Along the Glooscap trail

Looking for a weekend away from the city, a Dartmouth couple discovers the pleasures of a shoulder season drive from Glenholme to Joggins
Sat. Oct 17 - 4:46 AM

The beach at Red Rocks is a short stroll from the visitors centre at the main entrance to Cape Chignecto provincial park. The park, located in West Advocate Harbour, closes for the season on Oct. 25.

Rock formations at Andersons Cove in Cape Chignecto provincial park tower about 35 metres above the Bay of Fundy. The cove is on the Eatonville hiking trail in Cape Chignecto’s new day-use park. (JOANN ALBERSTAT)

THE bald eagle sits perched on a sea stack, sunning itself on the red Bay of Fundy rock.

We see the big bird, a few hundred metres offshore, while hiking on a fall morning in the new Etonville section of Cape Chignecto Provincial Park.

We think we’re hidden in the trees, having just stepped on a boardwalk leading to a look-off. But as soon as my husband reaches for his camera, the eagle takes flight. Too bad we interrupted the avian repose before getting what would have been a fantastic photo.

Our view of the eagle may have been fleeting but we take our time enjoying a weekend along part of the Glooscap Trail/Fundy Shore Ecotour.

Our journey begins in Glenholme and takes us as far west as Cape Chignecto. A rainy Saturday encourages us to take our time on what would be at least a three-hour drive from Halifax to our bed and breakfast in Advocate Harbour.

Leaving Highway 102 outside Truro, we do some antique hunting in Great Village and cheese shopping at That Dutchman’s Farm in Upper Economy. Many of the shops and galleries we pass are closed. However, most seem to be open the following day, a sunny Sunday, as we’re making our return journey.

A few roadside pumpkin stands are open on Saturday, with Dulse For Sale signs posted at a few houses farther down the shore. Some communities, including Parrsboro and Advocate Harbour, have Saturday morning farmers markets this time of year. Several restaurants along the way are shut down for the season.

But we do discover some pleasant eateries that are still open, including the Bare Bones Cafe and Bistro in Parrsboro and the Wild Caraway Restaurant and Cafe in Advocate Harbour.

Continuing west on Highway 2, the tide is out in the Minas Basin, exposing those vast mud flats. The rain lets up enough for us to pull over a couple of times to get photos of Five Islands, the sandstone formations standing out in a bay obscured by mist that morphs with the grey sky.

The headland is covered in sea grass that’s turned golden and, in the surrounding countryside, the fall foliage is at its peak, and brooks and streams are swollen by the season’s ample rain.

On the return trip the following day, in the sunshine, we pull over and take photos in many of the same spots. Neither of us noticed until the sun came out the abundance of blueberry fields, dazzling in autumn crimson. Other vehicles we pass — from New Brunswick, Nova Scotia and the U.S. — also have passengers driving along holding cameras.

The meandering coastal road is dotted with old farmsteads, Victorian mansions and derelict buildings. Every community seems to still have a church and sometimes a couple of them.

Some area residents working in their yards wave as we drive past. Others do the same when we meet their vehicles driving in the opposite direction. At the stores and cafes, staff ask where you’re from because they know all the locals.

After lunch and window shopping on Main Street in Parrsboro, we drive to Ottawa House museum, just up the hill from town. But the 18th-century mansion, once the summer home of former prime minister Sir Charles Tupper, is closed.

Other area sights, including the lighthouse at Spencers Island — home of the ghost ship Mary Celeste — and the Second World War observation tower in Economy are also shut down this late in the year.

Lucky for us, the Age of Sail Heritage Centre near Port Greville, 15 kilometres west of Parrsboro, is open. A gem of a museum located in a former church, the centre has three floors of displays on the area’s history. The sheer number of artifacts and photos, mostly related to the lumber and shipbuilding industries, is impressive. Most Nova Scotians don’t realize that some 700 ships were built in the many boatyards along these shores, the curator tells us.

The rain has let up by the time we reach Cape d’Or, a bumpy 10-minute drive down a dirt road off Highway 209. The basalt cliffs tower over the lighthouse, nestled in a cove that’s a short walk down from the parking lot. Below us is the swirling flood tide that occurs when the water rushes back up the Bay of Fundy.

We wander around the grounds, where the lighthouse keeper’s residence is now a restaurant and small inn. It’s a good thing it’s not foggy because a sign warns that the foghorn is loud.

We plan to continue to Joggins to check out the new Fossil Cliffs Interpretive Centre, but have spent too much time wandering around instead. We make it as far as Advocate Harbour, where our bed and breakfast is a 150-year-old farmhouse on a hill overlooking the Bay of Fundy.

From our second-floor gable window, Cape d’Or is on the left and to the right, Cape Chignecto, with cattle grazing in the fields and on the dike land in between. At night, the lights from the Annapolis Valley side of the bay are visible.

The next morning is dedicated to a hike in Cape Chignecto. We warmed up the previous day with a short, late-afternoon trek near the provincial park’s main entrance in West Advocate Harbour. But most of the eight trails here take either a full day or longer, which means backcountry camping.

On Sunday, we drive around the park to the new day-use park at Eatonville, 30 minutes down the road. Before the trail opened in late July, this part of the park wasn’t easy to reach. Most people made the trip in a sea kayak or on a backcountry hike from the other side of the park. Now visitors can drive up a 12-kilometre dirt road, passing the sandbar at scenic Apple River.

This Sunday morning is so bright and clear, the buildings at New Brunswick’s Fundy National Park and the village of Alma are visible across the bay through binoculars from a viewing platform at the visitors centre.

It takes about 1½ hours to hike the 5.6-kilometre trail, which is divided into two sections, Three Sisters in the south and Squally Point in the north. Each has three or four look-offs with interpretive panels that outline the area’s history and geological features.

Autumn foliage is noticeably absent as we trek along the clifftop, where the harsh conditions stunt forest growth. Ferns and grasses, brown and shrivelled, provide hints of fall colour, as do the red bunchberries and firethorn.

Even on a nice day, it’s windy enough to make your nose run. The pine scent that wafts through the wind-battered evergreens is pleasant though.

After seeing the eagle, encountering the next series of rock pillars, the famous Three Sisters, is a bit anticlimatic. According to one Mi’kmaq legend, the great god Glooscap turned his sisters into stone when he left the area, vowing to return them to human form upon his return.

Returning to this area soon is something I pledge to do while on the drive home. More than one tourist operator we met referred to the area as Nova Scotia’s hidden treasure and I can see why. During summer, when more area attractions are open, one could spend days exploring towns and villages, each with their own unique shops, museums and scenic vistas.

I bet those Bay of Fundy cliffs would be pretty photogenic in spring, too.

JoAnn Alberstat is an editor with The Chronicle Herald and a freelance travel writer.