2017 Travel: Cape Breton

Baddeck lighthouse on the Bras D’or lake, Cape Breton

I’ve been blogging about our big trip to British Columbia and Hawaii in November, but there’s another shorter trip that we’ve been looking forward to, as well. We have a house guest visiting form the U.K. in mid September and we’re planning another “Three Amigos” tour, this time to Cape Breton Island (The last Three Amigos tour was to Northumberland in the UK, read about that here)  Cape Breton, an island off the east end of Nova Scotia, has often been voted one of the best islands to visit, not just in Nova Scotia but in the world. The magazine Travel + Leisure had it ranked number one  and number 3 in two different years in the past few and it’s also been mentioned by other travel magazines.

It’s not your usual beach and resort type island. There are beaches, yes but the real beauty is in the scenery and the history. Hiking, fishing, golfing for those that want active things to do. The mountains of Cape Breton and the winding Cabot Trail around the tip of the island, with lots of little coastal towns and villages along the way will take you a full day of driving with stops for the local craft shops and tea rooms and cafes. Fortress Louisbourg brings you 300+ years of history. The small city of Sydney has arts and culture and a nice waterfront area. Discover Alexander Graham Bell in Baddeck where he had a summer home. You can go whale watching and spot the seals and birds and other nature from the boats. There’s even a whiskey distillery in Glenora near the Margaree Valley.

Louisbourg gates

Gates at Louisbourg

We won’t get to do all of that, but we do hope to go whale watching somewhere off the Cabot Trail and we will definitely go to Louisbourg. (My photos here) It’s an easy day trip from Sydney where we’ll land after a day or two driving around the Cabot Trail exploring. I also fancy seeing the Highland Village Museum  and we’ll likely stop in at the Alexander Graham Bell National Historic Site. It’s really very interesting. . We have a couple of motels and a hotel already booked. All we need is a picnic lunch, some flasks for coffee and tea and a full tank of gas to get us on the road! The great thing is that this year, to celebrate Canada’s 150th birthday, all of the national parks and historic sites are free to enter!

Nova Scotia’s Bluenose II

We have a few more of those on our list besides the ones in Cape Breton. We are thinking of other day trips to go on to take our friend around more of this beautiful province. A big bonus, the schooner Bluenose II has been refurbished and will be taking public sailing out of Lunenburg, another World Heritage Site, while our friend is here so we’re going to make plans to drive down the south shore and do that. I’ve never been out on the water in the Bluenose. It just never worked out, timing wise.  Lunenburg is a beautiful town as is nearby Blue Rocks,  Mahone Bay and Chester, also very nice places to stop.

There are museums and the Citadel fortress here in Halifax that he’ll enjoy. Maybe we’ll get into the Annapolis Valley. He might like the Grand Pre National Historic Site commemorating the French Acadian settlers who were the first non-Indigenous settlers in Nova Scotia (which was called Acadie back in the 17th century, thus…Acadians).

September is usually a month of pretty good weather so we’re hoping for as much sun as we can get.

Blue Rocks, Lunenburg County, Nova Scotia

Road Trip: Port Royal

Da fence for defence
On to the last day of our road trip:

We stayed at a little place called Granville Ferry which is just across the Annapolis River from Annapolis Royal, a very old town. The Bed and Breakfast, A Seafaring Maiden, was lovely, full of antiques and the owners were super. We were a bit late getting there, so I had called ahead just to make sure they knew and once checked in, we headed out for something to eat. The place that the B&B owner recommended as only having their kitchen open until 7:30 was just locking the doors at 7 when we pulled up. Damn.

Another cafe that looked as if it was open was not so we ended up going across to Annapolis Royal after all and though it took us a couple of times around a one way system to find it, we located the pub that I remembered and went there for what turned out to be a so-so meal. I’m sure I’ve had better there when I stayed in Annapolis with my mom 6 or 7 years ago but our steaks were most definitely underdone. G.’s was actually done the way I like it, he preferring almost well done and I like it medium but mine was raw in the middle. By the time I got that far into it, it seemed too late to send it back so I left it but when the waitress found out, she gave me a dessert for free!

