Cathedral Grove, Vancouver Island

Between the city of Parksville and Port Alberni on Vancouver Island is a little oasis of calm and peace. It’s a stand of trees, very old trees, mostly Douglas Fir with Red Cedar as well. The oldest standing tree is about 800 years old and stands over 250 feet tall, taller than the Leaning Tower of Pisa apparently.

Recently we visited Vancouver Island. Most of the few days we were there were spent in the capital city of Victoria with relatives, doing a bit of driving around and hanging out. We rented a car and drove “up island” to see some friends in Parksville and before returning the next day, I really wanted to see Cathedral Grove. It was a long-standing destination on my list and it’s only about a half hour drive from Parksville on an inland road from the coast.

The weather is overcast with rain threatening but we only got a little heavy mist. There had been a tiny dusting of snow and in the forest there was still a little on the ground, enough to make the path slippery so we trod carefully. The light was low due to the cloud cover. No sunlight streaming through the branches picturesquely. The air was damp and cold. The breeze rustled the leaves. It was completely quiet aside from an occasional car that drove by. The grove is part of the MacMillan Provincial Park and its near the road. In November, there were few tourists besides us three. I hate to use a cliche word but it did feel a bit magical. Just when you think Nature can’t throw one more jaw dropping sight at you, in comes a curve ball. Here is a bit of video I took and a few photos.

The drive to Parksville is only about 2 hours from Victoria. You could easily visit Cathedral Grove in a day. You also drive past Goldstream where, in early November or very late October, the salmon return to spawn and you can watch them flipping through the water trying to get upstream. We were just a little late and there were only a few fish left alive (yes, that’s Nature again. The fish return to where they were hatched to spawn, and once the eggs are laid, the fish die and are food for eagles, birds and bears)

We stayed overnight since we were visiting friends and booked the Travelodge. Not a bad choice. There are quite a few hotels and motels in Parksville as it’s a resort area with some nice beaches.

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Road Trip to Cape Breton, Part 1

Whale Cove Cemetery

Whale Cove Cemetery, Cape Breton

We’ve got a houseguest for a couple of weeks and he’s never been to Canada. We live in a really beautiful part of the country here in the east coast and wanted to show off some of the best of it so a road trip to the island of Cape Breton was organized. We headed out on the road and stopped for a pre-trip breakfast at Tim Hortons before getting on the rainy road to Cape Breton Island. Yes. Rain, most of the time just light showers but it made for a somewhat grim drive. Highway all the way to the island and then we were able to take a more scenic road, the 19, through the east side heading north to Cheticamp.

Malcolm had bought a map of Cape Breton at one of our comfort stops earlier and I had a look at it and spotted something called a Celtic Music Interpretation Centre. Does anyone want to go? Hell yes! We drive on to Judique where it’s located and head in. Malcolm was in heaven in the shop. So many of the cds calling his name! They also had live music in the café, a fiddler called Chrissy Crowley who was absolutely top notch. She was superb as was her pianist accompanist and both are fairly well known. We had a bit of lunch while listening to her play all the instrumental traditional ballads, jigs and reels and it was all I could do from stopping myself squealing out a “EEEEYAH!!!” when she was up to step dance speed.

The rain stopped more or less after that and we chugged along happily listening to one of the cds Malc bought. He kept track of where we were heading on his map and suggested a side scenic road. Good choice. It was quite pretty, following the coast closer than the other road. Then we spied a high open hill, with a little cemetery on the side and doubled back to check it out. It was a lookout spot over Whale Bay, according to the map. The cemetery was surrounded on by little brick chimneys. There’s a nearby area called Chimney corner so it’s likely to do with that. It was an absolutely beautiful spot.

On my way back to the car, I thought about the name “Whale Cove”. Why would it be called that? I turned around to have a look out at the bay. You never know. Yes, yes I spotted some dark shapes out in the bay and called back to the guys. Malc came out with his binoculars and said it looked like about 5 or 6 creatures out in the water. They were too far away to take even a full-zoom photo but we’re pretty certain they were whales which were likely pilot whales!

