Last Lap

On the road againLeaving Yarmouth, it’s back on the road, which in Canada often means one thing.

Followers of these journeys through Nova Scotia will have noticed that they are regularly punctuated by food stops. The less pleasing (very few) are not mentioned, while the best are recommended. And yet only now, with the last few miles of the series about to be recorded, do I realise that one place, or rather one chain of places, has never been hinted at, and yet it is a Canadian institution. Yes, fast food, drive-thru coffee-to-go; yes, ‘have a nice day’ (or more often great day); yes, sticky doughnuts and wraps on wipe-clean tables and tubular steel chairs; and yes, scorned by some. Tim HortonsBut the coffee is good, the food may be formula but it’s fresh and tasty and very inexpensive and there’s a genuine friendliness about the places. So finally, step forward Tim Hortons, for a long overdue mention.

Now, back onto the #3 heading south, a Timmy’s safely stowed in the cup-holder, I drifted down through Arcadia, Plymouth, Tusket, Glenwood, Argyle and the Pubnicos, all the time playing hide-and-seek with the water. Not lakes here, but long fingers of the ocean, slicing the land into peninsulas and hump-backed islands. This is beautiful countryside, touring country, cycling country perhaps, with gentle gradients and the chance to do more than snatch a view between the trees.

One apparently unpromising place to stretch the legs is right on the county line where Yarmouth becomes Shelburne. Away across the mouth of the great sea-loch which is Pubnico Harbour is Pubnico Point, the sometimes controversial home to 17 giant turbines harvesting the wind straight off the ocean. A road leads down to a shingle spit at the end of which is perched another of those endearing Nova Scotian lighthouses. It’s worth wandering down the track and pausing to take in the sights and sounds of the water. Here the world turns a fraction less quickly.

Shag Harbour is the most southerly point of the journey, and almost of Nova Scotia. That honour goes to Cape Sable Island, which is not to be confused with that isolated arc of sand Sable Island, which is about 400km east of here, way out in the Atlantic. Now a trip there would be something to write home about . . .

And so to Shelburne. What do we really know of a place with only an hour or two spent in it? Well, we know it’s at the head of another great inlet, Shelburne Harbour; we know it’s at the mouth of the Roseway River; we know it’s pretty and historic and a delight to walk around; we know it’s a tourist centre but doesn’t feel like it; we know it’s strong on heritage without ramming it down everyone’s throat. Charlotte LaneAnd we know what a welcome feels like, we know when a place feels at ease with itself.

Which is all probably no more than a writer’s rose-tinted imaginings, but the welcome is real enough, probably nowhere better than at Charlotte Lane. A wonderful place to eat, with some of the best food of any found on these travels. At the back are a couple of tables on a patio. Sitting surrounded by greenery, the sun dappling through the trees, empty plates that didn’t tax the wallet, it was hard to leave. The exit is – as ever – through the gift shop. And worth it too, for some better-than-average items.

A stroll round the town to let the digestion work was interrupted by another discovery, one that will hardly surprise the regular reader: a book shop. But not just any book shop, the Whirligig Book Shop, a bookshop that describes its visitors arriving “either by automobile or boat.” Simply wonderful.
Lockeport, one of many beautiful spots around the coast of SW Nova Scotia

Dozens of other beautiful places and welcoming communities dot this coast, but for this trip I wanted to feel the sand between my toes at least once. Hurrying a little more than usual and leaving the winding #3 in favour of the more direct route gave just enough time to catch the last heat of the afternoon sun on Summerville Beach, another magnificent stretch of uninhabited white sand. Perhaps it is crowded on a hot day in the season, there’s parking for hundreds, it’s clean, it’s accessible, the sea is lazy and gently shelving. Summerville BeachBut wait, this was a hot day in the season: with the aid of binoculars it was possible to see 6 other people on maybe a kilometre of sand.

And so to the final stop of this series of journeys around the province. There can’t be many better places to watch the soft pinks and purples that follow a stunning sunset over a placid sea than The Quarterdeck. The food was excellent too, but the by now expected good service had an extra twist. The QuarterdeckDespite the passing of 3 years and thousands of guests, waitress Kristina not only recalled the previous visit but the table and the order.

Quite remarkable, but by now, who’s surprised?

This concludes the series of travels round the province, a series which started way back in Halifax in Jan 2012 with Nova Where? and has been a wonderful journey of discovery. I’ll return to Nova Scotian themes in the future, hopefully with more depth to particular places and people.

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