I had heard stories about Meat Cove, supposedly the most beautiful part of Cape Breton Island, but with whispers of strange locals. When my sister lived out east several years back, her boss told us that with only one road into and out of Meat Cove, the locals once set up a road block at the end of the day, demanding $200 from any tourists on their way out. Her boyfriend told us that some wealthy person bought land up there and tried to build a mansion on the coast. Tried because it burnt down, twice, before it could be completed, and the man eventually gave up. Probably all local myths.
When flipping through a guide book looking for hikes while on our Martimes road trip, a section on Meat Cove caught my eye. There was a beautiful hike there, described as feeling like “hiking to the end of the world,” and ending in a stunning lookout. The guidebook also said that Meat Cove was given its name in the 1700s, when the stench of slaughtered moose was so horrific is caused complaints…from passing ships…out on the ocean.
Despite (or perhaps because of) the off-putting stories, we took a turn off the Cabot Trail and hooked north, towards the tip of the island. Looking out the passenger’s side window I saw large letters on the side of a hill reading PRAY FOR US, spelled out in rocks, which made me shiver slightly, as the legends swam through my head. We followed Meat Cove Road, which started out paved, soon became dirt, and then ended altogether at a cliff. We parked, and got out to walk in the drizzling rain.
The guide had said we would find the trailhead after the last house on the road (now nothing more than a rocky ATV trail). There were no real signs, just muted markers, symbols, which told us little. We noticed a cluster of old lobster buoys attached to a tree, and after considering for a few moments, decided this must be the start of the hike.
The first hundred feet of the trail was an intense incline, climbing into the forest. Panting, we scrambled our way up, at times needing to use our hands. We stopped to catch our breath when the trail levelled out slightly, and while my partner pulled out his phone to take a photo of the trail, I looked down to see something curious under my boot, tucked into the rocky gravel. I kicked it slightly, dislodging it, at first thinking it to be a piece of a branch. It wasn’t.
Not admitting that I had an eerie feeling, we pressed on along the rugged trail. The woods were hushed, except the sound of trickling water from a creek. After about twenty minutes, we reached a rope, seeming to block off the trail. Again, with no signage, it was hard to say if we were allowed to continue. The rope had some pink sparkly streamers hanging from it. That seems welcoming, right? I thought to myself. Having come so far and not seen any sign of the supposedly stunning lookout, we decided to duck under the rope and continue on.
At that point, I saw a very large pile of poo on the trail. Woah, what animal is that from?? I asked, the hairs on the back on my neck rising. Too big for a deer… he said. Let’s just keep going.
There were various debris littering the woods on either side of the trail. An old grounded truck, some children’s toys. I sopped pointing out all the large animal poos, and found myself hyper vigilant, my eyes constantly scanning the woods, looking over my shoulder. With the sound of running water I felt deaf to the rest of the sounds of the forest.
I feel like we’ve been heading inland, I puffed, picking my way along the trail trying not to trip on the shifting rocks. Aren’t we supposed to be heading for a lookout? Of the coast? Turning back crossed my mind, but we had come so far…
Finally, we saw a break in the trees ahead as we wound our way up, and we emerged from the trees on a summit just as a thick mist started rolling in. Wow, I said, looking briefly at the view and then scanning the woods behind us once again, it’s beautiful.
We snapped a few pictures before deciding to head back down. We speed-walked back the way we had come, not slowing until we had stumbled our way out of the woods and the car was in sight.
Were you scared? I asked turning to my partner.
Yupp. Were you?
This is a tough trail, very steep and uneven, and you might spend most of your time doubting whether or not you are going the right way with the lack of signage or maps, but it’s a very cool experience. I also heard there is a longer, 16km trail option, with places to camp overnight, for the brave.