Cheticamp Harbour Boats

Cheticamp, Cape Breton

Onward to Cheticamp to find the motel which was about 5 minutes the other side of the town, just at the entrance to the Cape Breton Highlands National Park. The woman working there, the owner, was really nice, showing us a few scenic routes and ways to get around some of the road construction going on and she also recommended a restaurant for dinner tonight and made a reservation. There’s going to be live music there, too, so it should be nice. What a great start to the holiday!

We drove back into the town and had a look at the harbour with the boats. The sheltered water was like glass, it was that still. It was just at dusk so there was still enough light for a few photos. The restaurant had a French woman singing in the dining room. She was all right, sticking to safe crowd favourites in both languages. Most were just not my taste really. The food was as good as predicted so we all enjoyed our meal. We relaxed over dinner and finally headed back to the motel to relax. Tomorrow is our whale watching tour and we’re really hopeful the weather and the sea cooperate.

Thursday September 21

Sunny, cool and crisp this morning. Unfortunately, it’s also a bit too windy and the whale watching tour was cancelled. The boats can handle the choppy seas but the passengers can’t always and it’s a safety issue. We had got up early, checked out, picked up hot drinks and breakfast at Robins donuts and headed out to Pleasant Bay in plenty of time but to no avail. We did ask what companies did similar tours in the Ingonish area where we’re staying tonight and she gave us the information and even tried to get hold of them to book for us but couldn’t get through. We decided to take in the Whale Interpretive Centre they had there which was very interesting. It showed the evolution of the animal, it’s current environment and habits. They had a model of a full size pilot whale which is very common in the Cape Breton area. It’s a good little museum and well worth a stop if you’re in the area.
Northeast Cabot Trail views
We went on a few drives along the lesser beaten paths and drove to the northernmost community in Nova Scotia, called Meat Cove, accessed by a gravel road. The name apparently came from early settlers driving the deer and moose over the mountain to this location to be butchered and salted and shipped to other locations. We found a good place for lunch in Cape North called Angie’s and filled up the gas tank as well. There aren’t a lot of stations around the long stretch of the Cabot Trail from Cheticamp to Cape North so you should take advantage of it when you find one. The road around the Cape Breton Highlands National Park is hilly and twisty, sometimes following the coast and sometimes cutting across inland. There are lots of trails to hike with fabulous views and there are a number of roadside lookoff spots, little craft shops and a few cafes along the way.

It’s such a lovely day for a drive, too! We made a few photo stops along the way and got to the motel, the Sea Breeze Chalets and Motel in Ingonish Beach about 4 p.m. I called the whale watching company and booked us three spots for tomorrow. The man I spoke to said they would likely be ok to go. The Ingonish area is a popular stop. There are lots of motels and holiday chalets for rent. Our rooms face the sea from across the road. We’ll sort out somewhere to eat tonight and have a recommendation for breakfast tomorrow. It’s only a 10 minute drive to the harbour where the tour boat is located so we won’t have to get up quite so early!

Whale Watching Graham and Mal

The lads

We ended up at the Main Street restaurant and I went all out for something different and had swordfish, caught locally in Neil’s Harbour. I thought it was very good. Graham was not overly impressed with his burger, thought it was ok but really didn’t like the fries but Malc enjoyed his vegetarian meal a lot. Back to the motel for the night.

September 22

We checked out and went to the café up the road that was recommended to us, the Bean Barn Café, and they did indeed provide delicious all day breakfasts. We found the Whale Watching company down a small side road very close to where we ate last night and bought our tickets. It’s another beautiful day, perfect weather to be out on the boat. It’s a smaller boat and there were about 12 passengers so it wasn’t crowded at all. Unfortunately, we didn’t see any whales but we did see seals, bald eagles and a sunfish which was a good sized fish and had fins and flippers. There was a demonstration on how the lobster traps work as well.

We drove from there to the pretty town of Baddeck to see the Alexander Graham Bell museum. Because this year celebrates Canada’s 150th birthday, all of the National Historic Sites and parks have free entry. This is one on the list. It’s a very interesting museum. We never realized how many things Bell invented or started that were cutting edge for the time. Not everything worked out but he was fascinated with how things worked and tried to find new ways to do things all the time. He didn’t actually invent the telephone here in Canada but he maintained a summer home here for many years from about the mid 1880s onward.

