"…a kaleidoscope that rivals the foliage carpeting the hills above"
By SCOTT CUNNINGHAM*./ Photograph courtesy of Scott Walking Tours
SHUNPIKING, OCTOBER / NOVEMBER 1997, No. 16
More than the adjunct of a well-known Celtic group, Mabou is a diverse
region with a rich human and natural history. It was here that the Highland
Scots settled Cape Breton Island, adjacent to the largest and most sheltered
harbour along the western coast. It is a maze of country roads crisscrossing
picturesque wooded hills and vales, meandering streams and sloping shorelines.
And it is also the site of the Highlands.
But these are not "the" Highlands. The Mabou hills are usually bypassed
by those on a rush to view the more famous, and marketed, lofty heights
to the north. They are left to slumber in their gentle tranquillity.
However, these remains of an ancient uplifted plateau are imposing in
their own right, surpassing 1000 feet. Few spots in Cape Breton better
this, and none on the mainland. This time of the year they are particularly
In earlier times you could gaze from the slopes out over the Gulf waters
towards Prince Edward Island with nary a wood to block the view. Most
of these hills had been cleared for pasture and settlement. However,
as with other rural areas, economic migration has depopulated the countryside
and nature has reclaimed what is hers.
First came the spruce and fir, then the maples, oaks and ash. Still
visible among this rich forest are the remnants of early settlement:
a stone wall here, a hidden foundation there, an unexpected clearing.
On the "summit," cattle still graze in the remaining communal pasture.
A network of roads and trails lead the hiker through this world of past
and present under a bright deciduous tapestry that spills down onto
the sea. A local group has done considerable work in upkeep and signage.
The coast, this boundary of sea and land, of the meeting of the unknown
with the known, is the most fascinating. For it is here that the wind
and water have scoured the geology of vegetation, exposing a tapestry
of textures, colours and form that inspire the artist to be found in
all of us. Grey conglomerate, red sandstone, white limestone and the
black seams of coal intertwine, overlay and intermesh in a kaleidoscope
that rivals the foliage carpeting the hills above. The great cormorant
and black guillemot nest in the cavities of sheer cliffs, surrounded
by a painting of abstract lichens where fossils reveal another era.
This is indeed a special place in that seemingly endless variety along
the Nova Scotia coastline.
Dr. Scott Cunningham's writing appears regularly in shunpiking.
A biologist and writer, Senior Instructor (5*) with the British
Canoe Union and co-proprietor with Gayle Wilson of Coastal Adventures
in Tangier, Scott is author of Sea Kayaking in Nova Scotia (Nimbus)
now in its second printing. He has paddled coastal waters
extensively and circumnavigated Nova Scotia in 1980. He has also kayaked