We got held up on our return due to some work being done at a power station at the causeway between Annapolis and Granville Ferry but we weren’t held up too long. We had a comfortable night and a lovely breakfast and headed out. Our destination is Port Royal which is only a 15 minute drive from where we were.

Kitchen
A bit of history:

Port Royal is the oldest European settlement in Canada and the US, founded by the French in 1605. It was a fur trading post, not a military one. The man leading the expedition was Sieur de Mons who tried to establish a settlement in Saint Croix Island the year before which is between Maine and New Brunswick, but the winter was so severe that they lost half of their people. De Mons and Samuel de Champlain found the more sheltered area and built Port-Royal in 1605 and they managed to get the fort built before winter. Since there had already been trade with the local native Mi’kmaq, the colony was accepted and welcomed. Port-Royal did lose its colonists a couple of years later due to their monopoly being revoked but it was reestablished by 1610 and the settlers came back. However, in 1613, the fort was attacked and ransacked by the English coming up from Virginia and the colony was soon abandoned but the area across the river was later colonized by a contingent of Scots in 1629 but was conceded to the French who re-named it Port Royal after the former fort. This became the capital for the area then called Acadie, or Acadia. That’s what it was before it was Nova Scotia.

Ownership bounced back and forth between English and French, though mostly staying with the French for about a century but the British eventually succeeded in keeping hold and renamed it Annapolis Royal after Queen Anne. Annapolis was under seige more than once, and not just from the French but from the local Mi’kmaq as well but when Halifax was founded in 1749, the British control became a firm grip. The French settlers were expelled from the province in 1755. The current historic site of the fort at Port-Royal was rebuilt in the 20th century and it’s now a National Historic site as well it should be. There were excavations when they found the original site and apparently they found a copy of the original plans in France. They have recreated it as much as possible using the same methods. Some of the items are from the period but many are recreations but done very well. There is quite a lot to see and it does give you a good idea of what it might be like to live there when it was first built though I suppose unless you spent a very frigid winter huddling around the fire, you won’t truly get the full experience!
Forgery
The staff greets you when you buy your tickets and tells you a little of the beginnings of the fort. You can then wander around as you like. There are rooms such as a forge, a kitchen and bakery, a common room where they would have eaten and spent the evenings, the wood workshop, a chapel, and the various kinds of accommodations. The “gentlemen” had bunks though the artisans and workers slept on straw mattresses in the lofts. The fort commander had his own quarters. There is a palisade with cannon and you can see where the boards are fastened together with wooden pegs! The site has some period-dressed staff wandering around that you can talk to. I spoke with one tourist there who worked with Parks Canada and he was saying that the site did need a lot of money spent on it as it was starting to need repairs to the woodwork and structure apparently. I hope they can find the money because it would be a shame for a site that has so much historic significance to Canada to close.

We headed back towards home through the Annapolis Valley. We had intended on stopping at the air force base in Greenwood to see the Aviation museum there but it was grim and the rain was already splattering on the window so we thought we’d just drive straight through. We can always do the Aviation museum some other time on a day trip. There’s a little zoo not far from there as well at Aylesford.

Our latest road trip was a lot of fun even if the weather didn’t mostly cooperate. We were just glad we had the one sunny day on the day it mattered most, for whale watching.

Photos here from both the current visit and one in 2010.

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.

Road Trip: Shelburne and Shag Harbour

Shelburne Buildings

Old buildings on Dock Street, Shelburne

We took a four day road trip in September and had a couple of special things to do. Both of them were weather dependent and as a result, one of them got cancelled but the other one, which I’ll write about in another blog post, went off without a hitch. Considering we had three out of the four days with weather ranging from plain overcast, to thick fog to brilliant and sunny and back to overcast with showers, we did well to get that one day and I’m glad it landed on the day that it did.

Starting off, we headed for the highway, driving a bit more than two hours down the south shore of Nova Scotia. Our first stop was a craft brewery called Boxing Rock. It’s a little place, up a dirt driveway. I’d heard good things about it but it turned out they only do tours on Fridays. We did get a tasting at the small bar and unlucky for me, I wasn’t keen on any of the four that were available but my other half was and he walked out happy with a six-pack under his arm.

