Thursday, 31 July 2014

Avoiding Arthur

We were now warned that Hurricane Arthur was headed for Nova Scotia, and would strike the south eastern coast over the weekend. Yet another reason it had proved a good decision to take a more northerly route. But when exactly would it hit land?

It was still relatively calm when I left Herb's on Saturday morning July 5th, having decided to take a chance and head out early on the short leg to Lyons River near Pictou.  I had been invited to stay here with horse owner Mary McKinnon, and arrived safely around midday as the gusts of wind began to strengthen. Still time for Mary to take me on a car tour of the area and the quaint little town of Pictou, sometimes dubbed 'The birthplace of New Scotland'. It was here that the first two hundred Highland Scots were carried by the ship Hector in 1773.  A suitably dramatic photo of a replica of the Hector preparing to ride out Hurricane Arthur as the storm brews in the background.
But whereas other areas of Nova Scotia received gale force winds and heavy rain in the following hours, the Pictou area was relatively unscathed and the storm was mainly confined to strong winds.
Mary with husband Jack and photo bombing dog in the window behind.
Mary lives right on an up graded section of the Trans Canada Trail running along a former railway track from Pictou to Oxford, and the next few days provided some of the best riding I have had in Canada so far.  Not only was the surface ideal, but large sections were shaded by trees, a relief even though Arthur had cleared the air and dispersed the sweltering heat.
An idyllic ride through the woods with the tail end of the hurricane rushing through the tree tops .....
..and across the open country near Scotsburn..
I had been a little concerned about the possibility of the trail being blocked by fallen trees, but in the event it was not an issue as Lady and I were able to step over, duck under or as in the case below, scramble round the windfalls.
  That night we stayed with the lovely Bethany McClellan at her Squire Hill stables not far from the trail at River John.  Here she is with partner Jason outside Lady's stable window.
They gallantly insisted on sacrificing their bedroom to me, but I am afraid I did not prove a very sociable guest as having disappeared for a quick snooze after supper, I crashed out and did not wake up until morning! 

I had been invited to stay with Haflinger breeder and driving enthusiast Gillian Allan and husband Nigel at their home near Wallace River, and Gillian intended to ride with me from River John.  I was looking forward to meeting her as she was the first person in Canada to join me on the trail, and she had also kindly agreed to look after Lady while I returned to Wales for a few weeks summer break.   So I was delighted when Gillian and Nigel turned up with Haflinger mare Miss Arati in the trailer. It was tremendous to have company to chatter away and laugh with for a change.
A beautiful trail still, but one could have furnished a small flat from the domestic goods dumped in the woods.  Love the strategically placed paper!..
Yet another beaver lodge. You can see how the pond created by beavers blocking the stream outlet is  causing the flooded trees to die off.
We were impressed to see members of the Tatamagouche Area Trails Association out in force clearing the trail of fallen trees so soon after the hurricane, and doing an excellent job ...
Well done boys for your much appreciated efforts!  I can safely say this was one of the best kept sections of the Trans Canada Trail I have encountered so far.

An unfit Miss Arati was becoming a trifle tired, so we called it a day at Tatamagouche and Nigel drove over to fetch us with the trailer.

