Normally we come to Baddek to visit my wife’s father in the fall when the tourist season is finishing (October 31st) and the airfare is cheaper. This time it was to be a bit of a working holiday, so we came in June.
We landed in Halifax late but managed to get to our favourite hotel, Inn on the Lake in Fall River near the airport, in time for a nightcap in the lounge. We highly recommend this place for its ambiance, warm service, comfortable rooms, excellent cuisine and pleasant views of Lake Waverly. The only drawback is there seems to be no elevator for guests, so there may be some difficulty for those with mobility problems. Baggage is no problem because the staff will ensure that it is taken to your room.
The next afternoon we were picked up by B&N Shuttle Service out of Sydney to continue our journey to Baddeck. There are several shuttle services (generally 7 passenger vans) running from various areas of Cape Breton – Sydney, North-Sydney, Glace-Bay, Inverness – which leave the Island in the early morning to arrive in Halifax around noon, with a return starting around 1:00 p.m. You have to book ahead … well ahead in the summer! They are pretty flexible about their pick-up and drop-off places: some fixed, such as designated hotels, a specific gas station or Tim Horton’s, the airport, etc., but sometimes at a specific address if they have the time, they know where it is and it is not far off their route. The price was pretty reasonable too: $60 per person (for a 4 hour trip to Baddeck — $65 to North Sydney).
On our way down (see the article on Down North) we sat with a lady from Kingston.. She was going to stay in Baddeck for a couple of months to get away from the smog of southern Ontario, and wanted to know about the village and what she could do. That got us thinking and talking. We gave her some information off the top of our heads which follows here along with other points we thought of later.
The amenities are actually remarkable.
There are plenty of motels and camp grounds at inexpensive rates along Highway 105, and there are several hotels in town with excellent dining facilities. There are also a few good family restaurants with wholesome foods. At this time of year, the “Lobsterpalooza” is on and mustn’t be missed.
For culture, the library is available to all, although the hours are a little restricted, and it boasts high speed computer access to the Web under the provincial “c@p” program. The Alexander Graham Bell Museum is an absolute must to appreciate the wide interests of this genius who not only invented the telephone, by was a driver behind the development of the first ‘hydrofoil’ (which the U.S. Navy was interested in), as well as the famous Silver Dart – the first “lighter than air” craft to fly in the British Commonwealth from the ice-covered Baddeck Bay in February, 1909. This year, Baddeck has been celebrating the Centennial with a recreation of the event in February using a replica built in Ontario, as well as an air show in June which included an F-18 fly past. Twenty minutes down the road is the Gaelic College in St. Ann’s which specializes in teaching bagpiping, drumming, highland dancing and Gaelic especially during the summer, and has a unique gift shop. It also has a Heritage Pioneer Museum which features “Giant” Angus MacAskill who grew to 7’9″ and 425 lbs with enormous strength and had a fascinating career both as a ‘wonder’ traveling through Canada, the U.S.A. and Cuba making a small fortune, and then locally as a farmer, fisherman and businessman.
If golf is your game, there is an excellent Jack Niklaus course, the Bell Bay, right in Baddeck. For fisher folk, there are trout in the nearby rivers and lakes, but the famous Atlantic Salmon are still in short supply (though a guide could probably put you onto one in season).
For touring, Baddeck has to be your hub! It boasts of being the “Beginning and End of the Cabot Trail” which takes you across the Island along the famous Margaree River to Margaree Harbour, following through the Acadian village of Cheticamp (stop and pick up some of the famous handmade “Cheticamp mats” which incorporate a range of types from coasters to long dresser and table runners) and then around the Cape Breton Highlands with their spectacular views, through Ingonish with its famous resort and golf course, and back down to home base.
Alternatively, head around Lake Ainsley through bucolic Inverness County. For Single Malt lovers, stop at the Glenora Distillery which boasts the first (if not only) single malt (it can’t be called Scotch!) distillery in Canada. The whiskey, Glenbreton, has a very pleasant light flavour.
On another day, trip out to the reconstructed Fortress Louisbourg with many people in period costume to guide you. Next, loop over to Rita MacNeil’s Tea Room in Big Pond, then down through Iona to visit the Highland Village, a recreation of what life in the 19th century looked like in the (still active) gypsum mining area.
Us? We arrived in the evening, being dropped us off at the door. (Driver Darell knows us pretty well!)
After the initial flurry of settling in and a bit of supper, we noticed something at once familiar and strange.
No heavy traffic, no screeching tires, no booming car radios shaking our ribs from 100 yards away, no emergency vehicle sirens.
Silence … and a few evening songbirds in the woods.
So our advice … Divest yourself of the Big City Rush, don’t answer your cell phone, quit texting on your Blackberry, put away your laptop (except to write your memoirs), and get out for a walk in the fresh air. Although some of the locals might seem to drive fast on the country roads, they just want to get home. Don’t emulate them! Just pull over and let them pass – forget the road rage!
The most important thing is to slow down to a country pace and relax!