The brewery is just outside the town of Shelburne which is one of the older and more historic towns in Nova Scotia. There was a small French Acadian fishing settlement here in the late 17th century but it didn’t last all that long. The harbour was used as a shelter, and it was even the site of a pirate raid at one time, but there wasn’t another permanent European settlement there until British Loyalists arrived in 1783, welcomed by the Crown and aided to start up a habitation. One other interesting fact, just outside the town a village called Birchtown was settled by former slaves, also feeling the Revolution in America. Birchtown became the largest free black settlement in North America but it was pretty rocky for the inhabitants for awhile. Shelburne grew into a major ship building and fishing port over time.
Historic building in Shelburne
One of the attractions of Shelburne is its history, reflected in the large number of buildings that still exist from the Loyalist days. So much so that it’s been used for a few movie and tv productions, most well known being The Scarlet Letter starring Demi Moore from 1994. A recent production The Book of Negroes was also filmed here in part. I wanted to see the buildings on the waterfront Dock Street and have a wander around.

Shag Harbour Shoreline

Shoreline at Shag Harbour in the fog

Dock Street is not that long, and is lined pretty much all the way to the shipyard and marina will these old buildings which have been kept up quite well. The side streets leading up to Water Street, Shelburne’s main street, are also lined with gorgeous old houses and gardens. Most of the buildings on Dock Street now contain cafes, gift and craft shops, a pub, a couple of museums and a Bed and Breakfast. We spoke to one young woman in the Cox Warehouse, she had part of it as her artisan workshop. She had some lovely things. Seeing and speaking to the artist makes browsing more fun, getting the story behind some of the pieces and seeing the work in progress. We were going to go into the Dory museem (that’s a type of row boat used for fishing) but the chief Dory maker was gone for the day so we went to the Shelburne County museum across from it. It details the history, most of it maritime related, of the area. There were many interesting artifacts and models in the small two storey museum. There’s also another one, the Ross Thompson museum that we saw but didn’t go into which shows more of the every day life of someone living there.
Shelburne Marina
We ended up deciding on a pub on the waterfront for lunch. In retrospect, we likely would have been better to go up to the main street and find something there. The food we had wasn’t much to write home about and was quite underwhelming. The only thing it had going for it was the location on the water. Never mind. We cruised over to where the old buildings by the ship yard are, which also included an event centre and the marina. By now, our feet were getting tired and the sky looked a bit more threatening. We still had a couple of hours to get to Yarmouth for the night. We were supposed to go star gazing at a small observatory near there but we already knew it was cancelled due to the weather. By the time we got out of Shelburne, we drove into extremely thick fog. We wouldn’t have seen any semblence of a star in that!

We did, however, stop into the village of Shag Harbour to peek into the UFO museum. There isn’t much else in Shag Harbour to see. We did take a few photos of the foggy harbour and shoreline before the museum which had lots of newspaper articles, posters, photos and “alien” displays. They had a good book for sale about the event and investigation with up to date information. We spent about a half hour there and then drove the nice coastal route down to Yarmouth for the night.

You can read a little more here.
There are photos from our visit to Shelburne here.

Day Trip: Sherbrooke Village

Sherbrooke Mercantile Pano 1

The Mercantile

One of our day trips was a drive up the eastern shore of Nova Scotia to the village of Sherbrooke where there is an open air “living” museum, called Sherbrooke Village. It’s right in the centre of the village and it was very easy to find. We parked in a lot in the centre of the village but since it took well over 2 hours to get there, we were ready for lunch first. There are a few cafes along the main road and we picked the one that had the best name, Beanie’s Bistro! They were only offering Sunday brunch but it was excellent.

Fully fueled, we’re off to Sherbrooke Village, ready to step back in time to the 19th century.

