Trip Journal – Cape Breton and the Northumberland Shore


After leaving the Halifax area we made the reasonably long trek to Cape Breton. We expected that we would stop on the second half of the trip and refuel along Rte. 104 that runs along the Northumberland coast area. We were wrong. There is not a truck stop with fuel visible from the highway the entire length of 104. We began to sweat a little when we hit a quarter of a tank. We spotted an Irving station just before the causeway to Cape Breton with truck pumps in back. Relieved, I pulled in the back and went in to pay, which is the standard procedure at truck stops for RVers as we do not possess a truck card.

The clerk asked for my truck card and I told her I did not have one and that I had an RV. She told me that they did not serve RVs in the back. She suggested that I use the outside lane of the regular pumps and assured me that I would fit and be able to get in and out safely. Thankfully she was right and we were able to fill up to finish our trip to the campground. When we arrived, I calculated that we either would have been coming in on fumes or stuck on the road close enough to tease our destination.

This scenario is why we try to keep our travel days to no more than three to three and a half hours and under 200 miles. When we were in Halifax we met a couple camped next to us who had installed an exterior fuel tank in the bed of the truck. They told us that they had driven from British Columbia to Atlantic Canada and had only refueled five times. That is five fill-ups in about 4,000 miles! Our son had suggested this previously, but I had waved off the idea as impractical. I have to admit I am seriously considering it now. I can put off the “I told you so” until I actually do it without any risk. He, like most people, does not read my blog.

The campground, Baddeck ( Băddéck) Cabot Trail Campground, was located in the town of Baddeck, which is about fifty miles up into the interior of the island and near the start of the Cabot Trail. When planning the trip, I had read that you might want to think twice about taking large rigs on the Cabot Trail. Just looking at the pictures I readily agreed. For the uninitiated, the Cabot Trail is a scenic road that encircles the mountainous northern region of the island. The road travels along the coast often sitting very close to very high cliffs. The trail affords spectacular views and tremendous anxiety for those like myself who are not fans of heights or being too close to cliffs. The trail circles the entire Northern half of the island.


The campground was a former KOA which experienced campers can spot instantly by the A-frame office and cabins. We had a spacious site at the edge of the campground which overlooked the Baddeck River and the valley. There was a pool that kids were actually using. It must have been heated because despite being the beginning of June summer weather had not yet fully arrived in Atlantic Canada.

On day one we decided to brave the trail to at least get to Cape Smokey and the lookout. When travelling the trail the accepted convention is to travel counter clockwise to afford the passenger the best view (of impending death) of the scenery. Although we travelled that way, it was more out of convenience and time than my desire to be terrified. It takes four to eight hours to travel the entire trail depending on stops. We did not want to devote that many hours in the truck to the experience.


View from Cape Smokey Lookout

We did make it to Cape Smokey with part of the trip up a very steep incline for about two to three miles. Fortunately, they were engaged in road work which slowed the pace of traffic. There was a park at the lookout. We had brought a lunch. After enjoying a spectacular view of the rocky cliffs and the Atlantic we decided to have lunch. The wind at the lookout was overpowering. We stayed for a while enjoying the view and left before we were swept away.

View of the trip up to Cape Smokey

The Cabot Trail is named for the explorer John Cabot who was the first European to discover the island and spend any amount of time there. Of course, Cabot would have encountered First Nations peoples (as the indigenous peoples are referred to in Canada) who already inhabited the land. Being of Italian heritage, I was surprised to find out that John Cabot, who had sailed for England, was actually Giovanni Cabota, an Italian.

The trail is inhabited by many restaurants and artisan shops where several different kinds of crafts are made and sold. There are not enough to ruin the ride. The majority of the ride is beautiful scenery. We stopped in a pewter shop and leather shop to check both out. Both had beautiful, quality-crafted items that were actually offered at reasonable prices. Surprisingly, we left empty-handed from both places.

We had decided that the next day we would to take a ride out to the Fortress at Louisburg which is located in the Southeast section of the island.  We were sitting outside after taking a post-dinner walk. A gentleman approached and introduced himself and said he was looking for help. He explained that he was walking the campground talking to fifth-wheel owners. His truck had broken down that morning in the campground and he had to have it towed to a dealership in Sydney, over and hour away. His dilemma was that he and his wife, and their friends travelling with them, were scheduled to be in line to catch the ferry to New Foundland at 9:30 the next morning. The dealership told him that they would not have the parts until 9:00 the next morning. He would not have time to go retrieve his truck, bring it back and then make the ferry by 9:30. He needed someone to tow his fifth-wheel to Sydney. If they missed the ferry the next day, the next available spot was more than a week away.

I am not sure who he had asked prior to us, but I did not hesitate to say yes. What you find on the road is that people who RV are willing to help others whenever and however they can. We have certainly been helped several times in our travels by many people, most of whom are strangers who have nothing else in common but the fact that they are on the road and sometimes vulnerable to hardship as well.

