22 August 2018

Camping at Corney Brook, Cape Breton, NS


Cape Breton called and we answered. Driving via the Confederation Bridge is cheaper but adds two and a half hours to the journey if made by ferry. However we were in no rush and enjoyed spending the cash saved on a slap-up breakfast at the Aulac Big Stop, a great place to eat while people-watching. “Who dressed her today? Does he realise those shorts look ridiculous. She doesn’t need that huge slice of pie!”

The somewhat irritable lady announcer on Susan’s GPS squawked in indignation when we appeared to be yomping though fields near Antigonish but calm was restored when the newly laid section of Highway 104 resumed contact with the old road and her protests subsided.

After five and three quarter hours driving, watching the Nova Scotia scenery slide by, we arrived at the tiny Corney Brook camp site right by the shore of the Northumberland Strait. It’s unmanned and first come first served. Luckily at 4pm we were in time to bag one of the four remaining pitches. My dome tent popped up quickly but there then ensued a twenty minute bout of grappling with the fly. It flapped like a pterodactyl in the stiff on-shore wind and at times we stood either side of the tent holding it and wondering what to do. Those handy little Velcro straps came to the rescue and we tamed the beast.

Who pumps up air mattresses by hand? I do! I had acquired a set of adapters for my portable compressor but none would fit the mattress valve. Four hundred and fifty pumps later we were about to call it ‘job done’ when Susan heard a faint hiss. Oh well, we’ll see what it’s like when we get back from an excursion.

A quick jaunt to the Cape Breton Visitor Centre at Cheticamp and we were relieved of cash for three days of National Park passes and two nights camping – still cheaper than ‘half’ a night in a motel! Onwards next, to the main road through Cheticamp where expensive seafood restaurants have all but cornered the market. We spied Wabo’s Pizza and dived in for anything but pizza. Susan sampled the chicken fingers and fries, I the 12 inch veggie sub.

Energy levels suitably restored, we returned the twelve kilometers to our remote camp and inspected the air mattress. Darn it, a tad soft. Pump, pump. A short boardwalk with steps drops down to the beach of a little cove where we sat on a driftwood log and watched the sun sink into the horizon, a yellow and pink ball crossed with thin black streaks of cloud.



Waking for a pee break during the night revealed the mattress to be so deflated that we were partly resting on the ground. One hundred and ten pumps later, plus a swift pee in or near the bushes, and slumber was resumed but not before I took time to admire the star spangled heavens and the broad sash of the Milky Way.

7:30am, and we took a quick splash-and-dash wash at the toilet block where cold water was the only option. The heads to the hot taps had been removed, presumably in the interests of economy. Ever the careful camper, I had brought a spare queen air mattress with us and pumped that up in place of the other, ready for the next night. Indeed, a scan of my car truck would reveal a spare six-man tent should canvas have become a problem too.

A short drive south took us to the family-run Aucoin bakery for buttered scone (with a knob of butter ‘harder than the knockers of hell’ according to Susan!) and a more dignified apple turnover for me, all washed down with coffee. By 9am we had driven twenty kilometers north on the Cabot Trail and had gained fifteen hundred feet of elevation from sea level. There we parked at the head of the Skyline Trail and set off on foot. There weren’t many other walkers and some of those I saw at least twice as I had to walk back to the car after ten minutes to collect my binoculars. I made the return trip at a light canter, slowing to a respectful stroll as I passed other hikers.

The trail heads steadily downhill until it breaks out of the tree line and rewards the walker with spectacular elevated views over the Northumberland Strait. A stepped boardwalk continues steeply further downward with platforms every hundred feet or so as far as a headland, standing some four hundred feet above sea level. There we sat and drank in the natural beauty of the Strait, the coastline and the towering tree-clad slopes behind.

Every so often a dark dot would appear way down below on the water. Fortunately ‘someone’ had trudged back for the binoculars so we were able to identify the heads of seals and the dorsal fins of a small school of dolphins. Some years ago, I saw whales there and heard their spouting but not today. The uphill walk back is tough until the slope begins to level but the round trip hike of six or seven kilometers is well worth it.