Sherbrooke is an old settlement and by the 19th century it was prosperous, with farming, fishing and timber filling the coffers. But in 1861, gold was found nearby and for the next 20 years, the town was booming. The mining industry had ups and downs after that, but for the most part it died out, leaving timber as the main industry of the area with salmon fishing bringing in the tourists. The restoration of a village to what it would have been like in the late 19th century was began in 1969 and is ongoing. There are about 2 dozen buildings that are open to the public and are staffed by people wearing period dress who can demonstrate crafts and skills of the era and tell you all about what job they represent.

The weather is in and out but overall, a good day for walking around because it didn’t get too warm and it didn’t rain. We walked the circuit of the two streets where we saw a print shop, a blacksmith, an apothecary, a pottery, a courthouse, a general store, a school house, a church, the home of someone that would have been a business owner and houses that would belong to everyday people and more.

Sherbrooke apothecary Red Ball

Apothecary red ball, traditional “sign”

All of the houses and buildings are original and the fancy house, the part owner of the general store, that actually stayed in the family for a number of generations. I think we were told that there is one house that still has someone living in it, someone who works on the grounds somewhere.

They have a team of horses pulling a buggy if you need a ride to ease your aching feet. Pity we didn’t take advantage of that! If we’d been there earlier we could have taken in the show in the courthouse, a Gilbert and Sullivan one act liberetto, Trial by Jury. We heard a bit of the end of it but didn’t go in because they did ticket the event. Even though we would only have caught the tail end, you don’t barge in while a performance is ongoing, ticket or not! Sounded good, though. Watching a woman work the printing press was very interesting. She later showed us how she puts together a plate for it, including any text or a metal-carved plate for graphics. Pity the blacksmith wasn’t in that day, I would have liked to view him doing something on the forge. The young man in the apothecary shop had lots of interesting things to talk about including a big glass ball filled with red fluid hanging in the window, a traditional symbol for the chemist. I never knew that!

Sherbrooke Street

One of the two streets in Sherbrooke Village

It took a few hours to peek into all the buildings that were available to see. We had to stop to talk to anyone that happened to be there such as the woman in the pottery, another one working a loom and a lady in the exhibition building who had been sewing a huge quilt entirely by hand. That was the Temperence Hall which is actually owned by the Canadian Legion. Since they can’t sell alcohol in a Temperence Hall, they have a couple of tables of Legion and Canadian souvenirs to help raise money for the Legion!

We trudged our way around and got to the end/beginning where we collapsed in the tea room for a brew. I think they do some light meals there and definitely had sweets on offer but I resisted that. We stopped into the gift shop and staggered back into the village, more than ready to hit the road. We should have driven up to the parking lot right at the entrance but we didn’t think it was that far. It wasn’t, not really, but further than we thought it was and it wasn’t a big deal going in. We were dragging our backsides going back to the car is all!

It’s a fair distance to go for a day trip from Halifax but I think it’s definitely worth it. They close for the season either near the end of September or very early October though they do open for two weekends near Christmas and have seasonal events and markets on. That would be quite nice to see if the driving is ok.

Sherbrooke QuiltWe had an unexpected adventure coming back, though and not a pleasant one. Rather than come back the same way we went out, along the coastal Number 7 route, we decided to go cross country to New Glasgow to pick up the Trans Canada 104. Sounded good in theory. But the road that we picked up was absolutely the worst road I’ve ever driven on. The pavement was in horrific condition and the road kind of twisty in a lot of places. It was kind of scarey and you couldn’t drive very fast or you’d take out the undercarriage of the car if you weren’t careful of the pits, holes, and broken up paving. If we’d gone straight on the number 7 route, we would have ended up at Antigonish and could have picked up the 104 from there, a bit further away and I think that road would probably have been ok, too. You can’t tell from the map what kind of condition the road is in and we thought it would be ok going the way we did. Might have been scenic. It wasn’t particularly.

I was never so glad to get anywhere but off that road! We thought we might try to find somewhere to eat in New Glasgow but it was raining, Sunday night, and it is an unfamiliar place. We couldn’t see anything and it was raining so we managed to get back to the highway and high-tailed it back home, getting a take out meal instead.