I went to fill up with fuel and cleaned out the back seat to prepare. The next morning at 7:30 I hooked up their fifth wheel and headed out to Sydney. They were a very nice couple from Michigan. If they could not join their friends on the ferry, they planned to just head back home. Things were somewhat complicated by the impending Canada Day weekend meaning that available camp sites were not readily available. I wanted to give them a fighting chance to make the ferry, but in all honesty, I doubted highly that they would. Depending on a car dealership to have the part on time and fix your car in a timely fashion seemed liked a pure gamble at best.

We made it to the dealership in Sydney at 8:45 and unhooked. They offered to pay me, but I only accepted some money for fuel.  I gave them one of our cards and asked that they text and let me know how they made out. When I left I was glad I had given them a chance, but I really doubted that they would make it. I felt bad for them.

I received a text about half way back to Baddeck. The dealership had fixed the truck right away; they were hooked up and on their way to the ferry. The ferry company had given them until 10:00 to get there late for an extra cost. They were going to make it. I texted back that I was happy for them and asked for them to send some pictures – which they did a few days later. We would be repaid a while later on Prince Edward Island; a story for another post.

I drove the remainder of the way back, took a shower and then turned around to make essentially the same drive again on the way to Louisbourg. One of things that made the driving in this region bearable was the existence of the Bras d’or Lakes region which was omni-present in central Cape Breton and provided stunning views in all directions. The Bras d’or Lakes is a massive inland sea consisting of a large body of partially fresh/salt water that is located across a wide swath of central Cape Breton and fed by many small channels from the North Atlantic. The name translates to “Arm of Gold” which could refer to the color of the water and hills at sunset.  As you travel along Route 105 you are mesmerized by the variety of stunning views of the lake and the surrounding mountains and hills. There are occasional pull off spots to enjoy the view and take a few pictures.

    Two of the many views of Bras d’or Lakes 

Actually, on my return from Sydney, I located the campground where we will be staying if and when we return to Cape Breton. As you cross a very high and steep bridge on 105 you descend almost directly into a KOA that sits at the bottom of an over 100-foot sheer rock wall. It literally smacks you in the face as you come down off the bridge.

IMG950540 (1)

Our next campground on Cape Breton

The Fortress at Louisbourg is located on a point in Southeastern Cape Breton. It is also situated directly across from the first lighthouse established in Canada. The fortress was established by the French in 1713. Aside from establishing a foothold in the coastal region of what would become Canada, the fortress was also a major port for the cod trade. This area provided salted cod to France, Quebec, the Acadia region, which would eventually become Halifax, and to the Caribbean. The fortress was taken by the British twice in its history before finally being demolished by the British in the 1760’s. Restoration began 200 years later. It is hard to believe that what exists presently is largely a restoration. The buildings and surroundings look like they could be three centuries old. Along with the grounds there are workers in period gear and costume who will answer questions and provide information while staying in character.

The main building of the fortress includes a full Catholic church and the governor’s quarters both of which were very impressive in design and accoutrements. In one of the sea captain’s homes there was a version of a 300 year-old walker for a child. When we asked about it we were told that it was designed with the same purpose that modern walkers serve, but with  wheels that only go back and forth to keep the toddler from going near the open hearth which could be stoked up to over 500 degrees at times. My thought was that there must have been quite of few toddlers tipping over on their heads.

The church inside the fortress

Views of the Governor’s Residence


300 year-old model of a walker 

I decided to ask about toilet facilities because there was a small closet that looked like it could be a chamber room. The “servant” told us that the Captain and his wife would have access to a chamber pot but the servants had to go outside to an outhouse. The servants would empty the chamber pots. When I remarked that that task must have been fun the servant said it was no big deal as the entire fortress stunk pretty badly. Between drying and salted cod, outhouses and the lack of regular hygiene, the fortress could be a fairly ripe environment especially during the summer.

On the way back to the campground, the fourth trip of the day for me, we ran into an accident and were forced to take a forty-minute detour around a large lake to get back on the route home.  When we returned I was tired of the road.

We were forced to leave the campground on Friday due to Canada Day weekend. I had made a reservation about an hour south just over the causeway in a town called Linwood right at the beginning of the Northumberland Strait coast. I felt fortunate to find a site considering that it was the busiest camping weekend of the Canadian summer.  Linwood Harbour Campground was small, roughly fifty sites, but the sites were spacious. We were greeted and assisted by a very friendly young guy (young to me is anyone under 40) whose father and mother owned the place. I expected that the place would be packed with Canada Day revelers letting loose a little. I was ok with that. That did not materialize. The campground was fairly full, but everyone was calm and quiet.