Back in the car we drove further north to Pleasant Bay where we came across the Bean Barn Cafe and enjoyed their lunchtime sandwiches. The nicely furnished and rather homey bathroom was of special note.

There seems to be significant funds available for road repairs in Cape Breton as we came across numerous stretches of road in various stages of remaking: some were milled, some part repaved and other ripped up entirely where we drove in dust clouds on loose sand and gravel for several kilometers (as two stone chips on my new car can testify to). We headed clockwise on the Cabot Trail stopping at lookouts and other exciting spots along the way, including a goat soap farm where appropriate petting was carried out, and the stunning Green Cove where giant, pink granite blocks are strewn in a tumble into the sea. Needless to say, Susan charged straight out, leaping in flip-flops from block to block over yawning chasms until there was nowhere left to leap but the sea. I took the more sensible route and slowed my pace as the crashing waves drew near.

All three hundred kilometers of The Cabot Trail duly driven, we cruised back into camp and took deckchairs down to the beach to watch the sun set again. A seal kept bobbing his little black head up so we played spot the seal head while watching nature’s spectacular end to daylight.

Mattress number two remained trampoline-like all night so we woke refreshed and ready to break camp. We took breakfast once more at the highly recommended Aucoin bakery and began the steady drive home, banging out a long, long playlist through the iPod. We chose to take the ferry back to the island which gave me a more restful day and provided yet more fun for us people-watcher fanatics. Coats on deck when it’s 26C; toupees plastered onto shiny scalps; sandals with socks; gigantic bottoms crammed into miniature latex pants... oh the hilarity!

Apart from one dealer registration plate, ours was the only PEI plate in the queues for the ferry. We saw Pennsylvania, Florida, New Hampshire, as well as all the Canadian Provinces bar Manitoba and Saskatchewan. Holiday season is clearly still in full swing.

Last on made us last of the three hundred-or-so cars off and back onto home territory. In no real hurry, we cruised the hour back to Charlottetown and ate a gorgeous takeout Himalayan curry for dinner before crashing out and dreaming of seals and tents and stars and sunsets.

02 April 2018

Peggy's Cove, NS


Nova Scotia lured us back for another visit. It is a rugged, sparsely populated Province with much to offer the adventurer. Bags, cooler and electronics stowed, we set off mid-morning under leaden skies and were soon crossing the thirteen kilometre Confederation Bridge, driving south. We dined heartily at our favourite lunch spot, the Irving Big Stop at Aulac New Brunswick; vegetable omelette with fries, and toast and marmalade for me, a vast plate of club sandwiches for the little lady. As usual we took careful stock of our fellow diners, noting their odd appearances and lunch choices. Susan crammed handfuls of cream cartons into her pockets but I don’t think anyone noticed!

As we crossed the border into Nova Scotia Susan produced a Garmin GPS tablet from her bag and set the co-ordinates for Bayers Lake. Last time we sailed past and did several laps of Halifax before getting it right. This time we had a female voice to warn us of upcoming off-ramps and turnings. She did get a touch huffy when I overshot a turning and immediately demanded that we do a u-turn. Needless to say, I gave her a good talking to.

Eventually we found a free parking spot at the remotest corner of the Costco site and headed inside to hunt for bargains, bulk-style. We emerged an hour later, arms brimming with goodies, and staggered back to my car to drive the short distance to Dhaba Express for a gorgeous Indian meal of onion bahji, garlic naan, butter chicken for Susan and chana massala (chick pea) for me. Somehow we squeezed back into the car and instructed the GPS lady to take us to the Stardust Motel... and sharpish.

Our accommodation was clean, fairly new and set beside a scenic lake. The elderly office guy had a brusque manner, a long grey ponytail and even longer finger nails, stained umber from nicotine. Lovely. He did call me bro so I assume he liked me. We waddled into our unit and flopped down, barely able to move after a long day of driving and eating.

