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Massive tail of a humpback whale

It is Labour Day today but we are not really sure what that means other than that it is a public holiday. We drove down to the centre of Digby, a small fishing village but with a nice feeling to it, before heading down to Digby Neck, a long, thin, spit of land heading out into the Bay of Fundy. Apart from fishing, the main activity here is running whale watching tours and this is what we have come here to do.

As it is now the end of season some campgrounds are starting to close down we had a choice of one out of one and checked into the Whale Cove campground. As with some of the others we have stayed at it looks like people with a big garden have simply put the land to use by adding water and electric hookups and a shower block. It was midday-ish when we got there and we had the pick of all the sites, opting for one with views out over the bay from where we should get yet another great sunset.

The road along the Neck have seen better days so it was a bit of a bumpy ride. We passed through Sandy Cove, Tiddville and more tiny villages before hitting the first excitement of the day. At the end of Digby Neck are two islands, Long Island and Brier Island. To get to the you have to take a little ferry across the water, less than a five minutes ride. They run to a loose schedule but basically leave as soon as it is full. The ferry was waiting as we arrived and as soon as we were on board it pulled away. At Tiverton, the road wound through a little village full of lobster pots and whale watching opportunities before stretching out and down to the next ferry across to Brier Island. Here too we were just in time for the next departure.

At Westport we went in search of a whale watching tour. The first one did not leave for another three hours but Stef managed to snag the last two places on a different boat which was leaving in ten minutes. With time only to grab fleeces, camera and a drink we hopped aboard for four hours out on the open water. In the bay there was an Atlantic salmon fish farm. Large netted enclosures joined with wooden walkways were home to thousands (I think they said ten thousand) of salmon. They are pretty active and you could see them leaping out of the water.

We hoped to see a variety of different whales but we only saw one Sei whale and quite a few humpbacks. The guide explained that the tides in the Bay of Fundy have created sands banks that result in high densities of krill and plankton, favourite foods of the whales. Each year, the same whales come through this areas as they migrate south. Two surveys have been done in recent years to try and size the population which they estimate to be about fourteen thousand. Researchers have photographed the tail fins of the humpbacks, each of which is unique like a fingerprint. They then collectively decide on names for the whales. The main guide on the boat knows them well and quickly identifies them by name.

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Nice view from our cosy bedroom

Humpbacks are usually solitary creatures, probably just as well given the amount of food they need. If they traveled in groups they would soon exhaust the available food supply. As baleen whales they have lots of gill like plates in their mouths that simply filter the food from the water. We saw a couple of lone humpbacks, then two lots of mothers with their calves and finally a group of three together. They are enormous animals. A few came close to the boat and in the clear waters we got a great view from nose to tail. They normally only show from their blow hole to tail above water. It was as if they were watching us as much as we were watching them. The calves were very playful, rolling in the water, displaying flippers as well as tail fins and generally just fooling around. It is difficult to capture the sight n words but it was pretty amazing to see.

Our trip took us round Brier Island, past a colony of sea lions (we are now both a bit passé about them having seen so many in South America) and back round to the harbour. A very worthwhile trip and muti-national too - British, German, Dutch, Japanese as well as Canadians and Americans. We had got a good perch at the back of the boat marred only by very large American women who ate crisps, drank Coke and smoked all the time. As the tide was out when we got back to the harbour there was a short but relatively steep uphill from the boat to the dock. They struggled to make it!

Back on land we took a brief detour to see the monument dedicated to Captain Joshua Slocum, the first person to sail single handed around the world. Stef has read the book Slocum wrote about his adventures - no satellite navigation, on board computers and support team for him and he had to fight off the hostile natives at Patagonia. Not surprisingly it took him a bit longer than Ellen McArthur to get round.

With this little detour we were last in the queue for the ferry back to Long Island. It was full and being low tide there was a steep ramp to drive down to get on board. I waited at the top to be called down not wanting to have to try and reverse Mortimer back up. There was space for a car but I did not think we would fit in. They waved me down and I reckon there must have only been a few centimetres of space either end of us. Having been right at the front on the way out we were right at the back now but we fitted in and off we sailed. The Long Island to Digby Neck ferry was not so crowded and before long we were back at our campsite.

