Starting in May of 2023, I am walking from The Hawk on Cape Sable Island, the southern tip of Nova Scotia, to its northern tip at Cape North on Cape Breton Island, an 1100 km trek over about 7 weeks. This is the story of part of that journey. You can see the outline of the route here.
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Where am I now?
Home, in Lunenburg, where the rain is washing the blossoms off of the crab apple tree to create a pink snowfall in the drive,
and Ann has just made chocolate chip cookies – yum!
I started on May 18 at The Hawk on Cape Sable Island and have now walked all the way to Halifax, reaching the Ferry Terminal on June 2. At time of writing (June 3), I’m home for a couple of rest/wait-out-the-rain days.
Where have I been?
My plan all along was to walk this journey in stages. On May 16 I did my final pack run-through to get ready,
and on May 17 Ann and I drove down to Barrington Passage to be ready for the big beginning.
So between May 18 and May 28, I did Stage 1, from The Hawk on Cape Sable Island (with the Cape Sable lighthouse behind my shoulder)
to Lunenburg, covering approximately 240 km over 10 days. I walked along the Shelburne, Queens, and Lunenburg county rail trails,
as well as many kilometers of roads, passing through Barrington, Clyde River, Shelburne, Lockeport, Sable River, Port Mouton, Summerville, Liverpool, East Port Medway, Broad Cove, Petite Riviere, and LaHave along the way.
And as it turned out, had I started my walk a week later, the massive wildfire in the Barrington Lake/Shelburne area would have stopped me right at the beginning. It would not be the only time that the God of Fools looked out for me.
(To explain, I have to think that there must be at least one god of fools in many of the world’s mythologies and theologies. Whomever/whatever that god(s) is/was/are/were, that’s my patron saint(s), my deus stultorum. Let’s call him/her/they “Goff”. I picture he/her/they wearing a befuddled frown and one shoe, with a broken lace.)
While I was walking from Liverpool towards home, and during my rest day in Lunenburg, news reports escalated about two wildfire situations, one behind me in the Shelburne area which had burned some of the areas I’d just walked through, and one ahead of me north west of Halifax that threatened to block my way to the city.
During my rest day, I looked at the fire situation, and decided to continue with the second stage, following my planned route as closely as I could between Lunenburg and Halifax. I wanted to follow the rail trail to Upper Tantallon and then detour south through the Chebucto peninsula’s wilderness areas to Peggy’s Cove and back towards the city, but the wildfire situation changed rapidly as I walked.
For the first 2 days of this second stage, I was able to follow the Rum Runners Trail, reaching East Chester and staying at Graves Island Provincial Park. After that, however, the provincial government closed access to the woods and trails, so it was road-walking the rest of the way.
That ruled out the detour to Peggy’s Cove, since I couldn’t wild camp in the wilderness areas. And that in turn led me to come home each night instead of camping, in case the fire situation changed again and I had to stop entirely.
Over 3 days, I walked along Hwy 3 between East Chester and Halifax, passing through Hubbards, Queensland, Ingramport, Upper Tantallon, Hubley, Timberlea, Beechville and finally Halifax, to reach the Ferry Terminal on June 2,
having walked just under 120 km to get there in this chunk, and a total of about 360 kilometers so far over 15 walking days.
During the three days of the East Chester-to-Halifax portion, I relied on Ann as well as our neighbour Robert to drop me off and pick me up. This included a very draining June 1 slog through the hottest June 1 on record in Nova Scotia, 34 sweltering degrees, while fire-fighters worked like heroes just 10 km north of the road I travelled, accompanied by the smell of smoke, its haze and grey columns clouding the sky.
Reaching Halifax felt anti-climactic under the circumstances. I’m just happy to have been able to complete this part, but I can’t help feeling guilty that I was focused on my precious little Quixotic quest while people nearby were evacuated from their homes.
Where have I stayed? Any memorable meals?
So far, I’ve had a range of accommodations. I’ve camped a couple of nights on Crown Land, once next to the Clyde River (in a spot now sadly burned out, as it happens)
and once on the shore of Wilkins Lake.
I’ve also camped at two provincial parks, Rissers Beach and Graves Island, and once at a private campground, Fishermans Cove at Hunts Point.
