After a proper English breakfast at the MacKenzie House B&B (eggs, bacon, sausage, home fries, juice, coffee and toast) and a warm send-off from proprietors Sharon and Cliff, we headed east again on Route 4 and, after half an hour of riding, found ourselves on the west side of New Glasgow again, retracing our steps. A minor annoyance, except that it meant that we would have to take the Transcanada Highway again to find our way to Cape Breton Island.
I hate the highways, not just the TCH but all major highways. The scooters are maxed out and going wide-open throttle, my saddlebags induce wobble at high speeds, and of course everything happens faster, so there is even less time to react to trouble. Highways are hazards, in other words, but beyond that they are simply boring to ride. Long and straight with unvaried scenery, they are best left to the trucks.
The western part of Nova Scotia, however, seems to depend on the TCH. We tried several times to get off onto #4, but it invariably ended with an on-ramp to the TCH again. So, I gritted my teeth, wrapped my white knuckles ever tighter around the handlebars, ducked lower behind the bug-splattered windscreen, twisted the throttle harder and reluctantly rode the highway to the Canso Causeway and Cape Breton Island.
Nova Scotia, by the way, has the absolute best tourist services I have ever seen. Not only are the guidebooks thorough, accurate, and complete, but the visitor centers have concierges who will direct you to whatever you want to do, wherever you want to go, and make the reservations for you as well. Maine could definitely take a lesson from Nova Scotia in this regard. And to any bikers who happen upon this blog, before heading to NS be sure to obtain (in addition to the NS map and tour guide) the Motorcycle Tour Guide to Nova Scotia and Atlantic Canada — it takes you step-by-step along every route in the region, also listing restaurants, accommodations and repair shops.
At any rate, the VERY helpful lady at the visitor center set us up for the night in a lovely B&B, in the former home of an early 20th-century coal magnate named Ebenezer Oscar Leadbetter — now named Hillcrest Hall in Port Hood, about half an hour north on Route 19 from the Canso Causeway (it was either head up #19 along the coast, or get back on the TCH toward Baddeck — easy choice!).
We arrived in mid-afternoon and settled in. By the time we were ready for dinner, a steady rain had begun to fall; we had thought about venturing further up Route 19 to Mabou to eat, as Cliff and Sharon had highly recommended this area, but on account of the rain we instead opted to walk around the block to a little bistro named The Clove Hitch.
And what a find! Not only was the food tremendous, but there was a ceilidh going on. Pronounced “kay-lee”, the word apparently means “a social gathering”; although it rather seems to me that it means “an awesome concert by a Celtic fiddler while you eat”. Katie MacLeod, from Inverness just up the coast, held forth for a good hour or more of non-stop virtuosic fiddling. And she was nothing short of tremendous!
I told her, during a space between tunes, that we were on our first visit to CBI, and asked if she would play something that was classic Cape Breton, that no visitor should leave without hearing. After consulting with the apparently knowledgeable guests at the nearest table, she decided that the appropriate tune was “King George”, which she said was an old tune from the Scottish highlands. “King George” turned out to be a blistering virtuosic showpiece constructed as an argument between the two lowest strings and the two highest ones, the bow dipping and lifting furiously while her fingers blurred upon the fingerboard. Stunning — and she followed that up with a poignant highland ballad (nothing like a violin for doing poignant, is there?), and then on and on, jigs and reels and ballads flowing endlessly from her violin, with never a tune repeated. Amazing — and all for the price of dinner!
Tomorrow will begin with a visit to a motorcycle dealership in Middle River, since the muffler has worked loose on the Vespa to the point where it now sounds like a Harley. From there we will begin the Cabot Trail!