30 September 2007

Cape Breton

We have just returned from a week camping in Cape Breton, Nova Scotia. Cape Breton is certainly wild and there is only one road running for about one hundred and fifty miles around the perimeter of the designated National Park zone - it is called the Cabot Trail and we toured it. As it was my first time camping you can guess what fun we had… We left PEI by car ferry and drove the roughly two hundred and fifty miles through Nova Scotia to stay in the wilderness at the northern end of Cape Breton. It reminded me a lot of the foothills of the French Alps. In winter the scant local population is completely cut off. There are only a few small villages and very few shops – just the occasional general store.

The area is a protected wildlife preserve of more than four hundred square miles. There are wolves, black bear and moose as well as American bald eagles and golden eagles. We heard wolves baying one morning and saw a female moose deep in the woods one day. Another day we saw a second moose, it was close enough to sound like an elephant as it tramped through the undergrowth but everywhere was so dense that I caught only a glimpse despite it being very close. Luckily we encountered no bears!!

One morning we took a whale-watching cruise from a small fishing village in Bay St Lawrence. We were taken out to open ocean on a forty foot fishing boat by an experienced captain of Irish decent. He had a great dark sense of humour. We saw some seals but sadly however no whales. I had better luck perched high on a one thousand foot mountain with my binoculars from where we saw several pods of pilot whales. Another time I saw distant water spouts they were blowing up. I took some video footage but it is too far away to see real detail. Nonetheless it was a superb experience and not a sight likely to be seen in the English Channel!

The weather was awesome for us – in the twenties every day and not a cloud in the sky. How about that for September! I bought a decent tent (Woods EZtent) that pops up like an igloo in about ten seconds, then you just spend a few minutes installing the fly-sheet and hammering in the pegs. The new air mattress was very comfortable too. We had two lanterns and were really quite cozy.

However the sleeping bags we borrowed were useless. Although burning by day, the night time temperatures were low. After our first night shivering at just three degrees we visited a camping store and bought a very big bag for ninety dollars which is meant to be warm even at minus seven. It proved to be incredibly warm although a slight squeeze! I also bought a stove to take with us so we had eggs for breakfast and soup or beans for dinner. Lunch was usually sandwiches taken with us on our daily hikes.

We moved camp three times but spent the last three nights in a row at the same pitch which was much more convenient. We stayed at a tiny remote site right by the Atlantic Ocean - see the above photos. The crashing waves were great to go to sleep to. There were only four or five other tents there.

Every night I lit a fire in the pit provided. I managed with paper and kindling wood even in the wind! When it was alight we burned several large logs each evening. We needed the warmth by about 7pm and also it kept the dreaded mosquitoes and flies away effectively. Aren't the stars unbelievably bright that far from modern civilisation? One guy from Ontario had a big telescope with him. He set it up and we looked at Jupiter and its moons. Seeing our own moon was fascinating too. Only a part of it would fit in the screen – you had to scan around to view it all! My interest in astronomy has been well and truly rekindled. (I feel a significant purchase coming on!)

On our final night the wind rose to a fierce gale. The people next to us were away all evening and while gone their tent was wrenched off its pegs and blown over the short cliff. Another camper retrieved it from the small rocky beach and the telescope man from Ontario helped put it back up. When the people got back they took it down and slept in their car! We hardly slept that night, our own tent was regularly flattened under the high wind but having flexible poles it regained its shape. Luckily the pegs held firm.

On the night of my fiftieth birthday we stayed in a Motel which I had pre-booked. That evening we found the only restaurant for miles around and ate there. Our portions were huge and I ate quite a lot of Michelle's too! The restaurant had previously been a General Store and the owners had collected a lot of fishing and domestic memorabilia to decorate the walls and ceiling. There was of course the ubiquitous set of moose antlers!

All good things come to an end and we drove home after a week still wanting more. Next year perhaps a long ferry ride to Newfoundland...

25 September 2007

tagged by fathorse

Thanks fathorse, btw I found your own answers fascinating and illuminating. Hilarious how we "B"s tread similar paths. Luckily you caught me with a slot in my busy schedule so here goes.