Hiking the Highway

July 2nd.   Fairies at the bottom of the garden?  In Nova Scotia it seems they have little fisher boys..
Unpronounceable and inexplicable to all but someone from the Maritime Provinces.  
Somewhere to hang out drinking and gassing all day maybe?    No - just a shack with a couple of petrol pumps - but then again...     I have no idea how to pronounce their name, but the Paq'tnkek are a band of the first nations Mi'kmaq (Mi'qmaw) people who are indigenous to Canada's Maritime provinces, and this was on a small reserve that I passed. Unlike the unfortunate Beothuk of Newfoundland, the Mi'kmaq were able to survive the intrusion of Europeans into North America, most likely as they managed to acquire firearms to protect themselves. There is still a population of around 40,000 in the Maritime provinces and Newfoundland, of which around 500 belong to the Paq'tnkek.
 Interestingly (to hockey players at least!), before the industrial manufacture of hockey sticks, the Mi'kmaq were renowned for hand crafting ice hockey sticks from local hornbeam.
This gruesome scenario of suspected scarecrow abduction and beheading must be one of the most horrific scarecrow crime scenes I have yet encountered....
...and all before breakfast, which I had hoped to find when I reached the Trans Canada Highway. Surely there must be a convenient café?  But I was to be disappointed, and resigned myself to continuing with an empty stomach.  But I cheered up considerably when I was invited in for a morning coffee and bagel by a delightful couple I got talking to on my way through Heatherton - (sadly I have forgotten their names as I was unable to write them down immediately -if you are reading this, please let me know!).  Who needs a Tim Horton's when you can be welcomed into a Canadian home ...
 To avoid a long detour I had to follow the Trans Canada Highway for several miles. Negotiating road works..
It was a long hot trudge through the heat of the day - apparently temperatures were well into the thirties, so Lady was very glad of a garage pit stop to refuel with water ...
.It was a relief to arrive at Antigonish where I had found stabling care of pacing enthusiast Jim Kell, who made me supper and provided a welcome shower and bedroom. Pacing races are very popular in Canada, and he still keeps a few young standardbreds.  Jim in front of some of his racing photos....
Temperatures continued to swelter in the thirties for the next couple of days, though I managed to avoid most of the heat by setting out as early in the morning as reasonably possible.
A welcome spring at Glen Bard..
Forced back onto the Highway for a few miles before Barneys River Station...
It was only later that I was told that this particular section was notorious for the number of accidents!
Oonagh and Louise (shown here with daughter Caedda) who kindly took me in when I turned up unannounced on their doorstep in Barneys River Station on July 3rd..
In spite of a full stables, they managed to find temporary space for Lady in the corral.  And for me it was a real opportunity to relax and recharge my batteries as they put me in a glorious cool studio apartment they have created in one of the buildings.   I was able to indulge in shower followed by a welcome siesta, read and nibble on the food Louise put in the fridge for me, before sauntering down later for a glass of wine with my hostesses, who were busy preparing for their forthcoming wedding. Many thanks and all the best for your future happiness!
The headstones in the cemeteries are a constant reminder of why Nova Scotia is so called...
Bear X-ing.  Just as well Lady can't read.....
The sign is on one of the wooden rubbish bins that all Canadians have outside their houses to prevent wild animals from destroying rubbish bags awaiting collection.
On July 4th we were hosted by the unstoppable Herb Best, a consummate horseman who breeds and trains quarter horses on his impressive  Krymsun Farm in New Glasgow.  He specialises in producing western pleasure horses, including three AQHA (quarter horse) world champions.

Wednesday, 30 July 2014

Crossing the Canso Causeway

Thursday July 1st and Canada Day!  Cape Breton is in fact an island, and was only joined to the mainland of Nova Scotia by the Canso Causeway in 1955.  I was glad to find accommodation in Port Hawkesbury a short ride away, as I planned to cross the causeway early in the morning before the traffic built up.  Michelle kindly volunteered to get up at the crack of dawn to drive me to the stables, which meant I was able to sleep in a comfortable bed rather than doss down in a corner of the barn.
Crossing the Canso Causeway Canal bridge which is the official dividing line between Cape Breton and the Nova Scotia mainland..
 As I had hoped, the traffic was very light on the causeway ...
The ship on the left hand side is loading gravel from a rock quarry to supply construction projects.
Breakfast stop at Tim Horton's in Aulds Cove on the other side where there was a there was lush grass and a convenient sign to tether Lady to while I had a coffee and bagel..
...but Lady had only just begun tucking in when she was moved on by a jobsworth workman who needed to mow the grass NOW!  
I had planned to take a southerly route more or less following the proposed Trans Canada Trail route. But this took me through more isolated country where I could not guarantee finding overnight shelter for Lady.  It had become evident that camping outdoors was not an option for Lady with the biting bugs, so I changed my plans and decided to follow the more populated northern coast where I was more likely to find barns.
With the construction of the new Trans Canada Highway, the old road has become a quiet backwater - not quite the remote forestry tracks I had imagined I would be following in my original plan, but pleasant nonetheless. 
Some of the houses here have immense lawns - apparently a leftover from when people owned smallholding plots large enough to accommodate livestock, such as the ubiquitous horse now replaced by mechanised transport. 
Canada is a BIG country with lots of space, as born out by the house numbers!...
Nova Scotian flower bed....
 Something tells me it is Canada Day....
A rest stop on the shore of an inlet at Monastery and Lady has a good roll..
The decision to follow the north coast was turning out to be a good one, as a sea breeze helped to keep the bugs at bay. However not all the time, as can be seen by Lady's attempts to rid herself of mosquitoes.
 But it also proved easier to find barns along the way, and I was thankful to be taken in by Dan and Thelma MacGilvray at Tracardie, who provided Lady with a loose box and a large feed of hay.
 On top of this they generously included the last minute foreign gate-crasher in their Canada Day BBQ celebrations, of which I was most appreciative. I have to say Thelma's peanut butter and chocolate sweets were particularly scrumptious!
Dan, Thelma and son...
And true to Canadian form, I was provided with a bed for the night.

