Day Tripper

Travels in Nova Scotia

Pick a winner with a cranberry u-pick

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Move over, apples, pumpkins and pears. A new seasonal u-pick has caught my fancy this year.

And it’s just in time to steal the show at my Thanksgiving dinner, as I gesture toward the cranberry sauce and whisper to my guests, “I harvested those myself.”

Terra Beata Cranberry Farm, located on Heckmans Island near Lunenburg, offers a cranberry u-pick that’s the perfect place to while away an hour or two on a beautiful fall day.

The farm features a series of bogs which, until they’re flooded later in the season for the commercial harvest, look like a regular field surrounded by a ditch.

Once you cross the ditch, you’re immediately in the thick of it. It takes a moment to stop feeling guilty about stepping on the bushes, since there are no paths, but there isn’t really an alternative. The bushes and berries are everywhere. Under the twiggy plants, the moss can be a bit damp, so rubber boots are advisable.

You don’t have to venture more than a couple of steps into the bog before you can start filling your pail.

From above, the berries look dark, almost purple, but they’re crimson on the underside. Although they’re perhaps slightly less tempting to sample than blueberries or strawberries, I pop one into my mouth and enjoy the pleasantly tart flavour.

Aside from the sound of cranberries plunking into your pail, only the crickets – and maybe the sound of a startled deer bounding through the nearby brush – break the silence in this serene place.

In no time at all (OK, about 45 minutes of leisurely picking), my travelling companion and I have each filled our pail and head for the weigh-in.

Eleven-odd dollars later, we have enough cranberries to make countless cakes, smoothies and jams – and sauce for Thanksgiving dinner.

Although the surrounding area of Blue Rocks is worth a day trip itself, be sure to slow down and enjoy the scenery on the way to Heckmans Island.

If You Go:

Located at 161 Monk Point Rd. on Heckmans Island near Lunenburg

Open Monday to Saturday, 11 a.m. to 4 p.m., weather permitting

U-pick berries cost $1.50 per pound

This story originally appeared in The Chronicle Herald on Oct. 10, 2014.

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Pugwash has that small town magic

 

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I think I have a crush on Pugwash.

It’s not just the adorable name, which conjures up images of a wet dog (which everyone knows is the cutest thing on the planet).

There’s just something special about this place. It’s like stepping back in time about 30 years.

Rolling into the town (or village, I should say, since it’s home to just 750 souls), the first thing I notice is the gas station. There’s an old-fashioned oval Esso sign and a one-door mechanic’s garage with large white letters spelling out Imperial, perhaps missing a letter or two, if memory serves.

Down the street, the hydrangeas are still in bloom outside the small post office.

The street signs are in both English and Gaelic. There are no sidewalks on most of the side streets, and the pavement is pink.

The crabapple trees in the yards have started to lose their fruit, dotting the curbsides with their offerings.

There’s a Co-op store, but no monolithic Sobeys or Superstore. There’s a cafe, but no Tim Hortons.

These are all minor things, but somehow they add up.

Maybe it’s just nostalgia. Pugwash reminds me a bit of the small town where I grew up. But even more so, it reminds me of the time period in which I grew up.

An American tourist recently told me that he likes Nova Scotia because it reminds him of what Maine was like 30 years ago.

There’s a certain appeal to small towns that have been left relatively unscathed by the onslaught of big-box stores, shopping malls and fast-food joints.

Pugwash may not have the most “modern” look or vibe, but that’s what makes this place so charming.

The public library is housed inside a beautiful, historic brick building that served as a train station from the turn of the 20th century until the 1970s.

There’s a delightful cafe and bookstore called Chatterbox Café, with friendly service, excellent panini and lip-puckeringly tart pickles. Although an art gallery across the street was closed during my visit, nearby Seagull Pewter offers factory tours year-round.

Monty’s, which bills itself as a used clothing store, is really more of an everything-under-the-sun store. This place is a treasure-hunter’s delight. From the largest conceivable knitting needles (19 millimetres) to vintage cookware to jewelry and furniture, you’ll find it here. Seitl’s Antiques was closed, but if the view through the window holds any truth, it’s equally intriguing.

Eaton Park, which runs alongside Pugwash Harbour, boasts a boardwalk and benches to help while away a crisp fall afternoon.