And I had a fun night camping on private land at the invitation of Eric Southey, who is creating a glamping experience on his property. There was still work in progress when I was there so he offered me a choice spot overlooking Port Medway.
As well, I had two great AirBnB stays, in a funky yurt in Shelburne
and in a great apartment where I could dry my gear
in Liverpool, with two wonderful hosts who could not have been more helpful, Vanessa and Shani respectively.
And finally, I had a warm and dry night in a cottage at the Lockeport Campground and Cottages, when I arrived on a very wet day with a tent site booked and changed it to the roofed accommodation so I could dry all my stuff.
As for eats along the way, I’ve had several memorable meals. Best of all was the one that Eric cooked when he invited me to share a dinner with himself and his partner Annie – homemade duck-egg tagliatelle with home-cured shad roe (in the style of Italian Bottarga) followed by spruce-tip and lemon mousse. Wowsa.
And the haddock bites from Seaside Seafoods in Hunts Point were great as well. And the coffees that Andreas makes along with their fresh-baked pastries at the Main and Mersey cafe in Liverpool. And the brie and apple with basil pesto sandwich at the Broad Cove Cafe. And the breakfast burrito from LaHave Bakery. And the fish burger from Katch which I enjoyed having finally reached Halifax, sitting in spots of rain on the waterfront boardwalk. And the backpackers dried-food evening meal I had sitting by Clyde River watching the bats swoop low over water in the dusk of soft spring night. And the morning oatmeal and coffee I made sitting by Wilkins Lake watching the sunrise. All wonderful experiences.
Am I actually enjoying this?
Well, yeah, I am. It’s hard, yet that’s part of the appeal for me. I’ve met many people along the way to whom I’ve explained my journey, and they always ask the same question – “why?”
The short answers are, first, to see if I can do it, and second, to explore the province. The longer answer lies in the experience of a walking journey. You see things and smell things and hear things while walking that you don’t experience in a car or even on a bike.
Like the sweet fragrance of lilac that perfumed the neighbourhoods in Halifax as I passed through. Or the tang of tar and creosote that rises from the old rail trestles you cross, especially on hot days.
Or the shriek of ospreys, the cackle of crows. Or the offbeat sights, like the many interesting ways in which people decorate their mail boxes.
You need to be there – walking allows that.
What’s the best thing that’s happened so far?
Two things really. One is the realization that almost every day, there will be at least one moment of perfect peace, perfect beauty. (Perfect truth, if you agree with Keats). Recognizing that moment, absorbing it, savouring it, has become my goal. Live each day for that moment and embrace it.
The other is that the world is full of kind and lovely people. I know you don’t read that in the papers, but walking through communities, along roads and trails, past shops and businesses, I get many waves and smiles every day, many good mornings and good afternoons, many chats and best wishes on my journey, and often many good conversations. I like this province more and more as I walk it. The finest kind, as that Maritime and New England expression goes.
What’s the worst thing?
OK, so there’ve been some niggles and nags, that’s life. Walking most of the day in the rain between Shelburne and Lockeport comes to mind.
Or sweltering in heat on another day. Or coughing on car exhaust along a busy road. All stuff I knew that I’d encounter and was more or less prepared for.
So, really, I’ve been lucky that (oh thank you God of Fools!) so far there’s only been one no-good-not-very-nice day, which featured a quadfecta of poopiness. Walking between East Port Medway and Rissers Beach, on the penultimate day before I reached Lunenburg for a rest, I managed to shoot myself in the foot not once, not twice, not three times, but a full Golden Sombrero four times.
First of all, I took a wrong turn in Voglers Cove and didn’t pay attention while for more than an hour, I trudged 7 kilometers in zoned-out mode, up the wrong road. After finally realizing my mistake, I was quick-stepping back down the road when I was bailed out by the kindness of a local, who picked me up and drove me back to Voglers Cove (see, the world is full of wonderful people. And yes, my life is ruled by the God of Fools).
Later that day, I decided to walk the old “Bear Trap Road” from Broad Cove to Petite Riviere, only to discover that the road mostly isn’t there anymore, forcing me to scramble across rocks for several km (because I was too stubborn to turn around, natch!)