It’s off to the city of Sydney tonight for two nights. Sydney is an industrial city at it’s core though these days the former regional industries of coal mining and steel are things of the past. We checked into the Comfort Inn on Kings Road. Be warned, there is no elevator, but they only have two floors. Nice large room, good wifi and lots of space. Breakfast is free but leaves a lot to be desired.

We had supper at the Old Triangle, a sister pub to the one in Halifax. Food was good but the first young man playing music was inadequate to the task. Reminded me of a busker who wants to play everything like it’s a party tune, and faster than it’s meant to be. The main act came on at 9:30. They were much better singers and players but their choice of tunes was mediocre middle of the road. We didn’t stay.

I’ll be back with part 2 very soon, where we visit the Fortress Louisbourg and the open air Highland Village museum.
Sunfish

Whale Watching eagles

Ingonish Beach area

WPC: Elemental Wind and Water

The WordPress Challenge this week is Elemental, with the four elements featured. Earth, Water, Air and Fire. I’ve found some photos that capture some of these:

The Bay of Fundy has the highest tides in the world, as high as 16 metres at the Minas Basin inner end of the bay. All that water coming and going can play havoc and these two photos from the Fundy National Park in New Brunswick of the “Hopewell Rocks” show you what water can do to stone over centuries. The tide comes a fair way up the cliffs where those stairs are and you can only see the sculpted rock from over the top of the hole upward, at high tide.
Hopewell Rocks 020

Hopewell Rocks 018

This is another part of the Bay of Fundy at Blomidon, near the Minas Basin. Low tide means it’s quite a walk to the water. The red in the earth is caused from a high clay content. You also see the red earth in Prince Edward Island in the Bay of St. Lawrence.
Blomidon beach

Here are a couple of shots of Niagara Falls. The sound of all that water gushing over into the river can be heard through most of the centre of the city. It’s quite a sight to see, even in the winter when there are boulders of ice choking the sides of the river, caused by the mist freezing over the snow.
Niagara Falls Maid of the mist

Niagara Falls Canadian falls

Now we see the effects of wind on a tree over time, on the moors in Cornwall.
windswept tree
This is a very old geographical formation of rock. I’ve had this photo published in a textbook that explains what it is but I’d have to dig it out to jog my memory.

Blue Rocks Rockscape

Blue Rocks, Nova Scotia

Travel Theme: Gardens

While my main interest for photos is architecture, I have grown to love walking in gardens and taking photos of the beautiful show nature has to offer. I had a friend and travel companion, Carole, who was an ardent gardener and she always sought out the gardens and enjoyed discovering and examining them the best. I grew to appreciate gardens more through travels with her.

There are a lot of beautiful gardens everywhere, from botanic gardens featuring all sorts of plants to flower gardens. Some cover acres, some just a small corner of an estate or park. Some include amazing water features and fountains, sculpture and statues.

Busy Sunday in the Gardens

Halifax Public Gardens

Right here in Halifax, Nova Scotia, we have our own Public Gardens, laid out in the Victorian era and featuring flowers, plants, rare trees and some interesting statues and fountains as well as a bandstand where they play music in summer.

Rose Garden path

Historic Gardens, Annapolis Royal

Think pink

Rose Garden,Historic Gardens, Annapolis Royal

Lavender

Not in the Historic Gardens, but in the garden behind an Annapolis Royal historic Inn.

In Annapolis Royal, about a 2 hour drive into the Annapolis Valley, there is the Royal Historic Gardens.  They have a spectacular rose garden as well as a garden pool, a winter garden and a knot garden to name a few. They also have an area overlooking the marshy side of the Annapolis River where the Acadians built dykes. There are trails through there as well.
Alnwick Gardens Ornamental Slate

A particularly interesting garden in the UK was the Garden at Alnwick Castle. This photo is from the ornamental garden but there are many things to see including a poison garden, a water feature garden, a labyrinth, a cascading fountain, a cherry orchard and a rose garden as well. There’s even a wooded area with a treehouse cafe! Other gardens in the UK that I’ve seen include Inverewe in north west Scotland, Hampton Court Palace which has many gardens on the property, Chatsworth estate which is almost more of a huge park, Lyme Hall garden, an Italian garden at Trentham, and often there have been lovely flower beds in various parks large and small.

