In our last post we explored Edinburgh Castle and the connection to Nova Scotia. This week we are jumping across the pond to Canada, and specifically to Cape Breton where Meaghan was raised, and where Peggy’s family emigrated to before leaving Cape Breton for Alberta.
Both of us (Meaghan & Peggy) have ancestors who emigrated to Cape Breton from Scotland, including Meaghan’s 2nd Great-Grandmother who’s family emigrated from the Scottish Highlands in 1833 and settled on Cape Breton’s north shore.
Before we share our tour of Cape Breton, the Cabot Trail, and driving the Highlands, let’s explore Cape Breton’s Scottish roots.
The Highland Clearances is a troubled period in Scottish history, which saw the forced eviction of inhabitants of the Highlands and western islands of Scotland, beginning in the mid 18th century and continued into the mid-19th century. The new landowners wanted the clearing of the land of people primarily to allow for the farming of sheep.
The Highland Clearances resulted in the destruction of the traditional clan society and began a pattern of rural depopulation and emigration from Scotland.
The diaspora of Highlanders saw the settlement of Scottish all over the world, including the United States, Canada, Australia and New Zealand. The Scottish people were (and are) tough, savvy peoples and as such they thrived virtually everywhere they settled.
Many of the Scottish Highlanders ended up in Nova Scotia, and especially on Cape Breton Island, where we have own highlands. Across Cape Breton there are towns and villages with traditional Scottish names such as Inverness, Dundee, and Iona; and tributes to Scottish settlers and culture.
Today throughout Cape Breton Scottish customs and traditions have been kept alive by descendants, many of which have disappeared from the culture of the homeland. There is even the popular myth (fact?) that the Gaelic speakers of Nova Scotia outnumber those in the west of Scotland.
Céad Míle Fáilte
A Thousand Welcomes Official Welcome of Nova Scotia
Driving the Highlands
The map below highlights the Cabot Trail, and across the top half the Cape Breton Highlands National Park.
When visiting Cape Breton you should allow for at least 2 days to travel the Cabot Trail and to visit the National Park. First let us warn you the driving distance is deceiving – on a very good day, with no traffic Google may be right about the travel time, but during tourist season (May – October) it will take you much longer to drive the trail. Take your time, enjoy the vistas, hiking, beaches and all of the delicious food!
There is so much beauty to take in, enjoy the slower island pace when driving the Cape Breton Highlands.
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!
Alexander Graham Bell
The Village of Baddeck is the ideal starting point for traveling the Cabot Trail and for exploring Cape Breton Island.
The quaint village that stretches the shores of the Bras D’or Lakes was the summer home to Alexander Graham Bell (inventor of the telephone) and his wife, and that connection remains today with a museum in his honour. The village today that is filled with charming artisan shops and restaurants, has a long significant history that includes not only Bell and his accomplishments, but the accompaniments of many other residents of Baddeck. In 1909, the first Canadian flight occurred on the ice in Baddeck harbour.
That spirit of adventure and entrepreneurialism continues today in this dynamic village that is home to numerous artists and culinary delights, including Canada’s 2nd organic, on farm brewery – Big Spruce Brewing.
And The Bite House, a gem of a restaurant nestled in the valley behind the village. Situated in an old farmhouse, diners can gaze into the open kitchen to see their spectacular 5 course tasting meal being thoughtfully prepared by young Chef Picard.
The Bite House was recently named one of the world’s best tiny restaurants, an accolade well deserved!
DETOUR: Mabou & Inverness
A worthy detour off the Cabot Trail is the western coast of Cape Breton and the communities of Mabou and Inverness. The western coast is stepped in Gaelic culture and traditions.
Throughout the summer you will find world class musicians playing daily at local inns and pubs, and square dances to get your heart rate pumping!
And what’s more Scottish than whisky?? The area is also home to North America’s first single malt whisky distillery. Glenora Distillery produces Glen Breton Rare Canadian Single Malt Whisky.
From May to October you can tour the distillery and sample Cape Breton’s finest.
Cape Breton Golfing
It is impossible to explore Cape Breton without acknowledging the magnificent golfing we have to offer on the island. In 2017, 3 of the top 5 public courses in Canada are in Cape Breton.
Including the vista below of the #1 rated Cabot Cliffs in Inverness.
If golf isn’t your thing, or you have some free time while your partner is on the golf course. The below Inverness Beach is famous for its’ warm waters and beautiful beach glass that covers the sand.
Cape Breton Highlands National Park
Travelling along the Cabot Trail, and the west coast of Cape Breton, just past the Acadian village of Cheticamp where the mountains meet the sea you will enter the Cape Breton Highlands National Park.
Traveller Tip: In the village of Cheticamp will be the last gas station until you cross the highland mountains. Once you enter the park you will also have limited cell phone reception until reaching Cape North on the other side.
While most will stop in Cheticamp for lunch, and there are lots of great options, we recommend waiting until you reach Pleasant Bay and The Rusty Anchor. Fresh, locally caught seafood with a view.
National Geographic called the lobster rolls the best in North America… Just look at all that fresh lobster, we will let the photo speak for itself!
