all across the field; it was quite a sight for the eyes! By the time they finished, it was growing dark and I had a sore bum—I should be better prepared for grandstand sitting than I was—and complaining muscles from the narrow seating, so I left, grabbing a bacon cheeseburger on the way out from one of the many food stands.
The drive back to Hawkesbury started with a full moon in mostly clear skies except to the east, where big grey-black clouds lay at the horizon. By the time I got off Highway 417, the moon was gone and it was dark; the road was wet from VanKleek Hill to Hawkesbury, though it wasn't raining, with ground fog making the driving uncomfortable in the lights of oncoming vehicles on this busy road. I was glad when I arrived at the motel and relaxed and unwound before writing up the day’s account. I will sleep well tonight!
Saturday, 1 August — Hawkesbury
I awoke to a lovely morning with blue sky, lots of white puffy clouds lined with grey, warm sun, a good breeze, and a mild temperature of +19 (66). After breakfast at the Inn, I drove to Maxville and arrived about 9h30, getting a prime parking spot near the grandstands. I watched some of the highland dance competitions and then the tug of war competitions from grandstands where today I was much more comfortable as I could spread out, since few were in the stands and nobody nearby. The tug of war winners were the Cameron Highlanders of Ottawa, who easily defeated every team they went up against. I then went to an area called Circle One, where I watched four pipe and drum bands compete in the North American “Grade 5 March Medley” pipe band championships: the College of Piping from Summerside, PEI; the Sons of Scotland pipe band from Ottawa; the Quigley Highlanders from Lochiel northeast of Maxville; and the Glengarry pipe band from Maxville; even though grade 5 is the least accomplished level, they all looked and sounded just fine to my untrained eyes and ears. I then retired to the arena dining hall for lunch, where I had the cold plate, a sub loaded with veggies and meat, macaroni salad, cole slaw, beverage (water), and dessert (a cup of fresh-made fruit cocktail with blueberries and melons and two small confections I couldn’t resist).
Then it was back to the grandstands, now much more frequented than earlier, for some speechifying, three anthems, a parade of dignitaries, the parade of the clans, and the event everyone was waiting for: the arrival of the massed pipe and drum bands, who arrived in three cohorts and regaled the audience with the amazing sound of massed bands.
The day remained mild and pleasant, but felt more humid as I made my way to Arena Hall for the afternoon fiddle cèilidh. It began with the massed Glengarry fiddlers, who today were accompanied by keyboard, guitar, and bass. As at the Cape Breton Fiddlers’ Association gala concert, various members of the group play with accompaniment; those who did were mostly unknown to me and very competent. The Ottawa Cape Breton session with special guest Stan Chapman played some sets and I got a chance to talk with Beth MacGillivray, who was there with that group. Another group of five young ladies, known as the Scotch River Fiddlers and composed of four fiddlers and a keyboardist, were remarkable for their fine and varied playing, from standard fiddle tunes to a spiced up fiddle version of Pachelbels Canon I quite enjoyed. Wendy MacIsaac on fiddle and Jake Charron on guitar primarily and keyboard for one set, gave us some fine sets of Cape Breton playing, including one containing a tune by Peter Chaisson. Christine Carr step danced during one of the sets. Wendy asked Stan Chapman to join her on stage and, with Jake on keyboard, they gave us a fine set of tunes beginning with “Trip to Mabou Ridge”; during this set, Burton MacIntyre again in kilt step danced as did another lady and another kilted gentleman. After they left the stage, other players not known to me competently continued the cèilidh. The MacLeod Fiddlers with Ian MacLeod on keyboard played three sets with great sound, the third of which included a fine “St Anns Reel”. Stan Chapman, accompanied by Junior Fraser on guitar gave us a dandy set, after which the massed Glengarry Fiddlers played several sets, different from those I heard yesterday and the third of which had a lot of tunes new to me, to conclude the afternoon.
It was overcast and threatening rain when I came out; coming back from the washroom, I ran into Burton outside and we were chatting about our evening plans when we were greeted by a red-kilted Justin Trudeau, who shook hands with us both and engaged Burton in a brief conversation. I then had another bacon cheeseburger from a food stand for supper and returned to the grandstands for the final event, the massed bands and the announcement of the pipe and drum band competition winners.
The bands paraded onto the field in five cohorts this time: bands competing at and after the noon massed band event were excused from taking part in it, so there were many more musicians on the field tonight, 1531 from 53 pipe bands we were told. After some selections played by all or parts of the massed bands, the competition winners were announced: Grade 5 went to the Barrie pipes and drums; Grade 4 to the City of Dunedin, a Florida band; Grade 3 to the MacMillan pipe band of Rockville, Maryland; Grade 2 to the Greater Midwest band from Battle Creek (Michigan); and Grade 1 to the 78th Fraser Highlanders from Campbellville (in the greater Toronto area). As each winner was announced, the band stepped forward out of its cohort and received its reward, after which it marched off the field. When all the winners had left, the remaining band members were dismissed and walked off the field, bringing the event to an end.
At that point, I regained my car and, given the advantageous spot, was soon off the grounds. To avoid traffic and to explore a bit, instead of returning by Highway 417, I came back via Dunvegan, a rather larger place than Cape Breton’s Dunvegan but still small and host to the Glengarry Pioneer Museum. It had rained there at some point during the late afternoon as the roads were partially wet, but at Maxville at least, the rain had nicely held off and the day was close to ideal for an outdoor festival. Back at Hawkesbury, I relaxed and unwound a while and then edited my notes into this account. I will soon be off to bed.
Sunday, 2 August — Hawkesbury to Chippewa Bay (New York)
Another lovely day greeted me this morning, though there were many more white clouds than blue sky, mild and sunny. After checking out of the Inn, I drove downtown for breakfast at L’Escale, where the shrimp omelette took my eye from the eight page breakfast menu; it arrived served with toast and home fries and garnished with slices of pineapple, watermelon, orange, honey dew melon, cantaloupe, and kiwi fruit—absolutely delicious! It was the first time I've had a shrimp omelette; I hope it won't be the last, but I have never before seen it on offer.
Much more blue sky was visible as I drove westward across eastern Ontario from Hawkesbury to Cass Bridge (near Winchester), where I bought some “day old” cheese (so new it squeaks when you bite into it), cheese curd, and maple syrup as gifts for the family and then continued on to my sister’s in the Thousand Islands of New York State. No problem with US customs, who had absolutely no interest in red apples this time.
My eldest nephew and his partner made a fine dinner for my sister, her husband, my youngest nephew and his family, who arrived as the afternoon progressed, and me (my middle nephew lives in Virginia): garden salad, salt potatoes, grilled marinated chicken breast, and a lovely ice cream cake. It was good to see much of my family together and to catch up on everyone’s news; my grand nieces are lovely young ladies now, no longer children. The day passed quickly. Storm clouds arrived before sunset, blocking any colourful displays and it has grown quite humid, not great omens for travelling tomorrow, when I hope to make central New Brunswick by nightfall. I will soon be in bed, resting up for the next two long days of driving.
Monday, 3 August — Chippewa Bay to Perth-Andover (New Brunswick)
I left my sister’s at 8h16 this morning. It was a decent day, but way more clouds were showing than blue skies. I ran into sprinkles near the Ontario/Québec border and again south of Québec City, where it became humid enough I turned on the a/c. My first stop was at a rest area north of Québec City. My second one was unplanned—my car abruptly informed me it had 7 miles to go before it would run out of gas. I had two bars showing (usually meaning about 75 miles left) at Rivière-du-Loup, so I declined to fill up there as there were long lines at the one gas station I saw. But there was a lot of up and down and that must have confused the car’s metering equipment as well as using more gas than it had allowed for; anyhow, once warned, I immediately got off the highway at St-Louis-du-Ha!-Ha! (I kid you not!) and enquired at the first store I came to where I’d find the nearest gas station; she directed me to one she said was 2 km (1.25 mi) away, but it seemed three times that far. The car informed me it was out of gas just as I reached the pump! Whew! My next stop was at the New Brunswick Visitors' Centre where I picked up the provincial guide book and map and enquired about the road from Grand Falls to Miramichi, which I had thought about taking as I’d never been to Miramichi NB and it would be nice to vary the route a bit. I was told it was a twisty winding route through the forest with no views, so I scratched that idea. A nasty huge grey-black cloud had been spewing flashes of lightning in the distance while I was still in Québec; I hit the deluge at Edmundston and the rain continued fairly heavy to St-Léonard, where it turned to lighter rain. By St-André, it stopped altogether and the sun came back out in a mostly blue sky. I stopped for the night at Perth-Andover, got my motel room, and had supper at a truck stop restaurant up the hill from the motel: a large green salad and a chicken vegetable stir fry, both excellent, finished off with a mug of tea—no dessert after that great helping of ice cream cake I had yesterday. Since I lost an hour coming into New Brunswick, it is now past time for bed for an early start in the morning.
Tuesday, 4 August — Perth-Andover (New Brunswick) to Whycocomagh
I arose at 6h and got away at 6h26. Rain had wet the roads overnight and the early morning was overcast and fairly dark. The clouds covered some of the hills and descended to just above the road in many places, but, except in a couple of spots for a few minutes, didn’t impede visibility. I stopped for breakfast at 8h12 at the Blue Canoe Restaurant at the Irving Big Stop on the outskirts of Fredericton; it was all fine and the orange juice especially so, thick and full of pulp. The skies opened up some and the sun came out as I proceeded east; it was in the mid-20’s (70’s) and very humid, but with the windows open on both sides of the car, the breeze had enough of a cooling effect I didn’t turn on the a/c. I stopped again for gas in Salisbury—it wasn't urgent, but I needed a break as I was a bit sleepy on the Fredericton to Salisbury stretch; I got some coffee, but ended up not drinking it as the stop woke me up fully. I stopped once again at the Nova Scotia Visitors’ Centre in Amherst to pick up this year’s “Doers and Dreamers” Guide. I crossed the Causeway Bridge at 13h57 and arrived in Whycocomagh about 14h30 and checked in. There was a fair amount of traffic from Amherst to Truro and again from New Glasgow to Whycocomagh, where it was pretty steady in both lanes, especially in Cape Breton.
I relaxed in my motel room and then drove to the Red Shoe in Mabou for supper where Hailee LeFort on fiddle and Stuart Cameron on guitar were supplying the dinner music; it was very noisy and I had trouble hearing, but what I did hear I liked. I had the pan-seared halibut, garnished with a fine salsa and served on top of asparagus stalks lying on mashed potatoes laced with pieces of lobster—absolutely scrumptious! Again, I finished with tea instead of dessert in an attempt to not exacerbate my already too high blood glucose levels and work on losing the nine pounds I gained on the first Cape Breton trip this year. I then walked across the street to the Community Hall for tonight’s cèilidh hosted by Karen and Joey Beaton and featuring Joey’s brother, Kinnon.
Karen and Kinnon on dual fiddles accompanied by Joey on keyboard began with three jigs, the last of which was Brenda Stubbert’s Rita’s Tea Room. Next, Karen on fiddle accompanied by Joey on keyboard gave us a tune of unknown title that Winston “Scotty” Fitzgerald played and that is now called locally by the name Lobster Party March, the strathspey In the Tradition, Tamerac ’er Down, The Drummer, and The Sound of Mull. Next, Karen and Joey gave us Jerry Holland’s Tears and John Campbell’s John Andrew’s Jig. Kinnon on fiddle and Joey on keyboard played two march/strathspeys/reels sets whose tune names were not given, except for the last reel of the first set, Sand Point Reel, which Kinnon said he had learned from the playing of Buddy MacMaster. Joey then played a piano solo, the Lochaber Gathering March he learned from an Angus Chisolm recording. Ron MacEachern then discussed the Cape Breton fiddle styles presentation Karen and Joey are giving here Wednesday night; I wish I had known about this earlier, as I’m sure it would be tremendously informative, but I am already committed to the cèilidh at the Gaelic College. After the break, Karen and Joey gave us a set of tunes including the Constitution Breakdown by Lee Cremo and then played a set consisting of The Road to the Isles, Scotland the Brave, and The Crooked Stove Pipe. Kinnon and Joey then played a march/strathspeys/reels set consisting of “whatever comes to [Kinnon’s] mind”); they then played a step dance set for Harvey MacKinnon and another for Peter Parker. The finale, with Karen and Kinnon on dual fiddles and Joey on keyboard, included the Golden Anniversary Reel and Carter MacKenzie's, a reel by Kevin Chaisson; during this set, a gentleman I don't know step danced.
I bolted from the cèilidh as soon as it was over in order to miss as little of the Scotsville dance as possible. Wendy MacIsaac on fiddle and Mac Morin on keyboard provided the music for what was the best of the Scotsville dances I've attended this year: four square sets were danced, one with seven couples and folks even got up to waltz and round dance. Excluding workers and musicians, the eleven in the hall when I arrived after 21h30 grew to about thirty by the end of the night. When no one was on the floor, Wendy and Mac played march/strathspeys/reels sets or slow airs or whatever took their fancy; Mac would play snippets between sets and Wendy would include them in the next set; they were both clearly having fun with the music, some of which I hadn't heard before, trying out different things, and enjoying each other’s company while doing so. Tired from the long day, I was happy I only had to drive to Whycocomagh and, once there, was instantly asleep.
Wednesday, 5 August — Whycocomagh
I slept very well and didn’t arise until 11h. Went to Vi’s, where I had orange juice, a chef salad, and an egg salad sandwich, all excellent. The day was mainly overcast with ugly grey clouds threatening rain, though it didn’t appear imminent.
I decided to drive up Whycocomagh Mountain Road and do some walking there if the weather looked reasonable. I don’t know why I never noticed that Whycocomagh Mountain Road continues straight where the main road (snowmobile trail SANS 104) turns to become Geldart Road, but it does indeed as Google Maps said, though I don’t think I’d risk my Prius on it; perhaps a hike on another day. There is more up and down than I remembered and I continued on to the four corners where Lewis Mountain Road crosses the Geldart Road, which becomes Trout Brook Road north of the four corners. I turned right onto Lewis Mountain Road and drove to the first road (unnamed so far as I know) that forks to the right, where I parked. Due to recent logging and to the regrowth of logged areas, the terrain seemed rather different from what I remembered from my last time there a few years ago.
I was not very ambitious, still recovering from the long drive of the past two days, but at 14h15, I headed towards the Little Narrows exit on the Trans-Canada Highway on the Lewis Mountain Road looking for the point where the Lewis Mountain Trail starts down the mountain. It was mostly downhill (which meant mostly uphill on the way back!) and, given all the reports of recent rains, surprisingly dry—only a couple of easily bypassed puddles. Twenty minutes later, I found myself at the “Gate Ahead” sign which is all that marks the junction: the right fork is the trail, just two tracks through wet grass-covered sand with bushes encroaching on both sides. The portion of the trail that starts here is in no better shape than it was when a friend and I hiked it from the Little Narrows exit in 2011, some photos from which are here; I find this sad as this was once considered for incorporation into the Trans-Canada Trail, which would have brought the much needed improvements (the lower portion of the trail is in fine shape and would have required much less work to bring it up to standards).
I hadn’t yet explored the left fork, which proceeds to a gate visible from the junction, so that was what I chose to do today. Eight minutes later, after having followed an ATV bypass trail at the side of the gate, I found myself at the edge of a huge open field beside a loading ramp for trucks and a small building with a porch, windows overlooking the field, a sofa, and a stove with a teapot (likely now a hunting cabin). A sign warns to keep to the side of the field to avoid crop damage, so, since it seemed not to be a trespass, I followed the edge of the field a good ways up and then followed some bare spots across the field perhaps a fifth of the way. The only “crops” I could see were very young blueberry-like plants barely two inches high, which I took great care to avoid. When I sat down, I had a nice view of the slopes of Lewis Mountain as I had gained enough height that the trees at the bottom edge of the field were now below my line of sight: an open hillside is a rare treat and always promises interesting views. I was wearing my new big red “coolie hat”, well sprayed with bug dope to keep the deer flies away, taking photos when three lads arrived on ATV’s at the building down below; when they spotted me sitting there in the field, surely an unexpected apparition, they took back off down the road in a big hurry! There was even one bar of cell service where I was sitting, but Google Maps was unresponsive so I’m not exactly sure where I was vis-à-vis the trail and the road (and it wasn’t much help later—it will be a task for Google Earth and my GPS track log when I get home).
I returned as I had come; it was a nice hiking day, even though humid, with a good breeze with a bit of chill in it that was just wonderful. I got back to the car at 15h50; I’m not sure how far I hiked all told, likely about 5 km (3 mi), but I thoroughly enjoyed it. In the car, I then turned down the road beside which I had parked. The maze of logging roads I remembered the last time I was on this road has disappeared and there was no question which road was the correct one as the others, with one exception, weren’t driveable. I arrived in a bit at the summit of the slope I’d seen from the field; newly logged, it would have offered excellent views had the air been clearer and the skies less dark; I'll have great fun figuring out what I saw when I get home, but I'm nearly certain that the northern end of Cape Mabou was in the panorama. I continued on to the end of the road, blocked by a logging machine and a large trailer with no clear continuation forward, so I had likely not found where Logans Glen Road comes out on the plateau, but I now have a good deal more data to study this winter—I’m pretty sure it's not too far from the end of this road. As I was going there, I met a man in a truck going the opposite way; when we were side-by-side on the narrow road, he asked, given my NJ license plates, the perfectly reasonable question, “Are you lost?” I answered that I wasn't and asked him if he knew anything about Logans Glen Road, but he said he was from away and didn’t. I’m sure he must have been scratching his head bemusedly as he continued on his way! I had no more time for exploring, so I returned to the motel and got cleaned up from the hike.
I then went to Charlene's for dinner, which wasn’t close to full when I arrived, ordering the pan-fried haddock, mashed potatoes, and veggies with unsweetened ice tea. In thirty minutes, the ice tea arrived; nothing else in the twenty minutes more I had before I had to leave for St Anns in a deluge that had started about five minutes earlier. I told the waitress I had to leave and offered to pay for the uneaten meal, but she wouldn't take any money, even for the tea I had drunk, and apologized for the slowness. I had allowed an hour for dinner, but clearly will have to allow more time the next time I go there. The food is excellent and worth waiting for if one has lots of time, which I didn’t.
The rain continued hard to the Little Narrows exit and became moderate thereafter, disappearing south of Baddeck except for the occasional sprinkle.
Emceed by Dara Smith-MacDonald, the instructors’ cèilidh at the Gaelic College was a delight from start to finish. I sat beside a couple from Wisconsin; it was their first time in Cape Breton and they were bowled over by the music and the talent. The cèilidh began with a puirt a beul by Mary Jane Lamond to which David Rankin step danced. Dominique Dodge, the harp instructor for this week, accompanied Mary Jane as they both sang a Gaelic song. Shelly Campbell on fiddle, accompanied by Kolten MacDonell on keyboard and Scott Macmillan on guitar, gave us a fantastic set beginning with a gorgeous Hector the Hero. Keith MacDonald on highland bagpipes, accompanied by Adam Young on keyboard, played The Grey Buck followed by a blast of tunes—another amazing set. Dominique sang a Gaelic song accompanying herself on harp and then played a march/strathspeys/reels set on harp with puirt a beul accompaniment part way through. Scott on guitar and Kolten on keyboard then gave us a set of Scott’s compositions: The Two Half Sisters, a title I heard as Keji Clay, and Ferry on the Sound; he continued with another set beginning with a lament he wrote in honour of Mary Ann Jewell, and continuing with the Arthur’s Seat March, a strathspey, a reel, and a couple of other pipe tunes; Michelle Stewart on bodhrán joined in after the march. With Kolten now on fiddle, accompanied by Adam on keyboard, we next heard Howie MacDonald’s Grand-Étang and Brenda Stubbert’s John MacDougall’s Reel and Kolten MacDonell’s Reel, a fine set. Kolten and Adam then played for Harvey Beaton, who gave us a long and fine step dance. Lewis MacKinnon, joined by Mary Jane on choruses, next gave us a Gaelic song from the period of the Napoleonic wars; he continued alone with another Gaelic song whose English title is something like The Great Distress of the Fenians. Fin Moore on small or border pipes (I'm not sure which), accompanied by his wife Sara on fiddle, Margie Beaton on keyboard, and Scott on guitar, played a great blast of traditional tunes. Michelle Stewart then gave us an amazing bodhrán solo. Dara on fiddle with Adam on keyboard and Scott on guitar played another wonderful set beginning with Brenda Stubbert’s Endless Memories, the first half of which Adam played solo, and followed by strathspeys and reels. Lewis and Mary Jane led off the finale with Oran Do Cheap Breatainn, a Gaelic song in praise of Cape Breton; then Kolten and Dara on dual fiddles, Fin and later Keith on highland bagpipes, with Adam on keyboard, Scott on guitar, Michelle on bodhrán, and Dominique on harp, played a final blast of tunes during which Harvey, Keith, and David step danced. What another fabulous cèilidh!