Canada Day celebrates the 1867 confederation of the four independent areas that existed at the time including Prince Edward Island, which is considered the birthplace of the confederation, Nova Scotia, New Brunswick, and “Canada” which was the area that would then split into Quebec and Ontario. All of these areas would form Canada which was still an English territory until 1983.

The move actually turned out to be fortuitous. We were able to explore the area along the Northumberland Strait coast a bit, but we were close enough to Cape Breton to go back to the island if we chose. We were also an hour closer to our next stop on Prince Edward Island.

On Saturday we explored the coast a bit and went hiking about forty minutes west of us on some trails that followed the coast and then checked out a National Parks beach on the way back. This might be a good place to share that Canada’s National and Provincial parks system is extensive and well designed. The parks are plentiful, accessible and clean. Even some of the city parks are extensive and well-maintained like Rockwood Park in St. John. In fact, our new friends, Wendy and Dave,  planned their entire trip through Atlantic Canada staying in National and Provincial parks and could not be more satisfied.


Views from the hiking trail along the Northumberland Strait

On Sunday we decided to go back onto the island and head up the Ceilidh Trail which runs up the Western coast of the island and where the majority of the people are of Irish and Scottish descent. We were headed to the Celtic (hard C by the way) Music Interpretative Center for an afternoon Ceilidh. A ceilidh is a social event that includes Irish and Scottish music, traditional dance and storytelling. The music usually involves the guitar and piano and always includes one or more fiddles. Occasionally, it includes bagpipes, if you’re lucky. No bagpipers for us this day, but we did have two tremendous fiddlers accompanied by the piano and guitar.

Seating was limited when we arrived and got tighter later. We were invited by three couples to join their table. Two of the couples were from PEI and they were visiting the third couple who were local. They could not have been more welcoming. They were interested in our lifestyle and our trip and shared some interesting and useful information about the area and PEI.

The music was introduced by a staff member and educator from the center who talked about the heritage of the region and the music. He started off the afternoon singing and old Irish tune in Gaelic acapella. And then the fun began. The musicians were excellent and soon everyone was foot-stomping along with the music. We were somewhat experienced with ceilidhs after years of our daughters Irish step dancing. The bigger Feis’s (competitions) would usually involve some form of a ceilidh.

After a couple of tunes the dance floor was suddenly filled with lots of people, mostly older, doing the traditional reels, the precursor to square dance. It was impressive to see these people up there dance after dance. Their stamina was evident until a woman keeled over on the floor right in front of our table. Several people rushed to assist her including a doctor who was there enjoying the ceilidh. Eileen said she watched as the woman’s eyes rolled up into the back of head before she dropped. They got her up and brought her to her table behind us and opened the patio doors for some air. A few minutes later the poor woman projectile vomited covering the entire area of her table. She was later taken in an ambulance as a precaution.

 Enjoying some foot-stomping music at the ceilidh

After some extensive clean-up the festivities began again and several people including a waitress took their turn doing solo jigs. I was amazed by their stamina. I know how hard it is to keep that up for even thirty seconds having done it fooling around with the girls when they were young.

We enjoyed the rest of the ceilidh. Before leaving our new friends from PEI gave us their names and numbers and invited us to call if we were in the area. They also gave us a tip on a couple of things we should do while on PEI, one of which we did and had a blast. Also a future post.

During our five days at Linwood Harbour I also had a chance to play a round of golf at Antigonish Country Club. It was a beautiful course overlooking the town of Antigonish (Antigönísh). There have not been too many courses in my travels through Atlantic Canada that have not been both hilly and beautiful. As has been the case almost everywhere, being a singleton, I was added to a group of three women. All of the Canadian women I have played golf with have been decent golfers and these three were no exception. They hit it straight and reasonably long.

Antigonish Country Club

They were also very nice people and very entertaining. They obviously had been playing together for a long time and watching them rib each other was fun.  After watching them drive on the first tee I apologized if I held them up at all. I preceded to par the first two holes, bogeyed the third and sank a twelve-foot putt to birdie the fourth. They were duly impressed and then my real game reemerged for the remainder of the round. My game has improved over the summer, but even par after four is a first. I am usually three over after the first with two in the woods on the left. I usually use my mulligan getting the clubs onto the cart.

The last couple of days in the campground our neighbors lived in Bermuda but housed their motorhome in Vermont. The wife had gone to school at the university in Antigonish so they visited the area regularly. He was a trumpet player who used to play in bands on cruise liners and in the hotels on the island. He eventually gave it up to become a piano tuner. Theirs was one of the more interesting stories we had encountered.

Cape Breton and the Northumberland Strait coast have included some fun experiences and stunning views. Nova Scotia as a whole has provided both in abundance.  We hope to return someday soon. Until then, off to Prince Edward Island.






Categories: Campground Reviews, Daily Trip Journal, Our Culture, RV LifestyleTags: , ,

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