Where’s My Backpack’s Travel theme.

Throwback Thursday Classic Shots

It looks like it might actually be spring here in Nova Scotia. Mind you, this time last year we had just come out of another snowfall so it “ain’t over til it’s over” when you live here.

Being optimistic, I’m pulling out some floral photos from my distant past travels. I’ve probably blogged about it way back when I first started this travel blog, but my first major trip once I could afford to go was on a bus tour around the UK in 1993. There were many stops along the way and I had a fabulous time. This photo is of Anne Hathaway’s cottage near Stratford-on-Avon. It was the end of August/early September 1993 and the garden was still lovely. We posed for our group photo here, but not in front of the garden  as you might assume. No, it was in the parking lot. Never mind. I know where we were!

Anne Hathaway's Cottage, Stratford-on-Avon

Anne Hathaway’s Cottage, Stratford-on-Avon, 1993

Let’s jump forward a few years to October 1996 and a bus tour around Italy with a friend. We stayed in London for a few days, first and met up with a friend who lived in Essex near Southend. We drove out into Kent and visits Leeds Castle. This is on the castle grounds and the garden is called Culpepper Garden. It might be mid October but there are still a few wildflowers hanging on!

Culpepper Garden in Leeds Castle, Kent

Culpepper Garden in Leeds Castle, Kent, 1996

I did some minor travel in 1998 relating to training at work (Boston, New York, Toronto, Ottawa) and in 1999 there was a weekend in Toronto, but in 2000, things were looking up.  I had two major trips, one to British Columbia in the spring and one to the UK again, in September, incorporating stays in London, Manchester, Stoke and Scotland with a short bus tour in Scotland. One of our stops there was at Inverewe Gardens overlooking Loch Ewe in the northwest of Scotland.

Inverewe Gardens

Inverewe Gardens, Scotland. 2000

Finally, in 2003 I made a solo visit to the UK to visit friends in various places, Worcester, Manchester, Cardiff, Glasgow and London. These were the spring blooms in Cardif by the War Memorial. Blossoms on the trees, tulips blazing across the ground. Gorgeous! (too bad I was on my way to a nasty flu which hit me hard in Bath and London!)

War memorial, Cardiff

War memorial, Cardiff, 2003

Travel Theme: Hills

Ailsa at Where’s My Backpack has a weekly travel photo theme. This week it’s Hills. While I don’t go hiking or hill walking, we do encounter hills on our drives, train rides, etc.  and traversing through cities which almost always have hills. Some more than others. The steepest city I’ve ever been in was St. John’s, Newfoundland, the easternmost province in Canada. The streets soar up from the harbour, some so steep they actually have little staircases in parts of them. Here are a few photos featuring hills.

First, from one of my favourite parts of England, the Peak District National Park

Peak_1520
Next up is a view from another of my favourite regions, the Lake District.
Lake District
Here in Canada, you can’t beat the Cabot Trail in Cape Breton, Nova Scotia for dramatic scenery.
Cabot Trail MacKenzie Mountain
Then there are the rolling hills of the tiny province of Prince Edward Island.
Country Roads
And last, Sacre Coeur, high on the hill overlooking Paris
Sacre Coeur

Road Trip: Close encounters of the Whale kind

Bay of Fundy Big SkyContinuing on our recent road trip…

Since the weather was uncooperative for star gazing, we had a nice dinner out in Yarmouth and relaxed in the hotel for the night. Breakfast in the morning was kind of mediocre but it was free. You sometimes get what you didn’t pay for, right? Today’s destination is Brier Island.

The province of Nova Scotia itself is an isthmus or peninsula, nearly an island and surrounded by water aside from a little neck of land near the New Brunswick border. There’s also another bit of land that is nearly detached from the main province, along the north side along the Bay of Fundy. It’s long and skinny and is called Digby Neck, running into two small islands at the end. The first is Long Island and the last tiny one is Brier Island. The main attraction of this area is eco tourism. There are trails, birds and sea life in abundance. The Bay of Fundy is the summer home of several pods of whales, humpback, minke and “right” whales mostly with schools of dolphins and porpoises and lots and lots of seals. There are many kinds of seabirds as well including one type that lives exclusively on the water and never on land at all. There are a number of companies that will take you out on the Bay with whale watching being the main objective and it’s something we’ve both long wanted to do. The best time to go is over the summer and into September. After that, the whales leave for southern warmer waters to breed.

