Cape Breton Island on the north eastern coast of Nova Scotia drops precipitously into the North Atlantic. A boat heading due east in search of the next land mass would be deposited onto the shores of France. Everywhere we went in Nova Scotia people would ask, “Have you been to Cape Breton?” Apparently we had saved the best for last. Visually stunning coastal roads ring the island passing through old towns deeply rooted to their Scottish heritage. Long and almost deserted beaches appear along the coast. The spectacular Cabot Links golf course lies between the town of Inverness and one such beach on the north Atlantic.
Dancing, Celtic music and story-telling at social events called the ceilidh (kay-lee) ring out in bars, restaurants and other venues in a Scottish tradition. We found it impossible to control our feet from stomping and our eyes from tearing. Cape Breton natives often must leave for employment in the big cities of other provinces. Heartfelt ballads sung professing the love and longing for their Cape Breton homeland- the land, family, friends, traditions, music – while “away” made me wonder about my own sense (or lack) of belonging to a place.
The enormous Cape Breton Highlands National Park is encircled by the Cabot Trail, a jaw dropping road punctuated by lookouts over magnificent coastal cliffs, campgrounds and hiking trails. Lobster and crab fishing still reign supreme in the villages surrounding the Island.
The Canadian National Parks logo
Within the Island lies Bras d’ Or Lake, a vast inland sea with deep reaching, long, brackish, finger channels. Again, everywhere are bridges and ferries to aid transportation throughout. Canadians are proud of their heritage and it’s quite apparent in the Highland Village/Baile Nan Gaidheal, a living Scottish museum. A woman in character completely convinced us we were transported in time back to the 18th century Scottish Highlands. On the eastern coast at the Louisbourg National Historic Site, period costumed characters provided a glimpse into history when the French and the British relentlessly pounded one another ceding towns and fortifications back and forth sometimes to lose ten times as many people to the harsh winters as to the battles.
Completing our whirlwind tour of The Maritime Provinces- New Brunswick, Prince Edward Island, and Nova Scotia- we left with a heavy but much fuller heart. Our stack of memories will remain with us- maybe even tug at us until we return. There has been so much to love!