Hello there and welcome to the latest in my series concerning a trip I had in summer 2014 with my dear friend Lynne in a very, very old campervan called Betsy. If you want to read the whole story from the beginning you can do so here. If you don’t want to or already have then please read on of you want to find out what happens.
26th June, 2014.
We awoke in the Camper’s Haven campground to find it more like a pond than a campsite as it had rained incessantly and the above image gives an idea of the driving conditions Lynne faced nearly the whole day. I think this might be a good time to tell you about the weather in the Maritimes in a piece I wrote shortly after my visit.
Watch the weather.
“I visited Nova Scotia in late June and in July 2014 and I am not sure what I expected from the weather. I think I had a notion that because the scenery is much like parts of Northern Europe and it is on roughly the same latitude as France that it would have much the same weather but in that I was much mistaken.
Firstly, there is the notorious ship-killing fog, which affects areas of the coast for up to 150 days a year. Indeed, a lady in a Visitor Information Centre told me in all seriousness that there are places that have at least a few minutes of fog every single day of the year. I am not sure how true this is but it seems possible.
There is also the rain which can be torrential even in the height of summer and I managed to survive an unseasonally early hurricane named Arthur.
As I said, the rain can be torrential as it was the day I flew into Halifax which made for a fairly lively landing through the very low cloud and did not entirely fill me full of confidence for spending six weeks in a campervan (RV).
The weather in the Maritimes in winter can be absolutely brutal. I am writing this in late March 2015 and I know there are places under literally feet of snow with the snow-ploughs unable to go out police advising people to stay indoors.
It is not, however, all doom and gloom and there were many other days when I was running about in a T-shirt and shorts (not a pretty sight with my legs!) and even managed to work up a bit of a suntan. My advice would be to adopt the old maxim and prepare (i.e. pack) for the worst and hope for the best, you’ll probably get a bit of both”.
OK, it was going to be a murky old day but we had decided to move so that is what we did. Lynne had found a good campground in Lockeport and ‘phoned ahead to book a pitch, assuring me she was happy to drive the 50 or 77 miles, depending on which route we chose. Fair enough.
We headed back into Yarmouth which was contrary to our general direction of travel but because we had been so busy the previous day we had not had time to visit a particular Museum we had seen so we duly did and here is what I wrote.
Where’s the fire?
I know that many small boys are said to want to be firefighters when they grow up, although I must confess it was never an ambition of mine. I do, however, love museums and so when we read about the Nova Scotia Firefighters Museum in Yarmouth we just had to pay a visit.
On the day we visited a fire would not have stood much of a chance as it was raining hard and I suggest you keep this place “in reserve” for the days when the weather is inclement as it can be even in the height of summer.
We were greeted by an extremely friendly young lady and even with the bad weather and being in peak tourist season we had the place to ourselves so we set about exploring and there is certainly plenty to explore.
Apart from an excellent selection of beautifully restored appliances dating back to the 18th century there is a recreated watchroom, a section dealing with a fire alarm system which used to be in place in the town and much more associated firefighting memorabilia like sporting trophies and the like.
I would say that the “engines” are the star attraction and although most museums forbid you to even touch the exhibits there is one appliance here which you are encouraged to get on for a wonderful photo opportunity. You can see the result in the image above, I just could not resist the chance of a VT flag photo.
I have put the word engines in inverted commas as many of them pre-date the use of internal combustion for vehicles and were reliant on horse or even manpower for propulsion. Naturally I went completely overboard with the camera, it was just such a phpto-op and I hope you enjoy the results.
On the way out of town our next stop intitially intrigued me and quickly became one of my favourite things to do in the Maritimes and on subsequent trips out West.
We needed a few bits and pieces food wise and Lynne pulled in at the Bulk Barn. I asked her what was with the name as I didn’t want to go to a wholesalers as we just didn’t have the room for lots more in the van but she explained the priniciple which is that the vast majority of their products are sold by weight so if you only want an ounce of a particular item for a one -off recipe, that is what you buy.
