After waiting two months to visit Cape Breton, a relapse of vertigo prevented me from making the trip with my nephew last week. Now on the mend once again, I have been further delayed by several days of steady rain. With a forecast of only occasional showers today and the promise of abundant sunshine tomorrow, I decided to make a run for it.
Cape Breton Island lies off the northeastern coast of Nova Scotia and is reached by crossing the Canso Causeway near the fishing village of Port Hastings. The causeway is a feat of engineering ~ a roadway resting on the crest of a rock fill base that extends 217 feet to the ocean floor and is eight times wider at its base than at the crest. In addition to providing reliable access from mainland Nova Scotia to the island, the causeway also serves as an ice break in the winter that prevents ice from clogging the Canso Strait, allowing commerce and travel to continue unimpeded. Approaching the Causeway I noticed a gush of water emerging from the rocky cliff on the side of the road. The rains from the past week had produced run-off so strong that the seeping rocks looked more like an open fire hydrant.
My destination for today was the town of Baddeck where I will be spending the next two nights. Located on the beautiful Bras d’Or Lake near the center of the island, the village is the beginning of several scenic routes traversing Cape Breton. Rather than taking the Trans Canada direct route, I decided to take the Ceilidh Trail that runs along the lower western shore of the island.
Ceilidh (pronounced “kay lee”) is a Gaelic term for social gathering or party with music, dancing, and storytelling. The Ceilidh Trail runs between the Canso Causeway and the southwestern leg of the Cabot Trail. This area of the island reportedly contains more fiddlers, dancers, piano players and other musicians per square mile than any other part of the island (and possibly the world). The stretch of coast between the Causeway and the village of Mabou is sometimes referred to as the “Mini Cabot Trail” due to the varied landscape of highland hills, rolling farmland, beaches and the warm waters of the Gulf of St. Lawrence. Today’s overcast sky, low-hanging clouds over the mountains and misty showers also contributed a sense of rain forest, too.
In the village of Judique I checked into the Celtic Music Interpretive Centre. The Centre is dedicated to the Cape Breton Style ~ a distinct class of fiddle and piano music influenced by bagpipes and the Gaelic language. Displays include archives of songs, artist interviews and interactive story boards explaining the various types of music. Near the end of the tour I entered an area with fiddles and bows hanging on the wall. Across from the seating area was a screen where an instructor gave instructions via video on how to play the fiddle. Seemed easy enough, but, when I applied bow to strings, the resulting sound was horrific!
Abandoning the fiddle lessons, I moved on to the last area of the museum ~ step dancing lessons. The first lesson was that leather soled shoes that would slide on the wooden floor were best for dancing. I laughed myself silly as I attempted the various steps and staggered around like a drunken sailor. In the end, I decided that my gripper-soled hiking sandals weighed me down and prevented me from executing the steps properly. That’s my story and I’m sticking to it!
The next stop was the Red Shoe Pub in Mabou for a late lunch. The pub is owned by the Rankin Sisters, part of the world-famous Rankin Family musicians. It is a cozy spot with tasty menu selections and a friendly staff. After taking nourishment I continued on to Baddeck and the comfortable Silver Dart Lodge. All of the rooms there have a roomy balcony with oversized chairs for relaxing. But by the time I checked in, the fog was so thick that I could barely see the Bras d’Or Lake across the street. Looking forward to sunshine tomorrow for my drive around the Cabot Trail.