After the cèilidh finished, on my way out, I ran into my friend Clare Baxter, who is enrolled in this week’s adult session at the Gaelic College. As they wanted to close up the Hall of the Clans, she invited me over to MacKenzie Hall to continue our conversation, during which I conveyed to her greetings from the Hudson (QC) Fiddle Group members I met at Maxville—she plays with that group when home.
I then drove back to Whycocomagh, stopping outside Baddeck to pick up a bottle of orange juice, a turkey sub, and a ham and cheese sandwich, which I ate in my motel room as I finished up and posted Tuesday’s account. Once that was done, I was quickly fast asleep.
Thursday, 6 August — Whycocomagh
I got up at 10h to a lovely day after yesterday’s rains, with clear air and low humidity and lots of puffy white clouds in a blue sky with bright sun. After breakfast at Vi’s, I decided on a backcountry ramble. I drove out the Whycocomagh Port Hood Road to the Roseburn Road and drove it to its end. It had been a few years since I was last there and the place with the goats and chickens was no longer there. The Roseburn Road, which runs along the base of Campbells Mountain, is in generally good shape, with spots requiring care near its driveable end; the continuation is a grassy track that runs off through the woods. There are no great views on the way in, but good views of Skye Mountain are on offer on the way back; tree-shrouded views of Campbells Mountain are also available, but the road is too close to the mountain for vistas. I saw and photographed lots of wildflowers along the road that had come into bloom since my last trip, the names of many of which I do not know: a tiny yellow ground cover plant; some Queen Anne’s lace, but not yet ubiquitous; fireweed; a tall yellow flower with squarish blossoms; butter and eggs; another tall yellow flower in the shape of a star; incipient goldenrod.
From the Roseburn Road, I continued on “up the mountain” to the MacLennan Road, onto which I turned; this road runs along a ridge above the valley of Miramichi Brook, connecting Dunakin to Rosedale. The road has deteriorated since I last drove it a couple of years ago; it is now rutted and grass has overtaken parts of the road, so little is it used; it is driveable but only barely at several spots. A washout next to a sluice has left a deep hole at the side of the road and no pylon is there to warn of its presence. But the worst is the loss of two of the fine vistas, hidden now by the regrowth of the previously logged areas that opened them up. Two houses, one occupied part of the summer, are present along the road. The views at the second are still there but, by the time I got there, haze spoiled them; if you are interested in them, you would do better to drive in from the Rosedale end. The Rosedale Road from the MacLennan Road to Miramichi is pretty variable, from bad to good. My nemesis last fall wasn’t fixed but was drained so one could see how to avoid it (and yes, this year, I have a shovel in the car!); nearly all the way into Miramichi, there were several wet spots not helped by yesterday’s rains and dicey spots where water had run down the road. But the views of the Glencoe Mills area from the open field, still mown for its hay each year, were as fantastic as ever. The Old Mull River Road is now in better shape than I've seen it in quite a while, but still is only fair to good. The Whycocomagh Port Hood Road is in fine shape. I stopped for photos of the Mull at Gillis Bridge and drove up Mabou Ridge, where I stopped again for more photos. Then, it was down into Mabou where I took care of some errands.
I then drove the West Mabou/Colindale Road, in fine shape, stopping of course for the obligatory photos from the guardrails. I took more photos in Colindale and continued into Port Hood. I thought of having dinner at the Celtic Music Interpretive Centre, so drove to Judique, but learned the kitchen closes at 15h. I drove back to Mabou via the Rear Intervale Road and Mabou Road and had a delicious dinner at the Mull of scallops in wine sauce, rice pilaf, carrots, and broccoli. I then drove back to West Mabou where I enjoyed the marvellous scenery as I worked on these notes and wrote much of Wednesday’s account. Clouds by now covered the sky and there wasn't much of a sunset there, though I have since seen several photos taken tonight of beautiful sunsets from various points along the coast. It was then time to head back up Mabou Ridge and on to Glencoe Mills for the dance.
Tonight’s music was supplied by Douglas Cameron and Mac Morin and what music it was! Driving, exuberant, technically perfect, it was wonderful to listen to and inspired the dancers to give it their very best. The music began at 21h06 with just 14 in the hall (excluding musicians and volunteers); Douglas played an air/strathspeys/reels set since it was dubious that there was a quorum for a square set. Burton MacIntyre arrived and got only two couples on the floor when the first jig set started; the second jig set got no takers at all. The third jig set got five couples for the first and second figures and six for the third. The next jig set went unanswered except by Burton and with about 45 now in the hall! The second square set started at 22h with five couples in the first figure and eleven in the third. As folks filtered in after the show at the Strathspey Place ended, the hall filled quickly to the point there was standing room only and thereafter there was no problem forming square sets. Four more were danced, two using two queues with about 25 couples in each of those sets. The step dance sequence brought Stephen MacLennan, Siobhan Beaton, Amanda MacDonald, Cheryl MacQuarrie, and three ladies whose names I’m not sure of (one was likely Sara MacInnis) to the floor for fine steps. The fifth set ended at 23h49, close enough to the ending hour that Douglas could have closed it out with a waltz, but instead started another jig set, which brought 16 couples to the floor. He skipped the second figure and went directly into reels, finishing the set at 0h08. I suspect that the large crowd remaining in the hall at the end would have danced until 1h had there been music, as they did not disperse quickly, but stood around chatting both indoors and out. Even with the slow start, it was a great dance and the music couldn’t have been better. A huge crescent moon was just above horizon as I “fell off the mountain” on the way back to Whycocomagh. It was a fine end to a great day.
Friday, 7 August — Whycocomagh to Port Hood
I arose before 9h and got packed up for today's move to Port Hood. After breakfast at Vi’s, I headed back across the backcountry to Highway 19, stopping for photos at Long Johns Bridge, and drove to Maryville Station. Although the sun was out in Whycocomagh, the skies were nearly overcast, and remained so inland, but they were pure blue along the coast when I arrived in Maryville.
I left the car at 12h16 and headed south on the Judique Flyer Trail (part of the Celtic Shores Coastal Trail/Trans-Canada Trail/Railway Trail). Beside Allan Ian’s Pond, I found a new (to me) park bench and a fine interpretive panel, with an excellent view of the large pond. At 13h05, I reached kilometre marker 34, to which I had hiked from Michaels Landing on the previous trip. This is a long straightaway and the sun was brutal with little breeze reaching the trail. A family of three passed me going south on bikes and complimented me on my coolie sun hat. I turned around there and headed back north. When I got back to the Shore Road, I continued on north, crossing the Joe Effie Road and eventually arriving at the trestle over the outflow of Captains Brook just north of kilometre marker 38, where I again found new (to me) amenities at the side of the trail, a picnic table and another fine interpretive panel beside a railed fence behind which was a very fragrant wild rose bush in bloom. I had lunch there (an apple (a tad tart), a granola bar, and two 500ml bottles of water), where clouds began arriving as I was enjoying the fine views. I then returned as I had come to the car, relishing the breeze which was now reaching the trail. On my way back, the biking family again passed me, this time going north; they must have had a good long ride! I also saw four ATVs, but no other hikers. I got to the car at 16h22, tired but content after the little more than 8 km (5 mi) hike, punctuated, alas, by way too many stops to catch my breath (excluding the 45 minute break for lunch, that works out to 2.44 km/h (1.5 mph), hardly a stellar rate!). Because of the frequent stops, I had plenty of opportunities to take photos and I availed myself of them. I never did find kilometre marker 36, which must have suffered a fate similar to that of kilometre marker 23, which I found lying on the ground at the barricade south of kilometre marker 35. Why anyone would so vandalize this fine trail completely baffles me; it must be very discouraging to those who work so hard to maintain and improve this amazing trail.
I drove to Port Hood, got my motel room, and cleaned up from the hike. I then drove into town and had supper at the Admiral Inn, which, due to a propane leak, had neither deep fryer nor grill. Neither much mattered to me: I ordered a green salad and a Thai chicken wrap, both excellent. I then drove to the Strathspey Place in Mabou where I worked on yesterday’s account while waiting for the show to begin.
The Cape Breton Summertime Revue, whose antecedents date back to 1977, is a Cape Breton classic that has been revived in a new edition tagged The Next Generation. I, of course, never saw the original, though I have a CD from one of the productions with several of the original numbers that have since become Cape Breton anthems. The current version has recently been on tour and appeared at the Strathspey Place Thursday and Friday nights. Its free-form format of alternating musical numbers and comedic skits offers cast members a chance to show their many and varied talents in numerous rôles. Heather Rankin of the Rankin Family, endowed with a marvellous voice, a returnee after 25 years absence, and Peter MacInnis, both natives of the Mabou area, were the only two of the cast members I recognized, but all the cast members and the top notch musicians that provided the music (among them Allie Bennett and Boyd MacNeil) turned in a remarkable performance. The several characters Peter portrayed struck a bell with anyone who has watched his Cape Breton Chats video series on YouTube and it would not surprise me to learn he had a hand in writing parts acted by others. He turns out to be a fine singer as well. The humour in the skits can be hard for an outsider to grasp, but, while I’m sure I missed a lot, I picked up on numerous biting political references and oblique mention of current events as well. The music was varied and some was outside my normal tastes, but I thoroughly enjoyed it all, impressed by the talented cast. If you haven't yet seen it, there are still some presentations at the Savoy Theatre in Glace Bay. It’s well worth the drive!
Tonight also saw the annual garage party at Margie and Jimmy MacInnis’ home in West Mabou, to which Margie kindly invited me. Normally, I’d have been in Southwest Margaree, but I was here for the Revue, so I went there after it had finished. Always very well attended, cars were parked everywhere when I arrived. A lavish spread of many and varied refreshments was laid out as always for all the guests. Tons of musicians were on hand to provide entertainment; I heard Melody and Derrick Cameron and three youth fiddlers play and left about 1h; I’m sure the party went on long afterwards into the wee small hours of the morning. Always quite the event! I drove back to the motel and was quickly asleep, tired from the hike.
Saturday, 8 August — Port Hood
I got up at 10h15 to a sunny day, but one with extensive cloud cover. I headed for Chéticamp, deciding to have a lunch instead of a breakfast. North of Port Hood, the sun disappeared as the clouds coälesced into solid overcast. I took the Deepdale Road to bypass Inverness. North of Cape Mabou the clouds broke up and the sun was out again. Thick fog banks were visible at the horizon as I drove along the Gulf and the waters were a choppy deep navy blue, with a greenish tinge in Chéticamp Harbour. I had a superb green salad, full of leafy varieties of lettuce and a plethora of delicious veggies, and the fine haddock plate at the Doryman, while I finished and posted Thursday's account.
Kenneth MacKenzie on fiddle and Joël Chiasson on keyboard provided four hours of great music. The pub was perhaps a third full at the start and filled up more as the afternoon progressed, but was never packed, a shame as the music was outstanding. A grand jig set started things off, but attracted no dancers, a fate shared by most of the other jig sets played this afternoon. Beautiful cèilidh sets, with fine marches and flowing airs, rippin’ strathspeys, and rollicking reels filled much of the afternoon, just a joy to hear from both players. We were treated to three wonderful sets on highland bagpipes. Joël’s fine and complex accompaniments are always a treat to hear and never more so than today. One square set was danced with four couples. Several step dancers, including Alexander MacDonell from Mabou, took to the floor to share their steps. A couple of waltz sets, one beginning with Jerry Holland’s In Memory of Herbie MacLeod, were played and Gerry Deveau played spoons on two different occasions.
Since I already had my motel room key in Port Hood, I didn’t have to hurry back to get it, as is usually the case on Saturdays. The skies were mostly cloudy inland, so I ruled out the quick trip to MacKenzies Mountain I had considered. I stopped in Belle-Côte at the Belle-View for supper. The place was packed, with six and eight to a table, and with overflow on the deck, so it was no surprise it took an hour for my meal (bacon-wrapped scallops, halibut steak, and veggies (I declined the potatoes), all excellent) to arrive. I used the time to work on yesterday’s account. After supper, I stopped at friends in Belle-Côte, who were away. I ran into light rain south of Margaree Harbour and turned off in St Rose onto the old mine entrance road, which ends at the edge of a field with wide open views, for several photos of the huge rainbow, spanning the entire sky, that the sun over the Gulf created from the falling raindrops in the air, views of which were blocked by trees on the Shore Road. I continued on to West Mabou, arriving at 21h.
Inside, I found a square set tutorial going on. Tonight’s musicians were Leanne Aucoin on fiddle, her aunt Anna Aucoin MacDougall on keyboard, and her father, Gaston Aucoin on guitar. I had a good chat with Gaston while the tutorial wound down. The dance got underway at 22h09 after the sound check during which Derrick Cameron got the sound system properly adjusted. The first jig set had no takers, but the second one evolved into a square set with fifteen couples in the third figure. Only five square sets were danced, but the next three attracted between 25 and 30 couples each, with a dozen in the final square set. A waltz set got three couples and the fifteen-minute step dance sequence brought Stephanie MacDonald, Stephen MacLennan, Amanda MacDonald, Burton MacIntyre, and four ladies I don’t have names for to the floor to share their steps. Pius MacIsaac whose fine guitar is always a delight to hear, gave Gaston a rest on the fourth square set. The dance ended at 1h02 and, judging by the comments made as I was leaving the hall, thoroughly enjoyed. It wasn't packed, as high summer dances often are, but was well attended with some very fine local dancers steppin’ it off in great style through the evening. I had a great time and, back in my motel room, was soon asleep.
Sunday, 9 August — Port Hood
I got up at 10h45 after a restful sleep. Some sun broke through the mostly overcast skies. For whatever reason, this is one of those years where the Kintyre Farm concert is not on the same Sunday as the Cape Breton Fiddlers’ Association concert; however, that means it also falls on the same day as the Cèilidh on the Wharf in Mabou Coal Mines; fortunately, the latter starts an hour before the former and ends earlier, so it’s possible to take in parts of both. I drove to Mabou, where I had breakfast at the Shining Waters, and then to Finlay Point Harbour. When I arrived at 1h10, the cèilidh had just gotten underway. Overcast skies with dark grey clouds through which one could sometimes see the disk of the sun threatened rain and seriously interfered with photography, so I opted to skip the popular boat rides that were leaving and entering the harbour as the cèilidh went on on the wharf. Tyson Chen on keyboard played a rollicking set of traditional tunes and an air/strathspeys/reels set. Ronelda Aylward and John Matthews, self-accompanied on guitar, sang four folk songs, accompanied by Tyson on keyboard and another gentleman on bass. Lionel LeBlanc on electric fiddle accompanied by Tyson on keyboard played a traditional set of tunes and an air/strathspeys/reels set. Siobhan MacDonald on keyboard gave us a slow air and In Memory of Herbie MacLeod. Joe Beaton, self-accompanied on 12-string guitar, sang several John Allan Cameron songs, many new to me. Amanda MacDonald step danced to music provided by Kenneth MacKenzie on fiddle and Tyson on keyboard, after which the two musicians played a fine march/strathspeys/reels set. The Campbell sisters from Southwest Mabou played a nice set beginning with Hector the Hero played on solo guitar at the start with fiddle and keyboard joining in part way through. Gerard Beaton gave us a fine step dance to music by Kenneth and Tyson. Brittany and Tara Rankin gave us some Gaelic songs; I don’t remember hearing Tara sing before (she was home from Scotland this week) and I was greatly impressed by her fine singing voice. At 15h, I left the cèilidh, which I was very much enjoying, to catch the last part of the Kintyre Farm concert in Judique, which, because of the questionable weather, had been moved inside to the Community Centre.
I got to Judique about 15h40 and after chatting with several friends in the back of the hall, started listening to the concert in earnest. Donna-Marie DeWolfe on fiddle accompanied by Amanda MacDougall on keyboard gave us a great traditional set and then played for Harvey Beaton to step dance. Olivier Broussard, accompanied by his sister Paryse on keyboard and Bill MacDonald on guitar, played an excellent traditional set. They were then joined by siblings Claudine and Julien on fiddles for a fine triple fiddle set. Stephanie MacDonald on fiddle accompanied by Amanda on keyboard and Bill on guitar, gave us a beautiful traditional set. Shelly Campbell on fiddle accompanied by Amanda on keyboard played a magnificent set; it is always a joy to hear her masterful playing. Kyle MacDonald, accompanied by Amanda on keyboard and Bill on guitar, played a torrent of tunes that swept everyone away; it was certainly the best set I’d ever heard him play, powerful, driving, and spot on, a remarkable and memorable performance. The finale had Kyle, Shelly, Stephanie, Olivier, Claudine, and Julien on fiddles, Amanda on keyboard, and Bill on guitar; they gave us a final blast of tunes during which Edna MacDonald, Kevin Rankin, and another lady step danced together after which Harvey joined them. The concert ended about 17h; it was raining lightly when I came out to the car, which I moved closer to the Celtic Music Interpretive Centre. I worked in the car on Saturday’s account until the doors opened at 18h.
Before the cèilidh started at 19h, I ate supper: a fine green salad, seafood chowder, a fishcake, “fried bologna steak” (an interesting cross between a ham steak (which I love) and bologna (which I don’t like)), and kettle chips. Tonight's music was by Robbie Fraser on fiddle and Mac Morin on keyboard. Robbie returns to Alberta on Tuesday and this was his valedictory gig for the summer; he played his heart out, giving us a powerful and masterful rendition of everything he played all night long. It was a memorable evening, “one for the books”. And Mac’s fantastic accompaniment was the icing on the cake; this was apparently the first time they had played together for a whole cèilidh and I certainly hope it won't be the last! They started off with a set of jigs that got no takers. The next set, which lasted fifteen minutes, started with O’er the Muir Amang the Heather and continued with strathspeys and reels, the latter two with a mind-blowing plethora of cuts and ornamentation galore, a textbook example of what makes Cape Breton fiddle music so distinctive and enjoyable; during this set a lady I don't know step danced. The first of three square sets followed, danced by four couples. Another fine set followed, including an incredible Big John MacNeil that had everyone hooting in approval. A fine jig set with no takers followed after a pause to allow us to catch our collective breath. The second square set immediately started up with five couples. A lady in the audience had requested Johnny Cope and it started the next set, an outstanding version equal to the best I've ever heard, followed by more strathspeys and reels, during which Donna MacLellan, Dale Gillis, and Shelly Campbell step danced. The third square set was then danced. The Valley of Strathlorne, a beautiful air, lush and lovingly played, was next and a march/strathspeys/reels set followed it. Robbie then moved to the keyboard as Fin Moore on bellows pipes and Sara Hoy, his wife, on fiddle played two great sets, during the second of which Mac gave us an awesome set of steps. It was now well past 22h, but Robbie was not ready to stop. He tuned his fiddle in high bass and with Mac on keyboard gave us a final parting set, including the Christy Campbell strathspey. Even after three hours, I think he'd have gladly continued to play for another three! What a superb evening of music, capping off a full day of fine music!
When we left the Centre, it was raining hard and apparently had been for some time, as there was lots of standing water in the parking lot, way over the tops of my shoes. It was a slow drive back to Port Hood and, tired from the long day, I went immediately to bed.