Even on an overcast day, the Skyline Trail is a spectacular hike. The 6.5 Km (4 mile) loop, is a relatively easy walk that will usually afford you the opportunity to see whales, moose and bald eagles. It is also a good opportunity to walk off lunch!!
The Lone Shieling
The Lone Shieling is modelled after a traditional basic Scottish shelter known as a ‘bothran’, a seasonal dwelling traditionally used by shepherds in Scotland during the time of year when sheep were moved to graze on the highlands, away from the village.
It is one of the earliest buildings in the Cape Breton Highlands National Park, and was part of the expansion of the park. The Lone Shieling is a Recognized Federal Heritage Building because of the historical association, and for its’ architectural and environmental value.
The Lone Shieling is also a traditional stopping stop of those driving around the Cabot Trail, and across the highlands. Growing up, we (Meaghan’s family) always stopped at the Lone Shieling to have a picnic and run off some energy from being in the car.
DETOUR: White Point Loop
After driving across the Highlands and taking in the magnificent mountain views, a must detour off of the Cabot Trail is the White Point Loop.
This detour will reward you with panoramic vistas of the ocean and mountains. With its unsurpassed beauty, and stunning views it is one of my (Meaghan’s) favourite spots.
White Point has a fascinating history, stretching back centuries when it was a seasonal fishing outport for the French, Portuguese and Spanish.
White Point Hike
Descending into town from the main road, but not to the dock area, look for the sign for the “Two Tittles” Inn, and immediately to the right you will see a dirt road that leads you up a small parking area.
There are multiple unmarked hiking trails around the point. This easy walk will be a pleasant surprise on a scenic drive off of the Cabot Trail. Hills of wind swept meadows towering above the crashing waves and the sacred ground of simple graves for sailors lost at sea over the centuries.
When you look out from the point below, there is nothing between you shores of Europe.
As you approach Ingonish, another favourite viewpoint is Green Cove. With careful footing you can make your way out on the granite rock jutting out above the ocean waves to watch for passing whales or in the morning to watch the local fishers hauling in their traps.
After driving across this Highlands, remember to take some time to relax and enjoy the slower pace of Cape Breton Island. It really is part of our charm! Now that you’ve reached Ingonish all you need is a bottle of local Nova Scotian wine to enjoy a beautiful day at the beach.
Enjoy the traditional splendour of the Keltic Lodge and the romance of days gone by. This elegant summer lodge has all the amenities to treat yourself, including a fantastic dining room, world class links golf, a spa and local live music most nights throughout the summer.
Traveling Back to Baddeck
After a night in Ingonish, it is time to travel back to Baddeck. Along the north shore of the Cabot Trail there are numerous local artisans that are worth exploring, including a traditional leather worker, glass blower, and metal arts.
As well on your journey back to Baddeck you will pass the Gaelic College in St. Ann’s Bay. From cultural demonstrations to ceilidhs in the Great Hall of Clans, the Gaelic College is a wonderful place to visit for anyone with an interest in the Gaelic history of Cape Breton.
Places To Stay
Telegraph House & Motel – 479 Chebucto St., Baddeck, Nova Scotia
Dunlop Inn – 552 Chebucto St., Baddeck, Nova Scotia
Cajun Cedar Log Cottages – 8365 Cabot Trail, Margaree Forks, Nova Scotia
Keltic Lodge Resort – 275 Keltic Inn, Ingonish Beach, Nova Scotia
Salty Rose’s & Periwinkle Cafe – 36056 Cabot Trail, Ingonish, Nova Scotia
Places To Eat
Dancing Goat – 6335 Cabot Trail, Margaree Valley, Nova Scotia
Rusty Anchor – 23197 Cabot Trail, Pleasant Bay, Nova Scotia
Arduaine Restaurant – 275 Keltic Inn, Ingonish Beach, Nova Scotia
The Clucking Hen Cafe – 45073 Cabot Trail, North Shore, Nova Scotia
Places To Play
Glenora Distillery – 13727 Route 19, Glenville, Nova Scotia
- Guided on-site distillery tours are available May – October, Sunday to Sunday
- 9:00 am-5:00 pm daily – leaves on the hour
- Approximate time: 25 minutes
Big Spruce Brewing – 64 Yankee Line Road, Nyanza, Nova Scotia
- Visit the brewery 7 days a week, to sample beer or buy a growler to go
- During the summer a covered patio is open, on Fridays they often host a local food truck and have live music
What to See
- Alexander Graham Bell Museum
- Centre de la Mi-Carême
- Get outdoors: golf, hiking, swimming
- Whale Watching
- Visit crafter and artisans
Bay Ferries offers high-speed ferry service from Portland, Maine to Yarmouth, Nova Scotia on board THE CAT. Bay Ferries also offers a ferry from Saint John, New Brunswick to Digby, Nova Scotia and Northumberland Ferries operates a ferry from Wood Islands, PEI to Caribou, Nova Scotia. From each of these ferries, Cape Breton Island is then reached by car.
Ferries sail from Port-aux-Basques and Argentia, Newfoundland into North Sydney via Marine Atlantic.
For more information on Cape Breton accommodation visit Booking.com guide.