The path ends near the Thinker’s Lodge, the site of a historic 1957 peace conference, which drew leaders from around the world to discuss disarmament. Although the building is now closed to tourists for the season, it’s worth an off-season visit just for the view of the harbour.

Pugwash’s salt mine operation offers a glimpse into the community’s industrial history, while the nearby Wallace Bay National Wildlife Area provides the opposite. The four-kilometre looped trail offers a serene walk where the silence is broken only by birdsong, the hum of mosquitoes and the occasional quacking of startled ducks as they fly away from visitors.

All in all, mosquitoes notwithstanding, my crush on Pugwash continues unabated.

This article was originally published in The Chronicle Herald on Sept. 20, 2014.

Blue Sea Beach is a true hidden gem

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All year, I’ve been reminiscing about one glorious afternoon last summer on a previously unknown-to-me beach on the North Shore.

Never one for lolling about on the sand, I usually make a beeline for the water, and that day was no exception. While my relatives idled on their beach towels, I walked into the ocean. And walked. And walked. And walked.

Blue Sea Beach, near Malagash, is pretty much my dream beach: practically deserted, as warm as bath water and with a slope so gentle it seems one could surely walk straight across to P.E.I.

Throughout the winter, as I gazed out my window into the bluish snowy dusk or trudged out yet again with my shovel, I’d think back to that day at Blue Sea and vow I’d return.

I finally made my way back recently, and with the exception of a moment’s panic when I felt something — likely a crab — nip at my heel, I whiled away a good hour in utter relaxation, floating on my back, staring up from the silence of the water at a blue sky. Those are the summer moments to remember.

Blue Sea Beach is truly a hidden gem and was the kicker to the rest of a perfect day in nearby Tatamagouche.

Admittedly, it was the lure of a new craft brewery, Tatamagouche Brewing Company, that provided the most urgent incentive for a visit, but I’d been meaning to spend some time in Tatamagouche for a while.

Between the waterfront and Main Street is the Creamery Square Heritage Centre, home to exhibits about the local dairy industry, area history, fossil finds and the giantess Anna Swan.

There are lots of gems throughout the centre, but the two taxidermied calves upstairs are sure to make an impression, including one calf born with two faces and another born with a head at either end of its body.

My museum favourites also included the diorama of Seymouria, whom my travelling companion and I quickly nicknamed Seymour. He’s a cute lizardy-looking fellow that populated the area about 290 million years ago. Along with a dragonfly with a 76-centimetre wingspan, the display includes a prehistoric predator called Dimetrodon, who lurks menacingly behind poor Seymour, clearly ready to pounce.

The story of Anna Swan, an eight-foot-tall Mill Brook native, is equally compelling. Swan made a living working for the famous circus owner P.T. Barnum in the 1860s and ’70s, and married another giant before settling in Ohio. Visitors enter the exhibit through an eight-foot-high door and can view replica clothing and rings and stand next to a life-size figure of Swan and her groom.

Outside Creamery Square is a farmers’ market and gift shop, and just a few metres down a gravel pathway is the Train Station Inn, where you can enjoy a meal in the dining car of an old train.

A sunset saunter on the Trans Canada Trail along Waughs River is a great end to this day trip. Another perfect summer’s day, with plenty of fresh memories to store up for the winter.

This article was originally published in The Chronicle Herald on Aug. 16, 2014.

Beauty and the beast await in Halls Harbour

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It’s hard to resist a good pirate story. And Halls Harbour has a doozy.

Samuel Hall had been born in Kings County but moved early in life to the New England states, where he lived for some time. Like all Maritimers, though, he eventually felt the call of home, albeit for all the wrong reasons.

In 1779, Hall — now Capt. Hall, to the crew aboard the Mary Jane — returned to the county with a dubious mission: to terrorize the locals and loot what they could from local farmers, stores and houses.

Twice, Hall and his crew successfully plundered nearby settlements. But the third raid didn’t turn out so well for the prodigal pirate.

While most of the crew was out conducting its nefarious business one day, a group of militia decided to defend their territory and staged a takedown. The men fired on the Mary Jane, which was tucked away in a protected cove that would eventually bear Hall’s name. Just three unlucky souls had stayed behind to protect the ship, but they were no match for the militia.

Wounded and likely feeling their vulnerability, they told the militiamen where Hall and the rest of the band could be found. By the time the militia arrived, though, Hall had already fled.

Of course, a pirate story wouldn’t be a pirate story without a lost treasure.