Monday, 10 August — Port Hood to Whycocomagh
I got up at 8h45 to a cloudy, windy, cool morning (long-sleeved shirt weather) with some small patches of blue sky promising better weather later in the day. I got the car packed up for the move back to Whycocomagh, where I'll be much of this week. I had a fishcakes and bacon breakfast at Sandeannies, my favourite breakfast and, while there, had a good chat with Steve Rankin, whose fantastic scenic photos I really enjoy. I then drove back to the Port Hood Day Park, where I watched white caps rolling across the harbour as the sun, shining through small holes in the clouds, alternately lit up and darkened the waters and parts of Port Hood Island. While waiting to see what the weather might do, I worked on this report and Saturday’s, which I completed and posted. By noon, the sun was out in full and the overcast had broken up into huge hunks of greyish white. I drove to the overlook above the Government Wharf and sat there a while admiring the constantly changing scene as the wind drove clouds hither and yon across the sky, blocking and opening holes through which the sun was beaming down. Next I drove to the Murphys Pond Look-off, where the wind was fierce. The clouds eventually coälesced again into more or less solid overcast and the light show ceased. I drove along the Colindale Road, where the show was still in progress; it was low tide and very easy to see the shallow brown spots in the waters off MacLeans Cove and again at the mouth of the Mabou River from the guardrails; I stopped at both places for photos. From West Mabou, I drove the Rankinville Road to Murrays Bridge, where I was astounded to see the amount of water flowing in the Mabou/Mull River there: the river was wider than I’d ever seen it there before, with only a metre/yard separating the bottom of the bridge from the water, moving fast, eddying, brown, and roiling, a consequence of Sunday’s heavy rains. On the east side of the bridge, the “picnic spot” upstream of the bridge had become an island as the river was flowing on both sides of the vantage point on which I had stood many times for photos. Amazing! Sprinkles fell in Hillsborough and sporadic sun shone from Brook Village to Whycocomagh, with the clouds in constant motion. I got the car unpacked and worked on Sunday’s post. I then went down to Vi’s for supper: a chef salad and a dozen chicken wings with a very fine hot sauce.
I then drove back to Mabou for tonight’s performance of Brìgh at the Strathspey Place. I enjoyed it so much when I saw its initial performance on 6 July during my first trip that I absolutely had to see it again! This was the show’s sixth performance—it runs every Monday night in July and August from 19h to 21h, leaving plenty of time to make the Brook Village dance at 21h30, so you have three more chances left to see it—and it was an even smoother production tonight than the original one. The 24 cast members are polished and professional troopers, full of vim and vigour, whether it be song, dance, instrumental music, or storytelling, and they warm one’s heart with their excellence and exuberance. The show is divided into fourteen numbers, with seven in each half of the show. The gorgeous scenes projected on the back wall capture the local area and convey the sense of place and its culture amazingly well. Most of the spoken language is Gaelic but you don't need Gaelic to understand the stories, acted with plenty of broad gestures, nor to enjoy the show, though it doubtless adds to one’s appreciation of the songs and humorous tales. If you haven’t yet seen this brilliant show, by all means do whilst you still have a chance! Again, my thanks to the cast for a great show, to those who conceived and produced it, and to all those who contributed to its success in any way, especially the parents who got their children to the many practices that resulted in such top quality performances on stage. This show will be talked about for many a year to come.
I then drove to Brook Village for the dance by Ian MacDougall and Mac Morin, a pairing I have greatly enjoyed since my first days in Cape Breton. Mac was unable to get there at 21h30, so Kevin Levesconte filled in for him on the first two square sets. The first set of jigs at 21h35 surprisingly had no takers, but the one at 21h42 got five couples. The hall began to fill up rapidly during that square set and the dancers were on the floor before the music started for the remaining square sets. Seven square sets were danced, with forty couples on the crowded floor at the high point of the evening and at least thirty-nine in the final set, which ended at 1h13, along with a waltz set that got more than a dozen couples and an epic step dance sequence that went on for 22 minutes: Siobhan Beaton; Hailee LeFort; David and Michelle Greenwell dancing together; Rodney MacDonald; Gerard Beaton; Evelyn Cameron; Burton MacIntyre; Jimmy MacIsaac; Harvey MacKinnon; Fin Moore; Dougal MacLellan (Rannie’s brother); Jenny MacKenzie; Joan Currie; Hillary Romard; plus four ladies I don't know, one dancing in spike heels (!), and an Irish/highland dancer. It was standing room only for most of the evening and the building was a-shakin’ as the many fine local dancers stepped through the figures. And the music! What a treat it was to hear Ian and Mac once more! A wonderful evening that made everyone there happy to be part of the communal joy in the music and dance.
It was +10 (50) when I got back to the car and heavy ground fog accompanied me back to Whycocomagh. Three from the Sydney area, who recognized me and had introduced themselves to me in the afternoon, are in the room next to mine; they came down just for the dance and arrived back at the motel at the same time I did. We talked quietly outside about the great dance we had just attended for a few minutes before we unwound enough to go off to bed. A marvellous day indeed!
Tuesday, 11 August — Whycocomagh
I got up a bit past 10h. The fog over Whycocomagh Bay I saw when I peeked out the curtains at 6h30 was gone and it was a beautiful sunny summery-looking day, about +20 (68). Since today is my sister’s birthday, I gave her a call while sitting outside my motel room overlooking Indian Island across Whycocomagh Bay. We were cut off after six minutes, to my surprise and consternation, and I was unable to reconnect. I had decided on a day trip to Isle Madame, so I amended the plan to detour by the Telus store in the mall on the outskirts of Port Hawkesbury. I drove there by Riverside Road and was astounded to see how swollen River Inhabitants was; normally next to invisible from Riverside Road, it was very much in evidence today. Lots of water was flowing under the bridge on Highway 4 at Cleveland and along both Highway 4 and, later, Highway 104, water was visible in places where it's rarely seen—that was some rain storm Sunday night! The phone problem proved to be the “pre-paid” plan they signed me up for in June, supposedly the same as last year’s which worked just fine for me then, but significantly changed this year; I got switched to a regular billing plan and that took a credit check and lots of back and forth with the home office, but it eventually got done an hour and a half later, so I can now call home without getting cut off if the need should arise. I was now past ready for lunch, so I drove to the Port Hastings Museum where I found Capt’n Kenny’s Fresh truck parked. I ordered the Greek salad and the Voodoo Shrimp. Once I got my order, I drove to the Canso Canal Park and enjoyed the meal under the gazebo there. The salad was superb, covered with half a pint of cherry tomatoes, pitted olives, lots of feta cheese, and very crisp tasty lettuce and a variety of other veggies. The shrimp were huge and covered in a very thin delicious batter and cooked to a fare-thee-well, tender and moist and tasty. The shrimp sat on a helping of French fries sufficient to feed a platoon; I had a few, but generally stay away from them if I can.
It was now way too late for a reasonable tour of Isle Madame, so I decided instead to drive to Lower L’Ardoise to get my Sounds by the Sea ticket for the lobster dinner there during Celtic Colours. (By the way, for anyone looking for the Little River Reservoir entrance, it is just east of kilometre marker 289 on Highway 104 on the right side of the road heading towards Port Hawkesbury.) That done, I stopped by friends who live there and left my card as they were away. I continued on to Point Michaud Provincial Park where not a single parking space was free—three bus loads of students were among those cavorting in the surf off that lovely crescent beach. I drove on “around the horn” to Grand River and came back to Highway 4 via the Sailors Cove Road. It was then time to head for Mabou (via Highway 4, Highway 104, Highway 19, Mabou Road, and Highway 19 again) for dinner at the Red Shoe with music by Melody (on fiddle) and Derrick (on guitar) Cameron. The pan-seared halibut was again on as the catch of the day, with broccoli replacing the asparagus, and every bit as delicious as the last time. After enjoying the fine music, I went across the road for tonight’s cèilidh.
Karen and Joey Beaton’s cèilidh tonight featured two musicians, Elizabeth MacInnis (Mary-Elizabeth MacInnis’ daughter and therefor Buddy MacMaster’s granddaughter) on fiddle and James MacLean (Karen’s nephew) on guitar. The cèilidh began with Elizabeth and Karen on dual fiddles accompanied by Joey on keyboard playing a set of two jigs, whose names I heard as the Juniper Jig and John Allan Cameron’s Jig. Karen and Joey then played Cameron Chisholm’s lovely lament Memories of Father Charlie MacDonald, often heard at Cape Breton Fiddlers’ Association concerts, followed by Donald Angus Beaton’s Willie Fraser’s Strathspey and reels including Homeward Bound and The Faerie Dance. 13-year old Elizabeth then gave us a nicely played traditional set of fiddle tunes, accompanied by Joey on keyboard. James next gave us three jigs including Gabrielle’s Jig and the Tea Party Jig, accompanied by Joey on keyboard. James then picked out a dandy set of reels ending with Trip to Windsor. Elizabeth next step danced to music by Karen and Joey. Joey finished off the first half with the March of the Cameron Men. After the break, Joey began on solo keyboard playing his composition, Memories of Peter and Jackie Campbell, a lament for close friends killed in a car accident in 1971, with Karen joining in on fiddle later; it was a beautiful selection played from the heart that keeps the memories of his friends alive in the collective memory. Next, Harvey MacKinnon step danced to music provided by Karen and Joey. Elizabeth returned on fiddle for another fine set, this time accompanied by her mother, Mary-Elizabeth, on keyboard. Mary-Elizabeth then took the fiddle and, with Joey on keyboard, gave us a beautiful set of tunes. James and Joey next played another set of tunes; the guitar was fluid and fluent, a delight to hear. For the finale, Elizabeth and Karen on dual fiddles, with Joey accompanying on keyboard and James on guitar, gave us a lovely Father John Angus Rankin March, the Cutting Ferns strathspey, and two reels. It was another fine cèilidh in a great series of fine cèilidhs.
I ducked out immediately after the finale and drove to Scotsville, arriving just as the lights in the fire hall went out: a fireman had passed away and his wake had been held today, as is the local custom, in the fire hall. As a result, the last dance had been cancelled: the Scotsville dances are over for this year. I drove back to Whycocomagh, relaxed a bit, and went to bed early, more tired than I realized by the day’s driving. I was quickly asleep.
Wednesday, 12 August — Whycocomagh
I arose at 10h after a long and restful sleep. The day, alas, was grey and rainy, so I lounged about, not hungry enough for breakfast; caught up on mail and current events; and worked on the posts, completing and posting Monday’s account. Then I had a make-shift lunch of a pear and a granola bar. I watched Indian Island fade in and out of the fog several times and napped in my chair for a half hour. I had a mug of green tea and watched the light rain turn heavy, becoming a deluge for a few minutes. I then worked on yesterday’s post.
A gentleman had told me a couple of days ago that halibut was on offer at The Auld Brass Door in Whycocomagh, so I drove down the road for supper there. That tip proved not to be the case, so I ordered mussels in a lovely garlicky white wine sauce, a garden salad, and the seafood plate, which offered a fine piece of pan-fried haddock, numerous shrimp and scallops of all sizes, and some small tasty pieces of lobster. It was accompanied by French fries (I thought I had asked for rice but the waitress obviously heard fries instead of rice (they differ only by two phonemes)), which I didn’t eat, and a delicious cole slaw. After the large meal, my only one today, I drove in light rain, mist, and fog, sometimes thick but usually just above the road, to St Anns for tonight’s Instructors’ Cèilidh. While waiting for it to begin, I ccompleted and posted yesterday’s account, getting caught up once again.
Colin MacDonald was the emcee tonight and kicked things off by singing a Gaelic milling song. His twin brothers, Keith on highland bagpipes and Kyle on fiddle, with Colin on keyboard, then played a fine set of tunes and followed it by another great set beginning with the Devil in the Kitchen strathspey and continuing with a blast of reels. Fin Moore on bellows pipes started a slow air solo and was later joined by Stewart MacNeil of the Barra MacNeils on keyboard; the two played the rest of the set, which ended with jigs, together. Fin and Stewart then provided the music for a Scotch Four, danced by Carmen MacArthur, Kyle, Anna MacDonald, and Colin. Storyteller Angus MacLeod next took the stage to give us a long humorous story, in English but based on a Gaelic original, about a peddler and wise women and foolish men. After the laughter subsided, Dwayne Cöté on fiddle, accompanied by Stewart on keyboard, played a very florid and ornate air new to me, The Duchess of Bedford, followed by strathspeys and reels, most also new to me; I know of no other player with a repertoire as wide and deep as Dwayne’s. They then gave us another amazing set of tunes, including some Dwayne made, all played with his unique style. Dwayne was followed by Dominique Dodge, who first taught the audience the chorus of a Gaelic song, which she then sang, accompanying herself on harp; her second selection was a purely instrumental harp set, striking me as having a very liquid sound almost like flowing water. Dominique then sang a puirt a beul to which Anna step danced, very fine performances indeed by both! Stan Chapman on fiddle, accompanied by Stewart on keyboard, gave us Maggie West’s Waltz and a set of other tunes including Highlander’s Jig. Stan left the stage and Stewart then played a set of jigs on solo keyboard. Next, Carmen told a story in Gaelic about a horse and two priests, with Colin translating sentence by sentence. She then gave us a Gaelic song, with Colin joining in on choruses. Cape Breton piper John MacLean, unaccompanied and unmiked (there was no need!), gave us a rousing set on highland bagpipes, demonstrating full well why he is held in such high regard. Dara MacDonald on fiddle, accompanied by Stewart on keyboard, played a lovely set beginning with If Ever You Were Mine and followed it with strathspeys and reels. The finale had Fin on bellows pipes; Dominique on harp; Dwayne, Stan, Dara, and Kyle on fiddles; Keith on highland bagpipes; and Stewart on keyboard. During this set, Anna, David Rankin, Carmen, Colin, Margie Beaton, Fin, Dwayne, Stewart, Keith, Kyle, and Stan step danced.
The rain had stopped and it was noticeably warmer when I left the Hall of the Clans. That helped considerably to reduce the fog I feared on the drive back to Whycocomagh; it was found mainly at the tops of hills and didn’t really much interfere with driving. Back at the motel, I relaxed and again went to bed early.
Thursday, 13 August — Whycocomagh
I arose at 8h45 and left the motel at 10h, taking my own sweet time to wake up. After breakfast at Vi’s, I drove to Railway Road in either Harbourview or Little Judique (I’m not sure just where the boundary between the two is). On the way, I passed a huge wash out along the Whycocomagh Port Hood Road not far west of the Stewartdale Cemetery, another result I later learned of Sunday’s rains. The road was more or less intact, but the shoulder was washed out, leaving some guardrail posts hanging in the air above a deep crevasse at the very edge of the road and others broken. A huge highway truck was parked beside the crevasse and pylons were placed around it, reducing the road there to a single lane. The rains were also unkind to the rest of the road, causing the potholes covered over by the last gravel resurfacing to reäppear at several points, though the section from the bridge over Cove Brook to Kewstoke Bridge was mostly intact except for a couple of spots near the latter where water had run across the road. The road up the mountain from Kewstoke Bridge also suffered from water running down the road, but little damage was evident in Glencoe Mills and further west. I stopped at Long Johns Bridge for photos; no rocks were showing in the river bed, but a piece of stranded driftwood was stuck in the middle of the river on the north side of the bridge. I have seen the water higher there in past years, but not often. St Ninian Road was generally OK, though a section that was poor before the rains was not improved. It had been several years since I last drove Railway Road and I found it in better shape than then and longer: it now continues beyond the Celtic Shores Coastal Trail to a building new to me. I parked just west of the trail and, on the off chance there might be good views, hiked to the top of the hill, a distance of perhaps 230 m (750 ft). There were and I took photos there and on the way back down. I was surprised to discover Shore Road just a short distance down the hill on the west side; I’d always assumed that was just a driveway. I could perhaps have driven the whole road, but it would have been dicey in spots.
The day was warm and humid, but with a breeze off St Georges Bay, as I set off north along the trail a bit past 12h30. At kilometre marker 41, just south of the Shore Road in Harbourview, I turned around and headed back south. I surprised myself by doing the kilometre from marker 41 to 40, just south of the barricade at Railway Road, in a single go, aided by the downhill nature of the terrain and I repeated the (for me these days) feat for the kilometre from marker 40 to 39, again helped by the downhill slant. I could have done the mostly level stretch from marker 39 to 38 in one go as well, but had to stop at several points for photos, as that section is over the causeway and bridge at Little Judique Harbour. At kilometre marker 38, I turned around and returned as I came, again doing the 39-40 kilometre, uphill this time, in one go. This is as good as I was doing last year and have rarely been able to do this year, so I was very happy, even though the pace was slow (I took a few minutes more than three hours to complete the 6 km (3.7 mi) hike, but nearly an hour of that was at the causeway, admiring the views and wool-gathering). And I was happy as well for another reason: this completes my fifth traversal of the entire Railway Trail, as it was known when I started back in 2012 at kilometre marker 0 in Port Hastings. I saw no other hikers today, but three ATVs passed me in each direction as did five bikers from Vermont, who stopped to chat on their way back; they were greatly impressed with the trail, as well they should be, and I was able to answer their questions about it and the area.
Since I felt in a celebratory mood, I drove into Port Hood for a dish of ice cream; alas, no maple walnut again, so I had to settle for the “toffee almond chill”, good but hardly the same thing! I then drove back to Whycocomagh via the Dunmore, Beaton, Upper Southwest Mabou, Glencoe, and Whycocomagh Port Hood Roads and got cleaned up from the hike. I then returned to the Auld Brass Door, where tonight I had a garden salad and the haddock plate, heaped high with two big pieces of pan-fried haddock, rice, fresh peas, all excellent, and glazed carrots whose vinegary flavour I found a tad funky.
After supper, I drove back to Glencoe, where I parked in the yard and finished and posted yesterday’s account.
Tonight’s dance featured Kenneth MacKenzie on fiddle and Howie MacDonald on (real) piano. They arrived early, got set up and did their sound checks, and started playing at 20h59, when there were perhaps ten nonworkers in hall. The second jig set got no takers either and the third got two couples, as folks slowly trickled in. At 21h22, the fourth jig set became the first square set with four couples, adding a fifth for the second and third figures. The second and third square sets got ten and eleven couples. Kenneth then played Jerry Holland’s In Memory of Herbie MacLeod, which brought eleven couples out to waltz. The fourth set got sixteen couples and Kenneth played its third figure on highland bagpipes, thrilling indeed! Hailee LeFort took Kenneth’s place on fiddle and played the fifth square set, which got more than thirteen couples. By now, there were around fifty people in the hall, not standing room only, but not too bad either, though well short of the mark of the last Glencoe dance I attended. With Kenneth back on fiddle, the step dance sequence was played next; the dancers I recognized were Siobhan Beaton; Hailee LeFort; Cheryl MacQuarrie and Evelyn Cameron together; Amanda MacDonald; Burton MacIntyre; Neil MacQuarrie; and Michelle Greenwell; there was another lass for whom I have no name. The last square set followed, with 13 couples in the third figure. I was delighted to see at the dance the Glengarry contingent that each year plays at the Cape Breton Fiddlers’ Association. The music was great from start to end, impeccably played by both consummate musicians, and having Howie on real piano was a special treat. It was a fine dance and fun was had by all on the floor. Once back in Whycocomagh, I fell asleep with the grand tunes still playing in my head.
Friday, 14 August — Whycocomagh to Margaree Forks
I got up at 8h45 and packed up the car for the move (for one day only) to Margaree Forks. It was a lovely day with lots of blue sky and sun and quite warm (mid 20’s (70’s)); it felt humid to me, though the air was nearly crystal clear except over water where there was light haze in distant shots. I drove out along Highway 395 and stopped for photos at several points. At the Trout River bridge, a gentleman staying in Mabou asked if he was on the right road for the Miners’ Museum in Glace Bay; they’d gone the wrong way at the junction of Highways 252 and 395; I set them straight and we had a brief chat; they came specifically for the music (which was music to my ears!) and I told them about the West Mabou and Brook Village dances and also suggested some local sights they should explore at Mabou Coal Mines and Hunters Road.
