The next day signalled the official end of the Honda extravaganza and Mr Thornton, Ken Maclean (KML from the Soapbox, who had kindly ridden out on his ’Busa to meet up with us and show us some of the sights) and myself, waived off the other journos and hit the Cabot Trail once more, but this time in a clockwise direction.
The glorious weather of the previous day had deserted us and a very low and very damp looking cloud obscured the Highlands.
Riding in clouds is, well, riding in fog and the spectacular views of yesterday were now replaced by the fear of riding off an unforeseen cliff.
But this is the Maritimes and if you don’t like the weather just wait a while and chances are you’ll get something better. And sure enough by the time we hit the northern tip of the Cape, the cloud had burnt off and the clear blue skies returned.
Like equatorial water down a plug hole, having ridden in both directions I can also categorically say that counter clockwise is the best way to ride the Trail. The glorious steep ascent and gradual descent of Old Smokey turned out to be a mild climb followed by an on-the-brakes drop-off in reverse. Even the views seemed to be all arse about face.
However, this time instead of ending back up where we started, which wasn’t where we wanted to be at all, we peeled off the Trail at its south-eastern corner and took the ferry at Englishtown.
The ferry cuts a handy short cut across just a few hundred metres of water and after we said our goodbyes to Ken we stopped at a large London Double Decker bus, which had been converted into a café and served up suitably greasy fries. Yum.
From here we approached Sydney, the urban part of Cape Breton, and decided to avoid delays and just get past it by jumping on the divided highway followed by the rather uneventful highway 22 straight to Louisbourg.
We were booked in at the Points of View Suites for the night which also happened to be hosting an historical-themed dinner night. I had assumed meant that you ate something like mammoth, but in fact was a 1700s re-enactment/experience complete with costumes, tin plates and … entertainment.
This is also when I found out that Mr. Thornton could be a bit of a curmudgeon at times and an unabashed one to boot. He didn’t take kindly to having to dress up in costume for dinner, or for that matter, to have to listen to a guy play guitar and sing (especially sing).
But he really had his terminal tether reached when a theatrical wench — who was running the show — came by to include us in said show (and get us to dance by God!).
The beauty and horror of Mr Thornton is that you never know what he’s going to do next, and I has left on tenterhooks as he engaged our wench with a mixture of risqué suggestions and downright slappable offences.
Thankfully we both managed to avoid having to dance, and Steve escaped sans slap — though I think he may have been somewhat disappointed about that.
TIME TRAVELLING WITH LOUIS
But we hadn’t come to Louisbourg to see Steve get a righteous bitch-slapping (although that would have added to the fun). No, Louisbourg has really only one main attraction and what an attraction it is.
Fortress Louisbourg is a partial reconstruction of what was one of the largest and costliest fortresses built in North America by the French. Original construction started in 1713 and the fort soon became a centre for fishing and trade and at its height was home to more than 4,000 people.
Unfortunately (for the French) the fortifications were mainly geared to fend off an attack from sea and in 1745 British colonialists walked through an open door at the back and captured it. Okay, I made that bit up; it may have been closed with a ‘no entrée to zee British’ sign on it.
The fort changed hands again only to be recaptured once more in 1758 by the Brits, who then systematically destroyed it.
There it remained in ruins for a good 200 years until the Canadian government decided to employ a whole load of former coal miners to rebuild a quarter of it at a cost of $30 million. Construction techniques and materials were faithful to the 1700s and today the Fortress of Louisbourg is a National Historic Site.
It’s also populated by present day Louisbourgoise (?) who wander around in period costume and speak as if they were still back in 1740.
They even go as far as to create personages. “I was a thief and then was forced to join the army.” one of them told me. It’s a little odd initially but if you can suspend a little belief then it all helps to get you into the time and space.
There are also re-enactments, the most captivating being a young girl firing off a large and noisy musket. I’m not sure if that actually happened back in 1740 but I was willing to let that one slip.
All the buildings are accessible and you get to peek at what life was like or stroll though displays and collections of artifacts of the time.
I have to admit I had somewhat expected a Disney-esque tint to the whole experience but I was mightily impressed by the attention to detail and expertise of the place. Even Steve seemed to enjoy himself, which is a pretty big endorsement.
Sadly I had only allowed for a half day to see all this and we left at midday to get back on the road in order to get to our night’s accommodations in New Glasgow.
This is where we found one of the biggest surprises of the trip – the road that follows the southeast coast back to the causeway. It’s a good 60 km of twists and swoops, with many an ocean view and nary a car to slow you down. There’s also nary a house or store so be sure that you have enough gas too.
Short on time we hit the slab all the way to Antigonish from where we diverted up and around Cape George, which has some roads and views that challenge Cape Breton itself (albeit for far too few kilometers).
The evening was spent in a fine English pub in New Glasgow where we happened upon the crew from Hell for Leather magazine who were on their way to Newfoundland and Labrador. We didn’t take any pictures of them, in case they claimed copyright infringement.
The trip ended with some fun roads through the hills north of Truro and then a final stretch of slab back home to Sackville.
Despite my offerings of a bed for the night and an evening complemented with two screaming toddlers Mr. Thronton wanted to get more miles under his tires and headed on towards Ontario.
It had been a fun ride and I was glad for the, err, exciting company. Cape Breton had been thoroughly explored and I was a happy man to know what exactly lay on my doorstep.
Nova Scotia Tourism for the help with the planning and support to make this trip more affordable
Honda Canada for thinking outside the box and doing events that are not just geared around a single bike and a few hours ride.
Steve Thornton for providing excellent entertainment and being a fun companion. Good luck with the Cycle Canada gig sir.