***

Next morning dawned clear and bright with the promise of warmth. A thirty-five minute drive took us to Peggy’s Cove, a spot we have visited before but which is so alluring we never tire of it. Approaching the coast, the land is strewn with car-sized boulders, delivered and deposited during the last ice-age. Precious little topsoil has been laid down and vast areas of exposed bedrock lend the scene an otherworldly feel.


At 9:00 we were one of only a handful of cars in the visitor parking lot. Wasting no time we locked up and clambered out onto the vast granite sheets which undulate like sand dunes for several hundred meters, dotted with boulders, cut by fissures and offering amazing views in all directions. The seas were moderate although strong northerly winds blew foam from the breaking waves. I have seen images of the lighthouse surrounded by dangerous, pounding surf but today we could venture close to watch the might of the ocean, swell, thud and retreat.


Wherever you point your camera is an arresting view. I took dozens of shots, many with Susan scampering ahead, leaping from one dangerous outcrop to the next. Luckily the granite is extremely grippy, where dry and clean. The beauty of a visit early in the day and at a season well before the first cruise ships bring busloads of tourists, is that the views are unspoiled by people. Later in the year the coastline will be crawling with life and some of the fun will be lost. I saw just one other couple and was easily able to keep them out of frame. (Later I would photo-shop out one interloper who had crept into shot!)

A long, loop brought us eventually back inland where we met a lady sitting on a rock with her camera. She introduced herself as Mimmi Henriksen who lives locally and is an avid walker and photographer.

A stroll on a steeply rising and falling road took us through the small Peggy’s Cove fishing village. There is room for just a couple of boats in the tiny harbour. The sheds are grey and worn; here and there old boats lie derelict; fishing traps are piled high among heaps of rusted anchors; and brightly coloured roofs punctuate the landscape. My car thermometer read thirteen Celsius when we got back and my forehead had turned a bright pink from a day of glorious sun and wind. Not for nothing does the little lady call it my ‘jutting’ forehead!

PS: our little Spring excursion amounted to 785km where my car achieved a fuel return of 6.1lts per 100km (or 41.38mpg for those of an Imperial inclination).

11 March 2018

Nightmare


I had a ghastly dream last night. I was in the company of a young girl and her father. Behind them, lying on a bed was an elderly woman whom I took to be the grandmother. As I watched, the grandmother began to shiver and tremble, unseen by the others. This increased to vigorous shaking, then convulsions. Despite her guttural moaning, and the thumping of her legs on the mattress, the others showed no interest. I saw a pale blue froth all over her face and she looked scared stiff. Suddenly she went rigid, eyes wide open and I knew she had died.
 
I awoke abruptly with an intense sensation of dread.

 
***
 
This morning, after a full night's sleep with no disturbances or interruptions I arose with the images still on my mind. Although early, I took myself off to the gym. During an intense thirty minutes of interval work on the Elliptical my heart rate reached 169 and my pores opened and released a drenching sweat. The heat, power, intensity, then a drive home with the car windows down savouring the icy chill, brought clarity and calm.

25 February 2018

A Day in the Life of Susan Adams


A visit to Wal-Mart:
Susan is choosing some new intimate underwear and I have been enlisted for moral support. She is emptying boxes, examining the contents and putting them aside. I nod sagely and appropriately, agreeing with her exclamations of distaste, surprise and criticism. There are some that look like harnesses with huge buckles and straps, and others so skimpy they are hardly there!
 
Armed with a selection of the tasteful yet functional Susan leads the way to the fitting room where we exchange glances and grimace at the sight of an overflowing cart outside the fitting room door. We settle in to wait, and wait Periodically a woman shopper pops out to collect an armful of garments and disappears back inside.
 
This is soon frustrating and I decided to teach the selfish shopper a serious lesson. I suggest that we should steer her full cart to a distant region of the store then sneak back to observe her reaction. Naturally I feel a tad tremulous. I mean, so much could go wrong. But never one to duck an issue, Susan takes over and, grabbing the cart, she marches off with it at a fair lick.
 