Legend has it that when Hall swiftly escaped the clutches of the militia, he was forced to leave behind a chest of gold he had buried somewhere in Halls Harbour.

Why Halls Harbour chose such a scoundrel as its namesake is anyone’s guess. The tiny community in the Bay of Fundy certainly has plenty of other outstanding features.

Like the metre-high tides in the harbour that buoy the fishing boats up at high tide and leaving them stranded on the shore a mere six hours later. And there’s plenty to do as you while away the time between tides.

A half-kilometre hiking trail leads from the main road up through the woods surrounding the harbour. Although short, the well-maintained path is a pleasant hike along the ferny forest floor, and can be walked either as a loop or as a one-way trail that ends at another spot down the road.

The beach at Halls Harbour is a great place to spend a couple of hours, either alongside the wharf or farther down the shore at low tide, below the vertical cliffs.

Fishing is still a mainstay in this community, and that’s evident not only from the boats tied up along the wharf, but also from the offerings in the Halls Harbour Lobster Pound, the local restaurant. Order your meal at the adjacent gift shop, which is surely home to every lobster-themed souvenir on the planet.

After you’ve had your fill, head over to Paints and Pots, a little art gallery and shop featuring the work of artists who live nearby, including painters, cigar-box guitar makers and potters. This little shed, tucked away behind the gift shop, is also called Captain Hall’s Treasure Chest.

Who knows? You might end up finding the scoundrel’s buried treasure there.

This article originally appeared in The Chronicle Herald on July 19, 2014.

 

Of Bubbling Seas and Other Wonders

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Maybe the heat had addled my brain. Or my eyes were playing tricks on me.

But for a minute, I could’ve sworn the ocean was boiling.

Up and down the shoreline, little bubbles were steadily rising from the pebbles along the water’s edge, like someone had turned the dial on the stove up to about seven.

As I stretch my toes toward the bubbles, I give fleeting but moderately serious consideration to the notion that my foot could get burned. It was a very hot day.

As it turns out, the water is as refreshing as an unheated swimming pool in March. This is, after all, summer in Nova Scotia.

I ask a passing paddler if we’re in for fire and brimstone next, or if the water always does this here. She kind of chuckles, and admits she’s told some tall tales about this phenomenon in the past, but that she’ll tell me the truth: natural springs.

It sounds plausible enough to my sun-weary brain, so I carry on toward my destination: Partridge Island.

The shore around Partridge Island – which is, in truth, more of a peninsula – is known for its semi-precious rocks and minerals, including agate, amethyst, calcite, chabazite, jasper and stilbite. In fact, French explorer Samuel de Champlain collected amethysts from Partridge Island that were presented to the king and queen of France.

Jutting out into the Minas Basin across from Cape Blomidon, Partridge Island was once an important transportation hub linking northern Nova Scotia to Windsor and Halifax. At one point, there was a ferry service across the basin, and Partridge Island had a militia outpost, postal and legal services and even stores of essential items such as rum, molasses, tools and broadcloth.

Although it no longer has a stash of rum, it’s still got plenty to offer today’s visitors.

While rockhounds search for treasures along the shore, hikers can enjoy a 2.7-kilometre walk across the top of the peninsula. The trail begins at the end of the beach with a steep ascent, but with benches along the way, it’s accessible to moderately fit hikers.

The first look-off offers views of the surrounding coast, including Five Islands, and a second look-off and viewing tower provide a vista of Cape Blomidon and Cape Split. The entire trail takes about an hour and a quarter, including stops for rests and refreshments.

A visit to Partridge Island wouldn’t be complete without a stop at Ottawa House By-The-Sea Museum, an historic building that dates back to the 1700s and once served as summer home to Sir Charles Tupper.

Among the rooms, which include a school room, a nautical room, bedroom, bathroom, nursery and servants’ quarters, keep an eye open for the foghorn from the Parrsboro Lighthouse and a stuffed ram’s head, apparently given to Tupper during a party one summer. (“The head was in recognition of his nickname The Ram, although it is not known whether this was meant to be a compliment or not, ” the accompanying note reads.)

On the road back to Parrsboro, take the time to stop in at the Parrsboro Rock & Mineral Shop and Museum to explore the fossils, rocks, shells, gems and paintings and to take your picture with the cute concrete dinosaur out front.

