For Day 19, we traveled up to Meat Cove, which was another 90 miles. We made our way up the Cabot Trail and into the Cape Breton Highlands National Park, which winds along the edge of the island on both the west and east sides, and then cuts across the top of the island. In my opinion, the west side of the island is more striking, with its highland cliffs and sheer drop offs. The absolute beauty around every corner is overwhelming. I can see why the exiled Scots made this their home. It reminded them so much of the highlands of Scotland. We stopped for a lunch at Grand Falaise, which is a large open cliff that towers over you. Before we made it into the park, we stopped at a small bakery that I’ve wanted to stop at every time I’ve come through here but never did. I am SO glad we did! The line was out the door when we arrived and I now know why. We picked up some scones, a cinnamon bun and some brownies and ate some for lunch and saved the rest for another day and it was well worth standing in line to wait.
On our way, we stopped at a little folk art store that was housed in a shed. It was run by a husband and wife….the husband is the carver and the wife is the painter. If I had all the time in the world, I would stop at every little gallery and folk art store along the way on my travels. This is one of the charms of Nova Scotia and PEI. I also wish I were independently wealthy and had room to bring back every piece of art I’d like to buy along the way. I wanted to pick out something to bring home that had a feel for the land and the people, not just something you find in a gift shop that’s mass produced in China. I was able to find something at the little folk art shed and really fell in love with it. It’s a carved wooden fish with driftwood as the bones. I can’t wait to hang it up on the wall above the shelf of my collection from travels around the world.
A little further up, we stopped at La Bloc, which is the site of an old Acadian fishing village. The stone and rock pier still juts out into the ocean and Zach enjoyed going to the end of it and looking down into the water (one of his favorite things to do on docks and piers). There are a lot of flat stones along this beach so he picked a bunch up and skimmed rocks on the surface of the water, even though there was a bit of wind and whitecaps going on. There are a lot of cairns on the beaches here so we took some time to add a stone to top one off. As Zach wandered back through the flowers and driftwood to go to the car, he turned around and said to me, “Mom, it’s so beautiful here. All the plants, the flowers, the ocean. It’s not too modern. It’s just right.” That kid melts my heart.
We also made a stop at the Whale Interpretive Center in Pleasant Bay, which is somewhere we took the kids when they were little. I thought Zach might remember some of it and enjoy learning about the whales in the waters around Cape Breton. I had to laugh when he picked up the phone that you can listen to different whale sounds through. He didn’t quite know what to do with it at first, even though we had a landline with a phone handset not that long ago. We had our selfie done in front of “Hook,” the center’s life size model of a pilot whale. I have a picture somewhere of the kids standing in with Hook when they were little that I’m going to need to dig out to show Zach so he can see how tall he’s gotten. (It’s also one of the few spots up that high that you can get free wifi.)
Before we made the drive to our campground, we took a detour to check out Gampo Abbey, which is a Buddhist Monastery in Red River, just up the road from Pleasant Bay. I wasn’t quite sure I was on the right track, but I was told to follow a dirt road to the end, so I picked the one I thought it was and kept driving. It was a bit of a ways up and set on the side of the highlands and in such a beautiful spot. You can’t go into any of the buildings unless you are a resident, but there are little trails that you can walk and the spot is so peaceful and pretty. There’s a walk through the woods that takes you to the Stupa of Enlightenment, which is a shrine of enlightenment. Zach didn’t want to go, so I left him with his books and took the 10 min jaunt by myself. The trail through the woods took me over a bridge over a stream and up the hill to a massive shrine that literally is in the middle of nowhere. It is surrounded by flags, and plaques with different rules for life (51, to be exact), and also a plaque that explains the significance of the stupa, how it was built, and the different items that were placed inside. I found a painted rock alongside it that I took with me to place somewhere else, as is the tradition with painted rocks. I’m glad I took the little stroll by myself as it was a nice way to find some peace and quiet.
There’s an 8 km dirt road where the pavement ends in Pleasant Bay and that is what takes you to Meat Cove. This road will take you as far as you can go on Nova Scotia by car. Any further north, you have to do by foot. Meat Cove is the northernmost community in Nova Scotia with a population of about 65 people and the name came from the fact that hunters and fishers used to come into this cove to clean their animal and fish carcasses. I think this community is what Nova Scotia is all about. Getting out into the middle of nowhere, relying on the land, living the charmed life of isolation within a small community.
Meat Cove campground is right at the edge of the cove, set literally on the cliffs. There’s a Chowder Hut that operates daily if you want to eat at the end of Nova Scotia, and some beautiful trails that take you up a little higher onto the cliffs. We picked a site that was a little further away from the edge of the cliff, though we did have our choice of sites literally on the edge. The campground is legit carved into the side of the cliff. It was a little too close for me as I’m not doing too well with heights during this trip. Just going down to the beach on the side of the cliff was a test of my limits. I felt a bit like a mountain goat on the trails leading down. It was only after I got all the way down the trails on the edge of the cliff that I discovered there’s actually a road that will take you down, which is exactly the way that I took back up.
Zach asked if he could go down to the beach as I was setting up camp and I said yes because I need to be pushed out of my comfort zone, too, when it comes to letting him have more independence. He found his way safely down to the beach and when I came down later, he was picking up stones on the beach and walking in the water. Another stunning beach with amazing rock formations. There were a lot of rock cairns on the beach and some unique ones that were in the shape of people that I wished I’d taken pics of but I was too caught up in the scenery and watching Zach enjoy the beach that I forgot.