Sometimes plans fall through. You might have your heart set on a beautiful stroll through the park but just as you step out the door the sky opens up and lets loose a torrential downpour. And yet, getting a little wet is not necessarily a bad thing as I’ve discovered during my travels through the Maritimes.
When we arrived in Nova Scotia, the first thing my family and I wanted to see was Cape Breton Island. Having heard so much about the beautiful Cabot Trail, a scenic highway that snakes along the coastline, we were excited to explore it. Our starting point was from a tiny motel that sits on the edge of Bras d’Or Lake. This huge body of water is part inland sea part freshwater lake and its elongated form is probably what inspired the name which in French means “Arms of Gold”.
We headed out for the Cabot Trail with clouds hanging low over our heads threatening rain. Not letting them dampen our mood, we drove further into the lush wilderness of Cape Breton Island. We passed through flowering glens full of pastel lupines, nestled between the forested hills like purple lakes. Occasionally we drove past scattered villages, houses spread out along riverbanks as close to the water as possible. We even saw the odd bald eagle here and there, perched proudly on the tallest tree they could find overlooking the valley.
It was only when we reached Chéticamp, the last town before entry into the Cape Breton Highlands National Park, that we realized the weather wasn’t going to let up. We lingered in the village a little and looked around at the different artisan shops, hoping that the rain would pass us over. Chéticamp is a small Acadian fishing community famous for its folk-art tradition of hooked rugs. Many of the shops there sell these rugs as carpets but the more intricate ones can be hung on the wall like tapestries.
Having driven this far already we stubbornly decided to continue on into the park. The tree-covered hills turned into mountains, revealing their rocky underbellies where cliffs have broken off into the water leaving the layers of earth exposed to the elements. The Cabot Trail winds along the curves of this shoreline, disappearing over hilltops and peeking out again where the land steps out into the sea.
Visibility along the water’s edge was poor as fog drifted in, bunching up into clouds that scraped over the tops of the mountains. As we drove further into the beautiful wilderness of the highlands the drizzle turned into heavy rain and we were forced to stop in Pleasant Bay, a sleepy B&B community in the very heart of the park. We had lunch in a quaint little restaurant called “Rusty Anchor” which served delicious seafood chowder, a warm respite from the dreary weather outside.
The heavy fog settled into the creases between the mountains as if bedding down and we were ready to call this day a failure but on a whim we chose to drive just a little further before turning back around. It was a good thing that we persevered, because just as we reached the northern tip of the island the rain finally let up and we found ourselves in a beautiful grassy clearing. Surrounded on all sides by rolling hills and tall pines this field opens out onto the churning dark waters of the Atlantic Ocean.
Over five hundred years ago, someone else had come upon this stretch of coastline, much like we did, discovering a beautiful place of repose completely by accident. On the 24th of June 1497 John Cabot set out from England with a small crew of eighteen men, including his own son Sebastian, and discovered the continent of North America by landing on Cape Breton. This spot commemorates his landfall and it was very humbling to imagine that the man that opened up Canada to the world had walked the very same red beach that we did.
Encouraged by our lucky find, we decided to keep driving past Cabot’s Landing as far as the road would take us. The Cabot Trail winds south, looping around Cape Breton, but we kept on going north until we finally hit Meat Cove, the most northern tip of the island. This tiny fishing community is really no more than a smattering of houses along the ridges of the sharp crags that make up the spine of the northern coast. The landscape here was all harsh edges and sheer drops, the road becoming a challenging uphill climb as asphalt gave way to rough gravel. With the wind tugging at our clothing the views were truly breathtaking from the top, green grass and wildflowers contrasted against the dark navy waters.
As we finally turned around to go home a couple sun rays broke through the clouds, playing across the waves like a silver ribbon. It was a fitting ending to our day, like a reward for having made it this far through the dreary weather. We spent most of our time running from the rain but even though nothing went to plan we had enjoyed ourselves despite it. Perhaps rainy days are their own reward.