26 August 2010
THERE IS A Seinfeld episode where George is driving with a date in the passenger seat. He runs over a pigeon with his car. She is horrified and George — in his trademark manic manner — exclaims, “But we had a deal!” He is talking about the human-bird “agreement”, in which we allow the pigeons to poop on our statues, and they’re supposed to get out of the way of our cars.
I bring this scene up with my roadtrip buddy (and driver), Alan, and we have a good laugh. Five minutes later, a bird — a sparrow if I’m not mistaken — appears in front of our windshield, swooping around. Alan instinctively slows down. Perhaps this throws off the little fellow’s timing, because one second later he bounces off the windshield.
I shoot my head around to see what happened to the bird. I see nothing but trees and the paint lines on the road streaming away from us. There is no evidence of the crime. No feathers floating down, no smudge on the glass.
“Did that just happen?” I ask Alan.
“Oh. My. God.” he says.
“But we had a deal!”
We’re on a 3-day roadtrip. I’ve been invited by Doug Anweiler, the man behind the Authentic Seacoast moniker on Twitter and Facebook, to spend a couple nights in Guysborough, a small fishing village less than 300 km northeast of Halifax. The “scenic route” we’re on — the #7 Coast Road — bends along the shoreline. The views out the passenger window are beautiful. Little islands pop out of the water, inhabited only by tall, rugged trees.
We pass things like a roadside shop called “The Tourist Trap”, a lonely looking road named “Solitude Lane”, and a seniors’ complex with a cemetery as its backyard. I point this last one out to Alan who says, “Now that’s efficiency. That’s what us economists like to see.”
We’re following an old, un-detailed map. To avoid going back to the highway, we venture down the “gray” roads and find ourselves on the way to a ferry crossing — a ferry we’re not even sure takes cars. We crest a hill and see the boat. It does take cars. About ten. We’re the third and last one on, and as soon as Alan pulls the parking brake, the wake is making a trail back to the dock. It’s $5 to cross, cash only, and takes no more than 15 minutes. We disembark and wave goodbye to the ferry man.
Once in Guysborough, we easily find our lodging: the Osprey Shores Golf Resort. The course is nine holes and sits on a little peninsula giving water views from every hole. The accommodations are motel-style; a strip of rooms about a hundred feet from the clubhouse/reception. Our room is clean, comfortable, functional.
There are several construction workers checked into some of the other rooms and they’re making their way across the street to where a couple of BBQs and picnic tables are set up.They’re yelling at each other across the way, carrying coolers of beer over, and I’m worried we’ll be kept up all night. Turns out they turn in before I do.
After checking in we hit up the DesBarres Manor Inn — another Authentic Seacoast property — for a look around. It’s a big old house, built in 1836 on a sprawling piece of property, with ten rooms spread among the second and third floors. Victoria, the receptionist, gives us the grand tour including a room with a 2-person spa tub, the fine-dining restaurant, and the small wine cellar (with some very pricey bottles) in the basement. It’s a cozy and romantic house; a perfect place for a couple to spend a night or two while exploring the area. I make the decision that I need to spend a night here too, to revel in the 600-thread count sheets.
It’s dinnertime. From my count, there are three places to eat in town: the Rare Bird Pub (closed Mondays and Tuesdays, which happened to be the days we were there), Big G’s Pizza & Restaurant, and Days Gone By Bakery & Restaurant. It’s just after 7 pm and everything is closed. With the prospect of dining on potato chips, we head to the Wonder Store — the local “7-11”. We’re surprised to see a mini-diner at the back (making this the fourth place to eat in town). There are two old dudes sitting in a booth, a lady finishing up her meal, and a man running around at the grill behind the counter. “Is the grill still open?” I ask, trying to catch his ear as he flips a patty. He looks over at us. “Well, we were supposed to close at 7…but I guess we won’t be!” he says with a smile.
“You’re our last hope in town. Everything else is closed.”
“Really?” He has a surprised look on his face. We eat one of the best burgers we’ve ever had. Of course, there’s a good chance that’s only because we were ready to eat our socks. We follow it up with a slice of homemade pie, baked fresh that day by the owner’s mother.