I checked off a to-do item in Upper Margaree and then turned onto Egypt Road and, at a red-roofed house, onto Pipers Glen Road, both in decent if not great shape, and stopped at the trail head for Egypt Falls; clear signage at all the appropriate turning points makes the route clear and the five cars parked at the trail head made it even more obvious. It had been ten years since I was last there and I was concerned about the trail, which then required some athletics with the ropes near the bottom. I was hopeful the falls would be full but worried that the trail would be slippery from the rains. The presence of so many cars suggested I’d have help if I got into trouble, but I was quite prepared to turn back if need be. The trail proved to be quite dry with only a few wet spots; however, it descends precipitously down a mountainside and I had to place each step with care, so it took me about fifty minutes to make it down to the falls, about a kilometre (0.6 mi); the rope section was much better anchored than I remembered from the last hike, with much less “give”: bless the kind folks who put it there and made it stable! It would have been impossible for me to get down and back up without their work. The falls were impressive, noisy and full, and indeed much more water was flowing than in this photo. When I arrived, a party of ten Haligonians, “in love with Cape Breton”, were in bathing suits and some were in the water (one of the party, a young man named Jake, told me the water was “heart-stoppingly cold” but that it felt great once out of the water). They left after about twenty minutes, leaving me free to photograph the falls devoid of people. I stayed on for another forty minutes, soaking in the beauty of the scene between photo shoots and visits by a number of other folks, whom I left free to enjoy the stunning falls as I had by going downstream as far as possible until they left, which was rarely more than five minutes—all that work for just five minutes! While there, I noticed a party of five at the shore at the top of the falls, suggesting a side trail of which I was previously unaware. I could have easily stayed on longer, but I knew the climb back up would be arduous, so I started up. At the top of the rope section by some red netting, I found the side trail and followed it to another rope section giving access to the shore at the top of the falls; it looked too dangerous for me to attempt alone and I still had a lot of climbing ahead of me, so I contented myself with photos from above the ropes. It proved easier ascending the trail than descending, but I was, unsurprisingly, frequently out of breath, so I took my time, rested frequently, and made it back to the car in just under an hour. The red blazed trail (with occasional orange flagging tape markings) is mostly dirt and roots with some stones; it is usually unmistakable even without the blazes and tape. If your knees are in decent shape, I can highly recommend this trek to one of Cape Breton’s glories. More than thirty people of all ages, though none older than myself, made the hike while I was there today. If you've never been, go while you're able to!
I drove on to Margaree Forks and, still warm, decided to stop by the ice cream store; they had maple walnut, so I had my first dish this trip. I then got my motel room and cleaned up from the hike. As I was checking in, who should walk in but Marlene Gallant and Carolyn Drake from PEI, here for the dance tonight and for the Cape Breton Fiddlers’ Association week-end in St Anns! We chatted briefly after they asked the manager about restaurant recommendations. I worked on yesterday’s account in the motel room and then drove to the Lakes Restaurant in the Lakes O’ Law for my annual “lobster salad” dinner, which I began with an excellent cup of chowder, though milky rather than the creamy version I prefer. The lobster salad is one cooked but cold lobster, served on a large plate covered with romaine lettuce and surrounded by cucumbers, tomatoes, pickles on a toothpick with maraschino cherries, lemon wedges, cheese slices, potato salad, and cole slaw. The iPhone photo at the end of the post shows the beautifully presented plate just before I dug into it. It was great as usual. Highly recommended if you are not familiar with it, especially on a hot day. I drove back to the motel and worked more on yesterday’s post and then drove to Southwest Margaree and worked more on it there until the doors opened for the dance.
The music tonight was by Shelly Campbell and Allan Dewar, two superb players, who were on fire all night long. What fantastic music! They too were here way early and were set up and sound checked by the time the doors opened, but the music didn’t start until 22h09, with jigs that got no takers, because there weren’t enough yet to form a square set. The second jig set fared better, but went on a while before four couples finally made it to the floor for the first square set. Thereafter, there was no problem forming square sets and there were between ten and nineteen couples in each, except the third which had only five. Waltz sets were played before and after the fourth square set and again after the step dance sequence, danced by Joan Cameron, Marlene Gallant, and Jimmy MacIsaac. I recognized Lorraine Lynch in the party of five from PEI at the dance and went to where she was sitting for a chat. She was having a great time, enjoying the superb music and the number of dancers on the floor. She should see a Brook Village dance! A great time was had by all present, myself definitely included.
I drove back to the motel after the dance and finished and posted Thursday’s account, which I had nearly completed. Then I was quickly asleep.
Saturday, 15 August — Margaree Forks to Whycocomagh
À tous mes amis acadiens, je vous souhaite une bonne fête des Acadiens! Happy Acadian Day to all my Acadian friends.
I got up on this Acadian National Day at 9h15 to a gorgeous summery day and drove to Northeast Margaree for breakfast at the Dancing Goat; delicious as always. Afterwards, I drove to East Margaree via the East Margaree Road, stopping for photos along the way and in East Margaree from the dual green truss bridges there. I continued on to the Doryman via the Old Cabot Trail and Chéticamp Back Road, where I found a new parking lot by the recently completed section of the Sentier Mine-de-Plâtre/Gypsum Mine Trail that was completely full on this lovely day, perhaps by folks drawn to the lake at the end of the trail for swimming.
The Doryman cèilidh had Marc Boudreau on fiddle and Hilda Chiasson on keyboard. The pub was not quite full when they started playing, but became so a while later; although locals were present, Les MacKinnon, who sat at my table, couldn’t find enough couples to form a square set and none were danced, fairly unusual for Chéticamp. The majority of the crowd was tourists not well versed in the music and Marc later told me he felt a lack of the interaction with the listeners that drives fiddlers to feed off the energy it provides. I didn’t perceive any significant difference in his playing, which was solid and steady and precise and drivin’ ’er all afternoon long, if a bit more like his first CD than his second. His slow airs are lush and expressive, his jigs are joyous, and his strathspeys and reels make even me want to dance! I put a lot of miles on my shoes today tapping along to his great music! I also heard a couple of tunes I hadn’t heard before. A couple of locals did step dance at various points in the afternoon, but none answered the standard “call” for step dancers. A few dancers obviously from away did dance separately and together, but their style was a long way from close-to-the-floor. Hilda gave us a fine keyboard solo towards the end of the afternoon. Both Marc and Hilda step danced during the final tune of the afternoon whilst continuing to play their respective instruments, an even more impressive feat for keyboard than fiddle. During the proceedings, I had a dinner of a garden salad and chicken wings, both excellent, followed by tea. I don’t get to hear Marc live very often, and I love his playing. With Hilda’s fine keyboard accompaniment backing him up, it was a treat I thoroughly enjoyed.
After the cèilidh, I drove into the Park as far as La Bloque, where I stopped for photos of the beautiful coast, no longer the crystal clear air of the morning, but dulled by haze to the south. I turned around there and drove back to the look-off north of Le Buttereau, where I wrote much of yesterday’s account while watching the gorgeous scenery. A bit before dusk, I headed south to West Mabou for the dance featuring Marc and Hilda (I don’t know why it happens that the same players appear at several events one after another, but it very often does). It is clearly no longer early summer, as I had to put my headlamps on before reaching Inverness, as it is now dark at 21h.
When I entered the hall about 21h10, a square set tutorial was in full swing with from fifteen to twenty learning the figures. I chatted with friends until the dance got underway. The music, with Hilda on real piano, started at 22h01, but it was still sound checking as Derrick adjusted the sound system. The first square set got underway at 22h10 with 17 couples. Between 32 and 40 couples danced the remaining four square sets, except for the fourth, when Hailee LeFort ably relieved Marc on fiddle, which got only 22 couples—it was a hot and steamy night, and a lot of folks went outside between and during sets. After the fourth square set, Marc played the step dance sequence during which Siobhan Beaton, Stephen MacLennan, Amanda MacDonald, Mac Morin, Joe Rankin, Dawn Beaton, and Jenny MacKenzie shared their steps, along with three ladies I don’t have names for and one gentleman whose steps were not close-to-the-floor. The last square set ended at 0h49 and people then left in droves, too hot and tired to want to dance more. Lots of good local dancers turned out for the dance tonight; those I spoke with really respect Marc’s playing and find it as ideal for dancing as I do for listening. I thought it a great summer dance at West Mabou.
I couldn’t get a reservation in Port Hood for tonight as they were already full up when I made them, so I’m in Whycocomagh tonight, a slightly longer drive back than usual. Once in my motel room, I completed and posted Friday’s account and then promptly went to bed.
Sunday, 16 August — Whycocomagh
Today is the high point of the musical season for me: the Cape Breton Fiddlers’ Association Gala Concert. It's always a grand celebration of traditional Scottish fiddle music with the thrilling sound of massed fiddlers ringing off the highlands. Today, the weather was perfect for the outdoor concert on the Gaelic College’s stage in the natural amphitheatre overlooking St Anns Bay. Admittedly, it was hot under the sun, but the thermometer in my car only read in the upper 20’s (high 70’s and low 80’s) and a fine breeze off the water made the humidity bearable. With a good coat of sunscreen and a sun hat, it wasn't too bad at all. And towards 17h, the sun was no longer fierce and it was very pleasant sitting in the breeze.
I got up around 9h30 and got the car unpacked, which I couldn’t do last night without disturbing others, given my very late return from West Mabou. Then, I lolligagged around, still tired from last night, and ensured my cameras were good to go with both batteries charged and all the equipment where it was supposed to be. I left for St Anns at 11h30 and stopped off at the Herring Choker for a garden salad and a ham and cheese sandwich, both excellent. as I’d have no time during the concert to visit the canteen. Once in the amphitheatre, I picked a good spot from which to photograph the concert—the sound people were already there with the mikes, which spoil a lot of photos if one doesn't chose well, positioned for the concert—the sound proved to be superb for the whole concert. I made sure the lenses were clean, paid my dues for the coming year, got permission to photograph from the second story above the stage, and chatted with friends and musicians as they made their way into the amphitheatre.
Wendy Bergfeldt emceed the entire concert, a rôle she usually shares with Bob MacEachern, who was busy celebrating the 40th anniversary of 101.5 The Hawk (CIGO) in Port Hawkesbury and unable to attend. The concert started at 14h06 with two sets by the massed Cape Breton Fiddlers’ Association members, under the direction of Eddie Rogers and with Janet Cameron on keyboard. Carey Osborne, accompanied by Adam Young on keyboard, sang Fiddlers’ Green. Dara Smith-MacDonald, accompanied by Adam on keyboard, played the first set from their CD, Connections. John Robert Gillis then gave us a great step dance to music provided by Kinnon Beaton on fiddle and Betty Lou Beaton on keyboard. Stephanie MacDonald on fiddle accompanied by Betty Lou on keyboard played a fine fiddle set. Joe MacNeil, accompanied by Adam on keyboard, sang Away from the Roll of the Sea. Kayla Marchand on fiddle with Adam remaining on keyboard, gave us another nice fiddle set. Donaldson MacLeod from Glengarry on fiddle and Adam on keyboard played two sets, the second a set of jigs. Leanne Aucoin next step danced to music by Kinnon and Betty Lou. Donald Jones (if I heard correctly), a lad from Indianapolis on fiddle, accompanied by Betty Lou on keyboard, played a set in the Cape Breton style, picked up at least in part by watching YouTube videos of Cape Breton players. Father Charlie Cheverie, Lorraine Lynch, Marlene Gallant, and Linda Jensen-Moran, all from PEI and accompanied by Betty Lou, played a set of jigs. Kayla then step danced to music provided by Leanne on fiddle and Adam on keyboard. Mckayla MacNeil on fiddle accompanied by Mario Colosimo on keyboard, played a very fine set. The Feisty Fiddlers, a group of seniors who play together regularly under the direction of Eddie Rogers, with Leanne on keyboard, played Jerry Holland’s Tears and several other tunes. Fred McCracken, accompanied by Janet Cameron on keyboard, sang a ballad and a long medley of Irish songs. Kinnon and Betty Lou then gave us a beautiful and expressive slow air and followed it with strathspeys and reels. Betty Lou remained on keyboard for the second Cape Breton Fiddlers’ Association group number, with Eddie directing. Burton MacIntyre made remarks after the first set, Frank MacInnis read the list of members who passed away during the previous year (and added Peter Chaisson’s name to the list as he often played at Cape Breton Fiddlers’ Association concerts in earlier years), and Father Francis Cameron offered a prayer for the occasion. The second set of the group number was then played. Leanne on fiddle and Dawn MacDonald-Gillis on keyboard provided music to which five young lasses from Kelly MacArthur’s step dance group showed us some fine steps. Leanne and Dawn then gave us a fiddle set after the lasses left the stage. Helen MacDonald, Dawn’s sister, with Dawn at her side gave us a synchronized step dance to music by Leanne on fiddle and Doug MacPhee on keyboard. Brad Reid on fiddle, whose fine playing I hear only at these concerts, accompanied by Doug on keyboard, played a lovely set. Erin Martell, accompanying herself on guitar, gave us a couple songs. Doug then played a fine keyboard solo. Larry Parks, another fine musician I hear only at these concerts, on fiddle with Doug continuing on keyboard, gave us a set of fiddle tunes. To music again provided by Leanne on fiddle and Dawn on keyboard, the highland dancers from the Kelly MacArthur School of Dance performed a lovely highland dance. Father Francis on fiddle and Janet on keyboard, siblings, gave us a fiddle set. Stephanie MacDonald then step danced to music by Dara on fiddle and Adam on keyboard. Mario, accompanying himself on guitar, sang The Plain Ole Miner Boy and Peter’s Dream. Dara and Stephanie on dual fiddles with Adam on keyboard played a fine set, during which Betty Matheson and Larry Parks step danced. Keith MacDonald on highland bagpipes and Adam on keyboard played two wonderful sets. Brad returned on fiddle with Susan MacLean on keyboard for another lovely set. The concert concluded with a final group number by the massed fiddlers, with Adam Young on keyboard.
It was a great concert I thoroughly enjoyed, but it was also a bit different from past concerts: no lament was played during the tribute to fallen members; it ended a few minutes early before the stated time of 19h—I remember some concerts which continued after dark under a full moon; only three group numbers were played; the board of directors didn’t step dance together during the finale. The Association has worked hard all year long raising money for a trip to Boston and more than sixty members will leave on a bus on Tuesday morning. Fine ambassadors of Cape Breton fiddle music, I wish them a great and successful tour, a fitting reward for a job very well done both today and throughout this year. And to the board of directors, volunteers, and musicians, my thanks and gratitude for organizing and producing a wonderful day of music.
The concert over and having said goodbye to many friends and musicians, I drove down the hill for dinner at the Lobster Galley, where I had a fine green salad and the delicious Lobster Galley Pescatore: shrimp, scallops, mussels, lobster pieces, mushrooms, and red bell peppers in a tasty tomato sauce served on linguini. My hunger sated, I drove back to Whycocomagh. The motel room was sticky and stuffy from the day’s heat, so, for the first time there this summer, I turned on the a/c and enjoyed the cooler air as I wrote Saturday’s account and posted it. I got to bed just after midnight.
Monday, 17 August — Whycocomagh
I arose a bit after 9h and found in the morning e-mail a chanter recording of Cape Mabou Quickstep by Keith MacDonald, a tune I had requested as one of the perks for supporting the crowdfunded Nuallan EP; the sheet music and a bagpipes recording of the tune are to follow in due time. I had asked for a march I could “play” in my head while hiking in Cape Mabou and this tune fits the bill perfectly.
After breakfast at Vi’s, I drove to Rocky Ridge via the Whycocomagh Port Hood and Alpine Ridge Roads. I found new gravel in two places coming up the “mountain” in Dunakin, repairing a couple of bad spots. I saw three eagles in the road between the Old Mull River Road and Gillis Bridge; they flew along ahead of the car and one, likely a juvenile, had problems gaining any altitude. The Alpine Ridge Road is in poor shape on the eastern side of ridge, but in better shape on the western side, where ditching work had been done a couple of years ago. I stopped at the crest of the ridge and enjoyed the views of Southwest Mabou for a few minutes before driving up Rocky Ridge Road to visit some friends who had been away at music festivals since I arrived back on Cape Breton. We had a good chat and caught up on each other’s doings. I had thought about hiking down to Sams Cove on the Mabou River in the West Mabou Beach Provincial Park, but the temperature was a very humid 30° (86) and not a leaf was moving at the park entrance, although there was a decent breeze higher up. So, I drove back with the a/c on in the car to my motel room, where I turned the a/c on and read and eventually dozed off in my chair. I hate to complain about the heat, of which Cape Bretoners have largely been deprived this year, but I much prefer the 15-25 range (60’s and 70’s) to anything higher—escaping New Jersey’s steamy weather is one of my motivations for summering in Cape Breton, so I’m none too thrilled to find it here! I hope those who've been praying for hot weather enjoyed a beach day, as it was perfect for that and not much else—too much haze for photography and way to hot and humid for hiking.
I didn’t really want a hot dinner on a hot day, so I went to Vi’s and had their fine chef salad and an order of chicken wings. I went back to the motel room and worked on Sunday’s account, which I completed and posted after arriving at Brook Village before the dance started.
Tonight’s music was by Kinnon Beaton and Stephanie MacDonald on fiddle and Betty Lou Beaton on keyboard. The music started at 21h35 with Stephanie and Kinnon on dual fiddles and brought five couples immediately to the floor for the first square set of a very warm night. Thereafter, Stephanie and Kinnon mostly alternated on single fiddle, with Stephanie playing for the second, fourth, and sixth square sets and Kinnon the third, fifth (with brother Joey on keyboard instead of Betty Lou), and seventh; on the eighth and last square set, they rejoined on dual fiddles. Kinnon played a waltz set after the third square set; Stephanie played one after the fourth; and Kinnon played two waltz sets back-to-back after the fifth, and another after the seventh. After the second square set, most square sets had between twenty and thirty couples and the waltz sets from ten to a dozen. The step dance sequence, played by Kinnon and Betty Lou, drew Kayla Marchand, Stephanie MacDonald, a lady I don’t know doing a highland dance, Burton MacIntyre, and Rodney MacDonald to the floor. Given the heat outside, it's a good thing there weren’t more in the hall, which was not packed but full, as it was plenty warm from the heat generated by the dancers, with many fine local dancers steppin’ ’er off in great style, heat or no heat. The music was great all night long and it was a very fine dance I greatly enjoyed.
When I drove back to Whycocomagh after the dance, it was still plenty warm and not a breath of air was stirring, so I turned the a/c on to cool off the room and was soon fast asleep.
Tuesday, 18 August — Whycocomagh to Meat Cove
I got up at 9h and packed up the car for the trip to Meat Cove. I ate breakfast at the Herring Choker in Nyanza: granola with fruit, oatmeal bread toasted, tea, and orange juice. I turned onto the Cabot Trail at St Anns and enjoyed the views to North River Bridge, a lovely ride around the west side of St Anns Bay on a recently reconstructed section of the Cabot Trail. Very welcome construction was in progress from North River Bridge to Tarbot, a section in very poor repair that has needed attention for several years now; the road from Tarbot to Indian Brook is little better, but apparently not going to get the attention it needs this year. I drove down the West Tarbot Road to the bridge, crossed it, and turned around at the house on the other side; the continuation to Rear Barachois looked to be driveable but in worse shape than the last time I was there. It was getting hot and felt very humid, so I turned on the a/c. The Cabot Trail from Indian Brook to North Shore is in mediocre to fair shape—bumpy and often depressed (reverse heaved) near the shoulders, making for bad bumps when meeting oncoming traffic. From North Shore north to Little River, the road is in fine shape as it was new last year. I drove down to Little River Harbour, but it was too hazy for photos; the ocean was calm with only the occasional breaker and many cormorants were sunning themselves on the harbour’s breakwaters (I also took note of the freshly painted bright yellow lines on the Little River Road, a local road and not a provincial highway, so it is without white edge lines). The Cabot Trail from Little River to French River is in excellent shape, new two years ago. A little wear is seen in the section from French River to Cape Smokey, but the road is still in excellent shape. The road up and over Smokey to Ingonish Ferry is good, except for noticeable shoulder erosion on the way up. From Ingonish Ferry to Ingonish Beach, the road is generally good with occasional heaves and low shoulders. I stopped at the Main Street in Ingonish Beach for lunch; the kitchen was very slow and not that busy at 13h10, but fifty minutes later the salad and seafood wrap I ordered made it to my table. After lunch, I located friends in Ingonish Beach I see often at the Doryman and paid them a visit, as they had asked me to do. I then drove on to Bay St Lawrence (the Bay St Lawrence Road is also a local road sporting very fresh yellow centre lines, but no white edge lines), with a stop for photos at Green Cove marred by haze, and, in Bay St Lawrence, reserved a spot on Oshan’s 13h30 whale watching boat tomorrow. I drove on to Meat Cove where I found a new high-sided two-lane bridge over the Salmon River, replacing the smaller one-lane Bailey bridge that had been there since the previous one was destroyed by the deluge in 2010. The paved portion of the Meat Cove Road from St Margaret Village to Capstick is in generally mediocre shape and the gravel portion on the Meat Cove Road to Meat Cove is badly potholed and needs work. However, I enjoyed the fine new paved sections on some of the hills that were done last fall after Celtic Colours; it's too bad the rest of the road can't be similarly completed. I took few photos on the Meat Cove Road because of the haze.