Friday, 25 July 2014

Braving the bugs

Saturday June 28th.  With the same name as my younger daughter, it was inevitable that my route wended via this small settlement on the Barra Strait ...
Temperatures have been hotting up, and in spite of an early start the sun was soon beating down.  And as you can see from the Shires fly mask Lady is wearing, with it returned the bugs. A little further down the road a car stopped and a genial man in a cowboy hat stepped out.  It was Hughie from my list of contacts. And rather to my glad surprise he informed me that the elusive Aaron had organised an overnight stay a convenient distance away in Estmere.  My hostess Georgina MaCleod was also a little surprised when Hughie phoned to inform her an itinerant Welshwoman was on her way, but took it all in her stride and even drove out to give me directions.
If you go down to the woods today.... may find this shifty character leaning up against a tree.   I still haven't seen a real bear in the woods, but perhaps it is just as well.

A scenic detour through Estmere...

....before being welcomed by Georgina at her lovely traditional clapboard farmhouse..
The bedroom was a haven and her rhubarb and strawberry pie was to die for!
During the summer months the Canadian Maritime Provinces are plagued by a wide spectrum of biting insects, including mosquitoes, black flies, horse flies, deer flies and tiny biting sandflies (ceratopogonidae) which Georgina told me are called locally no-see-ums.  I had been warned about them, but had managed to avoid their worst excesses in Newfoundland. Now they were becoming more and more of an issue.  I initially tried tethering Lady outside, but the bugs were too troublesome, and she was obviously relieved to be led into a stall in the barn, where she was tied overnight with a large mangerful of hay.

But she was able to have an early morning graze the next day - note the lovely red barn.
Also keeping a horse in the barn was local journalist Anne Farries, who immediately got on the case of trying to identify accommodation for Lady.
Sunday June 29th. Riding to West Alba in the cool of the morning..
...but the temperatures soon soared and the bugs came out.  We avoided some of the midday heat with a pleasant lunch stop in a park beside the lake at Orangedale....
..shady grazing for Lady with a breeze to keep most of the bugs at bay, and a bandstand for me to relax in.  And there was a shop only a couple of hundred yards away.  Who should turn up here in support but Mike and Peggy.from Cabresto Ridge, as they have a cabin not too far away.
This turned out to be a longer day than expected as some of the small trails marked on my map were now defunct and I had to take a more roundabout route.
The sun beat down and the bugs descended again, so by the time I reached my intended destination of River Denys I was desperate to find an overnight barn for Lady who was becoming increasingly distressed by the nippers.  And I did not escape their attention as there were lumps on my neck and encrusted dried blood on my brow from black fly bites.  I searched fruitlessly and was almost in tears when I arrived at a house in the woods belonging to German couple Willi and Anita. Without a word Willi immediately beckoned me over to a large barn which served as his garage cum workshop, and we led Lady inside.  Willi cleared a space among the work materials and within a few minutes Lady had calmed down and relaxed ("And so did you!"commented Willi later) in her unusual stable.
A journey like this is always full of ups and downs, and this episode demonstrated how the random kindness of strangers can turn a miserable experience into a delightful one, as I also had a enjoyable evening with Willi and Anita enlivened by a glass of German liqueur! ..
As the grazing was sparse and the bugs unremitting, Lady dined on a leftover banana I had in my saddle bag and some stale bread provided by my hosts (retired bakers!) and soaked in water, and on Monday morning I paused down the road soon after sunrise to graze her in the garden of an unoccupied house. 
Even at this hour the mosquitoes were beginning to be a nuisance, though a liberal application of insect repellent helped to keep them at bay.
 I experienced more Cape Breton goodwill when I stopped at West Bay Road in the hope of finding some refreshment. No shop or café, but friendly Post Office ladies Ruth and Rosemary made me a cup of coffee and even nobly insisted on sharing their packed lunches with me (though Lady scoffed the banana)
And as I was trudging along in the sweltering heat further down the road a pickup pulled up and I found myself being offered iced water (refreshingly cold) and iced cake (sickly sweet) by John, who had heard of me in the Post Office and had decided to make sure I did not die of thirst or starvation on my way to Port Hawkesbury.  
I had heard conflicting reports of the existence of a riding centre with a barn there, and found community riding club stables indeed existed conveniently on my route into town.
As you may deduce by the clue in the photo, the club stables are run side by side with a racing stables for pacers which boasts a small but well kept practice race track.  In spite of the fact that I had turned up unannounced out of the blue, club member Michelle dashed up to sort Lady out with a spacious loose box and feed, and then very generously took me home to shower, eat and sleep.  Many thanks to her and partner Kevin.  Unfortunately no photo as she was too camera shy!