I am a single man living alone and it is a constant source of annoyance to me how much food waste I am forced into by supermarkets. The freezer capacity in my tiny fridge is literally the size of two standard shoe boxes so that is not an option and yet supermarkets insist on selling so much in family-sized packaging. Bulk Barn seemed a great idea to me and it appears I am not alone as they now have outlets in 13 Territories and Provinces.
Suitably resupplied we took off again heading Trunk 3, the Lighhouse Trail and only had to go a short distance, not even out of town, before it started living up to it’s name. We saw a sign for Cap Forchu Lighthouse down a small side road so obviously we took it.
For those in peril on the sea.
“I have mentioned in entries here that the sea is a cruel mistress and particularly so in the waters around Nova Scotia as various sailors memorials bear witness. A combination of fog, shoals, currents and just about everything else not good for sailing make these waters absolute ship-killers.
It comes as no surprise then to find lighthouses dotted frequently along the coast to the extent they have almost become the unofficial trademark of the Province. Indeed, many people even have model lighthouses in their front gardens.
Many of these extremely functional buildings are also very attractive to look at, especially the older wooden ones with the distinctive octagonal design. I would not describe the light at Cap Forchu as being overly attractive but rather as being impressive at 75 feet with it’s applecore style. You can see it for miles around on a clear day and if you ever get up close to it, you will see what I mean.
Although Yarmouth has a much longer history of seafaring, the first lighthouse here was not constructed until 1839 and first lit in early 1840. It was even taller than the modern structure at 91 feet. In 1869 a foghorn was added. The day we visited it was damp and foggy and the need for both light and horn was very obvious. Hopefully, the images give some impression.
By 1962 the old wooden station had come to the end of it’s working life and was replaced by the concrete structure you see now at a cost of $66,000. It continued, staffed by two keepers until 1993 when it was fully automated. Shortly after that time many lighthouses were being decommissioned and so a society was formed to preserve Cape Forchu. It administers it to this day and runs the small but interesting museum, gift shop and the “Mug Up” tearoom, all of which are located in the old keepers quarters.
Due to issues of space, visitors cannot actually ascend the lighthouse itself. A popular pastime is to go scrambling on the rocks around the Cape but I would issue a word of warning here. The rocks can be extremely slippery as they were on the day of my visit and rogue waves can have fatal results as the rather sad memorial to two young girls lost in that way in 1991 testifies.
Incidentally, if you are wondering what Cape (or Cap) Forchu means, it is French / Acadian for forked cape”.
On the way back to Yarmouth we stopped at a cairn style memorial we had passed on the way out to the lighthouse.
Another link to the sea.
“It is impossible to overstate the importance of the sea to the Eastern seaboard of Canada and, indeed, the Maritime Provinces are so named for a reason. It is therefore no surprise to see so many marine related memorials, many of them very tragic and commemorating those who have no grave but the sea.
This piece refers not to deceased mariners but rather is a celebration of the proud sea-faring traditions of the area. So important is the sea to Yarmouth that in the mid 19th century it was the second largest port of registration in Canada.
The siting of the monument may at first appear to be a little strange as it overlooks the sea apparently pretty much in the middle of nowhere but it is there for a reason as this was the site of the first ever ship launch in Yarmouth County as far back as 1764. It is a relatively simple stone cairn with a plaque and two anchors but it is immaculately kept and is worth stopping off to see if you are passing.
Back yet again into Yarmouth and I was wondering if we were ever going to get out of it but we did achieve it this time and even managed a whole a whole 16 miles before we found ourselves in the Argyle township which is part of the marginally larger settlement of Tusket. This is not to be confused with the much larger town or Argyle some miles South. Inevitably we found ourselves stopping again and here is the first reason.
Justice from the old days.
“Just opposite the only store on the junction of the only two roads in town, the traveller will find the old Courthouse and Jail as shown in the images. Believe me, you will not miss it.
We parked in the allotted parking space (round the back of the building) and went in to be greeted by anextremely friendly young lady who was evidently the guide. I formed the impression in Nova Scotia that most of the tourist sites are overseen by students making a few $$$ in the holidays and that they are generally more than happy to give you a guided tour as many of the places we visited seemed to be totally devoid of travellers.
