Nova Scotia Has The Mosta

By Remy ( photos by Liz)

It was a relief to land back in the soft bosom of Nova Scotia after a couple of weeks on the stony, windswept lap of Newfoundland. We had never completed the full circumambulation of Cape Breton so this was our opportunity to do so before a scheduled meet-up in Mabou!

Everyone who has ever been to Cape Breton, or even thought about it, had told us that we had to see Fort Louisbourg. As far as National Parks go, it is one of the best, with staff actors on hand in period dress to animate the re-creation of one of the most significant places in the history of British and French colonialism of North America. They paint a pretty dismal picture of the life here in the mid-18th century, which says a lot about the commitment of those two countries to this part of the world.

The noon firing of the cannon. The drill was not up to the standard of the Royal Canadian Artillery, but these guys are French, after all.

After dutifully fulfilling our obligations as tourists, it was time for friends, both new and old. We found ourselves back in the area of Big Harbour, to say hello again to Jim and Heather O’Brien, and to take up the offer of accommodation that had been made by Nicolene and Doug, whom we had met at the soirée the last time we were in Cape Breton. As travellers they made us feel like dilettantes – they made a career of teaching internationally, and have lived in Peru, Uzbekistan, China and Bangladesh. It says a lot of this place that they have chosen to settle here. Nicolene’s Dutch mother treated us to nasi goreng and we spent a beautiful night at their harbour.

A starfish is born! These were common in the water at Secret Harbour where we stayed. It may have been trying to eat me but I couldn’t feel anything.
On the dock at Secret Harbour with Nicolene and Doug. I am ill-dressed for the level of mosquitoes that night.
What’s up, on the dock? We are either harmonizing or correcting each other’s stories.
This is how a vanlifer stays fit! Following docktor’s orders with my mace, one of the spartan pieces of fitness equipment I packed into the van. Waaaay better than some chrome-and-fern gym!
And this is how a vanlifer stays clean! Showering al fresco at Secret Harbour, just daring some kayaker to come along. Our friend Rebecca was in a similar state when a boater actually did show up earlier in the summer.

After the wonderful hospitality in Big Harbour, where gracious new acquaintances had offered up their property as a home to us, it was time to connect with a long-time friend, Janice Beaton, in Mabou. She had grown up there but, like many Maritimers in the 80’s, had made her way to Alberta to seek her fortune. Her lasting legacy is Caffe Beano, still one of the best coffee shops ever. As well, if you have ever enjoyed Liz’ cooking you can thank Janice for that, as she was one of the early inspirations for Liz to begin exploring that aspect of herself – I certainly do! We were excited that Janice had invited us to a kitchen party at her sister’s house where we got to meet her siblings and their spouses, as well as Janice’s “new” husband of eight years, Bob Chelmick. He is a long-time TV and radio host and still records a wonderful program called The Road Home (look it up).

The can-can in the kitchen with Liz, Janice and Geraldine. Bob and I were there in support.
The coastline north of Mabou, with beautiful, deserted beaches. A bit of a commonplace in Cape Breton.
Cape Breton is made of weird stuff, like gypsum and whatever this is.
Hiking in Cape Breton is awesome, with great payback after relatively little investment of effort. You can see from here where Liz was in the previous photo, and we could see dolphins in the water.

Again, we were graciously offered a place to stay on the property where Janice’s sister, Kathy, and her husband are building a new house, and they suggested that we could gather our own oysters from their beach – a forager’s dream! Of course, we checked with a local who actually farms oysters to confirm that were wouldn’t poison ourselves with red tide and the following morning went on the hunt. As you will see, we had no technique and had to learn as we went.

It was a drizzly, cool morning, and of course the big ones were out well past rubber boot depth. We had the whole beach to ourselves so I am not sure why I left on any clothes at all, except that it wouldn’t be proper to climb into a strange oyster bed completely naked.
Some of the easiest hunting I have ever done – luckily oysters don’t move very fast, because after forty minutes in the water, neither was I!

After buying some ridiculously good and reasonably priced food at the Mabou Farmer’s Market, it was time to see the rest of Nova Scotia. We were en route to see James O’Brien (no close relation to Big Harbour O’Briens), another long-time friend with whom I had participated in a few hijinks while we were cadets at Royal Military College back in the black powder era. We arranged to meet in Truro at the Raging Crow Distillery, owned and operated by another ex-cadet with whom I had played rugby (a different set of hijinks). Al Bégin has done well at creating a remarkable array of spirits in the shop at the back of his house.

Hard to believe that these guys all have RMC college numbers! A crew of drinkers with various problems.
Trying to eat, and not wear, our first (and so far, only) Maritime donair. Who amongst the readers knew that the donair was invented in Halifax? The Shaben side of the family will be proud to know that there is a history of Lebanese immigration to this area dating back to the early 1800’s.
James and I working up the gumption to brave the waters at Lawrencetown Beach. There was gumption to spare, evidently, as we spent a half hour in the surf while Liz patiently waited on the beach wrapped in a blanket.
The backyard movie-viewing setup at the house of James’ significant other, Robin. The small-world story here is that she knew Rebecca O’Brien’s family long before she met James. It was so nice to do some “regular things” with Robin and James, like share an awesome take-out Thai dinner and watch film together.
Sampling the best soft serve ice cream anywhere, at the Dairy Bar in Halifax. Despite the two of us taking safety precautions, we still suffered “brain freeze”.

