Hello once again and welcome to the latest edition of my trip to the Maritime Provinces of Canada in Summer 2014 with my dear friend Lynne in Betsy, the 33-year-old camper van. Betsy was a bit poorly at this stage as regular readers will know from the previous post. If you want to know the whole story from the start, you can do so here.
Yes indeed, poor old Betsy was a sickly lady, having gone suddenly nearly blind the night before by which I mean her headlights had conked out and we had been forced to retreat back to the Lunenburg Municipal Campground we thought we had left behind that morning. This in itself was no hardship as it is an excellent site as I have been happy to report before but we needed to get things sorted as we had crawled the seven miles back from Mahone Bay on sidelights with the combined output of three candles!
If you want to know what happened next then please read on.
When we awoke the next morning we were into the new month of July but it still felt like Groundhog Day and for a brief moment I thought I might never get out of Lunenburg. Then again, there are much worse places to spend eternity.
The absolute first order of business had to be to go to the campground office and explain what had happened. I didn’t want the staff spotting Betsy, thinking we were trying to pull a fast one and calling the Mounties because, as we all know “the Mounties always get their man”. Of course it was no problem, nothing ever is there, and we paid for the unplanned night.
As the office doubled as the Visitor Information Centre we enquired if they might, by any strange chance, know of an autospark (automotive electrician) in the vicinity. They did, called him and told him we were coming, great stuff. Lynne is really good at all things electrical but she couldn’t figure it so it really did require a pro.
We turned up and the guy footered about with it for a while, siad it was no major problem and explained what it was to Lynne. As far as I was concerned they may as well have been speaking Martian but nevertheless dear Betsy had her sight fully restored and we were on the road by lunchtime.
Lunch for me consisted of a couple of pints in the excellent Mug and Anchor pub where our woes had all begun the evening before, not that it was the pubs fault but it still felt like we had overcome a small hurdle. We were out of Lunenburg and had even managed to get past Mahone Bay. Trunk 3, the Lighthouse Route was beckoning.
The image above was taken just on the outskirts of Chester so we simply had to stop and I think this would be a good time to share a piece I wrote back then about food shopping in Nova Scotia.
Buy local, buy fresh, buy tasty.
I knew before I went to the Maritime Provinces that they were going to be generally fairly rural with agriculture and fishing high on the list of industries and therefore I was expecting to be able to buy some nice fresh groceries, fish, shellfish, meat or whatever that was locally sourced.
Much has been made recently about “food miles” and, whilst I do occasionally like to buy a kiwi fuit in London in the middle of January, in general I agree with the idea. I know many top chefs now are attempting to create entire menus sourced from x miles from the kitchen. What I wasn’t quite prepared for was the scale of the concept in Nova Scotia.
You will regularly see ladies like the one in the image above sitting at a small makeshift stall or, like her, in a vehicle selling anything from carrots to home-made preserves to fresh salmon and just about everything in between. This particular lady was selling some excellent looking vegetables but we were well-stocked at that point. What had caught my attention was the sign for smoked mackerel, a fish I absolutely adore and can even prepare (if that is the right word) despite my limited culinary skills.
As usual, I was sitting barefoot in the campervan (RV) and so asked Lynne to go and make the purchase. She returned with a bag of six of the most delicious looking smoked mackerel I have ever seen and I asked her how much they had cost. When she told me $5 CAD I nearly had a heart attack as I would pay three times that in London.
Not only that but they had been caught by her husband and home smoked at her house nearby. That is what I call local and proper artisan food.
I have also included images of them and another of how even I managed to make something vaguely edible out of them.
This is only one example of many and the local produce enterprises range in scale from this one lady operation through once a week events in carparks with numerous sellers, through little shacks at the side of the road run on an honour system and up to proper buildings where local people rent stalls on a daily basis.
For someone who likes cooking, as I do, it is absolute Heaven and I do suggest that if you are on the road you make use of it. It is just something we do not have so very much of in the UK although it does seem to be on the increase as people become more fussy about what they eat and how it got there.
The website attached is by no means comprehensive as it is, almost by definition, something that can pop up any time but it is a good start.
Trust me, you’ll find something tasty and at prices to rival the big supermarkets even with all their bulk buying power. Try it, you’ll like it!
A short drive took us into Chester and here is what I wrote about that charming place.
A delightful little coastal community.
“Chester was just one of the many wonderful small places we “discovered” along the way. If memory serves, I believe we actually had to come off the main hightway to get there. There was no particular reason for this, we just decided to have a look and I am very glad we did.
Chester is a delightful little coastal town, spotlessly clean and with extremely friendly people there, for which read all of the Maritimes, they are unbelievably sociable.
We went for a delightful walk along the water’s edge, found a couple of great little pubs, saw some lovely typical Nova Scotian architecture and left to get back on the road.
If you are following the coastal road round (Highway 103) it is definitely worth making the slight detour required to get here, it is a truly lovely little place.
