Before leaving Port Hood we headed down to the beach to see what birds we could find in the early morning. The sunlight on the sand dunes of the park, and on the red cliffs of the island opposite was beautiful, and the warm air smelled of blooming roses and salty sea air. We saw lots of Song Sparrows, a Belted Kingfisher, a Canada Warbler, three American Crows, and a small group of Piping Plovers in flight!
We had hoped to be able to walk the length of the beach and then rejoin the trail at the far end, but failed to find the pathway up. We had to backtrack to our starting point, which was somewhat tough going with full packs in the loose sand.
After about a kilometer we came to a yield sign above a sign for the Sandeannie's Tea Room and Bakery. We decided we couldn't pass a sign like that, so we made a detour.
The bakery turned out to be a wonderful place, not only offering breakfast, but lots of pastries, bread, and baked goods as well. Everything on the menu came with a side of skirlie, which is oatmeal fried in butter and seasoned with spices - a kind of Scottish stuffing. It was extremely tasty. As we enjoyed our coffee, French toast, and eggs and bacon, we had a good conversation with the four retired men sitting next to us. They were very interested in our hike, and supportive of the idea of experiencing the country while we are able. They seemed to be on an adventure of their own, and enjoying it immensely.
After our lovely breakfast we set off down the trail in earnest. Somewhat sadly given the heat, there wasn't much shade for most of the morning. The trail was bordered mostly by balsam fir and spruce, but there was a wide grassy verge, so no shade reached the trailbed. It was hot going!
Crossing Livingstones Pond was beautiful, with its view out across a sand bar to the ocean. We stopped to watch as several very large fish jumped out of the water, catching bugs. We weren't the only ones watching the fish - a Belted Kingfisher flew low over the water in front of us before continuing out of sight.
During today's hike we crossed many wooden trestle bridges, and in this stretch we read that these bridges had been repaired and rebuilt by the Canadian Armed Forces. A huge thank you to them for their work - we really appreciated the bridges!
After that the trail took us over many exposed causeways with water on both sides. The Little Judique Ponds were pretty, but the mosquitoes were thick. As we passed Judique we saw a lovely mossy trail that wound up through an open conifer forest to the Celtic Music Interpretarion Center. It was a very inviting looking path, and when a nice young lady on a bicycle stopped to chat and told us there was live music playing at the center it was very hard to resist going to investigate.
We continued on, and soon came to St. Michael's Look-Off. This was a small park with picnic tables and lots of interpretive signs. It also had a lovely view out over a slat marsh that must have provided great bird habitat. I'm ashamed to say we mostly bolted through due to the voracious clouds of mosquitos.
This stretch also took us past various places of historical interest, including a pioneer cemetery, a sign indicating an old parish hall, and a few old foundations. It left us wanting to know more about how this region has grown and changed since it was settled.
Around mid-afternoon we crossed Graham's Brook, which was the last place on the map with water. It was a lovely, fast flowing river, with lots of rocky islands and overhanging vegetation which made you want to follow it to adventure. Instead we stopped to cool off and filter some water in case this was our last chance for a while.
Shortly after crossing the river the trail took us out onto the cliffs at the edge of the ocean. Here we had spectacular views of rocky beaches below us, red cliffs receding down the shore into the distance, and a foreground of blooming wildflowers.
We also had a view of an approaching thunderstorm rolling in off the ocean. There was lots of thunder and some truly impressive lightening strikes. When we came to a Great Trail shelter with a picnic table at one of the beaches we decided to sit and wait out the rain. As it turned out no rain came our way at that point, but we did enjoy listening to the kids playing in the waves on the beach, and talking with a French couple who were travelling in a small camper van with their children.
After deciding we weren't going to get soaked, we continued down the trail again. We passed another river, but then found ourselves high atop the cliffs again. At that point it did begin to rain, and fortuitously there was another pavilion! We decided to cook dinner while waiting out the rain under the roof, which turned out to be a good decision. As we waited for the rice and beans to heat up, we watched hundreds of swallows foraging above a hay field nearby.
The rain had stopped by the time we finished dinner so we continued on. We walked past fields with signs that said 'Stop Do Not Enter, Biosecurity Area' which made us wonder what was going on.
At that point things got difficult. We started to pass dozens upon dozens of signs instructing us to yield for private driveways. These were accompanied by Private Property and No Trespassing signs. In addition to which we began to see warnings about "horse barns" and "do not drink the water". At one point for about an hour of hiking we could constantly see about 12 signs in front of us. We had been looking for a water source and a place to camp, and all of a sudden we found ourselves in an area that was all privately owned.
Finally we found a spot where we thought we could pitch the tent near a large river. We were a little worried, because all the trees near the water were dead, for no obvious reason. The trees right on the riverbank looked burned almost, but not by fire. As we began to set the tent up a dog started barking. It got louder and louder, and we realized there was a house not far from where we were, and the owners were getting suspicious because of the dog. Although the tent was half pitched, we decided to pack up and move on.
We walked, and walked, and walked. The sun set in a blaze of pink and gold in the ocean and still we didn't find anywhere we could camp. We passed another pavilion with interpretive signs at a lookout point in Craigmore, but had to keep going. We were just thinking we would have to get beyond Craignish when we spotted a small area to pitch the tent in near a stream. It was very tight, and not far off the trail, but it would have to do. We had now gone 34 km amid 35 degree heat and it was 8 pm. We were done.
We fall asleep hearing the sound of running water, and having watched the sun sink into the ocean. I guess there will be many more long days like this to come, but everything always works out in the end.