Fiddling Around

For our last day on Cape Breton Island, we decided to drive the 300 km (180 mile) Cabot Trail, a scenic drive around the Cape Breton Highlands, the northernmost part of Nova Scotia. It was a beautiful, clear day.

This part of Cape Breton has a heavy Scottish Highland influence. Not only are some of the road signs in both English and Gaelic, but when driving the road counter-clockwise, as we did, the first stop along the Trail is the Gaelic College of Celtic Arts and Crafts, full of Scottish tartans and Highland music.

After stopping for lunch in Ingonish, we continued north along the rugged eastern coast of Cape Breton Highlands National Park, stopping at “lookoffs” (as they call scenic overlooks here) to take pictures.

Approaching Ingonish, the road was under construction. As we waited at one point for the road to be cleared, the flagman directing traffic came over to our car to chat (it must get awfully boring standing alongside the road with a “Stop” sign all day, waving cars by). I asked if there were any side roads that might be worth a visit and he said we should drive to the northern tip of the island to Meat Cove. So we did.

Meat Cove is a tiny settlement, literally at the end of the road. In fact, the paved road stops 8 km before Meat Cove, then the gravel and dirt road ends at Meat Cove. The drive was reminiscent of our drive down into the Waipi‘o Valley on the Big Island of Hawaii a couple months ago.

Here’s the view as we approached Meat Cove:

Notice the two campers on the point overlooking the cove. We drove around to that side and took this picture back toward our vantage point for the photo above. Nice campsite, though I can’t imagine driving an RV to this place.

Meat Cove has, reportedly, been visited by sailors for centuries, deriving its name from the fact that landing parties would go ashore here to hunt moose for fresh meat, an activity that continues to the present day. In fact, on our drive off the Cabot Trail to Meat Cove, we passed several hand-made signs, scrawled on moose antlers, advertising hunting guide services.

According to Wikipedia, Meat Cove was settled by two families, the Frasers and the MacLellans, generations ago, and their descendants still live there, totaling fewer than 100 souls, sustaining themselves by fishing and by running the little family restaurant there that proclaims that Meat Cove is the “Most Northern Community” and that it has high-speed internet (satellite, I suppose, judging by the dish on the roof).

After Meat Cove, we returned to the Cabot Trail, crossed through Cape Breton Highlands N.P.’s northern end, and then, as the sun began to set below the horizon, ventured south on the Trail along the western shore.

But the highlight of the day was the night. We reached the end of the Cabot Trail near Chéticamp, just in time for dinner. We drove through the little fishing village and on the far end of town, saw a restaurant with signs saying “Fiddle Music Tonight” and “Fresh Seafood.”

Our plan had been to continue south along the coast road toward Canso, looking for a Ceilidh (pronounced, “Kay-Lee”), a Gaelic party, where we could hear authentic Acadian music.

It turned out that we didn’t have to make that drive at all; we found our authentic Acadian music right there in Chéticamp at the restaurant in the form of self-taught fiddler, Mike Hall, and his guitar accompanist. The music was fantastic. It was impossible to listen to without tapping your feet or clapping along. Mike worked at the Ceilidh Trail School of Celtic Music for 12 years and knows everything about the music traditions of the region, which he gladly shared with the audience.

Oh. And we had fresh crab for dinner. It was a fun day and night.

One final comment: on the 60 mile, 1.5 hour drive from Chéticamp back to our RV at Whycocomagh, we passed a grand total of 6 cars going the other direction and none going our direction – this is a very rural place.

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