Cape Breton Forts & Golf

Sydney Mines (Cranberry Point & Chapel Point), Inverness, Neils Harbour, Ingonish, Nova Scotia.

Summer 2013.


This year's annual golfing trip was just across the Gulf of St. Lawrence in Cape Breton - meaning that it was time to take the nighttime ferry and have the morning and the better part of an afternoon to myself.

I had briefly checked out some of the fort ruins of this area at the end of my cycletouring trip to Halifax, so furthering that exploration seemed as good of proposition as any. Where I had explored Stubbert's Point on that last trip, I now followed the coast north to the more substantial Chapel Point Battery near Sydney Mines.

A gulp of cormorants guarded one of the three searchlight bunkers at Chapel Point.

Fortifications have been built at Chapel Point three separate times now. The first structures were built here to defend against the Americans after Canada feared an attack after the conclusion of the U.S. Civil War. The other two times were for the World Wars, in order to protect the harbour where a significant amount of coal was mined nearby and 1/3rd of the nation's steel was created. In addition, the naval base HMCS Protector was located in Sydney & most of Canada's supply ships left this harbour en route to England.

In the early 1940s, German U-boats succeeded in sinking a large naval ship as well as the Newfoundland passenger ferry the S.S. Caribou, stressing the need for searchlight bunkers and eyes along the Sydney harbour.

It's a surprise that these bunkers haven't washed away into the ocean by now, as this is the type of coast where I keep a healthy distance from the 30 foot cliffs undermined by frigid North Atlantic water.

In addition to the three searchlight positions, Chapel Point also featured two gun emplacements, sizable tunnels and a four story fire control tower...

From Sydney Harbour's Contribution to Atlantic
Coastal Defence: An Introduction, Brian Douglas Tennyson, 1991.

...which was disguised as a church to fool ze Germans!

I saved the fire control tower for last, since I've explored my share of similar bunkers and gun emplacements by now.

The funny thing being that once I made it to the tower, all of the stairs and generators were long gone, replaced by so much graffiti that it was hard to differentiate between who was a ho, who was a slut and who had been here in 2012.

The gun emplacements had definite biking possibilities, if you happened to be okay with dodging ten foot crevasses and waiting for weather where you don't have to wipe raindrops off your lens every 3 seconds.

Looking at the ground, I noticed spraypaint indicating hell's direction on some stairs leading downward, leading me to dance forward like a gazelle towards a crocodile infested pond.

Down in hell, I found a far more elaborate underground than I had ever imagined in planning this trip. Cursing the fact that I left my tripod in the car - and thinking about why I always make this mistake - I tried to steady myself against the wall, but it was of little use.

I suppose I'll have to come back to hell one day.

Climbing out of hell and trudging back through the worn path to the car, I stopped for a second to laugh at a house with an owl decoy and 60 nonchalant starlings ignoring said measures.

Driving into downtown Sydney Mines, I couldn't help but stop at their skatepark that I've always thought about riding.

I also have to admit that this might be the most graffiti-covered park I've ever seen. Maybe Sydney Mines bought these ramps from Harlem back in the 80s?

After almost killing myself by slipping on the metal ramps, I went into Sydney Mines for a coffee, before savouring the amount of time I still had, and the ability to go to Cranberry Point.

Cutting through someone's yard, I approached Cranberry Point and thought about these soft, tall cliffs of Cape Breton. Thankfully in this instance, it wasn't a case of falling into water if a collapse occurred, but rather that I'd likely slide and skip down the hill to a muddy bottom.

I picked up the rope and carefully placed one foot before the other, happy that I wasn't looking at water beside me, but still remarking on the steep angle of the hill, the distance to the bottom and the structural integrity of this clay mound in rainy weather.

As I got to the other side, I realized that the rope wasn't tied to anything.

Cranberry Point was never as extensive as Chapel Point, both because of its less strategic location and its lack of land.

This battery had three gun emplacements, a fire observation tower and two searchlight bunkers - most of them being built during WWII.

The waters surrounding Cranberry Point might have washed away a few more things than at Chapel Point, I'd say.

(I also can't imagine that the isthmus connecting Cranberry Point was always that narrow.)

Stepping into another searchlight bunker, but this time with stairs inside, I scared the daylights out of myself as a fox ran out the only way possible, which was about 8 inches from my leg!

Thankfully it must've been a breast or wing fox, instead of a thigh fox.

Being further away from town and having that somewhat sketchy entryway means that Cranberry Point has less visitors and subsequently, less graffiti.

Or maybe no one dares to go over Wendel Clark.

I grabbed the rope on the way out, moving it all the way to the other side, so that if any other boobish people like me came along, they wouldn't be fooled.

Once back at the car, it was now thankfully past 11, so I could get my allotted reward of Taco Bell for reaching the mainland. I'd then have to get on the Trans-Canada Highway towards a new section of the Cabot Trail I'd never driven before, to the western shores of Cape Breton in Inverness.