This really is a shame as, wonderful as many of the attractions in places like Halifax are, there are many places like this which are equally worthy of a visit.
The Courthouse and jail in Tusket are of considerable historical importance, being the oldest such building in Canada, dating to 1805 when the country was extremely young, in fact not even a country at all in the accepted sense. The settlers, however, apparently saw the need for some form of legal system, generally taken from the “old country” and this lovely old building is proof of it.
We started our tour on the upper (ground floor) level which comprised the courtroom and ancillary buildings like the judges robing room. I must confess that I could not resist the VT flag photo you see here (Judge Fergy presiding and attempting a stern look) as it was just too good an opportunity to miss.
Moving to the lower floor we were treated to a view of the various cells (debtors, criminals etc. and each with a relevant degree of comfort). The guides fairly lurid description of the wind blowing back down the flue from the privy I shall leave to the readers imagination! There was even a separate women’s cell and what went on there I dread to think!
We had hardly moved from our start point that morning and we had visited three Museums already, it was shaping up into another excellent day, weather or no and was just about to get better when we saw the large and slightly we saw the slightly sodden marquee just beside the Courthouse.
Buy it fresh and local.
I had noticed in the Maritime Provinces of Canada that there are a great number of farmers markets ranging from one person with a parked car at the side of the road selling out of the boot to quite organised and large affairs. We discovered the one in Tusket purely by coincidence on the day we went to see the old Courthouse and wandered in for a look around.
Despite it being late June, the weather was fairly dismal that day and so we had the place more or less to ourselves. This did give us a chance to talk to some of the local vendors, including some local indigenous Mik’maq ladies and they all seemed very typically friendly. There was a decent selection of produce on sale and I even managed to obtain a recipe from one of the ladies along with my produce!
As well as produce there are several artisans selling local home-made items. The market operates from 1500 – 1800 every Thursday from June to October”.
After we left the market and the lovely ladies we even decided on a slight detour down the 308 towards Amiraults Hill even though we knew it didn’t go anywhere, we just fancied an explore round there and it was not too long before I started seeing items that I had never seen before and one of which which you can see below.
A quaint local custom.
“A couple of miles to the South of Tusket we came upon the haystack you can see in the image. There is nothing unusual in that you might think but there was only one lone haystack on a fairly large expanse of open salt flats which I found a little odd. Not only that but there was an information board nearby of a type I recognised as being tourist information and so we stopped for a look.
It appears that until the 1950’s in this area it was possible to see over 100 of these rather attractive constructions built on their interesting sprucewood frames to keep them dry from the rising tides. The practice was an Acadian agricultural one and they prided themselves on making the staddles (or chaffauds in Acadian French) without using nails. Despite this odd means of construction there are cases of them surviving three generations!
Although this means of haystacking died out about 60 years ago some local people, who are fiercely proud of their Acadian heritage, revived the practice in 1997 and one haystack is constructed every year. A typical stack weighs about one tonne of hay and it is said that a skilled man could cut and build four a day which Ifind incredible.
If the reader happens to be passing this way at leat now you know what the lone haystack represents”.
If you want to know why they are built in this odd fashion then have a look here.
As you can see from the images, it was drying out a bit but not much and it was still miserable weather so we decided just to head on for the Lockeport Campground and just hunker down for the night. That was fine we had plenty of food, a ridiculous amount of cider (the preferred tipple of us both) and it meant Lynne would be able to enjoy a drink and just have a nice relaxing night.
I have no idea what we got up to and it certainly did not include an exploration of the campground as it was like a small lake and so after hooking up (a two minute job) we just sat tight and I think we watched films on Lynne’s computer or read or something. Whatever it was, it must have been absorbing because I know I didn’t get round to serving dinner until past midnight!
To hell with the weather, raining or not we had enjoyed ourselves as we had every day since setting out. If you want to discover if we ever see the sun again or have to rig Betsy as an amphibious vehicle, you’ll just have to stay tuned and spread the word.