Sydney and Cape Breton Island, Nova Scotia
We sadly waived goodbye to the townsfolk of Cobh in Ireland, having enjoyed a wonderful day in the Emerald Isles, but now we were on our way again, and cruising to Nova Scotia.
Just like the Titanic, Cobh was Sea Princess’s last port of call before heading across the Atlantic Ocean, but unlike the Titanic we had an uneventful crossing to Canada.
Atlantic Crossing remembering The Titanic
Once Sea Princess left the calm of the harbour we began to feel the presence of the Atlantic as the swells grew and the wind picked up. The crossing was quite rough and often foggy, and as we sailed in thick mist close to the area where the Titanic had sunk we thought back to our visit in Cobh to the Titanic experience and those poor souls who had been doomed on the ship’s first and final voyage.
Mostly though we counted our blessings that we were cruising on a modern day, state of the art cruise liner, and in the safe hands of Captain Gennaro Arma and crew.
Sydney, Nova Scotia
On the morning of our 5th day since leaving Cobh we cruised into bright sunshine as we approached our next port of call, Sydney, Nova Scotia.
As we drew up to the cruise terminal we saw an enormous Fiddle which is apparently the largest illuminated fiddle in the world. Who knew!
For our day in Nova Scotia we’d opted to do a ship’s excursion to see the sights of the Bredor Lakes. The lakes are actually an inland sea as they’re connected to the Atlantic via two channels and are quite spectacular in size.
We boarded our coach and headed out of Sydney driving along the St Andrew’s Channel and passed through some eye catching scenery. It felt first washed and pristine; there were forests of firs and birches along the picturesque lakeshore and we even spotted some white tail deer.
Our kilted guide Sonny was a wealth of information during the tour.
Although I was interested in the history of the area, I was more fascinated with the area’s wildlife which is so different to Australia’s – as Sonny explained …
“Deer are pretty commonplace, and we get lots of black bears. We don’t have porcupines or skunks, but we have wolfs and coyotes and a coy-wolf – a cross between a wolf and a coyote which has all the wiliness of the coyote and the danger of the wolf – we avoid them! However, the biggest animal is the Moose, in fact we have so many on Cape Breton Island that they have to be culled each year.”
“There are more Bald Eagles on Cape Breton Island than in the eastern US. We get lots of shore birds including Puffins which because of our Scottish background are called MacPuffins. There are no poisonous snakes, no skunks! So Come Again!”
Sonny also regailed us with the early history of Nova Scotia, the only British Colony to have a latin name – meaning New Scotland.
“It’s the only place in North America where Gaelic is still spoken. Its culture has remained a legacy of those who emigrated from the Scottish Highlands in search of a new life in the 1700’s,” he told us.
We crossed a steel girder bridge which spans the Grand Narrows which separates the St Andrew’s Channel from the Bredor Lake and crossed to the small historic village of Iona.
Our first stop of the day was at the Baile nan Gaidheal Highland Village a living history museum and cultural centre.
“Over the years around 50,000 highland Scotts emigrated to this part of the world,” Sonny said, “and the most common name in the telephone book is MacDonald. There are 110,000 people on the island now. Gaelic is now spoken by around 1,000 people and it’s actually making a come back.
The Highland Village is a Gaelic folk life experience where an open air museum portrays the homes and the lifestyle of the Gaelic immigrants from the late 1700s through to post First World War and the 1920’s.
It was a beautiful sunny day, and the views were breathtaking. We strolled across a grassy headland covered with wild flowers, particularly lupins, and stepped inside period buildings complemented with authentic artefacts and museum guides acting in character – who even taught us a little Gaelic.
The Black House
We first visited AN Taigh Dubh or The Black House. This was the first type of house built by the immigrant Scotts and was built predominantly from rock and was similar to the homes they had left in the Highlands.
However, the rich forests of Nova Scotia provided them with building materials that weren’t abundant in Scotland and the next homes developed into log houses and then into centre chimney house types.
Centre Chimney Houses
When we entered the small, centre chimney dwelling the lady of the house (the guide) said:
“The house was built in 1827 and I have five boys living here with me. Five isn’t a particularly large family though and many of the families around have bigger familes. One house has 21 people living in it. Some couples can’t have children and it’s not unusual for them to bring up other people’s because it was important to have help around the house – working the land, spinning wool and household chores are very labour intensive.”
It was so pleasant to walk around the museum experiencing the wildflowers, the yellows, whites, and purples, the green hedgerows, and the sweet song of birds. It was so tranquil gazing down at the blue of the lakes below girded by the green of fir trees.
The pristine environment seemed hardly touched by the hand of man. Beautiful, expansive, pure. Nature at its very best.
Yummy Oatmeal Biscuits
We also saw more modern buildings including the church, the general store, the forge and the schoolhouse.
At the end of our walk through Nova Scotia’s Gaelic history we were treated to tea and coffee and delicious freshly baked specialty of the region Oatmeal biscuits.
Onto the Car Ferry
We left Iona and headed to the Little Narrows where a small car ferry took our very large coach across the St Patrick’s Channel and onto a section of the Trans Canada Highway, the longest paved highway in the world, which crosses the entire breadth of Canada, more than 9,000 kilometres. It also crosses the Rockies.
After lunch at picturesque Inverary Resort we spent some time exploring the small town of Beddeck with its quaint houses, and seafront.
Bedeck is nestled along the shoreline of Bras d’Or Lake and in 1885 Alexander Graham Bell fell in love with the town when passing through and bought some land. He built a beautiful summer home here for his family called Beinn Bhreagh on the hillside overlooking Beddeck Bay.
Beddeck is the resting place of both Alexander Graham Bell and his wife Mabel and on the waterfront of there is a monument to the couple. They were apparently devoted and have been captured sitting on a bench looking at each other. If they turn their heads to face the bay they would be looking directly onto their beloved estate.
There’s also a museum you can visit dedicated to Alexander Bell and his inventions but sadly we didn’t have time.
St Anne’s Bay
Our trip continued out and along St Anne’s Bay with some pretty photo stops along the way to photograph the beautiful scenery of Cape Breton Island, and then late afternoon we arrived back into the town of Sydney.
Top place to visit
Cape Breton Island stole a little piece of our hearts. Its rugged shoreline, rolling hills and the seaside village of Beddeck left us in no doubt as to why Travel & Leisure magazine named the island “The #1 best island to visit in the continental United States and Canada.”
Must do if you have time
Called ‘one of the most spectacular drive in North America’ by Fodor’s, the Cabot Trail, is named after the famous explorer John Cabot. The drive traverses the coast, then goes through woodlands and tundra before ascending to the top of Cape Breton Highlands National Park.
Trivia Fun Facts
Singer Sarah McLachlan, and actors Donald Sutherland, Simon Birch and Ellen Page are all Nova Scotians.
Nova Scotia is Britain’s only colony named in Latin. New Scotland (Nova Scotia) was named by James I of England, VI of Scotland in 1621.
Nova Scotia is said to be the most highland Scottish part of the world outside of Scotland,
“Summer temperatures range from 20 – 24 degrees Celsius, and in the winter they range from -10 to +2,” Sonny told us. “We get about 1100mm of rain each year and 330cm of snow – winters are very long, from November to May.”
I’m travelling as a guest of Princess Cruises World Cruise but all opinions are my own.