As a slight aside, I thought I would add the above image. I saw this beautiful creature in Chester and just had to take a picture. I am told it is a Luna Moth (whatever that might be) and I just thought it was one of the prettiest things I had ever seen.”
After our stroll about, which didn’t take long as Chester is not huge, it was definitely beer o’clock and I had spied the perfect place. Let me tell you about it.
Great pub with a great view.
“We had drifted into Chester more or less by accident, found a parking space and went for a bit of a walk. Well, the walking made me a bit thirsty as it tends to do and so we dropped into the Rope Loft bar / restaurant, down by the waterfront on the appropriately named Water Lane, for a quick one and what an excellent choice that turned out to be.
The premises start off from a base position of having a simply delightful aspect looking out over the harbour / cove / inlet or whatever it is technically called. Basically a decent sized lump of water out the back where you can sit and watch boaters come and go and small craft at anchor bobbing gently on the very slight swell there was that day. I suspect the word idyllic was probably coined for a place like this.
There is a lovely deck area where you can sit and watch the nautical comings and goings and I do commend it to you if the weather is favourable as it certainly was that day, even if a touch overcast.
The building itself boasts a bit of history having reputedly been fashioned from the timbers of the privateer ship Teazer (remember her?) and is apparently known to the locals as the Old Wharf.
It is very sympathetically done and whilst it retains an old feel it is clean and modern in it’s facilities. It is just a little odd to think that you are sitting in the remains of a pirate ship with your lunchtime pint. How bad can that be?
This is all as maybe but a place is only as good as what it serves and how efficient the staff are and the Rope Loft has no worries on either front.
The staff, although obviously busy enough on a summer lunch service, were friendly to a fault and when I enquired what beer I might like I was pointed in the direction of Shock Top, a locally produced wheat beer which, despite the slightly garish branding and orange slice on the glass (absolutely appropriate to the flavour but not my normal style of drinking) was very palatable indeed, and obviously well-kept and served.
It appeared that most people had come there to dine although we did not (I had culinary plans for later!) but a quick look at the menu suggested all the local Nova Scotian favourites with a very understandable emphasis on local seafood plus a few foreign dshes to keep it interesting.
Simply put, this is just a great venue in a wonderful location boasting friendly staff and decently kept beer. I don’t think you could ask for much more really.”
Having been up early (by our standards) and with Lynne’s sleeping issues she decided she would need a little nap before we carried on. We had a system working itself out by then whereby Lynne would have a dozette in the afternoon and I would go to the pub. This is another one of the great joys of the RV, just pull the curtains and sleep wherever you want.
Our system was great because it meant Lynne didn’t have to sit and drink soft drinks getting bored watching me quaffing pints. We even used to do it in pub carparks and whilst I was always conscious of waking her at the appointed hour, if time got away from me she knew exactly where to find me.
Whether by accident or design, I do not remember now, but we were parked close to the Fo’c’sle Tavern so that was the next couple of hours sorted for both of us. Here is my report on my part of our system.
Oldest of it’s kind and very good.
“I am not being unkind to Chester when I describe it as not being the biggest place I visited in Canada and so it was a great delight to me to discover not one but two absolutely excellent pubs, one of which was the Fo’c’sle Tavern.
I visited there by myself initially as my travelling companion had gone for a nap because she was tired although it says something about the hospitality of the place that she had to come and drag me out eventually.
This establishment describes itself as the oldest rural pub in Nova Scotia, dating to c.1764 and whilst it looks “olde worlde” it is not excessively so and has obviously been sympathetically restored relatively recently. None of this detracts from the atmosphere which is excellent.
The premises is effectively divided in two with a restaurant area to the front and a bar area to the back. As I was not dining I headed left and planked myself down on a barstool. The extremely friendly lady behind the bar duly rhymed off the beers on offer. I plumped for a pint of the red and very good it was too, well-kept.
No sooner had the pint been placed in front of me than I was engaged in conversation by two late middle-aged men also sitting there and this is where this place really scores. It is very obviously a locals place with the restaurant more for visitors and the bar for people that are obviously regulars. Locals seem to order takeaway food to go home with.
Having never been in the town in my life I was made to feel instantly welcome and this is one of the marks of a good establishment for me. A small anecdote here may give the reader some idea of how genuinely friendly this establishment is.
It transpired that one of my two new mates had a birthday that day and he and his friend were going for a round of golf at the local club. They enquired if I played and I informed them I hadn’t swung a club for over 20 years but they said that didn’t matter and offered to borrow a set from another friend for me if I wanted to go out for a round with them.
I politely declined, explaining I had to get back on the road but it was indicative of the genuine welcome you get not only here specifically but all over Nova Scotia, they really are great people.
Although I did not dine, I had a look at the menu which seemed pretty extensive with an understandable emphasis on seafood given the proximity to the sea. Prices appeared about normal for the area, possibly just a shade higher.
Another thing that immediatley caught my eye was the amount of musical instruments, PA equipment etc. sitting stowed about the place. There were also a number of posters for forthcoming musical events and it appears that this is XXXX the music venue for the town.