Monday, 14 July 2014

Into Mac Land

On Friday 27th June, Lady and I set out into Nova Scotia or New Scotland, so called due to the numbers of Scottish immigrants to this part of Canada, and particularly to Cape Breton Island which I was due to cross first.   Gaelic was widely spoken here and the Scottish influence continued to be evident as I crossed the province.
Lady on the move with her  new saddlebag arrangement.
The Trans Canada Trail is only partly developed through Nova Scotia, so I followed relatively quiet gravel roads over a forested hill ridge before coming down Boisdale and the 233 road running along the side of St Andrews Channel.
In my pocket was a list of useful contacts, including Aaron Gillis who had promised to identify some suitable stopovers where I could safely tether/stable Lady. But she had since been incommunicado, so I was resigned to winging it for the first week or so. (I later had a very apologetic text from Aaron to explain she had gone on a weekend trail ride and had forgotten her cell phone, something I can sympathise with from experience!)
I had aimed to reach Beaver Cove  by nightfall (notice the name in Gaelic on the road sign)...

where I had been told there was a small café with ample grass around. Perhaps I could tether Lady there and have a bite to eat. But I arrived to find the proprietoress uncharacteristically unhelpful, though she informed me there was someone with horses two kilometres down the road.  It turned out to be more like six and I ended up trotting along the narrow verge of an increasingly dark road, particularly worrying as I had forgotten to pack my reflective vest.
After asking further directions I turned down a driveway towards an outside light to find that word had preceded me and I was expected ..  yes I was most welcome and could tether Lady on the lawn, and of course I must use their guest room. What a relief!  Lady tucked into the excellent grass immediately while Marie Musgrave (I think I have the name right, I forgot to write it down so apologies if I have got it wrong) and family welcomed me into their house.  Here is Marie the following morning on the porch of their lovely home which enjoyed a stunning view out over the channel. 
  The house was home designed and built, as are so many houses and cabins in the Maritime Provinces, where planning regulations are much looser than in the UK.
 June 28th .

..and Hello Nova Scotia!

...where Cape Breton hospitality kicked in immediately at Cabresto Ridge. Angela, Peggy and Mike provided a spacious stall for Lady and a comfortable base for me to rest and start planning the next leg, not to mention a couple of very convivial evenings.  Angela and mum Peggy in front of the barn ...

I was even able to take the opportunity do a little sightseeing when I spent a wet afternoon looking round Fort Louisbourg, built by the French in the first half of the eighteenth century when France was given Cape Breton (L'Ile Royalle) under the 1713 Treaty of Utrecht. It was subsequently taken and destroyed by British forces in 1758 after hostilities broke out between the two countries.  Interestingly Fort Louisbourg fell because its defences were essentially designed from attack by sea, whereas the British attacked overland.  Surprising then that British held Singapore fell to the Japanese in the Second World War for exactly the same reason!
The site was very impressive as there has been an extensive reconstruction of the original buildings within the fort complex, and what I thought would be a whistle stop tour of a small fort actually merited several hours visit.  Well worth a visit if you are ever in Cape Breton.
I also had a trip down to Truro to buy better saddlebags now that Lady is carrying all  my essentials, and called in with Rhonas Taylor, a Shetlander who runs Sumac Farm near Pictou. who was able to provide some useful advice and contacts.