Here are some pictures from our October 2015 trip to Cape Breton.
We were there for the week-long Celtic Colours music festival, and roughly half our time was spent at music and dance performances, including a day of fiddle classes and a couple very late nights at the "Festival Club", but since picture-taking was not allowed there, we don't have much visual record of that side of things.
We took the car ferry from Portlnnd, Maine, to Yarmouth, Nova Scotia. It has two truck-height car decks and one car-height one, but this was late in its season, and even the lowest, main deck wasn't full.
The only accessible deck area was aft. These are the lights of Portland as we steamed out of the harbor.
Being on the aft deck meant that we got to see the pilot boat carefully matching our speed along the port quarter, ready to speed up just a bit and so that the Portland harbor pilot could step over to it from a doorway midships. (The ferry does not slow down for that.)
The northbound trip is overnight, and we had a small cabin that could sleep four. (The top two bunks pull down.)
They served us breakfast as the sun rose in the east.
While the ferry does get you to Nova Scotia, Yarmouth is the very southern tip of that province, and Cape Breton is all the way in the north, so it was a long day of driving till we got to Baddeck, where we we'd rented a cottage.
The cottage was cozy, and only a block from the village center.
Baddeck is a small harbor resort town on the Bras D'or lakes, a set of large, connected bays that occupy the middle of Cape Breton Island. There is a connection between the lakes and the ocean, but only a small one, so the lake water is only mildly brackish, and tides there are less than a foot.
Across from Baddeck is this charming lighthouse, and also the summer and later full-year home of the town's most famous resident, Alexander Graham Bell.
After inventing the telephone, Bell settled in Baddeck and spent his patent proceeds exploring a wide variety of techologies, including the first Canadian powered airplane flight. There's a local museum with this replica.
The big advantage of Baddeck as a place to stay during Celtic Colours is its central location. The Festival concerts are held in churches and halls all over the island, and you can get to almost any of them from Baddeck in about an hour. Even more important, Baddeck is only 15 minutes away from the Gaelic College, where the Festival Club is held.
The college offers residential programs in Scots Gaelic, piping, and the like. During the Festival, the guest artists stay in the dorms, and after their evening concerts, they gather and play short sets in the college's cafeteria (on the right, incidated by the signs) in a less formal setting, with a bar and snacks. Things start at midnight and run till 3:00 am, which is pretty late, but it's the only way to see all the different artists. There's a shuttle bus from Baddeck, in case stamina levels vary across your party.
During the Festival, there are Cape Breton Fiddle Camp weekday sessions held down in Judique in the southwest, maybe an hour and a quarter away from Baddeck. We got down there for one day, with morning and afternoon classes, a lunch time concert, and an afternoon jam session like the following.
Alongside the Festival events, we also did a bunch of sightseeing and hiking. There's a Highland Village museum, where period interpreters tell the story of the Scottish emigrants from the stone houses and peat fires that they left in Scotland through to the log cabins and farm houses that they built here.
Many of the exhibits focused on how linen and wool cloth were made. The final step in wool production had musical implications, as the freshly woven cloth needed to be moistened with soapy water (or, originally, sheep urine) and beaten on a table to pre-shrink it and remove excess oils, while folks sang rhythmic "milling" or "waulking" chorus songs.
The road from Baddeck to the Highland Village crosses a narrow waterway using a cable ferry, which accomodates perhaps ten cars and pulls itself across on a permanent cable that runs between the two ramps.
The northern tip of Cape Breton is a national park that reminded us of Acadia. with wonderful rocky shoreline and hillside hikes, but much more spread out. This trip, we only got to the southeast portion of the park.
On one trail, there were a couple grouse, including this one, who stayed close to the trail eyeing us curiously as we walked by.
There were also pleasant lakeside trails in the park.
One of the concerts that we attended was in Cheticamp on the west coast of Cape Breton, in a French-speaking Acadian area. On the way, we checked out a fine beach boardwalk in Inverness.
We also did some local hiking around Baddeck to a nice waterfall.
It was also a wonderful week to be driving all around Cape Breton, with lots of great tree color, though pictures through the car window don't do it justice.
We drove home, passing through Moncton, New Brunswick, home of the Magnetic Hill, a strech of old cart track that has now become a major tourist attraction (though we caught it in the off season, when it was deserted). The instructions tell you to drive down the slope to the white post at the bottom on the left, shift there to the left lane, put your car in neutral, and you find yourself rolling uphill back to the starting point.
In that picture, it looks like the road descends rather quickly at first, then more gradually to the white post, eventually rising again in the distance. Looking back from the post, you can see that what looked originally like a gradual descent approaching the post is actually a gradual ascent to the post. The trees and bushes lining both sides of the path are crucial to the illusion, since they prevent you from seeing the horizon.
Nearby Saint John is known for the Reversing Falls, a stretch of rapids right downtown that usually (as here) flows downstream, but that flows upstream for a few hours around high tide.
As we were driving down the Maine coast, we stopped off at Acadia for a very fine afternoon hike, starting with some pretty lakeside color.
Then we climbed up Penobscot Mountain and had a glorious sunny ramble down its south ridge.
The red up high was from blueberry bushes.
Acadia is doing a lot of trail maintenance, which is great to see. They are also going back to a special local style of trail marker known as a Bates cairn, with two supporting rocks spanned by a wider one that in turn supports a smaller "pointer" rock aligned with the trail. If you look closely, you can see a more distant cairn caught in the opening of the nearby one.
Great to be able to combine good hiking, fall foliage, and Scottish music, all in the same trip. We'll have to do it again sometime.
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