At Inverness, we would check-in to our cabin in very high winds. We were going to play one of Atlantic Canada's top golf courses in this weather? To add to the fun, it was raining by the time we actually made it out to the course, where the warden was impressed that we were committed to playing in the worst weather I've ever played in - and if I remember right, the worst weather Nick and Muggah had ever played in as well. (GW had played in some nastier weather than this.)

So I left my camera in the car, even though Nick pointed out that it was a great opportunity for pictures in these conditions. I immediately regretted it, but by hole 18, there wasn't much of me that wasn't wet. The most fun part had to be the holes directly into the wind, where you'd usually use a 9 iron, but you'd have to try and crush it low to the ground with a 5 or 6 iron instead. (Which doesn't work all that well for a guy who goes golfing once a year and has no control over when the worm burners come out.)

The weather continued as we drank down beers back at the cabins, and on into the night as GW & I decided to go slide down a red cliff to the sandy beach.

The morning would come soon enough and we had an hour's drive up to Cheticamp to play La Portage.

The course was nice enough, the sausages were good & I lost an ungodly amount of balls.

La Portage was also where we really ramped up the icing.

This was something I'd never heard of before, but I was quickly introduced to the idea of where if you find a Smirnoff Ice, you need to get on one knee and down the whole thing (even if it's sickly orange melon Smirnoff Ice).

I'm thankful that the price of Smirnoff Ice at La Portage wasn't that bad...and I'm also thankful that I had to drive so I couldn't be iced that bad (unlike poor Nick). The best ices in my opinion had to be hiding the bottle in the hole, under the flag and Nick trying to slyly close his golf bag back up as if he didn't see the bottle placed in there.

Afterward we had a long slog of a 90 minute drive, the only highlight being that it was the Cabot Trail and it has been about 5 years since I've driven along said spectacular roadway.

Muggah knew about a swimming hole near our cabin in Neils Harbour, so with the thought of a relaxing evening dip, we followed him through a confusing forest, across creeks and over logs. He'd navigate us successfully in the end, although he didn't account for how much the recent rains would affect the falls. GW and I wrote it off quickly, while the two of them tried to convince each other that it was a simple case of flowing over the falls with the rushing waters.

In the end, they didn't make it very far into Halfway Brook.

With our rented cottage being right in Neils Harbour, I left the boys behind at sunset to drive down to the harbour.

My 25th Nova Scotian lighthouse, one that I can remember seeing from the Cabot Trail 7 years ago, but never taking the time to stop and check out.

In addition to the achievement of getting to 25 lighthouses, there was additional sweetness in the fact that this 1899 lighthouse is now an ice cream shop!

I of course, had to do my due diligence in supporting adaptive reuse by forcing myself to buy some ice cream. The ice creamkeeper and I hung out for a bit and had a good conversation about the lighthouse and his business. I truly wish them the best.

I also couldn't complain about our oceanside cottage with a fine view of said aforementioned lighthouse.

Nick really nailed it with this reservation!

The next morning we drove over to Highland Links for our third course, one that probably rivals Cabot Links in terms of notoriety and quality (as far as my minor amount of golf knowledge says).

It was here that I found out how easy you can break a driver over a tree stump and also realized how many colours I was wearing with red shoes, plaid pants, yellow jacket and pink shirt. As that overplayed saying goes, golf is just an excuse for people to dress up in ridiculous outfits.

We spent another night in Neils Harbour, but it ended up being a quiet one as we were all pretty spent - even though I did find a 473 mL Smirnoff Ice waiting behind the shower curtain for me.

The next morning we toasted to another fine golf trip and went our separate ways. I needed to stay in Neils Harbour for a bit as I had a fantasy football draft to do, where thankfully I saw that the local library had free wifi - nope, only for residents of Nova Scotia who have a Nova Scotian mailing address.

So I went and bought breakfast even though I just ate, only to sit down to use their wifi and find it broken and unable to connect to my computer.

So then I went to the local motel and asked if I could pay them $20 to sit in the lobby and use their wifi - but I was told that it was only available for paying customers who are staying the night.

Breathing deeply, I went back to the rental car and took out my frustration on the closing door. As a last ditch effort, I decided to try the luxurious Keltic Lodge next to the Highland Links golf course...and voilà! The fanciest place in town has unsecured wifi! Matthew Stafford, get over here!

I'm not sure of the next time I'll be looking for a $250 room in Inverness Nova Scotia, but whenever that day comes, I owe the Keltic Lodge business.


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The Village 2013, Part 1: Introduction

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The Village 2013, Part 3: The Highlands


Newer Update:
Northeast Baseball Roadie,
Part 1: NYC Yankees


1 - Canada's Historic Places - Chapel Point Battery Site

2 - The Northern Mariner, 1991 - Sydney Harbour's Contribution to Atlantic Canada's Coastal Defence: An Introduction

3 - FortWiki - Chapel Point Battery

4 - - Cape Breton Island

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