Other than that, the day was quite nice. If we ever go again, we’ll stick to Highway 7 there and back, I think. It’s also not too far to stop off and visit if you are driving to or from Cape Breton Island. Be sure not to turn off and head there until you get to where the 7 meets up at Antigonish, though. Trust me on this.

Here are a few photos.

Sherbrooke village is part of the network of Nova Scotia Museums. You can get a yearly pass and drop in to any of their museums all over the province.

Going down the road

Blue Rocks fishing village, Lunenburg County

Blue Rocks fishing village, Lunenburg County

We’re about to hit the road again. In about 3 weeks, we’re going to fire up the iPods with driving tunes and head south. Not that far south, just to the south end of the province of Nova Scotia and drive the loop around the tip and back. Even though this is one of the smallest provinces in Canada, it’s also one of the most beautiful (but I’m not objective!). Nova Scotia is almost entirely surrounded by water. Only a small neck of land about 20 miles wide attaches us to the rest of Canada. That means a lot of beautiful coastline, dotted with lighthouses, beaches and quaint, historic fishing villages along the way.

My husband hasn’t seen a lot of the province and there’s plenty of it I haven’t seen either. I’ve been down along the south shore part of the way but not all the way around. We’ve made tentative plans but as everyone knows, plans change on a whim. But as of now, We’re going to head down the highway to start off, to get past the parts we’ve already seen and visited.

Our tentative Itinerary:
Shelburne, visiting a local micro brew, checking out the town that has a lot of historical old buildings still standing. This will probably be our lunch stop and afterwards, if we have time to fit it in, a stop at the nearby Black Loyalist museum in Birchtown.

I say “If we have time” because we want to drive the coastal road the rest of the way to Yarmouth where we’re pitching up for the night. We have to have something to eat before going out to the woods for a session at a small observatory! That was a discovery in a tourist brochure we picked up and it sounded so cool that we booked it.

Gilbert Cove Lighthouse, Nova Scotia

Gilbert Cove Lighthouse, Nova Scotia

For day two, we’re heading around the tip of the province and along the north shore, one of the pockets of French Acadian Nova Scotia. Beautiful beaches and little towns and a French university along here. We might fit in a visit to Port Royal near Annapolis Royal to see the reproduction of the old French settlement, founded in 1605 by Champlain. From there, it’s down across several long, narrow islands to Brier Island for the night in a lodge. The next day, we’re going whale watching out on the Bay of Fundy, another bucket list event. The companies here guarantee sightings but knowing Mother Nature, I will be cautiously optimistic.

Once we’ve done communing with the whales, seals and dolphins, we’re off to a Bed and Breakfast near Annapolis Royal. We’ve been to Annapolis before but will likely drive into the town for our meal and have a walk around. It’s a very nice place and has gorgeous gardens and the remains of an old fort, Fort Anne.

Our final day takes us through the Annapolis Valley on the way home and we thought we’d stop at a military aviation museum in CFB Greenwood, an air base near Kingston, NS. A casual meander through the Valley, perhaps a stop at a farmers’ market or two, and we’ll be back home by the end of the day.

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!

Impromptu Road Trip!

StAndrews-Map

Well now.

For all my moaning about not having an upcoming trip to plan, one just fell into my lap. It’s only a quick road trip for a “YAY!!” reason but it counts!  We will be organizing a major trip, hoping to do that next year sometime depending on how the savings are mounting up but until we know for sure, I could only do some general websurfing.

I have the first week in August booked off holidays from work. I booked a rental car yesterday morning, and we had a couple of possible day trips or an overnighter to my cousin’s cottage, exploring the south shore of Nova Scotia. Backtracking a bit to June, my husband was informed that his application to be a Permanent Resident of Canada was approved. We’ve been waiting for the official paperwork/certificate to arrive at the office of the Immigration consultant who would then have us in for a meeting to go over the last bits and pieces. We knew that we would have to cross the Canadian border for an official “landing” though we had thought we could actually do it here in Halifax.

Yesterday, I called the office and they said they were just going to call me and tell me they’d received the papers but also to tell me that we couldn’t do the interview in Halifax and we’d have to go to the border after all. That means…road trip!

