Today’s journey took me to the eastern coast of the Northumberland Shores region of Nova Scotia known as the Highland Heart. My last trip up this way ended at the town of Pictou. Today I picked up the scenic Sunrise Trail just east of there, outside the town of New Glasgow. Situated on the banks of the East River, the historic downtown area still contains stout buildings constructed with blocks of red sandstone in the late 1800s.
Leaving the city behind, I drove through the farming community of Merigomish where cornfield mazes stretched up and down hills to the sea. The area was founded by survivors of a volunteer regiment of Scottish soldiers who fought battles for the British in America. They were rewarded with land grants, but some took one look at the hostile wilderness and got back on the ship. The ones who stayed dug in their roots and their descendants still farm the land today. Road signs are written in both English and Gaelic and there is no shortage of people and businesses with the name “MacDonald”. Where a marshy field between two farms provided a clear view of the water I spotted some eroded rock formations. One of them looked like a giant frog’s head peering over the shoreline.
Detouring down a side road took me to Big Island Beach. It is a scenic, tranquil spot that boasts about its large sand dunes. Unfortunately, a large storm several years ago eroded most of the dunes and the ones that remain have migrated so that there is more sand on the road than on the beach. It is a great place for rockhounders, though, as the beach is filled with stones that have been smoothed and polished from tumbling in the surf. The beaches along the Northumberland Strait are said to have the warmest Atlantic Ocean waters north of the Carolinas. “Warm” could be a relative term coming from people whose average winter temperature is somewhere below zero and think that 80 degrees in summer is a major heat wave. So down at the water’s edge my Missouri DNA (gotta see it to believe it) took over and I had to dip my toes in the water. It was surprisingly warm.
Passing through the village of Lismore I noticed a quaint little church with a beautiful Celtic cross monument in the yard. According to the inscription on the stone ~ which commemorated the church’s 150th anniversary in 1984 ~ it is the oldest surviving Highland Scottish Pioneer Church in Nova Scotia. A few miles further down the road I came upon a pull-off overlooking Arisaig Point Harbor and Lighthouse. Until I looked down and realized how far below me it was, I hadn’t realized that I had been steadily gaining altitude as I rolled along. I could see that there was a small cluster of folks gathered around the base of the lighthouse, intently staring out to sea. Turns out they were watching a fishing boat off the shore that was fighting with a giant Bluefin tuna on the hook. They were on their third attempt to land it, but according to the man I spoke with, the tuna was winning the battle.
A short distance before arriving at Cape George, another side road took me to the beach at Livingstone’s Cove. It is a rocky beach with a small harbor and fish processing plant. I drove up to a bluff overlooking the cove and, as I was walking over to the edge to take a picture, saw a flash of movement as a large furry something dashed from the long grass at the cliff’s edge and ducked underneath a storage building. When I was ready to leave I took a slow ride around the shed and found a little face peeking out at me. I stopped the car and waited patiently while the critter gained confidence and emerged from its hiding place. It was a big, fat groundhog. He was just too cute!
Climbing again, I proceeded on to Cape George Point where the Northumberland Strait meets St. George’s Bay on the Atlantic Ocean. The roadside scenery was changing as the coast became more mountainous. Parts of the drive reminded me of being in the Smoky Mountains of Tennessee. It also occurred to me that it probably reminded the early Scottish and Irish settlers of their homelands. The Cape George Point Lighthouse is an imposing structure compared to many of the other lights I have seen along the coast. Perched on a bluff 360 feet above the water, it is the third light to guide ships safely into St. George’s Bay since the first light was constructed here in 1861. The lightkeeper’s residence and barn have been removed since the light was automated in 1968. Strolling around the grounds of the lighthouse provides a commanding view of the St. George’s Bay area and the western coast of Cape Breton across the water.
Descending the road on the east side of Cape George Point also provides sweeping views of the bay and Ballantyne’s Cove below. Blue sea, green meadows, red cliffs and tuna boats bobbing in the harbor make for a picturesque landscape. On the wharf I visited the Tuna Interpretive Center to learn about the evolution of Bluefin tuna fishing in the area. Once thought to be a “nuisance” fish because they got tangled in the mackerel fishing nets, the tuna was sold for cat food and garnered about 10 cents per pound. Their value increased when they became an object for sport fishing. But the mighty Bluefin turned to gold with the rise of the sushi business in Japan during the 1980s. Today, almost the entire Bluefin catch is shipped to Japan and a fish with the right mix of meat and fat marbling can fetch around $18 per pound. The largest tuna caught in this area weighed 1496 pounds. I’ll let you do the math!
Several more miles down the coast I enjoyed a relaxing dinner at Cribbon’s wharf ~ fresh seafood on an open deck overlooking a small fishing harbor. Finally arriving in the town of Antigonish, I cruised down Main Street and passed the sprawling campus of St. Francis Xavier University. Back on the highway I watched the sun shooting rays of light through holes in the dark clouds that had been building all evening. It made its final descent below the clouds just in time to paint the sky in bright shades of pink and orange with a yellow glow that was almost iridescent. It made the long ride home more entertaining and after the gorgeous sunset, I didn’t even mind that it had started to rain as I pulled into the campground and home.
To see more pictures from today’s adventure, visit my on-line web album