It was just a sign by the side of the road. We wouldn’t have seen it. But we stopped because the day was hot and the road was long and we needed a break.
The sign read, “Gampo Abbey, 9 km.”
My wife Julie and I were in the middle of the second day of our tour of Cape Breton Island, Nova Scotia, doing the famous eastern Canadian road known as the Cabot Trail. We’d left our base camp in Wolfville the day before, driven to a small town near Truro, and picked up a rented Kawasaki Versys 650 from a small company called Brookspeed and its genial owner Nigel Brooks.
The previous day had also been hot. But we enjoyed an extensive section of Nova Scotia coastline, having on Brooks’ suggestion left the direct route for a long detour around Cape George, before enjoying a splendid seafood lunch at the Cove Motel and Restaurant. Fortified by coffee and a slice of pie, we returned to scenic Hwy 104 and crossed from Nova Scotia onto Cape Breton Island at Port Hastings.
An hour later, overheated and desperate for a cold drink, we’d stopped at the only place we’d seen for miles, called the Red Shoe, in the town of Mabou. Luck was with us. The Red Shoe is a country pub that serves good food and, because it’s owned by two members of the Canadian musical family known as the Rankins, regularly hosts the dance and music events known locally as “ceilidh,” pronounced “kaylee,” from the Scottish Gaelic word for a social gathering. We had cold drinks and another dessert, while a piano player and fiddler delighted the packed-to-the-rafters crowd with traditional Irish, Scottish, and Celtic tunes.
That night we slept in Margaree Harbour in a stifling bed-and-breakfast that had no air conditioning and started the next day fearing another swelter. By midday, though, as we cruised the glorious coastline and entered the magnificent Cape Breton Highlands National Park, clouds had come in and the temperature had dropped. We stopped, stripped down to hiking attire, and spent two delightful hours walking the Skyline Trail—an insanely Instagrammable hike that is routinely identified as one of the top five in Cape Breton, Nova Scotia, and eastern Canada.