And then, when I finally arrived at Rissers Beach Provincial Park where I’d booked a seaside tent site, I discovered that when I’d changed my walk plan a few weeks earlier to shorten this stage by a day, I’d forgotten to change the park reservation I’d previously made – no reservation for you! Fortunately, (God of Fools again – there’s a theme here), there was a site available – but to reach it I had to trudge another half km on top of an extra long, tough day due to 1 and 2 above.
And since the luck of the God of Fools cuts both ways, in trying to set up my tent, tired after a long and testing day, I accidentally tore a hole in the inner bug mesh of my still almost-new tent. Arghh.
And yet, despite all that, I still had my moment of peace that day, when I got lost for a bit in the views over the water and the sound of the waves after finally coming off the “road” from Broad Cove and I stopped for a rest.
Any other good stories?
OK, here’s one. Following the Shelburne Rail Trail between Lockeport and Port Mouton, I passed through the Tidney River Wilderness Area. I had planned to wild camp near the trail on crown land, hoping there would be a good spot near the Tidney River itself, but when I got there the area near the river was too low-lying and boggy and mosquito-ridden for even a tired hiker.
Plan B was to keep going, and going, and going, for another 4 km along the trail, hoping to find a flattish, dry spot where I could pitch up (while carrying the weight of an extra 2 liters of water in my reservoir that I grabbed at the river because I wasn’t sure where I’d get it if I had to camp in the woods).
I finally noticed a rough trail leading towards Wilkins Lake, and followed it for about 300 muddy meters to reach the shore of the lake. And was rewarded (say it with me – God of Fools!) with a perfect campsite – elevated, on dry ground and sheltered from the wind,
with a little beach below where the breeze swept away the mosquitoes.
After an hour of setting up camp, finding a food-hang tree, getting water filtered, and making dinner, I was just lowering myself into my camp chair on the little beach with my food in my hands when …. I heard the snarling brrr of an ATV engine. Two engines. Three. Coming closer. “You’ve got to be effing kidding me”.
Setting my food down, I walked back up to my campsite to find 3 machines carrying a total of 5 people coming along the trail, headed straight for me. They stopped when they saw my tent, and I spoke to the guy in front. “We like to come here to ride our machines through the water to wash off the mud”. Of course you do, I thought. That explained the ruts in the track, and unfortunately, also the litter of beer cans in the area.
They could see that I was camped and settled for the night, so one of them tried to go around my site through a deep-puddled gully, and promptly got himself horribly stuck. And so for the NEXT 3 HOURS! the group swore and cursed, yelled back and forth, drank beer and smoked, and crashed through the bushes, crushing small trees, breaking winch cables, burning out an engine, and spewing mud in all directions, trying to pull this machine out. They eventually called in reinforcements in the form of 2 more ATVs, because there just wasn’t enough noise from 3.
It was dark by the time they finally extricated their friend, and after apologizing for the disturbance, they slowly and mostly-soberly motored back up the trail. My meal was cold by the time I ate it, and after the last fart of exhaust had faded in the distance, I took out my headlamp so that I could see to put things away and get ready for bed. Click – nothing. The batteries were dead. I skipped brushing my teeth, had a quick pee nearby where I hoped there were no ticks, and crawled into my tent in pitch darkness, where I spent the coldest night of my trip huddled in layers of clothing under my quilt. Arghh.
But after all that, the morning coffee and oatmeal sitting by the lake watching the sun burn the mist off the water was magical.
My original plan was to take the ferry to Dartmouth and follow the Salt Marsh Trail out towards Lawrencetown, and from there road-walk the rest of the way to Cape Breton. There, I planned to follow the Ceilidh Trail to Inverness, road-walk through Cheticamp to Cape Breton Highlands National Park, and follow hiking trails and the Cabot Trail through the Park to reach the coast road which would take me to the finish at Cape North. Along the way I’d planned to wild camp a few times, and back-country camp at Fishing Cove in the Park.
However, with trail and woodland access closed for the whole province until June 25 (as of time of writing), I’m having to re-plan my route. The next stage is still about walking the Eastern Shore from Halifax to Auld Cove to reach the causeway to the Island, and after that I still want to walk the length of Cape Breton Island to finish the journey.
However, the wildfire restrictions will mean road-walking all the way, unless, as I hope may happen, the trail and woodland access restrictions are lifted sometime before I finish. This is also changing some of my accommodation plans – no wild camping for now, and in Cape Breton Highlands National Park, access to the Fishing Cove hike-in backcountry sites is closed.