4 jobs I've held:

  1. My first job was stacking shelves at Sainsburys Supermarket. I started while still at school, working Saturdays and holidays. It was there I met Debbie as we stamped prices on tins of sardines! I was sixteen and hadn’t a clue about anything. However it paid for rivers of booze. My head was in academia and selling food was the last thing that interested me.
  2. After school I passed entrance exams to Oxford University but was rejected after three days of interviewing (in French would you believe). So I drifted into Banking and spent thirty years mostly hating it.
  3. The best period in my banking career was the early 1980s. I had some superb colleagues in one particular high street branch who could have been successful at anything they chose. However we got pissed every lunchtime and every evening and despite running a tight and efficient office we took banking not at all seriously.
  4. After decades of responsible roles like financial consultant, mortgage advisor and manager’s assistant I slid down the greasy pole as the jobs were all dumbed down. Like most of my colleagues I ended up at a shitty call centre taking calls from fools with idiotic queries.
4 places I've lived:
  1. Born in Bournemouth on England’s sleepy southern coast. Old retired people live there and complain about the youngsters.
  2. My dad was moved with work to Truro in Cornwall during the 1960s. We spent just two years there. I remember watching England win the World Cup and my sister was born.
  3. We all moved back to Bournemouth and twenty years I struck out on my own with a new house and a new wife. Our boys were born and soon we moved to Dibden Purlieu in Hampshire some thirty miles away. I believe something once happened there but no one can seem to remember!
  4. We lived in two nice houses there but all good things come to an end. I jumped ship in a big and (to my family) unfathomable way. I moved to Charlottetown, Prince Edward Island, Canada where I have a gorgeous new wife and a whole new life.
4 places I've holidayed:
  1. I used to drive my family to the French Alps every summer to stay in deserted skiing village. I can’t imagine being there when it snows.
  2. Florida. I didn’t fly in an aircraft until I was forty-five for reasons linked with fear. However straight after 9/11 we jumped on a 747 and proceeded to do the same every year for the next five years, fear of flying duly conquered. Orlando was of course our first destination but thereafter we spent quiet time on the Gulf Coast in a subdivision called Rotonda, holidaying in those gorgeous luxury villas of theirs with a private pool.
  3. USA road-trip. In 2005 I spent forteen days driving through Georgia, Florida, Alabama, Tennessee and back to Georgia and staying in hotels. The variety was amazing and the best bit was staying off the Interstates and using the little county roads. A glimpse of real small town America.
  4. Camping with my wife in the wilds of Cape Breton last week right by the Atlantic Ocean. Bears, Moose, wolves and eagles everywhere you turn.
4 favourite foods:
  1. Baked beans on toast topped with melted grated cheese.
  2. Poached salmon with peas and boiled new potatoes.
  3. Tomato soup
  4. Pills and a liquid would suit me fine when nutrition can be delivered that way. I am not a food connoisseur.
4 places I'd rather be:
  1. Alaska
  2. Antarctica
  3. England
  4. 10,000 miles away from civilisation
I don't have four people to tag so I'll just ask Michelle to join in. http://www.md1979.blogspot.com/

07 September 2007


I need more strength. “Hand me down a strong panacea, one that’s guaranteed to make me feel like Hercules.”

Summer’s furnace roars and cranks. High blue sky towers above. The Island’s rock station crunches from the stereo. Let’s roll down the windows and cruise. Hay bales, cows, potholes and ancient Buicks slide by in a hazy panorama.

In the heat of the night nothing moves, not even the air. Sleep is further off than Pluto and the pillow sweats. Old memories return to taunt me. Synaptic connections tease and scold in the witching hour.

Soon I will pass the half-century milestone. Will I feel old? No, just the same – and still wondering how far past halfway I am. One thing is fairly sure – fewer solar orbits remain to me than have already passed.

September dawns are cool. A crispness hints at the big freeze to come. Time is running out. Soon we must batten down the hatches and hunker through the long white months. But before then we will journey to Cape Breton, Nova Scotia. The tent, stove and air mattress are all tested. The itinerary is planned. Un-noticed by most, a certain 50th milestone will slide by somewhere in the swirling blue waters off Bay Saint Lawrence while we are whale watching.

Soon too there is land to be bought, acres of grassy sanctuary in which to sink new roots. An investment into timber and fields. A house to refurbish and hammer into home. Lists of “to do” items stretch to the horizon – that’s far enough into the future for me.