Time can seem to run slower in Nova Scotia than at other points on the globe. This, the second snapshot of an always-surprising province, takes a dawdling tour to include the Trans Canada Highway, dirt roads and a Marine Drive by the Atlantic.
Getting around Nova Scotia is extremely easy – if you have a car. Outside Halifax, public transport is mainly limited to a few long distance coach services. The railway, which will take you all the way to Vancouver, is another – wonderful – story altogether. Beyond the Halifax metro area there is no escaping the fact that you need a car (or bicycle or motorbike) but at least there is an old-fashioned pleasure to be had in the driving. Mile after mile (kilometres actually) of near empty roads, whether it’s on the main highways that radiate from Halifax or the less travelled ‘old’ routes. Don’t be afraid to explore the network of dirt roads either, a little daunting at first, but they can take you deep into the wilderness, to breathtaking views, glimpses of wildlife and remote settlements.
Whichever you choose, be sure to fill the tank, gas stations can be few and far between in rural areas. Gas (petrol) is not as cheap as in the US, but at around $1.30 (£0.85) a litre, yes, litres, it’s a lot less than the UK. It’s worth taking your time over longer excursions from the metro area, in fact the whole province lends itself to slow-paced touring, stopping where the fancy or where day’s end finds you.
Try joining the Trans Canada Highway near Truro, then via New Glasgow towards Antigonish on the north coast. This bustling university town sits at the head of Antigonish Harbour, a wide inlet off the Northumberland Strait, with a handful of settlements along its shores. Canada being a bi-lingual country it will come as no surprise to find street names shown in two languages. The surprise in Antigonish is that the second language is Gaelic, underlining the strong Scottish influence in this area.
From Antigonish you may be tempted to stay on the ‘Sunrise Trail’ and go right on to Cape Breton Island, which forms the northern quarter of Nova Scotia, but for me the attractions of the Bras d’Or Lake are for another visit. Instead, I cut east on back roads through mist and rolling forest towards Guysborough, before meeting the Atlantic once again at Tor Bay. There I had the pleasure of two nights in the tiny settlement of Charlos Cove, no more than a couple of dozen houses scattered round a picture-postcard bay. Round the shore at the old jetty, the last of generations of fishermen landed their catches from just two boats where once there were forty or more working from the tiny port.
Here, as elsewhere, the French heritage vies with the Scottish. Painted on a rock by the shore you’ll find the Acadian flag, the tricolore overlaid with a single gold star, while a few houses back from the beach Nova Scotia’s blue saltire flutters in the breeze.
Heading out of the cosy cottage for a meal in the evening, a long drive might be expected, but this is a land of pleasant surprises. Hidden by trees and just a walk round the bay, is The Seawind Landing, a friendly hotel and restaurant, and certainly not what you would expect to find in the back of beyond. More good food, lobster from one of the boats, and good value, all courtesy of inn-keepers David and Ann-Marie.
Heading south from Tor Bay back towards Halifax, the main road (Highway #7 Marine Drive) regularly dips down to the spectacular coast with its countless sea lochs and scatterings of towns and smaller communities. On the horizon, Atlantic islands slip in and out of the mists, even on the sunniest of days. For those familiar with an older Caledonia it takes no great leap of the imagination to be reminded of the beauty of the west of Scotland.
There are dozens of inviting side roads and any one can take you to empty white beaches, tumbling streams or wooded lake shores. Pick any one or as many as you have time for. One detour that rarely fails to please the eye is to leave the #7 at Ship Harbour, following the western shore of the loch past Mussel Island to Clam Harbour. It adds another dawdling hour to the journey (or a day or two if you stay), but it’s all time well spent in this land that just refuses to be hurried and constantly delights.
More to come: Magic Kejimkujik, Annapolis, Digby and The Bay of Fundy