The Cabot Trail is often described as the most beautiful drive in North America. When I made this tour a few years ago with a group of cheery Cape Breton Islanders, I found little to dispute that claim! The trail was named after the famous navigator and explorer, John Cabot, who first sighted Cape Breton Island on June 23, 1497.
Let's start our trip at Baddeck on the north shore of Cape Breton's Bras d'Or Lake. Baddeck is recognized as Alexander Graham Bell's summer home, where much of this telephone inventor's creative genius was very productively used. A museum-park has been created in his honour where there is more than 20,000 sq. feet exhibiting his many inventions and projects. Baddeck is also a full service tourist center where accomodations, restaurants, banks, hospital, shopping, marinas and many other facilities are available. Baddeck derives its name from the Micmac word Abadeck which means "an island nearby". We will now head west from Baddeck along Highway 105 and then northwest onto the trail at a well marked location just past the Nyanza Bay bridge. You will reach Margaree Forks after travelling about 40 kilometers.
The Margaree River is known by Atlantic salmon fishermen as a valley of inspiring beauty as well as a great place to fish. The history of the river and it's attributes can be seen in the Margaree Salmon Museum at Northeast Margaree, a small picturesque valley town. Proceed along the Margaree River and another well known Cape Breton trail, the Ceilidh (Kay-lee) Trail, which follows Route 19 up from Port Hastings about 107 kilometers along the Atlantic west shore, intersects the Cabot Trail at Margaree Harbour. Ceilidh is Gaelic for party or gathering and is never far from the heart-stirring music of bagpipes and fiddles echoing distinct maritime tunes throughout this land! A restored ship, the Marion Elizabeth, now a restaurant-museum, can be found at Margaree Harbour. This schooner was built in 1918 by the same Lunenburg firm that constructed the famed Bluenose. Many excellent beaches can also be found in this area including nearby Whale Cove, Chimney Corner and Belle Cote.
From here you can proceed north alongside the beautiful Atlantic to Cheticamp, an Acadian fishing village and tourist center. You must try their lobster and other seafood specialties at this western entrance to Cape Breton Highlands National Park. Another attraction is summer whale watching expeditions that can be arranged at Cheticamp. Just northeast at Petit Elang, you can hike the 4 hour Acadian Trail which takes you to the top of the Highlands and offers a panoramic view of both ocean and countryside. After winding through lofty peaks, broad barrens and deep valleys, the trail heads east, leaving the Atlantic coast at Pleasant Bay. The inland segment leads to Cape North, the most northerly part of the trail and then to South Harbour, which is on an inlet of the Atlantic's east coast. The trail continues 19 kilometers to Neil's Harbour, a fishing village with a wharf, beach and small pond plus a general store, chowder house and a craft shop. The wharf is a popular place for photographers and artists. Further south, the Ingonish area is a resort destination, set along the shores of two large bays, separated by the ruggedly beautiful Middle Head peninsula. Several communities are located here including Ingonish, Ingonish Center, Ingonish Beach, south Ingonish Harbour and Ingonish Ferry. This is one of the oldest settled areas on the Atlantic seabord, starting with Portugese fishermen who wintered here as early as 1521. Ingonish Beach is the headquarters of Cape Breton Highlands Park, the oldest federal park in eastern Canada. Golfing, skiing, hiking, beach combing; just about anything of interest can be found for an avid tourist in this location of romance and history.
Continuing south, you pass through many small fishing villages such as Wreck Cove, Skir Dhu, North Shore and Indian Brook where looking to the west Atlantic, you can spot the famous Bird Islands, nesting sites of many seabird species. Just south, at Barachois River Bridge, the trail turns inland through the hills to North River Bridge and then on to St. Anns where a deep ocean bay forms a rugged harbour with high cliffs, pounding shores and exquisite sea views. A Gaelic College at South Gut St. Anns, includes a memorial to Rev. Norman MacLeod, who lead a group of Scottish settlers into this area in the 1820s. The Great Hall of the Clans at the Gaelic College is well worth a visit. Going on about 20 kilometers southwest, you arrive at your original starting point of Baddeck where one is reminded of Alexander Graham Bell's quote, "I have travelled around the globe. I have seen the Canadian and American Rockies, the Andes, the Alps and the Highlands of Scotland, but for simple beauty, Cape Breton outrivals them all!"
For Nova Scotia visitor's information and reservations, call 1-800-565-0000. Other trails besides the Cabot Trail, the Ceilidh Trail and the Brad d'Or Lakes Scenic Drive, are the Evangeline Trail, Glooscap Trail, and the Sunrise Trail, all covered in the above visitor's information toll free number.
Your comments are welcome at "dhaaheim at telus dot net"