How do I write about Cape Breton? I came to Nova Scotia thinking it was all one country, but Cape Breton is a world all its own, and I totally fell in love with the place. I love the predominant “skyline” of mixed hardwoods and pine forests—I guess they’ve mostly not been logged. I love the people. I thought the people below the causeway were nice, friendly, open, and helpful. But when I crossed over Canso, it was taken to a whole other level.
When I first pulled into MacLeod’s Beach and Campsites, I glanced up at the trailers arrayed in tiers up on the hill, and thought, “Oh well, another RV parking lot.” But it did have a beach, and even though it was 5:PM and overcast, after driving all up in the mountains for most of the day, I was eager to get some cold Atlantic Ocean on my aching knee.
After registering, I pulled in to my site, hooked things up, and hurried into my swim attire. Someone pointed me towards the beach path, and I limped along towards the water. Fifteen minutes later, I was standing at the water’s edge on a lovely deserted beach fringed with a deep border of seagrass but I could almost imagine it was heather. This location looked so much like Ireland—the sea and the cliffs. Even the road signs along this part of Cape Breton, "The Ceilidh Trail" were in both English and Irish—I had a sensation of homecoming, even though I’d never been there before.
As I was trying to negotiate the surf to get in the water without intruding on the two swimmers out there, one of them hollered, “Come on! You can do it, if we did!” I laughed and dove in. We made our introductions, and swam together for a bit, joking around about swimming at in the dark. What can I say about these women? They seemed to have taken my measure—as a person who swims at night as they do—so I must be all right. And I immediately felt as if I’d come upon two long lost friends, bobbing along out in the ocean off Dunvegan.
Marie invited me to join them at her campfire that evening, and I replied that if I could stay awake, I would. I went off to shower and fiddle with the wifi a bit. When I returned to my rig, there’s Marie tossing logs on a substantial fire in a hearth made from a ring of stones. There were some men playing a sort of cornhole game out in one of the lanes, with a group of spectators, cheering them on, handing the beers around, laughing and telling stories. These were people who’d summer together year after year. They have their giant fifth-wheels, and park models installed in their spots, with wooden porches and decks built up to them. These trailers aren’t traveling much, that’s for sure. I suppose that they are among the less expensive vacation options in summer cottages at the beach.
Anna Mae is a teacher, and was still working. She moaned and groaned when I told them that I’d just retired from the profession and was traveling for a year. She’s eager for her turn to retire. Marie remarried three years ago, and she and Steve gave each other their trailer as a wedding gift. As it turns out, he loves his farm and she loves the beach, so I didn’t get to meet him this trip, but I did promise to return. We sat around the fire, and other folks came over, to sit or stand a while, telling stories, sharing the latest news about people they knew—as in any small village, there are no secrets. At one point Marie went inside for a minute, came out and handed me a plate of supper, she’d been cooking in her convection oven. Delicious chicken and potatoes and some sort of veg—maybe a bit of turnip? Not sure, because it was dark after all, but it was quite tasty and I ate every bit of it, even though I’d already had my dinner meal at 4:30. Two dinners? No problem! I need her chicken recipe, and a lesson in convection cooking!
And then there was the topic of Chase The Ace, happening the following day in the town of Inverness, just a handful of kilometers down the road. This is a variation on the Fifty-Fifty fundraising scheme, the charity gets 50% of the take, and some lucky winner walks away with a good portion of the rest. The game had been going on weekly for a good bit of the summer. As the summer wore on with no one picking the Ace of Spades out of the deck, the jackpot had become so large that people from all over were showing up, sleeping in their cars to get a parking spot in that small seaside town. I was told that they expected an influx of over 10,000 people there to buy tickets in hopes to be the lucky number called to try to find the Ace, from the group of seven cards that were left in the game. The girls wanted me to stay another day, to come with them to stand in line and get tickets to play the game, but after all my solo time in the quiet woods, I didn’t think I could tolerate the crowds. We had a lovely evening around the fire, but my bed was calling me, and I did intend to beat it through Inverness before the crowds became too large.
As predicted, next morning the rain arrived. I walked up to Marie’s with my map and asked her and Anna Mae for their ideas—things I ought not miss on the rest of my travel around Cape Breton. Some of the places that they suggested, were already on my itinerary, but they did suggest stops at Judique and Mabou, that I hadn’t known of, and I had a fabulous lunch at a spot in Port Hood that Marie remembered, The Clove Hitch Bar & Bis
I made my farewells, and pointed the rig south. I really wanted to see the Cabot Links. They were built on the site of a depleted coal mine, the buildings were designed to look like the pit-head from the back, but facing the golf course they were all glass—giant windows opening onto the links. But the town of Inverness, as promised, was hopping when I drove through, so I didn’t stop. It was a gray, misting sort of rainy morning—I thought it was probably just the kind of weather one would see in Inverness, Scotland. The main street of the town was narrow to begin with, cars parked along the side of the road for miles, and two way traffic squeezing through. It was seriously challenging to drive my motor-home through there without hitting any of the pedestrians darting about, or scraping any other vehicles. People had set up pop-up “parking lots” on any square inch of pavement. They were standing out in the rain, collecting $10 from the drivers who didn’t sleep in their cars to get a parking spot. I breathed a sigh of relief after I finally passed through the town.
An hour later when I pulled over in a parking lot to go visit the distillery, it was bucketing down rain, so I looked around for my rain jacket, and remembered that I wore it up to Marie’s trailer that morning, and left it hanging on the back of one of the chairs at her breakfast bar. It was a brand new LL Bean raincoat that matched my new rain pants—and damn, damn, damn, I was going to need it for the rest of this trip—hell, for the rest of this day!
Driving through that three-day wonder in Inverness was so much fun that I did it three times! I cursed myself for the jackass I am, turned the rig around, and drove back north through Inverness and on up to Dunvegan. I guess Anna Mae and Marie were out standing on line for their Chase The Ace tickets, for there was no one home when I arrived to retrieve my jacket. I am grateful that she left her sliding doors unlocked, for I was able to just reach in, pluck the jacket and drive south again, for my third trip through Inverness. And oh, what a trip it was! I will never forget that place or those people. I do believe I'll keep my promise and return there again one day.