It’s about a 6 hour drive to the US border at St. Stephen, New Brunswick/Calais, Maine. There is another border crossing a bit further north at Houlton, Maine and it’s about the same amount of driving time. It’s a long way to go to come back the same day so an overnight in a hotel is in order. While looking around, I came across some nice hotels at St. Andrews, New Brunswick and have discovered that it’s a historic old resort town and a lovely little spot.

It’s high tourist season but I did find a nice place and booked it. I discovered today that it’s closer to the border than I thought. I got mixed up with directions on Google maps yesterday but when I double checked today, it’s only about a half hour. That’s great and gives us a little more time to see a bit of the town in the evening. If we leave early, we can get to the border mid afternoon. I don’t know how long it will take there, but, optimistically, let’s say about an hour and we can then be in St. Andrews by about 4 pm. A good few hours yet until sunset with time to walk around and take in the pretty main streets and little shops..

Perhaps a bit more exploring in the morning before heading out on the road again.  A possibly stop in St. John to have a cuppa with a cousin and a stop in Moncton for supper with my best friend and home by dark! It’s a quick trip but it’s necessary to gather up and tie  the red tape in a bow. I don’t think we’ll go into the US and do any shopping this time but another trip might be planned to do that, and visit Campobello Island perhaps.

I’ll write another post later on the town of St. Andrews. It’s quite historic and is one of Canada’s 10 Most Beautiful Towns, in the opinion of this site (though I beg to differ on their inclusion of Niagara Falls. The falls themselves are amazing but the city is neon-tacky. Also, a few of their choices are cities, not towns but that’s being pedantic, I suppose. I heartily endorse the lovely Mahone Bay in my own province)

Road Trip: The Snake Pass

Derwent Dam

Derwent Dam

While in the UK in September, we took the car out on the road for a few day trips. Blackpool was one, you can read about that here. Another was to the Peak District National Park, which covers the north-central part of the midlands of England. It is one of my favourite parts of England (of the areas that I’ve been to so far!) with rolling hills, the Pennine mountains, and plenty of interesting places to visit. There are, as in most areas, some nice country pubs, too! I’ve visited a few different places in the area before, including Chatsworth House, Eyam, Glossop, Buxton, just to name a few. The Peak District mostly contained in the county of Derbyshire, with the edges bleeding over the north, east and west borders. The Pennines dip down into the northern part of the area. There are lots of very scenic drives with excellent views from the higher roads.

We decided to go down into the heart of the Peaks into the Derwent Valley, heading in a southwest direction from Manchester. One route I had never been over is the Snake Pass which starts just outside Glossop and the views were supposed to be pretty great. The road trip started and ended in heavy traffic and it took us ages to get through Glossop but once out of that, we were straight onto the Snake Pass and climbed up into the hills on the narrow, winding road that had amazing views across the valleys surrounded by hills covered in purple heather. I believe they do close it at times in the winter. They’d get snow up this high sometimes even if it’s raining in Manchester. The weather today is perfect.

View from the Snake Pass, Peak District National Park

View from the Snake Pass, Peak District National Park

The road traverses the hills and eventually you descend into the Derwent River valley, where there are some large reservoirs. The biggest one is the Lady Bower reservoir which you can see from the main road and it’s joined to the Derwent and Howden reservoirs in a T shape. The Derwent and Howden dams bracket a reservoir that occupies a spot where there used to be a village. The residents were relocated and the village flooded.

By the time we got there, we were ready for lunch and found a really nice pub on the shore of the Lady Bower reservoir, called the Yorkshire Bridge Inn. It’s quite large inside with various rooms and an outside beer garden by the water. We had a really nice meal in there with a very helpful barmaid who drew us a little map to the other dams in the area.

We drove through that area after lunch, stopping in a parking space so I could take photos and then at the visitor center for some more pictures and an ice cream break. This area is also known for being a training area for the Lancaster bombers in World War II and there are information posters and boards up at the visitor centre. We walked a little through the trails to the back of the first damn but it wasn’t letting out an overflow like I’d seen in a photo. I know nothing about dams and thought we’d see the water being passed through it. I suppose that only happens if the water is particularly high which it wasn’t today.