I trot behind as she zig-zags between aisles. Soon she finds a suitably distant parking spot and abandons the cart complete with its load of carefully selected and tried-on clothes. We turn on our heels and backtrack to the fitting room. Well in fairness Susan does. I stand at a safe distance several meters off, peering around a shelving unit to keep the fitting room (and Susan) under surveillance.
 
The fitting room door swings open and out jumps the shopper. Details from here on are somewhat sketchy as I display all the bravery of a scaredy-cat by darting away to inspect some pillow cases very closely with my head lowered. According to the mischief maker (who had been standing demurely and in plain sight) our shopper swung her head this way and that, swivelled on the spot with an air of utter confusion, befitting someone whose cart has vanished into thin air, then stalked off with her nose in the air.
 
Finally Susan scurries into the fitting room for her turn!
 
Bedtime:
I let Susan shower first then I slip into the bathroom for a soak in the bath. As I towel dry I hear her in the bedroom, sneezing. So cute! I flick off the bathroom light and wander in darkness to the bedroom. My eyes haven’t yet adjusted but I can just make out her little shape in the bed, snuggled under the covers.
 
I creep stealthily across the carpet and kneel at the foot of the bed. Time for a little fun! I slip my hands under the duvet and slide them smooth as a snake towards the dainty little tootsies I know are there... no warm skin... she must have spotted me and curled her little legs up. So, with a grin, I slide my hands further. Nothing!
 
There comes a stifled shriek from the darkness of the kitchen and I stand and wheel round to spot the pale gleam of a little face peeping round a corner. It’s the little rascal herself! I switch the bedroom light on and see the lump of pillows hidden under the duvet in the rough approximation of a human form. Susan’s mouth is wide with silent laughter which erupts now into hysterical cackles as I sit meekly and somewhat abashed on the edge of the bed.
 
I am sorely tempted to put her over my knee for a sound spanking but how can you reprimand such wonderful frivolity?
 
This is what days are like when you have a Susan in your life!

19 January 2018

Detectorists


Detectorists is a lovely example of British television at its best; poignantly humorous yet sensitive, emotionally deep and intensely rewarding.
 
Andy and Lance live in a rural English backwater that superficially seems quiet and uneventful. Writer (and portrayer of Andy) Mackenzie Crook's genius is to show us the rich comic beauty that lies beneath. They are searching for an elusive horde of Saxon gold and the ups and downs they face cleverly mirror the vicissitudes of their journey through life.
 
The pair are intelligent, well-read, avid viewers of highbrow quiz shows but, by the capitalist standards of modern life, serial under-achievers. However, the humour never belittles them. Instead their male slant on life is lent a dry, sometimes morose, and often wistful comic voice. Andy and Lance are highly endearing, their eccentricities laced with humility. Perhaps we see ourselves in them and consider them as easy for us to befriend.
 
The actors are gentle, credible and very English; the rural Suffolk air thick with seeds and insects and pollen. It’s a beautiful setting, far from the ugliness of modernity. What starts as a simple premise, two middle-aged men trudging across fields, gently swinging their detectors while musing on the curiosities of life, develops plots, sub plots and village goings-on that draw you in.
 
We are shown only subtle clues. Nothing is thrust at us. Potentially vital hints at the direction of things to come are hidden away, shown on screen for a split second. Those who get up early to make a cup of tea when they see the closing credits and the viewpoint panning out and up will miss much. Understatement is used powerfully and sits in perfect keeping with the overall mood.
 
The music plays a vital part. The theme tune in the style of old English folk and the incidental variations sit perfectly with ploughed fields, rich earth and Mother Nature. Which other dramas show us close ups of summer meadow flowers, insects and birds?

Two of the three short seasons are on Netflix. Detectorists comes highly recommended as a deceptively powerful piece of television which by rights should win numerous awards. I can't wait to see what Mackenzie Crook dreams up next!
 