By the time I got home, I was still curious about those mysterious bubbles along the shore at Partridge Island Beach. I fire up the Google machine and learn about bubbles on the ocean of one of Jupiter’s moons, but find nothing about the Minas Basin. If you can help solve the mystery, drop me a line.

Click here to see a video I shot of the bubbling shoreline.

This article originally appeared in The Chronicle Herald on July 5, 2014

In praise of concrete details

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It’s not a phrase you’d ever expect to hear, but it’s true: He had a passion for concrete.

Charles Macdonald believed concrete was not only safe, strong and more durable than stone, but also that it could be a thing of beauty.

And his creations – a handful of concrete cottages at Huntington Point, among other things – are undoubtedly beautiful.

For some, these whimsical dwellings conjure up thoughts of elves, fairies or Smurfs. Others say the cottages remind them of Hansel and Gretel or, somewhat inexplicably, mushrooms. I imagine they are what Maud Lewis might have created if she had a bit more space and a penchant for concrete.

Macdonald, a native of nearby Centreville, built the five cottages in the 1930s. He and his wife Mabel used to go camping in the area and it eventually dawned on Macdonald that this was “a spot where one could live quietly, yet not be evading useful employment” (Macdonald had acquired socialist tendencies during his years exploring the world as a ship’s carpenter, a fact still evident in the reading materials lining the shelves inside the Red Cottage).

Macdonald and the men who worked at his nearby brick factory, Kentville Concrete Products, built the homes using stones from a nearby beach. Everything else from the floor to the roof is concrete, including some of the inside features, such as the fireplace, mantel and kitchen table. Outside the Red Cottage is a concrete picket fence, deer sculpture and oven. Macdonald’s detailed concrete sculptures grace the inside, and the chimneys are topped with sculptures of boats and birds.

A visitor from the Christian Science Monitor wrote in 1941 that the cottages’ architecture “might have seemed a troubled dream, or even a nightmare, to an aspiring member of the Royal College of Architects, ” and that “anyone engaged in town planning would have been horrified.” But the same visitor also noted that “there was, one felt, an instinctive peace in this man’s heart.”

The surroundings are certainly peaceful, with a rocky beach just steps away and the quiet broken only by the hum of bumblebees exploring the apple blossoms.

The Macdonalds used the cottages as a hostel for guests from as far away as New York, England and Ireland, although most who signed the visitors log over the decades were from Nova Scotia. Prices have increased since the standard fee in the early 1940s – 25 to 75 cents – but visitors can still stay in the Blue Cottage in exchange for a donation to the Charles Macdonald House of Centreville Society.

Macdonald eventually sold most of the cottages. The Round Cottage, also affectionately known as the Teapot Cottage, was bulldozed by its owners in the 1980s, but the other four remain. Two are privately owned, while the Blue Cottage is maintained by the society and the Red Cottage is owned by the Macdonald family.

It’s a constant struggle to keep the buildings in good shape, as Fred Macdonald, Charles’s great-nephew, can attest. In addition to the lawn and garden work and occasional concrete patching job, there’s always a lick of paint at the ready to keep the cottages looking cheerful. Fred, his family and society members keep Macdonald’s legacy thriving through the cottages as well as the Charles Macdonald Concrete House Museum in Centreville.

The museum was originally the site of Macdonald’s brick factory and was later converted to a home for Macdonald and Mabel (after their wedding in Kentville during a January snowstorm, the couple walked home, where Charles presented Mabel with her wedding gift: a rolling pin). At the museum, which is open seasonally, visitors can take a look at some of Macdonald’s paintings as well as his outdoor sculptures, including a Bengal tiger, a nude lady (“a bit of a controversy in her time, ” says Fred), some toadstools and a doghouse – all, of course, made of concrete.

“Charlie was an individual, ” Fred says of his great-uncle, in whom he didn’t take a great interest when he was younger. “I was probably 16 years old and I was into sex, drugs and rock ‘n’ roll. But a couple years later, Jesus, I wish I had sat down and talked with him. He would have some stories.”

If you go:

-The Blue Cottage is located at 1172 Huntington Point Rd., and the other cottages are on the same road. From the main road leading west from Halls Harbour, turn where a sign points you toward Simpson Road.

-The Blue Cottage is available to visitors from July to September for a donation of $400 for a one-week stay, plus a $10 membership to the Charles Macdonald House of Centreville Society. To make arrangements, email info@concretehouse.ca

-The cottage has an outdoor shower with hot water.