I arrived at the Meat Cove Lodge, my first time there, where I found two ladies, also guests; the owner had left but had marked a bedroom as reserved for me. There is no wi-fi, but Telus now reaches here with 1 bar and sometimes 2 bars of 3G service. The lodge is newly rebuilt, replacing a building burnt in a fire a couple of years ago; it has a lovely deck in the back adjacent to the Meat Cove Brook. After chatting for a while, the ladies departed for the beach via the boardwalk and I stayed on the deck, working on Monday’s account and enjoying the brook’s lovely song—hard to imagine today that this small stream inflicted such damage on this hamlet in 2010! Even though at the base of the highlands that rise on the west side of the brook and as far inland as the road reaches, there was a surprisingly good, if gentle, cooling breeze on the back deck; without it, the heat and humidity would have been unbearable. Plenty of black flies were about but they disappeared when I applied a coat of bug spray. By dusk, the temperature returned to a more reasonable level. The ladies came back from the beach about 20h and then headed for the Chowder Hut for dinner. I opted to remain here, posted the completed account, had an apple and a granola bar, and, with the lights off and night having fallen, watched the stars (and the flashing lights of planes) in the sliver of sky not hidden by the lodge’s roof nor the highlands, as the brook sang merrily to me. What a lovely, quiet, peaceful place! When I went to bed about 22h30, the bedroom had cooled off and I fell quickly asleep. The ladies returned sometime later; I never heard them.
Wednesday, 19 August — Meat Cove
I arose at 8h and, as quietly as I could (because the two ladies were sleeping), made myself breakfast in the Lodge: hot oatmeal in the microwave, hot tea in the microwave, cranberry juice, and a rice square. I went out on the back deck and enjoyed the morning, joined later on by the two ladies. I then drove to the end of Meat Cove Road, stopping to check out Meat Cove Beach Road (it was said to be undriveable, but a car at the bottom belied that and I found the road in generally good shape, but with a very rough, rutted spot at the very top requiring considerable care), and discovered lots of fog on Bay St Lawrence and haze along the shore, definitely not a day for photos. I drove into Bay St Lawrence and cancelled the boat trip I signed up for yesterday; I hope the weather will be decent enough for photography next week when I return: I’m not really much interested in the whales, though they are surely fun to watch, but in photographing the spectacular Bay St Lawrence coast—the photos I took on my last outing there are decent, but the haze of the day makes many of them less than crisp and I’d like to get better ones. Although it was not long past breakfast, I stopped off for lunch at the Bay Café, where I had a salad and a lobster sandwich on home-made white bread, both excellent. On the way back, I explored Fraser Road, which I hadn’t driven in many years; the pavement ends at a gravel road marked as a private drive that appears to lead out past Deadmans Pond to across from the wharf at the entrance to the harbour; no views took my eye as I drove the road, which is in poor to fair shape. Today is about the same temperature as yesterday, but somewhat less humid, so it didn’t feel quite so hot; the skies were mainly cloudy, with lots of sun breaking through them. But it was still no day for any strenuous physical activity.
Back at the Lodge, I said goodbye to the ladies and then had a good chat on the back deck with the owner, Catherine MacLellan, a very nice lady. I saw Derek MacLellan walking on the road towards the restaurant across the road, so I went across and chatted with him. It was a hard winter in Meat Cove and not only because of the weather: his uncle and another close friend both passed away and he was under a lot of stress finishing up the paperwork for the last year, getting grant applications done for the summer internships, and fighting government bureaucrats who would otherwise completely ignore this small community at the end of the road at the top of the Island, to the point his health was affected. He’s doing better now, but is still taking lots of medications, some not yet properly adjusted for dosage. The restaurant hasn't been open all year because one of the ladies was otherwise employed and the other lady didn’t want to do it all by herself. But he did succeed in getting the summer internships, which give useful employment and experience to the village’s youth, of whom only two will be left come fall. I didn’t want to tire him out and I knew he had work to do, so I left after an hour or so and came back to the deck where I spent the rest of the afternoon enjoying the brook and the highlands and worked on yesterday’s account, which I posted. The sun having moved into the west, I took some photos from below using “Big Bertha”, my telephoto lens, of Meat Cove Mountain, which looms directly above the Lodge, and, once the sun was behind the highlands, of Meat Cove Look-Off, which is a very short distance south of the Lodge at the edge of the highlands above.
At 18h, I drove to the Chowder Hut for dinner; I’d have walked, but it was still way too hot for physical activity. I had the lobster dinner, which was a large lobster that came with baked potato or fries (I declined both), cole slaw, a fine garlicky butter, and a nice dinner roll. The young lady there recognized me from last fall and we chatted briefly; they do take-out as well as eat-in dinners and were very busy. I was also surprised to see a credit card machine on the counter—Meat Cove has heretofore been (and largely still remains) a cash-only economy.
After dinner, I returned to the back deck, where I enjoyed the peace and quiet. About dusk, my friend Hector Hines dropped in on his way up to check on his guests at the Oceanview Lodge above the village, and we had a good chat. He had been up in the highlands on this hot day and it was a hard day to be active up there, even for him. He had a good lobster fishing season, for a change, and had just gotten back from a visit to Moncton. It was dark when he left, but there was only a brief star show—clouds soon arrived and then rain started falling, driving me inside and soon to bed after a very quiet, restful, peaceful day spent in one of the most gorgeous places on earth.
Thursday, 20 August — Meat Cove to Whycocomagh
I got up at 8h and had a self-prepared breakfast at the Lodge, a repeat of yesterday’s; no need to be quiet this morning as I was the only guest. The skies were blue and the air crystal clear against the highlands above the Lodge, giving me hope I might be able to go out on the morning whale watching boat at Bay St Lawrence. I put my things back in the car and drove to the campground, where I found great amounts of fog still on the Bay, haze/fog along the coast, and grey clouds and overcast above it. So much for that! Amazing the difference in weather a kilometre (0.6 mi) makes in this terrain! I drove back to the Lodge, where the owner stopped by for a quick visit, and spent some more quality time on the back deck, where puffy white clouds appeared overhead, covering perhaps half of the otherwise blue sky. A light breeze was wafting over me, but the heat and humidity were both noticeable, definitely another beach day and way too hot for any physical activity. I wrote and posted yesterday’s account as I enjoyed the surroundings. So, regrettably, I have very little concrete to show for my time in Meat Cove this visit, no hiking and just a handful of photos. But I got to chat with two good friends, I have a ton of pleasant memories on the deck at the Lodge, and I am better rested than I've been since I got to Cape Breton.
I left at 11h45, hoping for better weather next week, when I'll be back in Meat Cove, but at the Hines Oceanview Lodge above the village. On the way back, I stopped for photos of the Cape North Massif, whose top half was buried beneath cloud/fog, making it very hard for my camera to auto-focus; a huge white fog bank, higher than the Massif, sat just off Cape North. In the bright sun, it looked as if a snow storm had covered the slopes, making the Massif appear like a scene in the Sierra Nevada! The temperature dropped considerably in Bay Valley Road, but the fog banks didn’t reach the road. Stopped for lunch at Daneena’s in South Harbour, an establishment I don’t recall from before, and had a chicken club sandwich with unsweetened iced tea, both excellent. Fog was just above the road level on South Mountain and the temperature dropped to +19 (66). It was overcast and hazy from there to Ingonish, where some sun broke through at South Ingonish Harbour, but the fog was back in force on Cape Smokey, with fog at road level at the summit. The coast at St Anns Bay was sunny and bright, but fog/clouds/haze obscured the upper parts of the highlands west of the coast. I stopped off in Indian Brook to visit friends, but they were out so I left a calling card. South of Indian Brook, only haze was present and it warmed up again. At Whycocomagh, it was sunny and bright, but also hot and humid enough so that I was soaked with sweat just carrying my belongings into the motel room. I took a cooling bath and relaxed a bit before going off to the Auld Brass Door for supper, an excellent garden salad and a seafood Alfredo that was OK though I've had much better.
I then drove to Glencoe Mills for the dance there tonight. While I was away, work has been done on the Whycocomagh Port Hood Road. New gravel has been put down on the section from the Skye River Bridge to Fergusons Road, rendering the entire road to the Kewstoke Brook Bridge in excellent condition. The section “up the mountain” in Dunakin still needs work but from the MacLennan Road to Glencoe Mills, the road is in very fine shape. Travel time has again been cut in half. Great to see! (The big highway truck that was parked beside the washout west of the Stewartdale Cemetery is no longer there, but the pylons and warning signs remain (and, after dark, flashing lights have been added), making it still a one-lane road there.)
Tonight’s music was by Wendy MacIsaac on fiddle and Mac Morin on keyboard. Since there weren't enough folks in the hall to form a square set, they played cèilidh music, including a great march/strathspeys/reels set starting with Trip to Mabou Ridge, which was my answer to Mac’s “Any requests?”. The first jig set at 21h27 got one couple up; the next one at 21h30 got four couples and became the first square set. The second square set formed almost simultaneously with the music and had seven couples. The next jig set had no takers except one wee lass, who danced to it; apparently, all the other dancers were too hot and tired to go back to the floor after the previous square set. The next jig set became the third square set, which added couples as the figures progressed, with twelve couples in two groups dancing the third figure. The step dance sequence followed; the dancers were Siobhan Beaton, Stephen MacLennan, Sarah MacInnis, Amanda MacDonald, two lasses dancing together whose names I don’t know, and another daughter of Mary-Elizabeth MacInnis whose first name I also don’t know. Howie MacDonald then took over the fiddle and the fourth square set was danced with 16 couples in two groups in the third figure; Howie played a lovely tune new to me that he said was by Frank Ferrell as the first jig of the second figure. With Wendy back on fiddle, the fifth and last square set was danced with 15 couples in two groups in its third figure. Wendy then played a waltz set that got six or more couples on the floor. In the time remaining before midnight, Wendy played reels, to which ten couples danced the third figure of a square set. Had there been music, the folks left in the hall would likely have danced another square set and perhaps two. (Judging by the number of people present at 21h, it is just too early to start a dance then; even Brook Village sometimes has trouble getting a square set going at 21h30. Some of those complaining about the 22h start weren’t present until nearly 22h. Seems to me that 21h30-0h30 might be a better choice based on what I've observed this summer at Glencoe.) The music all night long was fantastic and how could it not be with players of this calibre? Hardly sated, but very happy with the three hours of music played, I returned to Whycocomagh and was quickly fast asleep.
Friday, 21 August — Whycocomagh to Margaree Forks
I got up at 9h to a cloudy, overcast day, cooler thn it has been but very humid. I got gas and drove to Vi’s for breakfast; clouds hung down below the summits of both Salt and Skye Mountains. Sun broke through just as I went inside. After breakfast, I headed out Highways 252 and 395 to the West Lake Ainslie Road. I explored the Cameron Road in Claverhouse, which The Nova Scotia Atlas shows as continuing to East Skye Glen and which I’d not previously driven; I turned around when it appeared to end at a driveway into a house and found no views along the road. Construction is ongoing at the Hayes River Bridge, where it appears a replacement bridge is being built and the road is being rerouted across the river, known there as “The Pond”. The grey clouds turned whiter as I got closer to Strathlorne and great patches of blue sky appeared; there was a good stiff breeze in Kenloch churchyard but the +25 (77) degree temperature and the high humidity discouraged me from setting off down the Celtic Shores Coastal Trail. I turned into the Strathlorne Scotsville Road and drove the first part of Mountain Road, another road I’d not yet explored, as far as I durst; it is level and in excellent shape at the beginning and then a snowmobile trail joins it. I turned around at the point where the road/trail starts up the mountain as it did not appear suitable for a car. I’m fairly sure that this trail will be part of the Trans-Canada Trail from Inverness to Whycocomagh and I’d have explored it on foot had it not been so warm and humid. I drove into Inverness and turned down to the beach. A nice breeze was blowing off the Gulf, but the heat and humidity left me drained. I sat in the parking lot out of the sun with the car windows open to the breeze and dozed off a couple of times. I should have walked the boardwalk but just couldn’t summon the energy in this debilitating heat +27 (81) and humidity to do even that. Even with the breeze, the sun, now out fully, made it hot enough in the car that I had to move on. I drove north through Inverside, past the Broad Cove Marsh Road, across MacEacherns Brook, and turned into Campbellton Road; I had driven it a number of years ago and had no good recollection of it. It’s wide and in good shape and dead-ends at a crushed stone driveway with a No Trespassing sign. There is a good view, which I stopped to photograph, of Godfreys Mountain rising above the ravine carved by MacEacherns Brook across an open mown field. I returned as I came and turned onto the Broad Cove Marsh Road. I drove to the look-off past the bridge but it was too hot +29 (84) to stay there long. The section lined with aromatic rose bushes at the time of the Broad Cove concerts was no longer in bloom. The road is in poor shape on the hill south of the bison farm, but is in fine shape to the north and back to Highway 19. Past the bison farm, I stopped for photos of Margaree Island. I had come across Gillis Road in Google Earth this past winter and decided to explore it. Expecting to soon have to turn around, I was surprised to be able to reach Highway 19 on what proved to be a fine road in generally excellent shape; although I had noticed the sign for the road on Highway 19, the road is not easy to see from the highway and I had seen only what looked to me like a driveway there. I drove back to the Broad Cove Marsh Road, stopping for photos of the bison farm and surrounding area. There would be fine views too near the Highway 19 end were they not badly blocked by trees along the road—one can make them out through the trees but it's not possible to capture them in photos. I continued on the Broad Cove Marsh Road to MacLeods Campground, where I stopped for more photos of Margaree Island. I drove the Shore Road the short distance to the St Margaret of Scotland Parish Hall in Dunvegan, where I got some photos of the highlands east of Highway 19. The sun was so hot that it melted the glue holding a leather grip on the camera, causing it to fall off; I stuck it back on and it now seems to be holding, but I will have to watch it carefully in the future.
In Margaree Forks, I got my motel room and worked on this account up to this point. I then relaxed a while before changing into my evening clothes for dinner. I dined at the Island Sunset in Belle-Côte, at which I had not eaten in some years, as I didn't think much of the meal I had then. Physically, it’s the same as it was then, but I found the food much better. I had the maple spinach salad, which came garnished with blue cheese, one variety of cheese I don’t care for, but I found it really enhanced the flavours in the salad, a culinary trick I'll keep in mind in the future. I followed it with their coastal seafood linguini; it was very good and better than what I had last night, but a little shy of top drawer. I saw dear friends there, dining with their grandson, and had a short chat with them. I then returned to Margaree Forks and worked on and posted yesterday’s account.
The dance at Southwest Margaree again featured Wendy MacIsaac on fiddle and Mac Morin on keyboard. Wendy started with an air/strathspeys/reels set and the first square set got underway at 22h21 with eight couples in its third figure. Six square sets were danced in total, most with ten to twelve couples dancing in two groups; there were about sixty people in the hall, just not that many on the dance floor, perhaps in part because of the heat and humidity. Douglas Cameron replaced Wendy on fiddle for the fourth square set. One waltz set was played, garnering three couples. From start to end, the music was great, driving the dancing in fine style all night long. And there were excellent dancers out there making the most of the great music, heat or no heat, bless ’em! I drove back to the motel room and was very thankful for the powerful fan that kept the air moving over me as I slept in the sticky night air, only a bit cooler than during the day. Wendy and her boys had another fine day at the beach, she said. I’m sure glad someone is enjoying this weather, more fit for New Jersey than Cape Breton!
Saturday, 22 August — Margaree Forks to Port Hood
It was a grey, overcast day with a few small patches of blue sky when I got up at 9h. It was humid and +27 (81) as I drove to the Dancing Goat for breakfast. After breakfast, I drove into the Margaree Valley and took the Cranton Cross Road to the West Big Intervale Road and drove it across Phillips Mountain back to the East Margaree Road; it’s passable, but potholed and with washouts and small rocks in the middle of the roadway. I drove the East Margaree Road to the Cabot Trail and it to the Doryman via Chéticamp Back Road and Chemin Damase. I worked on and posted yesterday’s account there as I waited for the cèilidh to start.
The music today was by Douglas Cameron on fiddle and André LeBlanc on keyboard. I’d not often heard André play before and never for a whole afternoon, so I was delighted to have this opportunity. I enjoyed his playing, which is not showy, but provides a solid foundation for the fiddle that makes the whole greater than the sum of the parts. Douglas generally played shorter five-to-seven minute sets, each usually with two or more fine strathspeys; the ornamentation was superb, with cuts galore. It was great, driving music that made one's feet move; I was amazed that he had such energy in the heat and humidity of this oppressive day. The crowd, who numbered about forty-five at the start and gradually filled most of the pub as the afternoon progressed, were not dancers: the heat tends to discourage dancing and much of the audience was not local. Douglas’ fine jig sets therefore went without takers, except for one or two couples who occasionally got up and round danced to them. A few polkas were played along with The Mockingbird, one of Douglas’ signature tunes. There were also a few slow airs, lush and beautifully played. The call for step dancers was answered only by one young lady whose name I do not know. Robert Deveaux on fiddle and Lawrence Cameron on keyboard relieved the musicians about 17h and played a couple of very nice sets, to one of which a lady step danced.
About fifteen minutes before the end of the cèilidh, the skies, which had been darkening to the north all afternoon, opened up and a deluge poured down for some minutes. I got pretty wet leaving the Doryman shortly after 18h, when the rains had lessened slightly. (I later learned that the rains were so heavy in Chéticamp that the campers in the Chéticamp Campground had to be evacuated because of the gorged Chéticamp River!) I encountered no rain south of Point Cross, but I did run into almost steady traffic heading north on both the Shore Road and Highway 19, a result of the huge crowds returning home from the Chase the Ace afternoon in Inverness, which made for a massive traffic jam in the village I later heard; I avoided the mess in the village by taking Deepdale Road. But I became part of a steady stream of traffic heading south from Strathlorne. In Port Hood, I got my motel room key and relaxed. Light rain in Port Hood had started while I was inside and stopped before I came back out. The air was still very muggy as I drove to West Mabou for the dance.
Tonight’s dance was a young folks’ dance: with Wendy MacIsaac on fiddle and Mac Morin on keyboard, the floor belonged to the youngsters, many in the cast of Brìgh, who were having a great time. Older dancers were on the floor as well, but it was the youngsters’ exuberance and pure joy in the dance and the music that ruled the evening; unfazed by the heat and humidity, they were a delight to watch and experience. No adults rose for the first jig set at 22h06, so eight lasses rushed to the front of the hall for the second one and turned it into a very sprightly first square set. Sixteen couples, including adults this time, danced the second square set, but there were plenty of youngsters there as well, dashing the length of the hall as fast as they could go in the third figure. And so it went for the remaining four square sets, enthusiasm and energy spilling out of the young folk in every set. Twenty-four couples danced the third square dance, the night’s high water mark, and the last square set was mostly young folks with eighteen couples. I think they’d have danced until dawn had there been music! The step dance sequence brought to the floor Stephen MacLennan; two lasses dancing together; a lady highland dancing; another lass; Siobhan Beaton; and two other lasses dancing separately. (I’d be willing to bet that some of those I don’t have names for were MacInnises, MacNeils, and Campbells—some day I hope to know them all well enough to have names for the faces.) After the step dancers had finished, Jennifer Bowman ably relieved Wendy on fiddle for the fifth square set; it had been some time since I last heard her and I liked what I heard. On the third figure of that set, Wendy took over for Mac, who had a bandaged hand following a freak accident—the bandage was precautionary and didn’t seem to affect his playing. Both Wendy and Mac seemed extra-inspired by the young folk; Wendy's jigs just sang all night long and her driving reels were part of the fuel that moved the dancers, all filled out by Mac’s fine accompaniment. It was one lively and amazing dance from start to end! As I drove back to Port Hood, I reflected on what an amazing community and culture has produced these fantastically talented and enthusiastic young folk; neither boredom nor apathy there! The music and dance is surely safe in their hands!