The next morning I get email confirmation from Doug that he’s arranged for us to move to the DesBarres Manor Inn for our second night. We pack up, check out, and drop our bags in our new room before hitting the road for the day. Doug’s given us a suggested itinerary, including an opportunity to go out on the water in a lobster boat.
We meet Glen at the Guysborough Marina to board his boat, the Audrey & Bascilla. Glen is an ex-RCMP officer originally from New Brunswick. He was stationed in nearby Canso and recently bought a house on the coast. The boat is no longer used for lobster trapping and he has no interest in using it for that purpose; a license costs a few hundred thousand dollars. When he’s on the water he keeps a fishing line out, occasionally catching mackerel and giving them away for free at the marina to the residents.
He takes us around the calm bay, pointing out the houses placed sparsely along the coastline amidst the thick covering of trees. We spot a seal and two bald eagles perched on treetops. Glen takes a look out into the open ocean but decides it’s too rough to take us out there. Back at the marina I thank him with two Monte Cristo cigars I’ve been carrying around with me since my trip to Cuba in January. He looks pleased.
Our next stop is the Lundy Fire Tower, about two kilometers up a bumpy dirt track from the main road. The plateau gives 360 degree views of Nova Scotia. Rugged is the word that keeps popping into my head when I want to describe this province. Rugged trees. Rugged rocks. Rugged coastline. It’s just…wild (see top picture). I imagine this is what so many coastal areas would look like if it wasn’t for development. It’s trees, ocean, and lakes as far as the eye can see.
Less than 50 km east of Guysborough is Canso. It was one of only two British settlements in Nova Scotia prior to the establishment of Halifax in 1749, and is the oldest fishing port on mainland North America. We drive through town and park at the start of a short marine-front walk. At the other end we go into the Canso Visitor Reception Center, staffed by a lone lady.
There’s not another soul in sight and it feels like it’s been a while since another visitor has set foot in the building. She invites us into the exhibit room where we can learn about the area’s history and watch a short video. I’m hesitant to pass through because of the sign at the front indicating the entrance fees. This isn’t something I feel like paying for. But she doesn’t ask for any money and instead tells us about Grassy Island, an old fort site 500 meters offshore, and says we can visit it if we want.
Again, my budget backpacker instincts kick in and I ask how much the ferry costs to get there. “It’s free”, she says. The phrase runs a close second to “I love you” as the top things I like to hear.
A two minute drive gets us to the Canso Marina, where Parks Canada operates a little ferry to take visitors to and from Grassy Island. The island is one of the Canso Islands, a small archipelago that protects the harbour. It was originally a defensive fort, but was destroyed by the French in 1744. It was later used as a staging ground by British troops to overthrow the French in nearby Louisbourg. It has since been abandoned.
Grassy Island couldn’t be a better name for it. It’s not big at all, and only takes a leisurely 45 minutes or so to circumnavigate. There are mowed pathways leading around the island and to clearings that have interpretive signs telling the history of the site. The more intriguing thing for us though, was the abundance of wild berries, many of which can be picked right from the path. The Parks guy on the ride over told us about the berries, citing a dozen or more edible species. We smartly asked which ones we shouldn’t eat. There were only two, and they look just like berries that you wouldn’t want to eat.
We wandered around, barely paying attention to the history, eyes scanning for wild blueberries, blackberries, and raspberries. We were the only ones on the island. It was very peaceful with nice views back to Canso and the surrounding area. We ate our fill and caught the last ferry back to the mainland.
Little Dover is a 15-minute drive from Canso and our next stop; we pull up to the Dover Day Use Park. There’s a snack shack so we have a bite before taking on the Black Duck Trail. “Taking on” is, admittedly, an exaggeration. It’s a pleasant 3 km walk through trees on a path than follows the coast line. There are turnoffs intermittently that take you out to the waterline. Part way through we choose to abandon the trail and walk among the big rocks on the beach. We find inuksuit (which I just learned is the plural of inukshuk) built along the way, and I attempt one myself. It’s pretty shoddy, but I give myself credit anyway.
Back in Guysborough once more, we make sure to get our dinner before the town shuts down. Big G’s Pizza is just down the hill from the DesBarres Manor Inn. We bring our pie back to the manor, order a beer, and sit on the back patio overlooking the property. As the sun goes down, Alan orders us each a glass of brandy, and we smoke the last of the Monte Cristos.
More pics (click to enlarge)…