-The Charles Macdonald Museum is in Centreville at 19 Saxon St. at the corner of Highway

 

This article originally appeared in The Chronicle Herald on June 21, 2014.

Scaling the heights in Truro

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I lose count somewhere around 80. And I’m only about halfway there.

I continue climbing Jacob’s Ladder, the 175-step staircase at Victoria Park in Truro, and am reminded that I should really do this sort of thing more often. It’s good to feel my heart pumping a bit more vigorously after months of relative lethargy.

My travelling companion is terrified of heights, and is probably at this same moment remembering that there’s also a horror movie by the name of Jacob’s Ladder.

The narrow steps scale the side of the gorge and offer a great view of the surrounding area, if you can brave taking your eyes off your footing. We make it to the top and immediately take advantage of a nearby bench. It won’t be the last steep climb – or brief respite – during our visit.

More than twice the size of Point Pleasant Park in Halifax, this 160-hectare park has plenty of hills to challenge the occasional hiker or casual walker, and lots of other surprises, too.

Not far from Jacob’s Ladder, a wooden staircase and boardwalk lead to Waddell Falls, a waterfall that was not much more than a forceful trickle during my recent visit. Undoubtedly, though, it’s a sight to behold during spring thaw or after a rainfall. The relative calm of the falls enticed several park visitors to the water’s edge and even lured a few to dip a toe in the deep pool at the base of the waterfall.

Nearby, another staircase leads to the Wishing Well, a cairn-like structure built into the side of a steep hill that collects cool, fresh water in the well’s basin before draining it down the hill. On a hot day, the well was clearly refreshing for a large group of Sparks and Brownies, several of whom seized the opportunity to douse their hair.

Downstream from Waddell Falls along Lepper Brook is Joseph Howe Falls, and farther along the path is a picnic gazebo and a Holy Well, a replica of a well in Bible Hill where Acadian settlers baptized their infants.

The main trails in Victoria Park are maintained with crusher dust, while many of the smaller trails through the woods are dirt paths. Numerous boardwalks and bridges help hikers across tricky areas while preventing damage to the ecosystem.

In case you still need to get your ya-yas out after hiking around the park, a playground near the park entrance contains tennis courts, a swimming pool, a water spray park and ballfields.

If the park’s canteen isn’t open during your visit and you have a hankering for ice cream, try Young Street Variety, a nearby convenience store that benefits the non-profit organization Colchester Community Workshops.

 

IF YOU GO:

The main entrance to Victoria Park is on Park Road, off Brunswick Street. Use the signs located throughout Truro to help navigate the way.

There is a large parking lot near the main entrance and additional parking at the Wood Street entrance and near Victoria Park Pool on Adam Street.

Bicycles are permitted on the trails.

 

This post originally appeared in The Chronicle Herald on June 7, 2014.

Magic awaits at the end of the road

 

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There’s a certain allure to a dead-end road.

I’m not talking about your average suburban cul-de-sac, although I’m sure they’re plenty fascinating.

I’m talking about the sort of dead-end road that’s in the proverbial middle of nowhere. The kind that locals use, either because they live on it or because they already know about the secret wonderful thing that lies at the end of it.

The kind that most tourists will never get to see because they’re speeding along a featureless highway toward their destination and they don’t want to waste time wandering with an uncertain reward.

In my book, a dead-end road is a perfectly decent destination.

While planning a recent trip to southwest Nova Scotia, one glance at a map told me I’d be doing plenty of dead-ending.

This corner of the province has endless peninsulas jutting out into the ocean, each bearing at least one squiggly red line that comes to a halt at the water.

From Yarmouth, my first stop was the Cape Forchu lighthouse. Unlike other dead-end roads in the area, this one is hardly unknown to tourists.

Just a 15-minute drive from Main Street, it’s an easy jaunt along the water, with a beautiful payoff at the end with the apple-core lighthouse and rugged rocks to climb on.

Before you head south, take a quick detour north to visit the Sandford drawbridge, reputedly the smallest manually operated drawbridge in the world. It’s a bit of a cheat to call a wharf a dead-end road, but it would be a shame to miss this spot on a tour of the area. The drawbridge is used to allow fishing boats to pass from the ocean to an inner harbour. From Yarmouth, head out of town on Main Shore Road, turn left on Ross Durkie Road and turn in to the fishing wharf to see the bridge.