Historic Cape Forchu

Cape Forchu Lighthouse, Yarmouth

Right. So we’re going there today from Yarmouth which will be about 2 hours or so on the road. First a stop at Cape Forchu outside of Yarmouth to see the lighthouse. It’s a little different, this one. It’s an “applecore” style as you can see from the photo. While this particular structure dates back to the early 60s, there has been a lighthouse or station here since the early 19th century. There’s a little museum in the lighthouse now. The shore line is extremely rocky here and you really don’t want to go clambering over the boulders. It can be very dangerous even if it seems like the sea is calm. Rogue waves have been known to snatch tourists into the briny. Trust me, this happens. It was still foggy that morning so the lighthouse wasn’t at it’s best though sometimes, taking photos in the fog does give them a bit more atmosphere. We could tell the sun was trying to break through and indeed it was full out sunny by the time we were half way to our destination.

East Neck ferry

East Neck ferry, en route to Brier Island

On the road, following Route 1 this time. We stayed on the older highway rather than the 101 for awhile. We stopped at had a look at another lighthouse at Cape St. Mary. By the time we got past St. Anne, though, we decided there wasn’t much interesting along that road so we took the next connector to the 101 and zipped up to Digby where we grabbed a quick lunch at an Irving Big Stop. The sun was out by then, too. We back tracked to the exit for the 417 that leads to the islands. That was a pretty drive through rural areas with glimpses of the water now and then. It’s about a 45 minute drive to the first ferry which runs hourly on the half hour and takes about 7 minutes for the crossing. It’s about 15 minutes to the final ferry to Brier and again, just 5 or 7 minutes across. The village on Brier is Westport and there isn’t a lot there. The island has few hotels or guest houses, just a couple of places to eat, a general store and a gift shop. You can hike as there are lots of trails where you can see lighthouses, bays that have seals frolicking and you might even seen some whales if they come close enough.

We stayed in Brier Island Lodge so we headed there to check in and then drove around the island’s dirt roads. Only the main road along the water is actually paved and just a bit beyond that but the roads are in pretty good condition. We found all three lighthouses, passed a couple of cemeteries outside of the village on hilltops, and went to a cove where we could see seals bobbing in and out of the water. We had dinner in the hotel that night and it was very, very nice! This will be a restaurant that serves really good, really fresh food but isn’t a budget place. Worth a splurge, just the same.

Mama and Baby whale

Mama and baby humpback

The next morning, the skies were blue and the sun was out. Hooray! After an excellent breakfast, we picked up packed lunches that were part of the hotel package and went to the dock to wait for the whale watching cruise to depart. It turned out to be everything we hoped for and more. We were on a small boat, as we weren’t comfortable taking the type of whale watching from a zodiac (similar to a lifeboat in size. Much too small and too close to the water!) They sail out into the Bay and keep watch. We did see some “blow” in the distance and one whale was a bit closer but it didn’t want to have anything to do with the boat and swam off sharpish. Soon, though, another one was spotted closer by so the captain cut the engines off. We floated there and were excited that the whale, a female humpback, swam right up to the boat. She floated there, came up and went down, under the boat from side to side as if she was making sure everyone got a good look. These animals can be well over 50 feet long and many, many tons in weight. You look down over the side of the boat at these creatures that are probably as long as or longer than the boat you’re on and you realize they could have you tipped over if they wanted to. Whales are pretty peaceful, though.


Everyone was taking photos of course and I did too though I made myself put the camera down and watch, just watch, rather than spend the whole time behind the lens. You really do find yourself awestruck at these gentle giants. We saw a couple more close up as well and then after another ride to another spot, we encountered a mother and her calf. They didn’t come close to the boat but they were still close enough that we could all see them well. The calf was showing off, and at one point was waving it’s flippers at us! We weren’t lucky to see them jump right out of the water but they did breech and a couple of times dive with the tail flipper up out of the water. We didn’t see any other types of whales besides the humpback nor did we see any dolphins but it didn’t really matter. We saw whales!