We drove down the very narrow road along the reservoirs, stopping by the dams for more photos. It was quiet, with trees along the road and the sun shining on the water. There were hikers and people on bikes occasionally, along with a car passing now and then. You had to pull over carefully, there’s only barely just enough room for two cars to pass. The road doesn’t come out so we had to turn around and come back out the same way. It really was a pretty drive along the water. Water always makes the scenery that much nicer, don’t you think?

We didn’t want to come back to Manchester through the Snake Pass so we pulled up a map on the GPS and decided on a route, plotted it and took off, wondering where the GPS was going to take us to get to the other road, a bit further north, the A628 I think, which would cross back over the Pennines and the lower Yorkshire moors. It’s always a bit interesting and a bit disconcerting when the GPS (or “Satnav” they call it here) leads you down some narrow roads and lanes to get where you want to go. It’s taken us in circles in the past so we never know for sure if it’s right! Usually it is, mind you and we’ve seen some nice scenery following its lead.

The road back across had a lot more traffic and several times through small towns we were slowed down to a crawl. I think we also passed some more reservoirs as well. Closer to Manchester the roads got wider and busier. We had a really nice day out, driving and enjoying the scenery. There are some really nice rural areas in the north of England, the Peak District, the Lake District and the Yorkshire moors and dales. Some of it is a bit bleak looking but even that has its own beauty.

Blackpool beside the sea

Blackpool Illuminations along the Promenade

Blackpool Illuminations along the Promenade

One of the places that brings back fond memories of childhood for my husband is the city of Blackpool on the northwest coast of England. Blackpool was and is a very popular place to take your family for a summer holiday, seaside towns being a big draw for the British. Blackpool has been a big attraction since the early Victorian era and really boomed once the trains came. There are miles of beaches and three piers were built out over the sea. The piers contain games, rides, market stalls where you can buy kitchy souvenirs and a bucket and spade for sand architecture. There are lots of food stalls as well.

Along the promenade, the road that follows the seafront, and in the general vicinity are hotels, guesthouses, bars and restaurants, exhibitions and Bingo halls, theatres, shops, and lots of other things for the average holiday maker to do and see. There’s a large theme park at the south end, called the Pleasure Beach. Trams traverse the coast back and forth, and on the beach, the kids can get donkey rides. It really can be quite a tourist trap, but I will admit there’s a lot of things to do as a family, there can be some really good entertainment featured as well and who doesn’t like the beach and the fresh, sea air?

Blackpool Tower on the Promenade, rife with attractions

Blackpool Tower on the Promenade, rife with attractions

I mentioned early in the summer that we were planning a day trip here on my recent visit to the UK. My husband’s family spent many a holiday week in Blackpool and he has fond memories of it. I have to confess, I find it a bit over the top and tacky but it does have it’s pluses, too. The Blackpool Tower is pretty neat and I always like to go up in towers and high places. It has a beautiful Victorian ballroom as well where you can still go for a cup of tea and a dance around the room, accompanied by a cheerful bloke playing a massive pipe organ.  If you like arcades or scary rides, (which I don’t!) then you will be oversaturated by choice. There’s also some world class theatres and venues where  you can attend shows, concerts and gigs.

Blackpool is only 60 miles from the Manchester area so it’s very easy to do a day trip there which is what we did early in September during my visit to the UK. One other thing that Blackpool has is the annual Illuminations and I really did fancy seeing those.  Blackpool city council erected what may have been the first electric street lighting in 1879. It was an event that nearly 100,000 people came to witness. In 1912, to mark a Royal visit to open a new section of the promenade, a display of lights was erected along the street. This was in May and it was so popular that they did it again in September. It was hugely popular and they did it again the next year but World War I put a halt to it until it was revived in the 1920s and aside from a 10 year break through WWII and post-war economics, it has been a yearly tradition, growing bigger and bolder every year. It stretches 6 miles along the Promenade.

