A Trip to Celtic Colours
Where does someone who lives on the coast of Maine go on vacation? Sure, the tropics beckon in mid-winter and Boston offers a strong urban pull, but it’s hard to refuse the great big Atlantic playground to our north and east. I’m talking about the maritime provinces of Canada: New Brunswick, Nova Scotia and Prince Edward Island.
One long day’s drive away is beautiful Cape Breton Island at Nova Scotia’s eastern end, site of the annual Celtic Colours festival, now in its 17th year. The festival this year ran from October 11-19 and featured over 150 world class Celtic artists including Darol Anger, The Barra MacNeils, Liz Carroll, John Doyle, Tim Edey, Natalie Haas and Mary Jane Lamond. What makes this festival so unique is the variety of venues, from beautiful old churches to funky local community halls and sports arenas, all tucked away in not-so-far flung corners of the island. One memorable evening featured a 18th century experience at Fortress Louisbourg, where we were served dinner by re enactors in period dress and led around by lantern light to various music performances. If you visit, be sure to text your friends and tell them to go see you in the fort’s live webcam. This year was special because it was the 300th anniversary of the fort’s founding.
Just about all the venues were within an hour’s drive or so from central Baddeck, where we rented a house through homeaway.com. It’s hard to escape from the natural beauty of the area, since there is so much water; the North Atlantic on three sides, the Strait of Canso toward the mainland and many-lobed Bras d’Or (pronounced brah-dor) lake in the middle. Our place was on a part of the big lake and the views were stunning. Day trips offered the opportunity to see nearby Cape Breton Highlands National Park, but some of the museums we wanted to visit were closed for the season. With a typical attendance of 20,000 visitors for the festival, these places should have remained open. Fortunately, the Alexander Graham Bell Museum was open (he had a home near Baddeck) as was the Highland Heritage
Museum, a reconstructed early Scottish settlement. We missed visiting Glenora Distillery, which produces North America’s first single malt whiskey. These day trips are just distractions for die-hard music junkies, since there are workshops and informal performances happening at all hours around the island.
Gas is expensive, over $4/gallon. Food and beer are too, but we encountered zero trouble using US currency. Some of our credit cards without embedded chips didn’t work in gas pumps. Your US mobile phone probably won’t work, so be prepared. A cheap local phone wasn’t cheap at all, so we got along without. We had a big cooler and brought our own food and drink. You need to buy your festival tickets in advance, so you will know about that expense. The weather was phenomenal this year, but we’ve seen much worse in other years. The local climate is a little warmer than Downeast Maine this time of year even though it’s further north. While we didn’t eat out much we can recommend three great restaurants, Governor’s Pub and Eatery in Sydney, The Highwheeler Cafe in Baddeck and The Red Shoe Pub in Mabou. Be aware that Canadian Thanksgiving is on the second Monday in October, so expect stores to be closed.
So consider a trip to Cape Breton Island next year, and use our SeaCat’s Rest as your launching point…if we’re not already on the way!