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Ceilidh Trail, Nova Scotia


Scottish traditions and Gaelic folklore come alive along the Ceilidh (kay-lee) Trail. Ceilidh is Gaelic for party or gathering, and if you listen closely you might hear the heart-stirring music of bagpipes and fiddles echoing through the glens of this beautiful corner of Cape Breton Island.

Summer is a time of Celtic celebrations, and you can join in the fun. There are Highland Games, clan gatherings and ceilidhs, where the lively mix of traditional music, food, and highland dancing can bring out the Scottish in anyone.

Explore the spectacular hiking trails of the Mabou Highlands, among the most beautiful and challenging hikes on Cape Breton Island. Discover quiet country roads and the unspoiled, uncrowded beauty of Lake Ainslie. It's easy to understand why so many Scottish settlers chose this valley as their new home.

There are some special surprises along the Ceilidh Trail. You can tour Glenora Distillery, North America's only distiller of single-malt whisky, or enjoy the superb, warm-water beaches of the Northumberland Strait. Explore fascinating local museums like the Inverness Miners' Museum and the MacDonald House Museum, or visit picturesque villages like lovely Mabou, where the Gaelic language is still taught in the village school.

The 107-km Ceilidh Trail is the scenic route linking the Canso Causeway with the Cabot Trail, with splendid views, inland glens, and access to Lake Ainslie, the largest natural freshwater lake in the province. The Trail follows the western shore of Cape Breton Island through Creignish, Judique, Port Hood, Mabou, Strathlorne and Inverness, to join the Cabot Trail at Margaree Harbour.

The Ceilidh Trail begins in Port Hastings. From the rotary in Port Hastings, roads spread across the island like the fingers of a hand. Straight ahead, Trans Canada Highway 105 leads through the centre of the island, along the northern shore of the Bras d'Or Lake, through Baddeck and on to North Sydney and Sydney. Route 4 and the Fleur-de-lis Trail travel up the eastern side. Route 19, the Ceilidh Trail, follows the western coast of Cape Breton Island to the Cabot Trail at Margaree Harbour.

Port Hastings, once known as Plaster Cove for the extensive gypsum deposits that were mined there in the 1800s. Stop at the Nova Scotia Visitor information Centre to get information about Cape Breton Island. From the rotary in Port Hastings, roads spread across the island like the fingers of a hand. The Ceilidh Trail, Route 19 to the left, follows the western coast of Cape Breton Island to the Cabot Trail at Margaree Harbour.

On Church Street, the Port Hastings Historical Museum and Archives trace the region's interesting history through photographs and memorabilia. History comes alive in the cozy setting of a 100-year-old Cape Breton house overlooking the Canso Strait. View displays such as the one on the construction of the world's deepest man-made causeway and the impact it made on railroading, ferrying, and the life of the families in the area. Visit the pioneer room to see artifacts of the past. Stretch your legs and walk up to Plaister Cove, or sit in the shade on the farm machinery in the back yard. Before leaving, ask to see Don Riley's bronzed shoes and hear some Cape Breton music to set your feet tappin'. Genealogical records available.

The 263 km Fleur-de-lis Trail begins in Port Hastings and travels around Isle Madame. The Marconi Trail and the Fleur-de-lis Trail, Route 22, join on the outskirts of Louisbourg. Both trails proceed into the town of Louisbourg.

At Judique North a left turn leads to the shore road, which skirts the coast of St. George's Bay, Nova Scotia's largest bay. At the three fishing wharves on the shore road--at MacKay's, Pigs Cove and Little Judique Harbour--you can buy fresh fish and lobster in season.

At Harbourville, the Chestico Museum displays local history.

Make a small detour to your left to visit Port Hood, the county seat of Inverness, a fishing port and service centre and the second-largest community on the Ceilidh Trail. Visitor services include a visitor information centre, accommodations, a bank, restaurants, stores, service stations and a public wharf. You can charter a boat to take you to lovely Port Hood Island for a picnic lunch or a hike. Chestico Days are held annually here in early August.

Port Hood is known for its sandy beaches and some of the warmest waters in Eastern Canada. Court House Beach, in the centre of town, has a supervised swimming area and picnic facilities. The Colindale Road, a gravel highway skirting the shore, provides access to a number of beaches. West Mabou Beach is one of the most popular and has a tennis court nearby.