Sunday, 23 August — Port Hood
I arose after 11h and ate a makeshift breakfast in my room (cranberry juice, apple, and granola bar). The humidity seemed to be less today, but it was still uncomfortable outside, where it was mostly overcast with some occasional sunny breaks. I read and relaxed until 14h15, when I drove to the Red Shoe and got a table for this afternoon’s cèilidh. Since no entrées are served until 16h, I had a salad and then completed and posted yesterday’s account while I waited. When the appointed hour arrived, I had the pan-seared halibut, excellent as always.
By then, Shelly Campbell on fiddle and Joël Chiasson on real piano had started the fantastic afternoon of music we were privileged to hear. Strathspeys and reels were rounded out by jigs, marches, airs (including an especially gorgeous Mo Mhàthair), waltzes, and hornpipes, all played from the heart with drive and power and joy and enhanced by Joël’s perfect accompaniments. Lots of my favourite tunes were in the afternoon’s sets, some of which were very long—just a continuous gusher of music that was amazing to hear. One set was in high bass tuning, always a delight. The final set, a real barnburner, started with Johnny Cope and continued for over twenty minutes, earning the musicians a standing ovation from those present, at least half of whom were local folks appreciative of the great music we heard and the incredible talents making it, as well as getting several step dancers onto the floor. No square sets were danced during the afternoon, but several got up to step dance at various points during the cèilidh: Carmen MacArthur (twice), Dale Gillis, Theresa Gillis, Raymond Beaton (twice), Sara Beaton, Paul Strogan, Shay McMullin (if I heard correctly), and two ladies and one gentleman whom I did not recognize. Shelly is leaving for Denmark, so others will fill in for her at the gigs she was scheduled to play this week; I am very sorry indeed to miss out on her playing, which I haven’t heard enough of this summer (or ever, really), but I am absolutely delighted that she was asked to Denmark as her music so richly deserves a vastly wider audience.
It took a while to come down to earth after the superb afternoon, which I accomplished by thanking the musicians and by chatting with friends on the way out. I picked up some fresh fruit and other supplies at the Freshmart. On the way back, I passed by a beautiful sunset over the Mabou River; I was already on the bridge when I noticed the gorgeous colours and their reflections in the water: I should have turned around and gone back to capture the scene, but vehicles behind me made that awkward and I just kept going. By the time I got to Port Hood, where I drove down to the harbour, the colours were mostly gone. I chatted for a bit with my host at the motel and then on the phone with a friend in Mabou Harbour who didn’t read the email I sent him in the morning proposing a visit after the cèilidh. Then, it was early to bed for an early start tomorrow for the drive back to Meat Cove, where I'll be much of this week. The weather forecast is not looking great and no two sources agree, but one says some sun will shine on the morrow and hope springs eternal…
Monday, 24 August — Port Hood to Meat Cove
I arose at 7h to grey overcast with a bit of blue sky and high white clouds showing behind. After breakfast at Sandeannies, I left Port Hood at 8h30. Clouds/fog were on and somewhat below the summits of Cape Mabou. I took the Deepdale Road to bypass Inverness and found occasional sun breaking through along the Shore Road. I stopped for gas in Belle-Côte at 9h30, where I ran into heavy grey overcast. A few sprinkles decorated the windshield on Chéticamp Back Road. Unbroken overcast was the sky on French Mountain with fog/haze in any distant views. I stopped at French Lake, the northern Fishing Cove Look-Off, and the MacKenzies Mountain Look-Off second from the top, where the northwestern coast was very hazy, with clouds and fog over the highlands through which rays of sun were penetrating. North Mountain offered mist/fog/rain on and below the summit down to the road level. At Big Intervale, the road was again clear of fog, which still cloaked the highlands. I ran into construction on the North Aspy River bridge on the Bay St Lawrence Road, where only one lane was open—it looked like they were replacing the wooden flooring. I drove into the Cabot Landing Provincial Park, where I found one other car and the shore hidden in the fog (I also got 3 bars of Telus service here). At 11h49, I arrived at the Bay Café in Bay St Lawrence; fog was at the road level all the way from the park to just before Meat Cove Road. The massif was hiding, invisible except for its very lowest slopes; the sun brightened its portion of the sky, but had no luck breaking through (2 bars of Telus service here). After a salad and a club sandwich, I drove on to Meat Cove with the spectacular coastal views hiding behind the fog/clouds. This amazing drive loses a lot of its zing in such conditions! I found my room reserved for me when I arrived at the Hines Oceanview Lodge at 12h49 (1 bar of Telus service here).
After bringing my things in out of the car, I read and dozed, apparently tired from rising earlier than normal. I then went out on the verandah and watched the fog, which lay over and down the western highlands, occasionally reaching into the village; a wee bit of precipitation fell as well, just enough to wet the driveway. At least in Meat Cove, the heat spell is now broken, with the temperatures hovering around +20 (68), but the humidity remains, though not the discomfort. In the good breeze, the bugs didn’t find me. The weather radar showed crap in the Cabot Strait but it didn’t reach here. By 16h, the fog/clouds lifted above summits of the western highlands and part of sky turned white with the sun still trying to break through, but it lasted only an hour. By 18h25, the fog was back down to just above Little Grassy; Meat Cove Mountain was completely hidden. An hour later, the village itself disappeared: light rain, almost mist, was falling, again enough to wet the ground.
Not hungry enough to venture out, I had a supper of cherries, a pear, an apple, a granola bar, and tea. As I was eating, two guests arrived and we chatted after they had chosen a room and brought their luggage inside. My host came up to check on his guests and we all chatted for some time. The two guests went upstairs and I sat in the living room and read and relaxed, retiring for the evening at 23h. This was definitely not the kind of day I had hoped for, but I enjoyed it anyway, even if the fog/clouds hid the gorgeous views most of the day, though I was most sorry to have missed the Brook Village dance.
Tuesday, 25 August — Meat Cove
When I got up at 7h, the fog was just above Little Grassy and Meat Cove Mountain was completely hidden. I had a breakfast of instant oatmeal, a granola bar, cranberry juice, and tea. I talked with the other guests, who left about 9h30. Some clearing began soon afterwards, but the weather radar showed the fog covering all of northern Cape Breton except White Point. By 11h15, the summits of the western highlands were clear of fog by the coast, though fog lingered inland; Meat Cove Mountain was now visible and I saw St Paul Island for the first time this year, though it was very hazy. By 12h30, fog was back on the summits, Meat Cove Mountain was only partly visible, and St Paul Island was just barely discernible through the haze. I wrote and posted yesterday’s account.
I left for Dingwall after 15h. On the way there, the sun was shining on Cape North and White Rock (a feature so labelled on the topographical map at the base of the Massif south of and close to Cape North), but fog remained on the summit of the Massif and more covered the summits of North Mountain, with the upper half of Willkie Sugar Loaf completely missing. I could see across Aspy Bay that it was overcast at White Point, where I had thought about going given the radar map showing it sunny there (perhaps it just meant an absence of fog), so I instead drove into Dingwall and visited the St Paul Island Lighthouse and museum, my Plan B. I had not been there before and had read good reports by people who had toured it. A very knowledgeable and pleasant young lady guided me around the four rooms of the museum and called my attention to the many photographs and artefacts on display, explaining their import and recounting history and anecdotes, many tragic, about the community of 60 that once inhabited the small island separated from the main island at its northern end by The Tickle, a narrow channel. A lobster cannery was once located there and preserved the lobsters caught by the local fishermen for transport and sale elsewhere. No animals are present on the island—rabbits were once introduced, but only one remained at the end of a year, the rest having been taken by eagles; deer occasionally arrive on the winter ice, but none have ever colonized the island. St Paul Island is most well known for the many shipwrecks off its shores and their concomitant woes; the erection of lighthouses on both ends helped to reduce, but not entirely eliminate, them. The lighthouse on the museum grounds is the original one on the southern end of the island and is diminutive, barely two stories tall, because it was situated on a cliff high above the water. It is made of cast iron pieces bolted together, allowing it to be disassembled, transported, and reässembled relatively easily. It was disassembled on the island and taken to Dartmouth, where it was reässembled and used for some years as a storage building until the historical society successfully petitioned to have it brought to Dingwall, where it is at least in sight of St Paul Island (on a clear day, anyway). I climbed up in it and admired the lens and the now obsolete technology that powered it. It is a fine way to spend part of a day and very interesting and educational if you have a bent for lighthouses and those who worked to maintain them. Admission is free (a donation box is provided for those so inclined). Highly recommended.
I drove on to the end of road at the Markland resort; it was obviously open for accommodation rentals and I later found out from the web site that its restaurant is also operating, though I saw no signage for it; I’d have given it a try had I known. Luckily instead, I returned to Cape North Village and had the catch of the day at Angie's: it was the most humongous piece of halibut steak I've ever been served, easily weighing over a pound, and covered more than half of a large oval plate; it was moist and juicy, nicely pan fried, and came with cole slaw, fresh string beans and carrots, a garden salad (which I chose over potatoes), and tea. I was some stuffed when I left! I picked up a few supplies at the country market across the road and drove back to Meat Cove.
As I rounded Black Point, the sun briefly blinded me, a hopeful sign the weather is improving. Six guests had arrived in my absence and were socializing on the upstairs deck; after dark, they moved to a fire in the fireplace by the picnic table outside. I sat in the dark in the living room and read on my iPhone. Hector came up and chatted with those outside and then with me on the veranda when I went out to check the skies—light-coloured with a few clouds and, though I didn’t see them without my glasses, Hector said stars were visible as well. After he left, the outside guests retired to their rooms; I remained reading in the living room until 23h, when I also went to bed.
Wednesday, 26 August — Meat Cove
I awoke at 5h45 to brighter light than I've seen since arriving in Meat Cove this time. I had the same breakfast as yesterday: cranberry juice, hot instant oatmeal, a granola bar, and tea. When I stepped out on the veranda, the sun was out in a mostly blue sky decorated with a few clouds; it wasn't a clear June day, but it was a great improvement over Monday and Tuesday and held promise. St Paul Island was visible, but hazy; the inland views at Meat Cove were fairly crisp, but I could see lingering humidity in the air; from the Lodge, it was hard to tell what the coastal views might be. One of my goals this trip (as it was of the previous one) was to get better photos of the coastline out to Cape St Lawrence than I got on the hazy day when I was last out in a whale-watching boat in Bay St Lawrence. About 9h, I called Oshan to see if they had room for me—I was unlikely to do any better, if as well, tomorrow. They had a place left on the 10h30 trip and I reserved it. I gathered my cameras and equipment and, after saying good-bye to two of the guests (the others were still upstairs), I drove to Bay St Lawrence, stopping at Black Point for photos, and took a seat in the stern port corner, where I’d have clear shots behind and often to either side (folks on whale-watching boats tend to move to the side where the action is, leaving the opposite side open).
The captain surprised me by turning towards Cape North as we left the harbour: on my last time out, we had gone directly to Cape St Lawrence. I was ecstatic as I’d never seen the coast from Bay St Lawrence to Cape North from the water and I started madly taking photos, many with “Big Bertha” and, when we got in close to land, with the wider-angled lens, since the telephoto lens is unsuitable for close-up shots. That coast is just as amazing as the coast out to Cape St Lawrence. Erosion has created many strange effects in the rocks and cliffs—columns, caves, serrated edges, tumour-like growths, dark cavities, weird gouges in the cliff faces, even an oval arch. I got to see the huge gypsum deposit responsible for White Rock, some of which has detached and lies off shore looking like small icebergs in the sun. When we rounded Cape North, Money Point came into view with its automated light and I got to see from the water what I saw from on land last year, though, given the sun’s position, the light wasn’t the best and often the sun was in the same direction as what I wanted to capture. Cape North, like Money Point and Cape St Lawrence, has a grass-covered coastal plain, though it is tiny compared to either of the others’. A good number of seals, perhaps fifty or more, were in the sheltered waters off Cape North, keeping a sharp eye on the boat—a case of the watchers being watched! No whales appeared there, though, so the captain headed off towards Cape St Lawrence. It was fairly rough out in the Cabot Strait and the wind picked up as we got away from the protection of the land. I got a few photos of a cargo ship heading towards the St Lawrence River, a challenge in the rolling seas when we would sink into a trough and the ship would disappear entirely; although I had “Big Bertha” mounted on a monopod, I think the camera’s image stabilization software might not have been up to the task out there—I won't know how any of the photos turned out until I see them on a large screen. We rounded Cape St Lawrence in due course and I had another chance to see the Cape St Lawrence coast as far south as Tittle Point. Whales were spotted, so we headed back out into the rougher waters where they were feeding. I didn’t pay them much attention, but concentrated on the coastal scenery. At one point, I attempted to shift my position and neglected a very important rule my uncle attempted to teach me: one hand for the camera and one hand for the boat. At the same instant, a swell moved the boat in an unexpected direction and I fell flat on my face. I suffered a minor cut where my head came in contact with a nut on a metal plate in the bottom of the boat and a couple of scratches, but I was otherwise unharmed; the bleeding alarmed my seat mates, but soon stopped. The GPS attachment for my camera (“Gypsy”), however, sustained fatal damage in the fall—the wire sheared off where the plug enters the camera; fortunately, neither the camera itself nor “Big Bertha” was hurt in the fall. I felt pretty stupid about ignoring so basic and important a rule, but was fortunate I fell in the boat and not in the water! Lesson learned, the hard way! I continued on snapping photos full bore afterwards. I heard later that a right whale, very rare, had been seen along with a good supply of more usual whales, but I was too busy getting photos of the stunning coast to get any of the whales, a couple of which breached close to the boat—capturing those requires either a video camera or lots of patience and good luck, as where a whale surfaces is unpredictable. Eventually, the captain headed back towards Cape St Lawrence and followed the coast in calmer waters back to Capstick and then across Bay St Lawrence to the harbour entrance. It was a long trip, three hours, and I was ecstatic to have seen both Cape North and Cape St Lawrence—I couldn’t have picked a better itinerary than the one we followed. Oshan has a policy that if you pay for one trip, you can go on the next one that day for free if there is room and I had fully intended to do so until I discovered that I didn’t have enough juice left in my camera batteries to last for another three hour trip. So, I called it quits after 1929 photos. Hopefully, they will look as good on a big screen as they do on the cameras’ three-inch LCD monitors.
I had a fine salad and biscuit with mediocre chowder (milky and mostly potatoes) at the Bay Café. I then drove out Money Point Road, which parallels the coast towards, but stopping well short of, Cape North, and stopped for a few photos of some of the features I’d seen in the waters below. Still hungry, I stopped off at The Hut, a good take-out place in Bay St Lawrence, where I had a bacon cheeseburger. I drove back to the Lodge, stopping for a few more photos. One of tonight’s expected guests was already there. While the camera batteries were recharging, I read and dozed on the veranda and enjoyed the gorgeous views of the highlands and waters off Meat Cove available from there. At 19h, I went down for dinner at the Chowder Hut, where I had the seafood “platter” (it arrived in a cardboard box) with cole slaw in place of French fries; the cole slaw was excellent and the clams, scallops, and small piece of haddock were overdone but otherwise OK. Back at the Lodge, I completed and posted yesterday’s account. The other guests expected never materialized. Our host came up and chatted with us two for a while. I read some more after he left. Just before I retired at 23h, I noticed what appeared to be a huge bright spotlight out in the waters some distance off shore; I tried rather unsuccessfully to photograph it. It must have been a ship of some description, but had no rows of lights like a cruise ship would or normal running lights that a freighter would that I could see. An unresolved mystery to end the wonderful day!
Thursday, 27 August — Meat Cove to Whycocomagh
When I arose at 6h30, it was bright and sunny with high white stratus clouds; the air was clear on land, but hazy at sea—St Paul Island was missing from the scenery. I had the same breakfast as the previous mornings at the Lodge. I packed up and took some final photos of the gorgeous scenery and drove to the end of the Meat Cove Road, turned around, and parked by the side of the road. (I should mention that, when I looked at Meat Cove Beach Road as I drove by it this morning, it had deteriorated considerably since last week, becoming deeply rutted much of the way down; I’d no longer attempt it in my Prius.) I then headed off up the Little Grassy trail, marked by orange flagging tape by the side of the road. The trail is mostly through the forest, though there are a couple of open areas, with dirt/roots/rocks for a tread; it climbs moderately, enough to make me stop for breath several times. But the trail is short and I arrived at the summit in thirty-seven minutes, including stops for rests (it took me only 17 and a half minutes to walk down, taking due care not to trip). The summit is higher than the Hines Ocean View Lodge and presents a gorgeous coastal panorama from Cape North and the Cape North Massif around Bay St Lawrence to Black Point (the Capstick coast is hidden behind Black Point) and then the coast to Meat Cove, including the Jumping Brook waterfall, the beach, the campground, and the northern end of the village, but in addition there are equally fine views inland of Meat Cove Mountain, the valley of Meat Cove Brook, and of the highlands on both sides of the brook. And St Paul Island reäppeared, though very dimly, while I was there. Cape St Lawrence is hidden by the terrain, but there are impressive views of the immediately adjacent coastal cliffs to the west. The trail continues sharply down towards the water, ending above cliffs about the same height as those at the campground; I didn’t follow it very far below the summit, as I’d have had to slowly climb it back up and I preferred to use the time I had for photography and just soaking in the panorama. About thirty people and a half dozen dogs made the trek up to the summit while I was there and most chose to descend to the end of the trail; being further out in the water, one might have views of Cape St Lawrence from there—I've never done that any of the several times I've been there, so I don’t know for sure. A strong and gusty wind removed my sun hat several times, but the chin strap prevented it from blowing away; the breeze mostly disappeared once back in the forest in the lee of the mountain. The sun was in and out of clouds and it was distinctly chilly at the summit, even in a long-sleeved shirt. Although it wasn't the hike I’d hoped to do when I arrived, which the uncoöperative weather of the first two days precluded, it was a very worthwhile way to spend my last morning in Meat Cove on this trip and I’m glad I got it in.
I chose to return south as I had come, via Pleasant Bay and Chéticamp, in part to explore the southern end of Blaze Road, which I’d driven once before but of which I had few recollections, and in part because I wanted to eat at the Rusty Anchor in Pleasant Bay. The informal Sunrise look-off had generally clear views, but haze obscured details on the Cape North Massif. The Rusty Anchor was almost full up when I got there, but my meal was served in the normal amount of time. I had bacon-wrapped scallops, a spinach salad with chunks of real bacon and boiled egg slices, crab cakes with potato salad and cole slaw, and unsweetened ice tea. It was a great meal I thoroughly enjoyed. The waitress said she recognized me from other stops at the restaurant; a local lady, whose grandfather owned land at the end of Hinkley Glen Road, she knew about the Red River Falls of which I was unaware when I explored that road for the first time last fall. Apparently the falls are more prized locally for their swimming hole than their fairly diminutive height, but I hope to check them out nonetheless for myself when I return this fall.
While crossing French Mountain, I saw a moose in a pond just off the Cabot Trail by the Benjie’s Lake Trail Head; the car ahead of me saw another in a different place. Both had disappeared when we stopped our cars and got our cameras out. I took the East Margaree Road in Belle-Côte and stopped for a brief nap at Doyles Bridge as I was feeling drowsy. I took Highway 395 in Southwest Margaree and ran into light rain along Lake Ainslie from Scotsville south. The light rain turned into a deluge just as I got into my motel room and I got soaked bringing my bags and refrigerator food inside from the car. It lasted a good hour and a half before changing to light rain again.
The rain had stopped when I set out for Glencoe Mills and the last of this year’s Thursday dances there (two Sunday dances remain, one on Glencoe Day next week and the other on the Thanksgiving weekend during Celtic Colours). The deluge didn’t seem to have bothered the road too much, though some potholes that had disappeared with the latest regravelling have reäppeared once more. I had worked on yesterday’s account at the motel and I finished and posted it in the yard at Glencoe before going in.