The other thing that’s happening is that I’m applying some of the lessons of the first 2 stages, to shorten some of the daily distances. I find that when carrying the full pack I’m good for around 20-25 km a day, whereas my original plan featured a few 30-35 km days. My body is too tired at the end of the day to enjoy those long slogs, so best to cut them out.
All this means I’m adding some extra days to the overall journey, so right now I am not sure what my end day will be. But I’ll get there.
Here’s the original plan. I have more or less followed it as written until part way through Step 9, where I had to move off the trail, skip steps 10-13, and just follow the road from East Chester and through Halifax (step 14). Next up is Step 15, but for Step 16 I’ll follow route 207 instead of the trail. After that, it’s still the plan as described.
- Start at The Hawk on Cape Sable Island, and follow coastal roads to reach Barrington Passage.
- Pick up the Shelburne County Rail trail and follow it to Clyde River
- Then walk along the tedious Highway 103 to Shelburne
- Where you’ll get back onto the rail trail to walk to Lockeport
- And then from Lockport, continue following the rail trail through and past the Tidney River Wilderness area to reach Highway 3 at Summerville.
- Where you continue on the highway for a bit and then get back onto the rail trail to reach Liverpool
- And then continue on the rail trail up to around Port Medway, before exiting onto Route 331, the Lighthouse Route coastal road, to walk all the way to LeHave.
- From LeHave, take the ferry over the river and walk to Lunenburg on the local back roads, and then
- From Lunenburg, take the Rum Runners Trail through Mahone Bay, past Chester, and on past Hubbards to Upper Tantallon, and then
- Detour south onto the Joshua Slocum Trail to reach old dirt roads through Five Bridges Wilderness Area to reach Glen Margaret, where you
- Pick up Route 333, the Peggy’s Cove Road, to walk down to the lighthouse, and then bear east towards Prospect to connect with
- The Old Halifax road which takes you north back to Glen Margaret
- Where you connect onto the old St. Margaret’s Bay Road to walk east to Halifax
- And then walk through the city to the ferry terminal.
- There you catch the ferry over to Woodside in Dartmouth
- To reach the Shearwater Flyer rail trail, which takes you northeast to Lawrencetown
- Where you follow back roads to Porters Lake and then onto Highway 7 to reach Chezzetcook,
- And then keep following Highway 7, past Musquodoboit, Jeddore, Ship Harbour, Spry Bay, Sheet Harbour, Moosehead, Ecum Secum, and Liscombe, all the way to Sherbrooke.
- Where you turn onto Route 211 and follow the coast road northeast to Isaacs Harbour, and then
- Branch onto Route 316 and follow that to Larry’s River.
- At Larry’s River, you follow (natch), Larry’s River Road north to reach Highway 16 outside Guysborough,
- And Highway 16 takes you to Boylston where you get onto Route 344, which
- Bears northeast and then north and then west, around the coast to Aulds Cove, where the TransCanada Highway Canso Causeway clambers across to Cape Breton Island.
- You feet fall onto the Celtic Shore Coastal Trail, and follow that all the way to Inverness.
- From Inverness, follow Highway 19 to Dunvegan and then branch onto Route 219 along the coast to Margaree Harbour.
- Pick up Highway 30 and follow that to Cheticamp, and Grand Etang where you’ll enter Cape Breton Highlands National Park.
- Follow hiking trails, including the Skyline Trail, northwards before rejoining Highway 30 again.
- Continue along that north until you reach Fishing Cove, and detour there down hiking trails to the water.
- Retrace your steps back to Highway 30 (the Cabot Trail) and follow it north to Pleasant Bay
- Turn the corner and follow the Cabot Trail east, up across the island past Big Intervale and Sunrise to reach the hamlet of Cape North (not the actual Cape North, just yet).
- Turn onto the Bay Saint Lawrence Road and follow that to Bay Saint Lawrence.
- Follow the Money Point Road to reach your goal, the lighthouse at Cape North!
- Walk back to Bay Saint Lawrence and meet your darling wife who will drive you to Baddeck for a well-earned rest
If all goes well, I’ll finish in early July 2023. More blog posts to follow, of course.
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