Route 19 continues to Mabou  through farmland and picturesque scenery of rolling hills and water. The Mother of Sorrows Pioneer Shrine is located here in a charming little church. The Mabou Gaelic and Historical Society Museum, An Drochaid (The Bridge), is located in the community and is open during the summer. The Mabou Ceilidh and old-time Scottish picnic is held every Canada Day. Mabou also offers accommodations, restaurants, stores, service stations, and an art gallery. In West Mabou Family Square Dances are held every Saturday night. Inquire locally for information on ceilidhs and square dances held in several locations in the county throughout the summer months. Bald Eagles can be seen around Mabou Harbour.

The road to the left leads to Mabou Harbour Mouth and Mabou Mines, ending at the Mabou Highlands. A number of trails follow the coast, excellent for hiking but impassable to vehicles. Mabou Provincial Park is located near the junction of Routes 19 and 252.

Right off Route 19, north of Mabou, Route 252 leads through Brook Village and Skye Glen to Whycocomagh, 29 km away.

At Glenville, you can tour North America's only single-malt whisky distillery, and stop at the distillery's inn and restaurant, built around a courtyard with a brook running through it.

Inverness, the largest community on the Ceilidh Trail, is a fishing port and a service centre. The village has several stores and restaurants, an excellent supervised beach, an RCMP detachment, accommodations, an arena, a public wharf, a hospital, a bank, a liquor store and, twice a week during the summer, harness-racing. The Inverness Gathering is held annually in late July. The Inverness Miners' Museum tells of the coal-mining history of the area.

The road continues near Broad Cove, where the Broad Cove Concert, an evening of Highland music and dance, is held annually on the last Sunday in July.

At Dunvegan, the Ceilidh Trail branches to the left on Route 219, along the coast through Chimney Corner to join the Cabot Trail at Margaree Harbour. There are sweeping views of the coastline and the highlands beyond, as well as gift shops and accommodations. There are fine beaches at Chimney Corner and Whale Cove.

By continuing along Route 19 from Dunvegan, you can take an alternative road to the Cabot Trail, joining it at Margaree Forks.

At Strathlorne or Southwest Margaree, a right turn off Route 19 will take you to Scotsville, 15 km away on Lake Ainslie. The 53-km drive--or bike trek--around this beautiful lake will provide you with spectacular views and sightings of osprey, bald eagles, and loons. Trout fishing, swimming at sandy beaches, walking and hiking trails, serviced campgrounds cabins, picnic areas and canoe rentals are just a few of the area's attractions. The Lake Ainslie Heritage Festival is held in early July at the MacDonald House Museum.

The first Europeans, mostly Scottish, with a few of Loyalist background arrived on the shores of Whycocomagh in 1810. The first settler was John MacKinnon from the Island of Tyree. At the entrance to the provincial picnic park, at MacKinnon's Point, is a cairn commemorating the landing of those who adopted Whycocomagh as their new home. The village is situated at the end of one of the golden arms of the Bras d'Or Lakes, on Whycocomagh Bay. Its location at the head of the waters has given the area its Mi'kmaq name.

The Mi'kmaq Indians, who christened the land, were the first to live along the shore lands of the bay. Later, these native people settled on new ground- now Waycobah First Nation. Today, they continue to preserve their culture and the ways of their ancestors. This tradition can be seen in their leatherwork, intricate basket weaving and beautiful beadwork.

In the years that followed the settlement of the area grew rapidly. By 1891 Whycocomagh had a larger population than Sydney. It was a very active port with commerce between Sydney and the regular runs of small vessels that the villagers called schooners facilitated PEI Trade. The steamers, Marion and Lakeview, later came to play a colorful part in the history of the area.

Visit the village, enjoy the scenery and the people as you make your way to The Cabot Trail or Ceilidh Trail as you turn left at Vi's Restaurant and take Route 395 to Lake Ainslie and unsurpassed pastoral beauty.

Lake Ainslie is the largest natural fresh water lake in Nova Scotia. The valley sweeps unspoiled natural beauty at a leisurely pace. Scottish settlers inhabited the rich soil of the surrounding lakes and the 33 mile drive or bike trek offers unsurpassed experiences. Sightings of bald eagles, ospreys, loons, are common as you traverse the paved highway skirting the rippled lake. For the avid fisherman, trout fishing is a must from the abundance of the waters. If you feel energetic and wish to partake in a swim from a sandy beach, that is also possible. Whether your travels bring you to East or West Lake Ainslie, Scotsville or Kenloch, your eyes will be enhanced by the beauty of the idyllic scenery and the friendliness of your neighbours.

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