Tonight’s fine music was provided by Rodney MacDonald on fiddle and Jackie Dunn-MacIsaac on keyboard, always a pleasure to listen to. With only five non-workers in the hall, Rodney began playing at 21h04 with a march/strathspeys/reels set. People arrived earlier than has heretofore been the norm and four couples took the floor for the first jig set at 21h13. Six more square sets were danced with between eight and eighteen couples. Most of the square sets used two groups and one used three groups and two queues. Waltzes followed the second, fifth, and seventh square sets; no one danced the first one or (I think) the last one, but six couples got up for the second. Joe MacMaster ably relieved Rodney for the fourth square set; what a fine player he has become in such a short time! The step dancers were Siobhan Beaton, Hailee LeFort, Stephen MacLennan, and Amanda MacDonald. It was a fine dance and, given the lateness of the season, attracted a good number of attendees. I was pleased to see my friends from Vermont, Jake Brilhart and Aneleisa Gladding-Hinton, accompanied this year by Jake’s father, John; among other accomplishments, Jake and Aneleisa are both fine dancers in the Cape Breton style and a pleasure to see on the dance floor. I ran into some ground fog on the way back to Whycocomagh, but it was patchy. I was soon asleep after another lovely day in Cape Breton.
Friday, 28 August — Whycocomagh to Margaree Forks
A lovely sunny, blue sky day, albeit with puffy white cumulus clouds at the horizon, greeted me when I arose at 8h54. I got my duffel back in the car and said good-bye to my hostess at the motel, for it's my last day this trip in Whycocomagh. Got gas in the car ($1.009 a litre ($3.81 a US gallon) this morning, as low as I've seen it in Nova Scotia in many a year). After breakfast at Vi’s, I drove to Mabou, where I took care of some errands. By now, much of that blue sky had disappeared behind the white cumulus clouds, some tinged with grey, that had multiplied like rabbits. I drove down to the wharf at Mabou Harbour and enjoyed the beautiful panorama of the wide Mabou River below Mabou Ridge, confined on the left by the southern edge of Cape Mabou and on the right by the northern edge of Rocky Ridge. Even though the light was no longer perfect, I snapped several shots of the panorama and of the boats and lighthouse at the harbour. I then drove back to Mabou and continued north on the Cèilidh Trail to Strathlorne, where I drove the Strathlorne Scotsville Road to Lakeview Drive, a road to which I was first introduced by Theresa “Glencoe” MacNeil some years ago. I drove it to its end and stopped on the way back for photos of the great views of Lake Ainslie on offer there. I noted signage for a “W.S.S.W. Margaree Road”, read I assume as West Side Southwest Margaree Road, and saw an unnamed road on my car’s GPS, but didn’t turn down it as it looked a bit questionable. I stopped again for photos of the Southwest Margaree River at the bridge just before Highway 395. I continued north on Highway 395 and turned up the Kiltarlity Road (the stress is on the “tar”), a road I first explored some time ago. I drove it up MacIsaac’s Mountain to the junction of SANS 105N/S and 630; the car’s GPS showed the same road I’d seen off Lakeview Drive, which the car here called Kiltarlity Road: it was sandy and grass-crowned and I didn't attempt to drive it back to Scotsville, but made note of it for a hike some day. I then returned as I came, recrossed the one- lane bridge over the Southwest Margaree, and turned down the “E.S.S.W. Margaree Road”, a gravel road that was a better choice than Highway 395 before the latter was finally refurbished a couple of years ago. The initial part of the road is now in terrible shape, with potholes everywhere, mere inches away from the Southwest Margaree River flowing below, but as beautiful as always. At a community The Nova Scotia Atlas labels as Mount Pleasant, two side brooks enter the Southwest Margaree River and the road makes a 90° turn to the left; from there back to Highway 19, the road is in excellent shape, unlike the mess it was in last year. It is a beautiful drive, adjacent to the river most of the way, though a challenge to photograph as it is hard to find a good vantage point from which to shoot, as the road is so close to the river and trees border the road. It was also a busy road this afternoon with three cars, two lads on motorbikes, and a huge gravel truck that required me to back up to a spot I could safely move aside to let it pass. From Southwest Margaree, I drove to the motel in Margaree Forks, got my room, and got cleaned up for supper and the dance.
I had dinner at the Belle View in Belle-Côte: bacon-wrapped scallops, a garden salad (their maple salad was unavailable today), and halibut steak (a normal portion, but a quarter the size of the one I had at Angie’s) with rice, cole slaw, and garden vegetables, all delicious. I drove back to the motel where I worked on Thursday’s post until it was time for the dance.
Tonight’s music was by Kenneth MacKenzie on fiddle and Lawrence Cameron on keyboard. The music started promptly at 22h with a march/strathspeys/reels set as not enough people for a square set were present. The jig set at 22h07 turned into the first square set danced by five couples. The second square set had twelve couples in two groups. It was followed by Jerry Holland’s In Memory of Herbie MacLeod and one other waltz. The third and fourth square sets each had nine couples; for the fourth, Kenneth asked Jake Brilhart to play in his place, which he did ably; it was the first time I’d heard him play for a square set. With Kenneth back on fiddle, a waltz and the fifth square set were played, the latter danced by twelve couples. It was followed by a long jig set that had no takers. Two more square sets were danced, one with ten couples and the other with seven. One more Southwest Margaree dance remains on the schedule before Celtic Colours, next week with Ian MacDougall; sorry am I to miss that, but I will be on the road home that day. But I certainly enjoyed tonight's fine music. A bright moon brightened the road back to the motel after the dance, where I was quickly asleep.
Saturday, 29 August — Margaree Forks to Port Hood
I found grey clouds with some blue sky outside my motel room when I got up a bit after 9h. I drove to the Dancing Goat in Northeast Margaree for breakfast, delicious as always; I spoke with the Colosimos, who were also there. I completed and posted Thursday’s account while finishing my tea. Sunflowers are now in bloom in two fields across from the church (they were last week as well and I forgot to mention them), but they are at most waist-high, a testament to the late start to the planting and growing seasons this year. I drove the East Margaree Road to East Margaree, where I turned onto the Marsh Brook Road; I had been there twice before in previous years, but my skimpy notes of those explorations left other questions to be answered. I drove past the last house on the road, which I do not recommend: beyond that point, the road is crowned with rocks and lined with puddles, full of dicey spots caused by erosion, and so narrow I had little choice but to keep going. I found a spot where I attempted to turn around but failed; a ways further on, I succeeded on the second try. Fortunately, I made it back with no bottom scrapes, but it’s nothing I’d do again; the road is part of a snowmobile trail that would likely make a good hike across the Margaree Highlands to Marsh Brook. Up to the last house, the road is potholed with puddles—not in good shape but at least driveable. I continued on to Chéticamp, where I explored two roads I have no recollection of having driven before: Chemin Haché and La Pointe du Havre, both leading to marine construction/repair facilities; on a better day, they merit another drive for photos of the harbour and of Chéticamp Island that they afford. I arrived at the Doryman at 12h30 and got a prime seat for the afternoon’s cèilidh. While waiting for it to begin, I worked on Friday’s account.
Today’s cèilidh featured Howie MacDonald on fiddle and three other highly esteemed musicians who, I am told, played every week at the Doryman cèilidhs in the 80’s and 90’s: Donny LeBlanc on fiddle, André LeBlanc on keyboard, and Gélas Larade on guitar. They had a return cèilidh during KitchenFest! this summer, but a conflict prevented me from attending then, so I was delighted to have the chance to hear them today. The cèilidh opened with Howie and Donny on dual fiddles, accompanied by André on keyboard and Gélas on guitar. For the first twenty-five minutes, they continued in this configuration. Then Howie left the “original three” on stage and for the next half hour they played a number of reel-heavy sets, with one air and several strathspeys. What a pleasure to hear! Howie then took Donny’s place on stage and played for the next hour; his call for step dancers went unanswered. A twenty-minute set including Tulloch Gorm among many others, ended to prolonged applause. Faded Love followed. A set of jigs got two up round dancing. Brent Aucoin on fiddle, accompanied by his aunt, Anna MacDougall, on keyboard and his father, Gaston, on guitar, next played several fine sets; a powerful, driving player, Brent is always a joy to listen to. Kathleen Leblanc-Poirier replaced Anna on keyboard for the last set Brent played. After a ten-minute break, Donny on fiddle, Hilda Chaisson on keyboard, and Chris Babineau on guitar gave us a couple of fine sets. With Gélas replacing Chris, Donny and Hilda gave us a set of strathspeys and reels during which a local lady step danced and Howie and Kathleen step danced together. Anna and Howie danced to the waltz that followed. A set of reels was then played. André replaced Hilda on keyboard and the “original three” played two more sets, one beginning with an air. Howie took Donny’s place and played three sets, the second a great set of jigs that had four ladies round dancing, and the third a call for step dancers which brought Brent and a local lady to the floor. Donny replaced Howie and the “original three” played a fine set of strathspeys and reels. Brent joined Donny for two final dual fiddle sets. What an amazing afternoon of music! I certainly hope the “original three” continue playing together in the future! They make fine music and there is certainly an audience for it!
Today was another Chase the Ace day in Inverness, so there was an unusual amount of traffic heading north as I drove south from the Doryman. I met sixty cars on the Shore Road and 122 cars on Highway 19 from Highway 219 to the Deepdale Road; I had a five-minute wait in Strathlorne before a small break in the traffic on Highway 19 allowed me to join it to continue south. After getting my key, I read and relaxed a while in the motel room and then drove to West Mabou for the dance.
Chrissy Crowley on fiddle and Mac Morin on real piano provided the music for tonight’s dance. It began with a jig set at 22h03 that got no takers. The first square got underway at 22h11 with 25 couples in two queues (thereafter, only one queue was used). Thirty-two couples danced the second square set; the number of couples dancing subsequent sets gradually diminished in each successive square set, with fourteen couples dancing the fifth square set and only seven couples dancing the sixth and last square set. Joe MacMaster replaced Chrissy for the fourth square set. On the sixth square set, Hailee LeFort joined Chrissy to make dual fiddles and Sara MacInnis replaced Mac on piano. The step dance sequence drew to the floor Melody Cameron, Siobhan Beaton, two lasses dancing together, Sara MacInnis, a Campbell lass, a MacNeil lass, Mairin Campbell, Amanda MacDonald, Elizabeth MacInnis, Hailee LeFort, two MacNeil lasses dancing together, another MacNeil lass, Lily Watson (Jim Watson’s daughter), Burton MacIntyre, Mary Beth Carthy (Antigonish), and another MacNeil lass. Chrissy’s beautiful, energetic, powerful playing was a real joy, with Mac’s superb accompaniments the perfect match. It was one incredible dance!
As I drove back to Port Hood, I reflected on what a magnificent day of music it had been and how privileged I was to be able to hear it. This is truly music that gladdens the heart and rejuvenates the spirit! Only in Cape Breton!
Sunday, 30 August — Port Hood
I slept in and didn’t crawl out of bed until nearly noon. I had a makeshift breakfast in my room (of the last of the fresh cherries I got at the Freshmart last week, cranberry juice, and a granola bar) as I read and relaxed. I then finished and posted Friday's account. Afterwards, I drove the Colindale Road to Mabou, where I found considerable washboarding and a stretch of new white crushed stone laid on the road bed. High white stratus clouds, sometimes tinged with steel grey, covered much of the blue sky; cirrus clouds were forming at the horizon; and sunny, clear air made this a beautiful day to be seeing the glorious sights from the Colindale guardrails. I drove on to the Red Shoe, where I worked on Saturday’s post as I ate a spinach salad and drank a glass of red ale, awaiting the arrival of 16h when entrées become available, at which time I ordered the pan-seared halibut, served on lobster mashed potatoes and broccoli, with a salsa garnish—absolutely scrumptious! I was joined by some friends with whom I shared the table and conversation.
The cèilidh with Marc Boudreau on fiddle and Hilda Chiasson on real piano was, of course, the reason we all were there. (Rodney MacDonald, Mac Morin, and Pat Gillis were playing in Judique at the Celtic Music Interpretive Centre and I’d have dearly liked to have been there as well; it was a hard choice, decided in favour of the Red Shoe because I hear Marc less often than Rodney.) The music began at 16h04 and ended way overtime around 19h20; much of the crowd was appreciative locals. Marc was at his best this afternoon, precise and technically perfect; never too fast, leaving enough time for full ornamentation; and with fire in his bow as the musical phrases came blazing forth. And Hilda, who has long played with Marc, beautifully enriched the fiddle melodies with her fine piano accompaniments, supplying rhythm and adding body and character to the music. It was pure Scottish traditional music exactly as it is meant to be played and a total delight to hear. About a half hour in, during a strathspeys and reels set, Mary Beth Carthy (Antigonish) step danced and was followed on the floor by Burton MacIntyre, who had a five dollar bill stuffed under his belt by an admiring fan as a joke. A jig set at 16h53 turned into a square set danced by four couples, the only one of the afternoon. Jake Brilhart gave Marc a break by playing three sets of tunes with Hilda accompanying. Marc returned on fiddle and played a set during which Gerry Deveau played spoons and step danced, as did a lady I don’t know. Marc then played two versions of a very striking tune new to me: he said he'd learned it from the playing of Shelly Campbell and wasn’t sure of its name, but thought it could be Angus Chisholm’s Strathspey; the first version was played as a slow air and the second as a slow strathspey. Both were gorgeous, both as tunes in their own right and as played by Marc. Later on, Mary Beth played “bones” to Marc and Hilda’s music. A gentleman with Mary Beth was celebrating his birthday and Marc played Happy Birthday for him; three couples round danced to the following music. Chrissy Crowley relieved Marc and played a fine set of jigs with Hilda. Howie relieved Hilda on piano and Marc played strathspeys to which Mary Beth and Hilda step danced. Two amazing sets with Marc and Howie concluded the fantastic cèilidh. It was an afternoon to remember!
After the cèilidh, I drove out Mabou Harbour Road and visited with a friend there for a couple of hours. I then returned to Port Hood and went early to bed, preparing for the morrow.
Monday, 31 August — Port Hood
I arose somewhat later than I had planned, a bit past 7h30, and had breakfast at Sandeannies (they were temporarily out of fish cakes, with a new supply expected today or tomorrow). I then headed for Mabou Coal Mines for a hike I knew would last most of the day and exhaust me, but which I badly wanted to make one more time while I still am (barely) able. I talked with a fit couple from Texas who were hiking the Cape Mabou Trail Club system for the first time; they were interested in the views, so I suggested both Beinn Alasdair Bhain and Beinn Bhiorach with any of several return options. Two ladies with two young children, who had last been on Beinn Alasdair Bhain fifteen years ago, were planning on going again and I warned them to keep their children close as they passed along the cliffs. A little after 10h, I set off along the Cul Na Beinne Trail, better known as MacKinnons Brook Lane. It had been some years since I’d done this hike in this direction and I needed to refresh my memory. Mill Brook sang its lovely tunes as I continued steadily though relatively gently uphill, not as short of breath as I had feared, but still obliged to stop and rest four times before arriving at the White Bridge (not very white these days and now missing its railing on the east side) a couple of minutes past 11h. This lovely spot, nestled in a glen surrounded by highlands, was once home to pioneers who lived along MacIsaacs Glen Brook, which passes beneath the White Bridge and flows west along the trail to near the MacPhee Trail junction, where it crosses the trail under a small bridge and joins forces with Mill Brook. The blue sky there was covered with feathery white clouds and I was sweating buckets, even though the car registered a mild +22 (72). From the White Bridge, the trail ascends far more precipitously to the col where the Trap à Mhathain (Bear Trap) and the Oir à Ghlinne (Edge of the Valley) Trails head east and north. Three more full blown rests and lots of pauses for breath brought me to the col at 11h40; hungry mosquitoes were repelled everywhere I applied insect spray, but I neglected my pants legs and socks and they took full advantage until I sprayed them too. A lovely breeze coming down off the highlands made the heat I worked up climbing bearable. And once there, I knew it was all downhill to the MacKinnons Brook trail head! By 12h30, I was there, a distance of 3.9 km (2.4 mi), not very impressive for speed, but, hey, I’m slow! From there, I walked to the cutoff trail for Beinn Bhiorach, whose coördinates I wanted to verify, and then back to the Meadows side trail, which I followed down to MacKinnons Brook Mouth, where I had a long rest as I ate lunch: a pear, water, and a granola bar. At 14h12, I started back up the steep path to the Meadows and followed the other fork out to the edge of the cliffs for some photos of Beinn Bhiorach from below. By 15h05, I was back at the three-way junction, ready to start up Beinn Alasdair Bhain. This climb is roughly twice the height of the morning’s climb up to the col and I knew it would be a slog; it was, but the fantastic views of Beinn Bhiorach as the relocated trail climbs along a ridge with open views gave me plenty to admire (and photograph) while resting. Part way up, I stopped for a second lunch, an apple, water, a granola bar, and three handfuls of trail mix. I observed a fair amount of growth on the ridge; it is no longer quite as open as it was two years ago and the brush and young trees will be blocking many of the views in another two or three years. By 17h08, I reached the junction with the MacPhee Trail and the hard climb was over, though a few easy uphill steps were still needed to reach the summit of Beinn Alasdair Bhain. It was too hazy for there to be any good views at the look-off, so I just signed the trail register and started down at 17h33. I had to be very careful where I stepped, as the trail down is steep, and my legs were not obeying my head’s commands with any alacrity, slowing me even more (the walking stick was a tremendous help, serving as a reliable third leg whenever either of my legs was recalcitrant). I finally made it back to the car at 18h20, with several forced stops on the way down to rest. I was some tired! The distance back is 3 km (1.9 mi) and I probably hiked another 1.1 km (0.7 mi) on the trails to the Beinn Bhiorach cutoff and the Meadows trails (I don’t have exact distances for those), for a total of 8 km (5 mi) over challenging terrain for a 73-year old. But I was also exhilarated: I had done what I set out to do and, to boot, I had spent the day in Cape Mabou, a place I love and never get enough of, with gorgeous views I hadn’t seen in far too long. It was just a fabulous day!
I made my way back to Port Hood, got cleaned up from the hike, and drove back to the Mull for a celebratory dinner (garden salad, scallops stir-fry, rice, broccoli, and carrots, all superb, and a pitcher of water that finally quenched my thirst). I then drove to Brook Village, where I worked on Saturday’s post in the car, which I did not have time to complete before the dance.
Tonight’s fine music was by Kenneth MacKenzie and Mac Morin. Their first set of jigs eventually got two groups of four couples each; one of the groups added a couple for the second and third figures, the latter of which somewhat strangely used two queues. Six more square sets were danced, with at least 23, 27, 32, 29, 22, and 17 couples, respectively (some may have had more couples). A waltz set was played after the third square set, bringing at least a dozen couples to the floor; another was played after the fourth square set. Joey Beaton relieved Mac for the sixth square set. A lady I don’t know and Harvey MacKinnon were the only two who answered the call for step dancers. During the evening, it was announced that the Brook Village dances would be continuing without a break up through Celtic Colours. This was my last Brook Village dance until then and I soaked in the wonderful music, which drove the dancers to give their best all night long. Another superb dance! I had trouble staying awake during the drive back to Port Hood, but I made it and was instantaneously asleep when my head hit the pillow. What a great day: both Cape Mabou and Brook Village!
Tuesday, 1 September — Port Hood
A grey, overcast day greeted me when I got out of bed, my calves screaming from yesterday’s exertions, a bit before 10h. I read and caught up with the news and drove to the Celtic Music Interpretive Centre in Judique for the lunchtime cèilidh. As the music proceeded, I had a brunch of “loaded baked potato soup” garnished with bacon, cheese, and greenery, a delicious combination of flavours I’d enjoy having again; dill potato salad; fish cakes; and tea. The music began with a set of jigs by Hailee LeFort on fiddle and Allan Dewar on keyboard. Lovely march/strathspeys/reels sets succeeded one another with airs sometimes replacing the marches; one air was especially lovely and lush, with near cello tones on the lower notes. Other than an occasional set at a cèilidh or a “relief set” at a square dance, I had not had the opportunity previously of hearing Hailee play for over an hour straight, as she did today; I very much liked her fine playing and will look forward to hearing her again. Allan retired from the keyboard after about an hour and was replaced by Kevin Levesconte, whom I had not much heard before except as an accompanist for Dwayne Côté. Hailee continued for a couple more sets, ending with a beautifully played Neil Gow’s Lament for the Death of His Second Wife, on which Kevin’s contribution was unusually soft and subtle. About 13h15, Doug Lamey took Hailee’s spot and, with Kevin continuing on keyboard, began with a set of jigs, one of which, in a minor key, I didn't remember if I had ever heard it before. Ashokan Farewell was followed by strathspeys and reels; Doug’s fluent playing was a joy to listen to. Hailee and Doug on dual fiddles played a set of jigs with Kevin and followed it with a march/strathspeys/reels set. Hailee and Kevin played a set together and then Doug and Kevin played for Hailee to step dance. It was a wonderful two and a half hours of music that passed very quickly.
