Northern Soul – Cape Breton

But deserted roads are the last thing we find on leaving Nova Scotia’s capital, Halifax, in our tank of a rental car. The size of our vehicle is meant to counter the commonest hazard on the roads in these parts: moose. (When man meets moose, man tends to lose, even if he is driving a bunker on wheels). We are flanked by similarly hulky vehicles, and progress is slow.

Wynn mutters darkly in the passenger seat – he is the only person I know who loves big empty spaces as much as I do, and this isn’t quite the glorious open highway I had promised. But in time we see the hold-up is a tortoise-paced lorry with an entire wooden cabin on its back. Soon the road frees up, and we are alone bar the odd timber truck trundling past.

Halifax, The Capital of Nova Scotia

Windows down, we pick up the pace. The sun blinks Morse at us through flying trees, and a dazzling spectrum of greens leads us north. Four hours later, we hit Cape Breton, and another hour gets us to Baddeck, a small scattered village on the northern shore of the Bras d’Or Lakes, North America’s largest inland sea.

Bras d’Or Lakes

It’s not exactly rush hour in Baddeck (population 769), but it’s not the utter peace and quiet we were hoping for either, so after a lakeside amble we jump aboard Captain John Bryson’s schooner for an afternoon jaunt – just in time for his well-practised patter to commence. He happily holds up his comedy prop, a copy of Sailing for Dummies – and all on board groan simultaneously.

The weather is warm and autumncrisp. Quicksilver sunshine appears in bursts. There is no horizon; sky and sea blend together in wild Turner textures. Legs dangling over the prow, I am soon hypnotised by the soft, bouncing motion. We glide past the red sandstone peninsula Beinn Bhreagh, home to Alexander Graham Bell’s estate, now a museum.

Then it’s all confusion and commotion as everyone scrambles to the back of the boat. It takes a minute to see what everyone is eagerly pointing to: two enormous bald eagles powering along beside us. Captain John throws meat to the birds, who shoot past to catch their lunch before it hits the water. Evidently they are repeat customers.

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