Northern Soul – Cape Breton

The courtyard stumble from bar to bed – there are rooms here, and we’ve decided to stay – is suffused with rich, smoky wood and malted scents. Not a sound can be heard for miles except the squabbling brook, and there is something satisfying in being able to both hear the source of the beverage and smell the results. Our rooms are simple but cosy; after a long day’s driving, that suits us just fine.

But the road is the thing. The sleep of the gods and two vast Celtic breakfasts later, we waddled to the car determined to complete the Cabot Trail, spare tyre or no. Soft rock medley… check; windows down… check; full tank of petrol… check; and we were on the road again.

You’re never more than an hour or two from the sea in Cape Breton, so as well as the vertiginous views you’ll find seafood fresh and abundant. Instead of the usual road-trip fare – stale triangles of doom from the petrol station – even our most fleeting stops yield fresh strawberries and lobster sandwiches. The average supermarket houses a tank four-deep in the crustaceans; we even see a sign for a MacLobster drivethru.

That one aside, Gaelic translations on many road signs speak proudly of the island’s strong Scottish heritage – 80 per cent of the population can trace their ancestry to the British Isles. Copycat place names (Inverness, Dunvegan, Glencoe) alternate surreally with Acadian French ones (Chéticamp, Petit Etang). Along with the fairy-tale forests, the unusual names contribute to a sense of being in a slightly made-up place.

We make it to Ingonish with all tyres intact. The Keltic Lodge perches elegantly on a narrow peninsula with an extreme drop to the Atlantic on both sides. Two weddings are in full swing, and kilted men sway intermittently out of the lodge for cigarettes, as fiddles and cheers leak into the night. We are right at the base of the vast Highlands National Park.

The lack of light pollution is thrilling, and the ferociously fresh air builds bear-sized appetites. We’re too late for the dining room, though (beware: it is difficult to get fed after 7pm on the Cabot Trail), so we make do with room-service sandwiches and a nip of the Glen Breton Rare. That night I dream of moose.

Highlands National Park

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