After re-kinding a friendship and taking care of a significant amount of administration in the metropolis of Halifax, it was time to continue our exploration of Nova Scotia. We were armed with a map of the mainland that was as extensively detailed with notes by James and Robin as our map of Cape Breton has been by the O’Brien and Fuller and Beaton clans. We have a wealth of time to spend here, and the weather has been unseasonably cooperative, so we are determined to see everything that has been suggested. From Halifax we are going to do a circuit of the Bay of Fundy shore, down to Yarmouth and then back to Halifax via the South Shore.

The Church Brewery in Wolfville, located in – you guessed it! – an old church. What they lack in naming originality, though, is more than made up for in the beauty of the surroundings and the quality of the beer. There is more than one way to contact the divine!
Excited to meet up again with some new-old (or is it old-new?) friends outside of Blomidon Park. “The Ladies”, as Liz has christened them, are also full-timing in a Transit van, tastefully adorned with the same wheel set as the Radvan. We first met them in Newfoundland and have sort of been chasing them around the Maritimes ever since.
Shannon, Margie and Liz doing morning yoga on the beach, which is located on the Bay of Fundy. This photo shows the crazy tide, which connects the beach to the island in the distance when it is low like this, and six hours later the water will be almost all the way up to their mats. What the photo doesn’t show is the contrast with the locals who camped with us at the same beach, who chose to commune with nature by smoking copious quantities of cannabis, eating bags of junk food and blaring bad rap from their boom box.
Liz and her new friend, Sequoia. She reminded us what it was like to travel with young children and how excited they would be to re-connect with anyone outside their own family group.
The view from our hike in Blomidon Park. This area is reminiscent of PEI with red cliff coastlines, only a lot more elevation.
The bounty of our hike – chanterelle, porcini and hedgehog mushrooms, and what we called “potato” apples because of the rough texture of their skins. We only found one tree of these, which was too bad as they were some of the most delicious apples we have found growing wild!
Squash is in season in Nova Scotia, and people grow lots of it! Not sure what variety I am holding here, but if you get the opportunity to try Sweet Dumpling squash, do it – it is our new favourite!
After exploring Cape Split, we arrived in Digby, which had near-mythical status in our minds after eating its scallops and hearing stories from good friends who had purchased a house here many years ago. The reality is that it is a fishing town, and all of the action is at the harbour.
Digby harbour at night – the most bustling part of this town. And I got skunked fishing for mackerel.
Our place at the end of the road in Westport on Brier Island at the end of the Digby Neck. I was excited to learn that this was the home town of Joshua Slocum, the first person known to have sailed solo around the world. I caught a lot of mackerel here.
Taking my fish for a walk. I am happiest when standing at the end of a wharf, catching fish, and it is only improved when I receive approving remarks from the local young fellas admiring my pescatorial prowess.
Balancing Rock on the Long Island of the Digby Neck. People have tried to tip it, but the rock weighs twenty tons and will probably remain the way that it is until the rocks beneath it wash away. I, on the other hand, am a push-over.
Looking out on the Bay of Fundy from Gulliver’s Cove, where a lesser-known pirate of the same name holed up in the 18th century. How could someone called Cut-Throat Gulliver end up being lesser known? Maybe because his wife wound up being tougher than him. Look up the story!
In travelling a back road to find a place for the night we came across this sad sight – a dead dolphin had washed up on a beach, and we came across a crew of volunteers recovering the body to take to a marine animal society for a necropsy.
One of the three beaches at Yarmouth Bar where we set up for the night. The weather improved so we extended our stay in order to enjoy some beach time. We met the fellow who ives in the house in the distance and marvelled at how much stunning waterfront property there is in this province!
Our place beside Beach #2 at False Harbour near Cape Forchu – wow!
The cemetery in Lockeport, which has many headstones bearing the same name, some dating back to the 1700’s. That has to be one of the creepiest cemetery trees we have seen so far!
A look at the Atlantic Ocean from a headland in Lockeport. Just us and the seals!

We have been gobsmacked at the beauty of mainland Nova Scotia. The crazy tides of the Bay of Fundy and the numberless coves and bays of the Atlantic shore, along with the long history of settlement (and accompanying conveniences) make this one of our favourite places so far. And it only continued, as you will see in the next post (and probably the one or two after that, as we will be spending so much time in this part of the world).

Thanks for reading!

Remy

Published by tompkinsontheroad

Married mother of two awesome boys who is now living full time in a self converted Camper van and seeing more of the world. We gave up something super special to live our dream of living a free and simple life on the road exploring new places and taking joy in the discovery of the extraordinary

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