Since we planned to stay late to see the lights, we didn’t head out until mid morning, arriving close to lunchtime so that was our first order of business. Food. I don’t know why we picked a pub on the Promenade because I’m sure there were probably much better ones away from the main “drag” where the food was better. This one, a Weatherspoon’s franchise, was very Meh and disappointing. We should have known better, restaurants in the thick of the tourist area generally aren’t the best places to eat. Mind you, most of Blackpool is a tourist area but I think venturing back from the main Promenade will give you better choice and quality. Lessons learned.

We walked behind the Tower (having been up there on one other previous visit) because I wanted to see the Victorian Winter Garden. The Winter Garden was built in 1878. It’s got several venues in it, with theatres, a ballroom, restaurants and exhibition space. We couldn’t go into the ballroom and there was an inside illuminations exhibit also going on which we didn’t visit. We walked through the lobby and up into the main concourse to see the glass roof and dome and peek into the Spanish section which is all done up like the interior of a Spanish pirate ship. It was very nice, what we did get to see of it. Outside, along one of the exterior, less decorated walls of the building were panels of street art which were all interesting to see. Not always sure what the artists were getting at but it was still neat.

From Blackpool Central Pier to the South Pier and Pleasure Beach rides

From Blackpool Central Pier to the South Pier and Pleasure Beach rides

We then walked down by the beach, watching the children get donkey rides and then went over onto the Central Pier to walk out to the end. School is back in so Blackpool was fairly quiet and most of the rides were still or only had one or two people on them. There were still quite a lot of people but not that many families or children. The pier is lined with a wooden bench built into the sides with old white painted wrought iron bench backs. They are often worn through and rusted and the wooden seats are in very bad repair and I’m sure can’t be very safe. I suppose it would cost a lot of money to restore all this.

As we got near the end of the pier, we noticed a guy running hell bent for leather across the vast expanse of beach to the water’s edge. Graham reckoned the beach was so wide he’d be exhausted by the time he actually reached the sea! About 10 feet before the edge, he stopped and stripped off his swimming trunks and charged into the water, completely naked! Graham shook his head mournfully and said “On behalf of the entire Northwest of England, I apologize”. The guy’s friends were running along behind him and one of them stopped and picked up his trunks, eliciting an angry response by the swimmer. What did he expect? He later came out, covering his bits with his hands, to join his group and no doubt, persuade them to give him back his swim gear.

We had a drink and sat in the sun for a bit and then decided to take the bus to the far northern end of the city, where the illuminations began. We thought we could hang out there for awhile, have our evening meal and then make our way back once the sun set, enjoying the lights, even if we hopped on and off the bus to go ahead a few stops at a time. We got there, and discovered there really isn’t much there to do. It’s all larger hotels, no shops or anything to look at. We had a drink in one pub we found and decided what we’d do is get the back all the way back to the Pleasure Beach where we’d parked the car. We could find somewhere there for our dinner and by that time, the sun would be going down. We would then drive the “strip” to see the lights from the car. All the traffic goes along there slowly so people can get a good look and we would be able to as well.

It’s all right, planning, but plans don’t always go the way you expect. We missed the last bus, which apparently stopped at 6. Doh! Never mind, the tram was still running but they won’t take our all day bus pass so we had to buy tickets. We found a little Indian curry house near where we parked. We were ready for it, too, and it was quickly getting chilly so we were glad of a warm place to sit! The food was good and cheap, what else can you ask for?

The slow drive along the Promenade, with the iPod hooked up to the car stereo for a soundtrack, was fun. There are a variety of light displays, more traditional bulbs, and LED lights, tableaux, signs and two of the old fashioned trams were decorated up elaborately, one like a ship and one like a train. Very good! The far north end had lots of scenes lit up either by spot lights or were made from the lights themselves. Four styles of a sun, Daleks and the Tardis, Alice in Wonderland, American Natives, Dancing girls, a haunted house and more. I think I liked this section the best. It was difficult to photograph from the car, though. I did get some good photos and I did some video clips as well. We enjoyed the ride so much we turned around and came back down the other way and then headed home.