My next jaunt was down Chebogue Point Road, which comes to an end in a patch of gravel just big enough to turn a car around. The cows belonging to the farm here are likely the primary beneficiaries of the view of the rocky shore, wild headlands and surrounding pastures. This area is probably private property, so be sure to ask for permission if you’re tempted to start exploring.

You’ll have to head back up to Highway 3 to reach your next dead-end destination: Pinkneys Point. Exit onto Highway 334 and turn onto Melbourne Road, following it until you get the feeling that the only thing tying you to civilization is the long string of telephone poles lining the road. Almost at sea level, this narrow path of asphalt lies between a seawall on one side and a vast marsh on the other. Keep an eye out for eagles along this stretch. Like many dead ends in this region, you’ll wind up at a picturesque fishing wharf.

Comeaus Hill Road will take you down the next peninsula toward the mysterious La Roche de Saint-Pierre trail. It’s mysterious because on my recent trip, there were signs to direct me there, but no explanation whatsoever for the eponymous rock.

As I later learned, the first missionary to visit the Acadians after they returned from exile celebrated mass in the shade of this rock in 1769.

During Father Charles-Francois Bailly de Messein’s visit, he baptized and married several residents who hadn’t seen a priest for years. If you look closely (which I did not), you may see a cross carved into the towering rock.

To get here, follow the signs, park in the small gravel lot and head down the trail that has a rock and a log in front of it (the other trail appears to be private property).

The short trail leads to the Roche de Saint-Pierre and a lovely view of the surrounding area. Once you’re back in the parking lot, head to the very end of Comeaus Hill Road and you’ll find a small, sandy beach.

After exploring this craggy corner of Nova Scotia for a few days, I quickly realized I was on an utterly futile mission to try to explore all the dead ends. There are simply too many.

But that’s reason enough to return.

 

This post originally appeared in The Chronicle Herald on May 24, 2014.

The Drowned Forest: Creepy, but beautiful

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As I crest a rise in the land at the water’s edge, my jaw drops.

“What the …” I breathe to my travelling companion, my words trailing off.

It looks like the scene of some post-apocalyptic movie. Or a fantasy novel where the ancient Battle of Something or Other was waged.

Hundreds of tree stumps dot the beach where it seems no tree should ever have grown. Salt water laps at those closest to the ocean, seaweed draped over these hulking remains of another era.

This is the place they call the Drowned Forest.

As a fellow who lives nearby told me on a recent visit in April, the tree stumps on Cape Sable Island’s Hawk Beach “have been here longer than I have.” He’s 80-odd years old.

As Google would have it, the Drowned Forest is all that remains of a 1,500-year-old forest that once graced this shore.

Whether it was rising sea levels that doomed the once-leafy spot or some other cause, it’s hard to say.

A 1934 scientific paper on other drowned forests in the region, including in Fort Lawrence, Grand Pre and New England, concludes that “submergence was so slow at these forest sites that a long time elapsed between the killing of one tree and the next.”

“Either eustatic rise of the sea or downward crustal movement is a possible cause, but we cannot choose between them, ” the authors wrote.

This is, hands down, one of the eeriest spots I’ve been in this province. The trees jut out from the beach at all the wrong angles. Roots stretch across the sand toward each other.

They are moored to their places, just as they were centuries ago, awaiting their slow fate.

Unnerving as the Drowned Forest may be, the surrounding area – the Highway 3 loop from Pubnico to Barrington – balances that creepiness with oodles of oddities.

From Exit 31 on Highway 103, hop on Highway 3 headed toward Shag Harbour.

Stop at Hipsons Creek stone bridge in East Pubnico to admire this beautiful and unusual stone footbridge and read the memorial for drowning victims in the area. This would be a great spot to eat a packed lunch or just stretch your legs for a spell.

As you travel toward the midpoint on the loop, be on the lookout for the hubcap hoarder in the 7100 block of Highway 3. You’ll know it when you see it.

Shortly afterwards, you’ll encounter the Shag Harbour Incident Society Museum, where you can learn all about the night in 1967 when locals claim to have spotted a UFO before it seemingly crashed into the ocean.

Outside Shag Harbour, you’ll find a property that appears to be lined with the bones of some type of marine mammal, and in Doctors Cove, try to spot Harold Smith’s colourful birdhouses ($15 each) as well as a replica lighthouse built out of driftwood.