A conversation with the barmaid yielded another invitation, this time to sit in at the weekly jam session. Again, I had to politely decline although I could happily have sat around that pub for a few days waiting for gig night to come along, it is that kind of place.
The weather was great and they do have a nice little decking area out the back (although the view isn’t much, just the back entrance to the premises) but it was a pleasant place to sit with your drink and have a chat.”
As I mentioned in the narrative Lynne had to come and drag me out by the ear (metaphorically speaking) and so it was back on the road and we soon had a decision to make.
The Lighhouse Route takes a long route following the coast on the 329 road (you don’t get many lighthouses inland) whilst the Trunk 3 takes a much more direct route running alongside the 103 Fisherman’s Memorial Highway. We opted for the longer route as Lynne said she wanted me to see something. Fair enough.
We hadn’t eaten since breakfast and it was now gone 1700. This doesn’t bother me as I have a tiny appetite but Lynne said she was a bit hungry. No problem, pull the van over and I’ll get in the galley.
I mentioned before I had culinary plans for later on so Lynne said just a snack would suffice and I knocked one for her in short order. Were this a restaurant review I think it would run something like this – “Food basic, service abysmal (I am no waiter) but the view was from our table was very pleasant”. Yet another joy of Betsy, we used to pick some lovely places for a snack.
With Lynne re-fuelled we carried on around what is quite a large peninsula although it does not seem to have a specific name. Just shy of the village of Bayswater Lynne pulled in at what she wanted to show me.
A very poignant reminder.
“This piece regards a memorial to a large number of people who lost their lives in 1998 when a Swissair flight fell into the sea off the coast here with the loss of 229 souls and it really is, as my title suggests, very poignant.
The monument is a relatively simple affair at the request of the relatives of those lost and the local people.
Simple though it may be, it is laden with significance. The three simple stone markers form the number 111, the flight number. There are actually two memorials, the one here and another across the bay at Peggy’s Cove which, regrettably, we did not have time to visit. If you make an equidistant triangle between these two then the third point is approximately the site of the crash at sea.
The bodies of the unidentified dead are buried here as only one victim could be identified visually and, whilst many were identified subsequently by dental and DNA techniques, some were not.
As in so many things there are conspiracy theories about the disaster (the second worst in Canadian history) although the official explanation is of flammable materials in the plane’s construction allowing a fire to get out of the control of the crew. Frankly, it doesn’t matter what caused it, I defy anyone to stand in this beautiful place and read the names and ages of men, women and children and not be moved by it.
As with so many similar monuments it is heartbreaking to visit and I leave it to the readers discretion as to whether they want to or not. I have merely provided the information here to allow you to make your own decision.”
On a practical level, if you do visit be careful where you walk. I had never seen a sign like this before.
We regained the 3 and carried on East where we didn’t stop again until we were approaching the bright lights of Halifax, the Provincial capital, and even then we only stopped for traffic signals and carried straight over one of the two harbour bridges. Don’t ask me which one it was as they look identical to me but I’ll take a guess at the Angus L. Macdonald as that looks more likely on the map.
Once over the bridge we were no longer technically in Halifax but in Dartmouth, but why all the sudden haste? Well, Lynne had booked us into a campground in Dartmouth and wanted to get there before the office closed. Simple. The campground was called Shubie Campground and I might as well tell you about it now.
Another excellent campsite.
“On this trip we stayed in quite a few campsites and they seemed uniformly good. Shubie is no different, well-run and pleasant with good facilities in a lovely location and we enjoyed it there. The staff are particularly friendly. It was great, a really decent place to stay and the other campers seemed to be as friendly as the staff.
There is a small shop on-site but if you do not want to unhook your van and drive perhaps a mile and a half to the nearest small supermarket then you should stock up before you go as the shop really only has the basics.
I should particularly mention the laundry room here where the machines are excellent and quick, always a consideration for campers.
There are numerous trails around Lake Charles right on the doorstep and apparently swimming is possible if the number of people I saw walking about in wet costumes is anything to go by. It was still a bit too chilly for me!
If you don’t want to unhook your wagon, it is an easy walk to the bus stop where you can get a bus into Dartmouth, although they are not overly frequent and stop relatively early in the evening. If you ask the driver you can get a transfer on the ferry across to Halifax at no extra charge which is good value.
Actually, this is probably about the closest camping to Halifax if you want to explore that excellent city, which I suggest you do.”
We got hooked up and I took to the galley again for the promised evening meal which appears to have been one of my variations on a theme of beef stew and bread but don’t ask me what the teaspoon is there for, I don’t know. It must have been OK as neither of us became violently ill the next day.
I suspect that I must have been adopting my “low and slow” cooking technique as my images show we did not eat until well past midnight which is no problem for either of us insomniacs but I suppose we went to bed at some point.
In the next post we shall take on the big city of Halifax (and win!) and then have one of the best nights out I have ever had. If you want to find out what it is then stay tuned and spread the word.