The first visit to North Mountain was another of those wonderful surprises that seem so commonplace in Nova Scotia, yet continue to astonish and delight.
Before the surprise, a little geography: North Mountain is not a mountain, it is the 125 mile (200 km) ridge running roughly north-east to south-west and separating the Annapolis Valley (and further south St Mary’s Bay) from the Bay of Fundy. The ridge tapers down from a high point of around 680 ft (207m) at the north-eastern extremity near Ross Creek to eventually disappear below sea level beyond Long Island and Brier Island in the south-west.
But back to that first experience, a few years ago now. The prospect of an art exhibition conjured various possibilities of venue and setting, but none to match the reality. A climb up the minor road from the Annapolis Valley near Canning, then out across the hump of North Mountain on a pot-holed dirt road towards Scots Bay. Few cars, few houses and fewer people to be seen. Then, a little off the road down a gravel track, incongruously in the middle of nowhere, The Ross Creek Centre For The Arts. Inside was the buzz of people enjoying art in all its forms: playing instruments, painting pictures, sculpting, listening, reading, watching. Researching this article I was delighted to find the centre still thrives.
Any number of roads and tracks ascend the steep face of North Mountain from the Annapolis Valley, none more twisting that the climb from Berwick on the route to picture-postcard Harbourville. Typical of the little settlements that dot this stretch of the Fundy coast, Harbourville nestles in a cove and owes its existence to fishing. The prodigious tidal range of the Bay is well known and amply illustrated by the height of the wharves. My visit might have been one of unfortunate timing but even a gem like the Bay of Fundy couldn’t escape the modern curse of plastic debris marking the high water line along the shore – a rare note of discord in this Nova Scotian odyssey.
No sign of any litter at the immaculately maintained L’Habitation, a faithful replica of the original 17th century French settlement at Port Royal. Visiting out of season, it was pure luck – plus that accommodating informality of Nova Scotia – that allowed me to wander briefly round the site while the helpful National Parks employee attended to his business. Few of the places mentioned in these travels have been formal ‘attractions’ and generally such places hold little appeal, but L’Habitation is one I hope to return to and explore at greater length.
West of Digby, North Mountain is also known as Digby Neck (or simply The Neck) and is little more than 1km across from the Bay of Fundy to St Mary’s Bay. On the face of it this is no more than a rural backwater, the single road of any importance leading only to the Tiverton ferry to Long Island and ultimately the outpost of Brier Island. Backwater it may be, but for the visitor at least it is a delightful stretch of country, none more so than the view of Sandy Cove approached from Digby on highway 217. With the mid-afternoon winter sun glinting on the sea there can hardly be a more picture-perfect natural harbour in the province.
A few miles further down The Neck you’ll find Little River; less picturesque, but still attractive, maybe even more interesting than prettier places. Here the smell of fish hangs in the air even on a Sunday while the scattering of processing sheds and derricks remind the visitor that for many parts of the province the sea is still a business, not just an amenity or a hobby.
There are still hundreds of miles of coast, a thousand lakes and a million smiles to be enjoyed in Nova Scotia, and hopefully I’ll find plenty more to delight in the years to come. I’ve yet to explore any of the south around Yarmouth, Pubnico and Lockeport, or walk the fossil cliffs of Joggins. The softer climate of the Northumberland Strait has yet to embrace me and I’ve never gazed across the magnificent Bras d’Or in Cape Breton. But one things seems certain, Nova Scotia will continue to surprise and delight.