The water in the bay wasn’t too choppy though we did bob about quite a bit while stopped. Nobody seemed to mind much and the sun was very warm. There was a breeze but it wasn’t really cold. We did have warm things on but I had to take my coat off. We both got lots of pictures and some video that I put together into a clip which gives you a better idea of how close they were. A lot of these pictures aren’t zoomed in much at all, not the ones of the whales that came close to the boat. Only a little and the ones of the mother and calf are zoomed in a bit to a lot.

We were out a total of three hours and had a bit of sunburn when we finally came ashore. We’d already checked out of the hotel so we hit the road again, this time heading for Annapolis Royal where we had a Bed and Breakfast booked in nearby Granville Ferry for the night.

Photos of the whales are here.

A Rare Rainbow (DP Challenge)

The Daily Post at WordPress challenges us this week to post a photo of something Rare. I’ve posted this photo at least once before and it certainly fits this theme. Scotland, late August 1993. Driving across Rannoch Moor on a drizzly day on a tour bus. The sun must have been breaking out somewhere because we saw colours across the moors. Real colours like a rainbow but it was puddles of misty colour on the ground, not an arc over the sky. I took a quick photo through the window and was pleased to see it turned out. (Those were the days you had to wait for the film to be developed).

I posted the photo on Flickr and entered into a discussion with someone about it and he suggested it would have been the top of the rainbow. This part of Scotland is higher above sea level and at mid to late morning when this was taken, the sun would have been at about 40 degrees elevation and just the right angle for it.

Rainbow in the Highlands, near Glencoe. The "Hail Mary" lucky shot through the bus window

Rainbow in the Highlands, near Glencoe.
The “Hail Mary” lucky shot through the bus window

A Photo a Week: Natural Monuments (Hopewell Rocks)

Hopewell Rocks 020

Hopewell Rocks, New Brunswick

Nancy Merrill Photography has a weekly photo challenge and this week’s is Natural Monuments. The best example I have is from my visit to the Fundy National Park in New Brunswick, where you’ll find the Hopewell Rocks, formations created by the world record high tides in the Bay of Fundy. The tides here can advance over 50 feet in some places. It does play havoc on the coastline. This area has a group of rocks behind these, to either side of the small inlet. Recently one of those had a portion that collapsed, testament to the power of nature.

 

Hopewell Rocks 024

Hopewell Rocks on the Bay of Fundy

The things you find on the way to a toilet

Lepreau Falls, New Brunswick

Lepreau Falls, New Brunswick

We were heading west on Hwy. 1 through New Brunswick on our recent overnight trip to and from the US/Canada border (that’s a story for another time). We’d just passed Saint John and decided we needed to find a gas station to use the public toilets and would fill up the gas tank while we were at it. We came off the highway at exit 86 where a sign indicated there would be a gas station. We turned onto a smaller road and found it. But it turned out that both of their public toilets were out of order! Yikes! That shouldn’t be allowed, it really shouldn’t.

I leaned over and asked the busy cashier where the next one was. He thought a minute and said there was something about 10 minutes down the road but someone else in the queue suggested Lepreau. Ok, that’s good. We started driving and passed a sign for Lepreau Falls and drove over a bridge that was signed for the Lepreau River. We’ve got to be close. But we didn’t see anything that might have a public facility in it. Nothing. No more houses. We turned around and took the little road for the Falls but it looked pretty quiet.

My husband thought perhaps it was a park and might have public facilities. Sure enough we spotted a small shack like building that had potential and to our relief, it was indeed a two sided public toilet (one side for men and one for women, naturally). We parked and availed ourselves.

When I came out of my side of the building, I could hear water running and went to the back of the building where spotted a wooden planked and fenced platform with a picnic table and it overlooked a view of a lovely little waterfall! That, then, was Lepreau Falls.

We went back to have a look and take a few pictures. It was a very pretty place and we noticed on the drive out, there were 2 or 3 more look off points over the the falls and the river, again with picnic tables. I have since discovered this is a provincial park and there is camping nearby as well.

The things you find on the way to a toilet! Little discoveries like this are what make road trips fun!