I then drove to Creignish where I had a great visit with a friend who had invited me to drop in. Just back from the Cape Breton Fiddlers’ Association trip to Boston, he regaled me with accounts of their activities there and of the fine treatment they received from their local hosts. Knowledgeable about the music and with local roots going back two centuries or more, he conveyed a wealth of interesting information and anecdotes; it was a delightful way to spend the afternoon.
I drove back to Port Hood and had a green salad and a dressed hamburger at the Admiral Inn and an apple and a granola bar in my room for dessert. Then, I drove to Mabou for my last musical event of this trip in Cape Breton.
Karen and Joey Beaton’s cèilidh tonight featured Kyle MacDonald as the guest fiddler. It was the last one of this 20th season of their cèilidhs, and therefore dubbed “Patron Appreciation Night”, celebrated at the end by drawing for ten door prizes. These cèilidhs are on the same night as those in Port Hawkesbury and often pose very hard conflicts: Shelly Campbell and Allan Dewar, Harvey MacKinnon, Joe MacMaster, and the Broussards were on the bill there tonight. But it was Karen and Joey that introduced me to Cape Breton music in 2001 and I generally try to attend their cèilidhs, as a thank you but also because I always learn so much from them and the music is always excellent. Tonight’s cèilidh was no exception; it opened with Karen and Kyle on dual fiddles accompanied by Joey on keyboard playing the three jigs Battle of the Somme, Anne Marie MacInnis’ Jig, and the Trip to Toronto Jig. Karen and Joey next gave us a set beginning with the March of the Cameron Men and including Miss Gordon's Strathspey, John Campbell’s Mira Reel, a Theresa MacLellan tune, and Sir George MacKenzies’ Reel. A jig medley in G followed. Kyle played two fine sets, the second a jig set including one from 1795. After the break, Karen and Joey gave us a set beginning with Martha’s Farewell, composed by Anna Mae MacEachern, and including the reels Anna Mae’s Reel and The Night the Goats Came Home. Hailee LeFort then step danced to music provided by Karen and Joey. Kyle and Joey next gave us Tamarac ’er Down and three other jigs, after which Peter Parker step danced to Kyle and Joey’s music. Kyle and Joey then played a barnburner of a set beginning with Johnny Cope. Siobhan Beaton next step danced to music by Karen and Joey. After the draws for the ten door prizes, Kyle and Karen on dual fiddles accompanied by Joey on keyboard gave us a set of strathspeys and reels during which Kyle, Karen, and Joey each step danced in turn. It was a fitting way indeed to end this fine cèilidh and this 20th season of cèilidhs.
I drove back to Port Hood and relaxed a while. I then completed and posted Saturday’s account before retiring early.
Wednesday, 2 September — Port Hood to St Peter’s
I arose at 8h10 and decided to skip breakfast. I packed up the car and said good-bye until October to my hosts. I drove to Rocky Ridge and visited with my friends there, who are briefly home for a few days, and left the bear spray with them (I have no idea why it is legal to purchase and possess it in Canada, but not to bring it into Canada, but such is the case).
Today, I began an all-too-brief sortie into the eastern part of Cape Breton, a beautiful but much less known area than just about anywhere else on the Island. When I arrived at Port Hawkesbury about 11h30, Captain Kenny’s Fresh truck was not yet at the museum (its hours are 12h-18h), so I ate at Fleur-de-Lis in Port Hawkesbury, where I had their wonderful maple salad and the corned beef and cabbage dinner on special, which came with a boiled potato, carrots, turnip, and tea; quite the scoff indeed! I continued east on the 104 (the entrance to the Little River Reservoir has now been mown, I noted as I passed by), and turned off at exit 45, where I took the Whiteside Road through Evanston, Walkerville, and Whiteside, to Highway 320 in Louisdale beyond the school; the road through Whiteside is newly paved and in excellent condition; thereafter to the school, it is a hard surface of some sort, but some bumpy. Still, it was in much better shape than the potholed gravel road I found the last time I drove it several years ago. I turned onto Highway 320 and headed for Isle Madame. After stopping for photos at the bridge over Lennox Passage, many taken with “Big Bertha”, I drove towards West Arichat and turned onto the Port Royal Road and drove out through St Marys and along causeways connecting smaller islands to Janvrin Island, by far the largest of any island in Chedabucto Bay other than Isle Madame itself, and then to the end of Janvrin Harbour Road, stopping for photos at a number of points along this beautiful route. I explored three unnamed roads at the southwest end of Janvrin Island, the first time I had driven any of them. Only one led to any views. A sluice beneath the Janvrin Harbour Road where Janvrin Island is almost cut in two was spewing a bore of water to the east; I suspect the water moves in the opposite direction when the tides change direction. I refreshed my missing memories of MacDonald Road, which dead ends at a junk yard; I had driven it before but just couldn’t pull out any recollections of it. I drove the Northside Passage Road, of which I had better memories, and used “Big Bertha” to get shots of the distant mountains on offer there (their identification will have to wait until I can study the terrain in Google Earth). I came back to St Marys and drove the Little Passage Road for the first time; it is generally OK but with some bad spots and two very dicey spots. The road crosses over to the north side of Isle Madame to a locality the The Nova Scotia Atlas labels as Glasgow Point and dead ends at a house which has the only views of the water; I saw neither of the two continuation roads the atlas shows, one of which leads out to Glasgow Point, a point sticking out into Lennox Passage towards its western end. Rogers Road and Grandique Road both end on Little Passage Road, but neither one looked more than barely passable at their junctions. I returned to West Arichat and drove Highway 206 into Arichat, stopping for more photos of Jerseyman Island and again for photos of Arichat Harbour beside the cannons and the bilingual plaque recalling the depredations John Paul Jones visited on this area. I then drove Highway 320 to the Rocky Bay Road and took it to the Bona Road and it to the Mauger Road and it to Cap-la-Ronde. The road to the top of the hill above Cap-la-Ronde was driveable this year and I took a lot of photos there, many with “Big Bertha”, of both St Peter's and of River Bourgeois as well as the coast out to Point Michaud. It was not a perfect day for photography, but good enough, and I hope I got some decent photos of the beautiful Isle Madame area. I took the D’Escousse-Cap-la-Ronde Road back to D’Escousse and Highway 320 back to the 104 and it into St Peter’s, where I stayed the night in a cabin overlooking St Peters Inlet.
Still full from the big lunch, I had a rather strange dinner of appetizers (starters) at Louie’s Cosy Corner: Cajun haddock bites, chicken wings in a very hot sauce, which I applied liberally to the very subtly spiced haddock bites, and bacon-wrapped scallops. After dinner, I relaxed in the cabin and then finished and posted Sunday's account. I then went to bed, rather earlier than is my wont, still a bit tired from Monday’s hike (my calves are still squawking, but not as loudly or as painfully).
Thursday, 3 September — St Peter’s to Louisbourg
I arose at 7h to another lovely day and drove back to St Peter's for breakfast at Louie’s Cosy Corner. Continuing my all-too-brief sortie into eastern Cape Breton, I then drove back east on Highway 4 and turned onto Corbetts Cove Road, a road I’d not previously driven. I discovered fine views of St Peters Inlet and its shores along its initial stretch and stopped for photos at three places. The road is in generally good shape but trends inland on its upper end, which comes out on Highway 4 across from the church in Barra Head. There is ongoing construction in Chapel Island and north of Chapel Island. From Chapel Island to Hay Cove, Highway 4 has some very nice views of the Great Bras d’Or Lake; the upper part of this section of the road is newly constructed with paved shoulders but, due to the previous construction stops, traffic was bunched up and moving along too smartly to safely stop for photos. In Hay Cove, I turned off on the Hay Cove Road, which was in fine shape with new gravel, and followed it through Mt Auburn and Lochside to the Northside Loch Lomond Road, onto which I turned. I followed it to the lake and turned left; although it was hazy and the sun was in my eyes at the junction, things improved after I turned and I stopped at several points thereafter for photos of the beautiful lake, which is, I believe, the second largest freshwater lake in Cape Breton (after Lake Ainslie). At the bridge just before the junction with Loch Lomond Road, the lake is squeezed through a narrow passage and widens again to the north; it is along this upper part of the lake that the huge Loch Lomond church is located overlooking the lake. I turned right on Loch Lomond Road and headed south, detouring for more photos at Head of Loch Lomond, and turned onto Barren Hill Road. Roughly a couple of kilometres (a mile and a quarter) in, one reaches Barren Hill Lake, a lovely small lake whose outflow empties into the Grand River. The Barren Hill Road is of variable quality, generally good, but with several recent washouts, some of which were filled with small rocks not really suitable for my car, though I made it through with no bottom scrapes. Signs advised of ongoing forestry operations and a pick-up passed me going north as I was taking a photo of a mountain whose identity will require further study. The road reaches the Fleur-de-Lis Trail at Fergusons Lake, offering fine views of the lake from just before the junction. I drove on southeast to L’Archevêque and drove to the now deserted harbour; it was hazy there and the white clouds that had overtaken much of the sky meant less than the usual stunning views of the harbour and shore. I continued along the Fleur-de-Lis Trail (St Peters-Fourchu Road), turning onto the “parenthesis road” at St-Esprit, which I’d forgotten has no views from the road, and drove on to Ferguson Road #2, which I followed to its end at Kemps Point. I was there once before, but didn’t ascend the knoll at the end of the road; I did today and discovered a gorgeous view of the beach along Rorys Pond, a barrachois (one of many along the Atlantic Coast), and the shore extending to the west beyond L’Archevêque; as well, there are fine views of St-Esprit Island and the coast to the east towards St-Esprit Lake. This is a spot that is not well-known and merits a visit; the road in presented no problems for my car, but stop before you reach the sand trap below the knoll. I retraced my steps to the Fleur-de-Lis Trail and continued on to St-Esprit, where I stopped for photos of the gorgeous lake—the blue sky was more in evidence here and the lake was a lovely bright hue. I continued along to Framboise, where I turned onto the Crooked Lake Road and drove it to its end at another of my favourite places in Cape Breton: Red Cape. The road has several bad spots requiring care, but was otherwise in fine shape. I had lunch below the cape: an apple, a pear, a granola bar, and a bottle of cranberry juice. I then hiked along the coast at high tide to Red Cape, whose “prow” is much changed from wind and rain erosion since my last visit and nearly unrecognizable from the 2008 version. At the risk of getting my feet wet, I hiked around the prow and found the remainder of the cape much as it was before. I made it back without wet feet and climbed the short road to the top of the cape for photos from there of the mouth of the Framboise River, Morrisons Beach, the mouth of Fullers River, and the shore out to Winging Point south of Fourchu. I then walked along the shore to the mouth of the Framboise River, which offers an interesting study of the interaction of a narrow, emptying, fairly fast flowing river and the arriving swells off the Atlantic Ocean, producing eddies and constantly changing water flows as first the river and then the waves assert control in an endless fight for dominance. As I was taking photos there, two gentlemen arrived and climbed to the top of Red Cape, from which they spotted me as I started back to the car. They waited for me to arrive a-puffin’ and we introduced ourselves to each other. One of the gentleman was Neil Tonet, who lives by the bridge over the Framboise River in Framboise. He explained a mystery that has been puzzling me since the first time I climbed Red Cape: who do the plaques (illegible due to wind erosion) and the fresh flowers I see on each visit commemorate? He explained that they are in memory of the brothers Rhodes and John Mercer, who died of cancer and requested their ashes be scattered there. In between is an urn dedicated to a good friend of theirs (Neil didn’t know his first name, but his last name was Janes), whose ashes were also scattered there. We continued to chat and I mentioned a Jim MacLeod I know at the Canadian-American Club in Boston, who has roots in the Framboise area (Stirling, more precisely, it turns out); he knew of the family home on Five Island Lake at Stirling and remembered Herbie, Jim’s father and the dedicatee of Jerry Holland’s widely played tune, In Memory of Herbie MacLeod. Amazing the connections one makes as one moves about the Island! They left and I followed soon after. I drove on to Fourchu and drove to the cemetery on the south side of the harbour, where I turned around and drove back to the Fleur-de-Lis Trail and followed it along the north shore of the harbour. Sadly, it was late enough I didn’t have the time to visit several beautiful spots north of Fourchu (Belfry Beach, South Gabarus Lake) nor to detour into the Mira River Valley (Victoria Bridge, Upper Grand Mira, Grand Mira North, Grand Mira South); those are all places I hope to revisit on my next trip to eastern Cape Breton. I did drive into Gabarus and took photos from the staircase at the end of the Gabarus Highway. I continued on towards Marion Bridge, turning down Canoe Lake Road for the first time, and drove to end of logging operations; the road beyond looked bad enough, I turned around without reaching the lake. The beautiful drive through the Big Ridge area offers views of the mountains west of and above the Mira River. Although sorely tempted, I didn’t attempt to better the beautiful views of the Mira River I have in my collection along the Trout Brook Road, especially at Sangaree, and continued on to Albert Bridge and Catalone, and Louisbourg, where I arrived a bit before 17h30.
I had supper at the Grubstake: mussels, a berry green salad, and pan-seared scallops on a bed of rice, all excellent. It was by now too dark for photos, so I returned to the motel, where I finished and posted Monday's account. Then it was off to bed for an early start tomorrow.
Friday, 4 September — Louisbourg to Calais (Maine)
I got up at 6h39 to a beautiful, clear, sunny day, a rarity on my trips to Louisbourg—and darned if I didn’t have to leave this morning! After breakfast at the motel, I drove out to Louisbourg Lighthouse Point and speculated that it must have been a day like this on which the French picked Louisbourg for their main port and fortress, abandoning the more defensible fort at St Anns because the harbour there was often blocked by winter ice. After a photo shoot at Louisbourg Lighthouse Point, I stopped on Havenside Road on the way back for more photos.
But then I had to start back as I needed to be in Boston the next evening. I drove the Louisbourg Highway (Highway 22) to Hillside Road and took it to Marion Bridge; there, I took the Grand Mira North Road to Morley Road and it to Highway 4. I ran into a construction stop on the northern edge of Big Pond. There was too much traffic and too little time (I thought) to allow stops for photos, but I did pull off into the Irish Cove Provincial Park to capture the views there. The construction on the northern edge of Chapel Island entailed a short delay and that by the Esso station and again at Barra Head longer stops, but otherwise the trip to Port Hastings was uneventful and relatively rapid. I crossed the Causeway Bridge at 11h47.
By the time I reached the Cobequid Pass, the blue skies of Cape Breton had mostly been replaced with overcast, though some blue was still visible to the south. I had planned on staying the night at Moncton, where I arrived at 15h, earlier than I anticipated, but I decided to keep on going as it was too early to stop then. The sun was in and out around Moncton; the overcast dissipated as I continued on to St John, after stopping in Salisbury for a sub, half of which I ate there, and a small cup of coffee—I wasn't really drowsy, but worried I might become so on the way to St John. It was too early to stop in St John too, so I kept on to Calais, where I was finally ready to call it a day when I arrived there at 18h15 AT. The customs interrogation was perfunctory, but they were on again about fresh fruit, of which I thankfully had none left. I got a room at the International Motel in Calais on the edge of the St Croix River, where I had the other half of the sub for supper. I worked on and posted Tuesday’s account and then headed off to bed, even though the next day’s drive was only a relatively short one to Boston.
Saturday, 5 September — Calais to Tewkesbury (Massachusetts)
Today is my late father’s birthday; he’d have been 107 years old.
I arose at 8h and left Calais at 9h. It seemed weird to be crossing the Airline to the west without the sun in my eyes, as it usually is on my return trips. I had brunch at the Irving Big Stop in Newport, where I had a chef salad and a BLT, both excellent. My next stop was the Kennebunk service area on the Maine Turnpike. I arrived in Tewksbury at 15h08, got my motel room, and worked on Wednesday’s account. I then drove to Somerville, where I picked up Marcia Young Palmater, hostess of the excellent weekly radio show Downeast Cèilidh, which airs each Sunday night on WUMB (available via the Internet). We drove to Watertown and had supper at Demos; I chose the pastitsio, a kind of Greek lasagna, which was accompanied by a green salad. I completed and posted Wednesday’s account from there. We then drove on to Watertown for the dance at the Canadian-American Club.
The music tonight was by Andrea Beaton and Troy MacGillivray, who began at 20h10 with a march/strathspeys/reels set with Andrea on fiddle and Troy on the spinet. The crowd was in a dancing mood and as soon as Andrea played jigs, a square set formed on the floor. The first figure had five couples, but grew to nine couples in two groups by the third figure. Six sets were danced in all, with Andrea and Troy alternating on fiddle and spinet. After the second square set, Troy played the Antigonish polkas, which got one couple on the floor. The third square set was interrupted to sing Happy Birthday to Andrea, whose birthday is also today. A break for birthday cake followed the end of that set. The fourth square set was an unprompted Boston set danced by four couples; the others were all Mabou sets. The step dance sequence followed the fifth square set; Jennifer Schoonover and Rachel Reed were the two I recognized, but two ladies and one gentleman each danced separately; a lady and a lass danced together and then the lass alone; an older lass danced by herself; and two young lasses danced together and were then joined by two ladies. It is a delight to see younger folks on the dance floor where only a few years ago it seemed as if the dance was at best moribund if not altogether dead at Boston. After the sixth square set, Andrea and Troy on dual fiddles accompanied by Terry Traub on spinet played a march/strathspeys/reels set. With Lloyd Carr on spinet, Andrea and Troy on dual fiddles played a final march/strathspeys/reels set. It was a wonderful dance with fantastic music all night long. Although the hall was not packed, there was a very good crowd for much of the evening, though it thinned out at the end. After thanking the musicians, I drove Marcia back to Somerville and continued on to Tewksbury, where I arrived at 1h and promptly went to sleep.
Sunday, 6 September — Tewkesbury to Chippewa Bay (New York)
I arose at 7h and was on the road at 7h15, not headed for home, but for my sister’s in Northern New York State. While in Cape Breton, my eldest nephew had written me to let me know that the celebrations for my sister and brother-in-law’s 50th wedding anniversary had been moved to the 6th (from the 10th) because my middle nephew was there from Virginia for the Labour Day weekend and could not be there on the actual date. Accordingly, I made my way there, arriving without incident with very little traffic late about 13h30—the festivities began at 12h—the best I could do under the circumstances.
It was a nice get together with family and close friends with a lovely cake made by my eldest nephew’s life partner. Their three sons gave my sister and her husband a gift of two paid week vacations, one in mid-winter to Arizona and the Grand Canyon and one in August to Yellowstone National Park, both places they had never seen. I also got to see my great-grand-nephew from Virginia, now 22 months old, whom I’d never met.
After we returned to my sister’s, we sat outside: it was very warm and very humid, even sitting in sight of the St Lawrence River. It was good to see my middle nephew and his wife and my grand nephew and to chat with them. My sister served lasagna for supper, delicious as always. I was exhausted from three days of driving and the heat, so it was early to bed.
Monday, 7 September — Chippewa Bay
Bonne Fête du Travail! Happy Labour Day!
My middle nephew and his family were up early for the long drive back to Virginia, leaving before 7h to avoid as much of the Labour Day traffic as possible. We stayed up for a while after they left, but eventually went back to bed. When we got up again later, we spent a quiet day on the back deck. It was very hot and humid, with temperatures into the low 30’s (upper 80’s and low 90’s), so no one was much interested in expending any more energy than necessary. I recovered enough from the drives of the previous days that I was ready to contemplate the final drive of the trip back to New Jersey on the morrow.
Tuesday, 8 September — Chippewa Bay to Jackson
I had an uneventful drive back to Jackson from my sister’s, arriving mid-afternoon. It was plenty hot outside here when I got back; +35 (95), but dry and not too humid. For some reason, the house was cool, so I left unloading the car for tonight when it was cooler (+26 (79)) and tomorrow morning when it should be cooler still (+20 (68)).
So ends another wonderful trip to Cape Breton; my sincerest thanks to all those who made it so.