PS: Remember, the tools are metal detectors, Andy and Lance are detectorists!
 

16 October 2017

Nova Scotia Road Trip


“Let’s drive the Cabot Trail for the fall colours,” chirped Susan, “and ‘swing by’ Peggy’s Cove, as I’ve never been there before!” No matter that Peggy’s Cove is 400kms west of the Cabot Trail, I mused silently and smiled.
 
I hastily researched accommodation and discovered that the world and his wife had had a similar notion. Eventually I booked the last room at the Aberdeen Motel in Whycocomagh, Cape Breton, 700km from Charlottetown, via The Confederation Bridge, New Brunswick and Peggy’s Cove, NS!
 
The weather gods smiled benevolently on us as we headed south, stopping at an Irving Big Stop for breakfast. Half a day later and we were negotiating the remarkable rocky outcrop that is Peggy’s Cove, scene of the tragic 1998 Swiss Air disaster. Coach loads of cruise ship tourists from Halifax joined hundreds of car visitors in filling the narrow, twisting lanes of this attractive yet rugged fishing village. We clambered up the rocks on which the surprisingly small lighthouse stands and admired the natural beauty. We ventured further, onto the flat, blackish slabs. In rough weather these become perilous and many unwary sightseers have been swept into the surging waters never to return. Today the sea was smooth.
 
We planned a brief trip to Costco at Beyers Lake then spent a frustrating forty-five minutes negotiating a loop of edge-of-town highways, link roads and junctions around Halifax, which afforded brief and distant glimpses of our target before they were snatched repeatedly and cruelly away. Eventually I found the correct lanes, exits, slip roads and ramps and we dashed in to pick up a couple of quick items before joining the queues behind overflowing carts.
 
With time racing by, the sun fat and low behind us and Whycocomagh still a distant prospect on the map of Cape Breton, we headed east at pace; a brief stop for Subway fare, then ever onwards in fading light, and finally two hours in darkness with oncoming headlights and impatient truckers behind.
 
Saturday morning dawned grey and cool but the daylight revealed what yesterday's night time drive had not, rolling hills and splendid autumnal shades. We ate at a little coffee shop and diner full of old world charm, local preserves and a range of second hand books. Suitably refreshed we hit the road.
 
The Cabot Trail is a 285km road encircling Cape Breton Island, its undulating route repeatedly climbing hundreds of feet then dropping again to sea level. To call it a scenic drive is an understatement of epic proportions. Every turn brings fresh vistas that make you gasp and shake your head. How can so much natural wonder be concentrated in one area. The hills are steep and high, clad in mostly broadleaf trees and ablaze with fall colours. Our day was overcast and at times spitting with rain but even this could not diminish the views. We would climb through towering stands of beech and maple, a riot of orange and scarlet and yellow, stop at breath-taking lookouts then rush downhill towards craggy coastlines and rolling white breakers.
 
The culture of Cape Breton is a curious blend of Scottish, French and Native American resulting in quaint roadside views of tartan, bagpipes, Acadian flags and trinket shacks and barely pronounceable place names. We completed the loop and spent a second night in our old but comfortable motel.
 
Next morning we set off on a 200km journey westward for the small port of Caribou to board the ferry back to our Island, where the seventy-five minute crossing is free in the homeward direction. We sat up on deck in the late autumn sun watching the waves slip by, never totally out of sight of land. A relaxing end to a wonderful long weekend.

There are a few more photos here.

13 June 2017

Feeding the birds - selectively.


Small birds, which are the intended beneficiaries of my feeders, have lately been chased away by the ever greedy Blue Jays and Common Grackles. Susan and I discussed alternative options to my readily accessible feeders and she came up with a great suggestion. Now, much to my surprise, here it is as a fantastic early Father's Day gift! The outer cage admits small birds to the feeding tube but excludes large bullies. Already the Jays have been round to investigate and, after examining the globe from top to bottom, I'm happy to say they fly off.

The little grey car just leaving is Susan in her new 2017 Nissan Micra on her way to work!