The former Mabou coal mines at Finlay Point is one of the must stop and see vistas on the Ceilidh Trail which runs along Hwy 19 from Port Hood to Inverness. PHOTO: Denise Davies
Today we are heading off to explore the western coast of Cape Breton between the Canso Causeway and Inverness Hwy 19 known as the Ceilidh Trail.
Our first stop is the Visitor Information Centre in Port Hastings, just after you cross the Canso Causeway to Cape Breton.
Pickup maps for Celtic Shores Coastal Trail and the booklet Sunset Side of Cape Breton. Find out what is going on and any tips from the friendly staff.
For hikers and bikers the Celtic Shore Coastal Trail winds along the coast from Port Hastings to Inverness. This 92km all-purpose trail is relatively level and well surfaced with many entry points along Hwy 19. Interpretive signs give the history and local lore. Spectacular views of the ocean, beaches, headlands, farmlands, meadows, and multi-colored wildflowers are around every corner. Well marked signs show amenities and distances. The county of Inverness has an extensive trail system.
Along the Ceilidh Trail there are lots of opportunities to enjoy and learn more about the distinctive and popular Cape Breton music. Our first stop is just 20 minutes from the Causeway in Judique at the Judique Celtic Music Interpretive Centre with live Ceilidhs daily at noon. In the museum and interactive exhibit room you can learn a few notes on the fiddle and some step dancing steps. The restaurant is on the “chowder trail” with an extensive choice menu. The halibut burger and chowder were delicious while we enjoyed the fiddlers, piano and step dancer ceilidh. Watch out for signs for square dances and ceilidhs in other communities along the way.
The west coast of Cape Breton has a string of beautiful sandy beaches. The Port Hood Day Park is just before entering town and another beach at the wharf where children were lined up diving off the old wharf. Families with their colorful umbrellas were enjoying the summer sun. Port Hood Island is accessible by boat tours. From Port Hood head to West Mabou Beach via Colindale Rd or continue on Hwy 19 for Mabou village.
Mabou, famous for its Celtic music, Gaelic culture and being “Home of the Rankins,” stretches along a long inlet to the ocean. An Drochaid (The Bridge) is the Gaelic and Historical Museum and a cultural center giving step-dancing, fiddle and piano lessons, holding Gaelic-related events and workshops. On Sunday the popular Mabou Farmers Market is a great place to see artisans and crafts people with their wares as well as music and local foods. The Strathspey Place Performing Arts Centre offers performances of local and Celtic talent.
Head down Mabou Harbour Rd on the north side of the inlet to Mabou Harbour at the mouth of the inlet. The square lighthouse built in 1884 displays a small museum with history of the area. You can see the back side of West Mabou beach from here on the other side of the inlet. A side road to Mabou Coal Mines is worth the drive for the spectacular views as you reach Finlay Cove and its small wharf.
Pick up a copy of the Mabou Hiking Trails from the grocery store and explore more of the picturesque trails in the area. The West Mabou Beach Provincial Park has a beautiful large sandy beach, dunes and hiking trails at the southern side of the mouth of Mabou Harbour reached via Colindale Rd off Hwy 19.
Enjoy Cape Breton hospitality, a meal and music at the Red Shoe Pub or The Mull Restaurant named for The Mull River. Stop at Glenora Distillery in the Mabou Highlands between Mabou and Inverness for a guided tour of North America’s first single malt whisky – Glen Breton Rare. Enjoy the pub or patio and Celtic music daily 1 to 3 p.m. and shop for that special souvenir.
You can see the mining history of Inverness town in the “company houses” that line the main street of town. These houses were built in the early 1900s for the miners. The coal mines are long since closed and the renovated houses have a new life. Learn more about this history at the Miner’s Museum housed in the old railway station on Lower Railway Street. This is also a great spot to view the golfers on the Cabot Links and access to the boardwalk heading down to the Inverness Beach.
Cabot Links in its short history has become a premiere destination for golfers and has been awarded the Number 1 spot in the Canadian Golf Magazine. It features spectacular views all along the seacoast and is built on the rolling lands above the coal mines that closed in the early 1900s. The Panorama Restaurant has a view that matches its name and features fresh local ingredients.
The Celtic Colours takes place Oct 9-17 and this area will be humming with even more music and events.
Davies is a travel writer, photographer and videographer living in Antigonish.