If you’re hungry or just have a hankering for a classic sundae or banana split, stopping at Dan’s Ice Cream Shoppe is a must. Located just steps before the turnoff to Cape Sable Island, this recently refurbished diner is a gleaming, colourful step back into the ’50s (except for the Lorde songs on the radio).

Immediately after crossing the causeway onto Cape Sable Island, turn left and park in the lot facing a sandy beach, where you can watch the fishing boats come in and look for piping plovers (although be mindful of their habitat, as explained on the nearby signs).

To reach the Drowned Forest, continue either counterclockwise around the island on Highway 330 or turn left on Centreville South Side Road. Turn onto Hawk Point Road and then turn left again at New Road. Park in the gravel lot and walk toward the beach. Facing the water, turn right and walk several metres. You’ll see a few tree stumps here, but climb the next small rocky hill and you’ll spot the larger forest.

 

If You Go:

Check the tide charts before you visit the Drowned Forest. It can only be seen at low tide.

From Hawk Beach, you can also see Nova Scotia’s tallest lighthouse, Cape Sable lighthouse, in the distance. A better vantage point is from the parking lot at the end of Fish Plant Road.

 

This post originally appeared in The Chronicle Herald on May 10, 2014.

Yarmouth: A style all its own

 

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I knew the moment I stepped onto Main Street and heard the tinny strains of Madonna’s Holiday that I was going to like this town.

Yarmouth didn’t let me down.

My first glimpse was in mid-April, hardly the kindest time of year, esthetically. In Nova Scotia, the dull, pervasive brownness of early spring seems to lift at a painfully glacial pace.

But Yarmouth charmed me nonetheless.

There was scarcely a soul around during my initial Sunday afternoon visit, which allowed me to unabashedly bust out my dance moves on the sidewalk when Abba took over from Madonna.

You see, Yarmouth’s Main Street is lined with outdoor speakers, piping out an odd mix of traditional tunes and commercial hits from, well, at least a couple decades ago. The music is somewhat controversial among residents, but, at the risk of inviting angry letters, I must admit that as a visitor, I enjoyed its liveliness on an otherwise sleepy day.

The town’s quirky shops reeled me in. There’s hardly a chain store on Main Street and in my books, that’s a bonus. Starbucks and American Apparels are a dime a dozen; independent businesses with personality are what give a commercial district its character. Yarmouth has that in spades.

From the colourful folk art and local crafts at Shackwacky to the fineries of the Yarmouth Wool Shoppe to the unique gifts at Hands On Crafts – including an incredible knitted nativity scene, complete with sheep – there is plenty to idle over.

Tucked away off the main drag on John Street is Lam’s Used Book Store, which has an almost alarming array of old puzzles for just $1.50 each.

If you visit, be sure to pop into the Old World Bakery for a coffee and treat, to admire the bottle-glass windows and to browse the carefully curated selection of records (minus Donovan and Simon and Garfunkel, which left with me).

And, just to prove that Main Street Yarmouth has something for everyone, it’s also home to a sex shop and Gun Basics, where you can get your hatchet sharpened for just seven dollars.

Toots, a confectionery and everything-you-could-possibly-need store, is worth a visit, if only to pick up some sour keys and ogle the old magazines, antique tins and partly coin-covered floor.

A couple of Main Street shops have an old-timey, general-store feel, and it wouldn’t be surprising to learn that they had indeed been around for a century.

Yarmouth is an architecture fiend’s delight. The town was spared the massive fires that decimated many other communities in the 1800s and early 1900s, so the commercial district and nearby residential streets are home to oodles of striking buildings.

Walking tours are available to learn more about the town’s history, and there are plenty of museums in the downtown area, including the Yarmouth County Museum, the Firefighters’ Museum and the W. Laurence Sweeney Fisheries Museum. The town is also home to the western branch of the Art Gallery of Nova Scotia, open Thursday to Sunday.

Yarmouth’s waterfront boasts a pleasant walking trail with interpretive panels where you can learn about the architecture, industries, fisheries, rum-running and nearby shipwrecks.

My recent visit coincided with that of the Nova Star, the new ferry that kicks into gear on May 15, bringing tourists from Portland, Maine, each day.

I have no doubt those visitors will find lots to like.

This article originally appeared in The Chronicle Herald on April 26, 2014.