The view out to sea was superb and the sunset was stunning. Vaughn, the campground owner, came to have a chat. He had a strange accent with a strong Cornish lilt but was born and has lived all his life at Whale Cove. He left me with the impression that times are hard and that until recently he worked on the ferries but he gave no indication of why that was no longer the case. They try to keep the campground open as late in the year as they can, usually through to the end of October. After that the weather becomes too harsh. The do not usually get high snow fall, just one or two feet, but it normally quickly goes to slush, except when they get a nor'easter which freezes the lot!

We had an Atkins diet barbecue of pork (very tasty), lamb (not my favourite) and more bland, tasteless and tough Canadian steak and then sat and watched the sunset and the stars. It was a clear night and there is hardly any light pollution here so it was a great night for star gazing. The Milky Way was really clear and we saw shooting stars, satellites and a fair few planes as well!

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Balancing Rock, another curious formation

Not wanting to be late back to the campsite last night we had not stopped at one of Long Islands main sights, the Balancing Rock, so we headed back there this morning. It was high tide when we got to the ferry and watching it come over from the other side it seemed to be battling against the current. They are strong here, eight to ten knots.

The Balancing Rock is a geological oddity. The rocks here are all basalt, remnants of a long ago volcanic eruption. The whole shore line is characterised by formations that look like sticks of black chalk standing up on end. A path takes you about one kilometre through meadowland and forest t a flight of two hundred and thirty seven steps which lead you down and to the shore for views of the Balancing Rock. It is a pillar of rock that looks like it has been snapped in half but then stood back on top of itself, almost like a vertical game of Jenga. Whilst it was unusual to see, the pictures we had seen in leaflets from Tourist Information had led us, and an American couple who were also there, to expect something a lot bigger! We took a couple of photos and then climbed back in and headed on.

We had no firm plans of where we would end up today but were just heading in the direction of Yarmouth. British influences were ever present in the place names as we passed Brighton (without even noticing it, it was so small), Plympton, Weymouth, New Edinburgh, Bangor, Norwood  and Pembroke before reaching Yarmouth. These were all small fishing communities with just a few houses and lots of lobster pots outside. Yarmouth seemed to be a pretty charm-less place. Ferries run from here over to Maine on the US coast and the town looks as if its sole purpose is to meet the needs of the ferries. We decided it was not for us and carried on through on route 3 working down to the southern shore of Nova Scotia.

This road took us through Argyle (including central and lower Argyle) and Pubnico (west, middle west, lower west, and lower east). You would think they could have been a bit more inventive with the place names! This area is meant to be one of the last Acadian areas (i.e. French) that we wil go through in Nova Scotia but you would not believe it from the names on the post boxed - they were all very English and German.

Talking of post boxed, Posties seem to have it easy here. No going up drives to individual houses to deliver the mail here. The post boxes are on the side of the street, and just one side so they do not even have to cross the road. In some of the smaller towns and villages it is even easier still for them as there is a central place for all post boxes and people have to come and pick up their mail themselves. While I am side tracking, we have also had a couple of hairy bridge crossings on wooden bridges where the slats have started to look, and feel, the worse for wear. They are perfectly safe I am sure (or the bridges would have been closed) but it was a bit harrowing none the less.

Route 3 winds down to Shag Harbour, famous for a UFO sighting in 1967 when something crash landed into the water of the bay. We have no more information about it than that! Some of the villages we have passed along the way have had beautiful buildings, very pristine and well looked after. It seems to be quite a religious part of the country, lots of churches proclaiming in different ways that God can save you. We chucked at the sign for a financial planner - J Achenbach - must be Jewish with a name like that!

Stef then told me a story which is probably why Jewish people are associated with money and being good at managing it. In the Middle Ages, no banks or money really existed except gold coins. There was not really a concept of lending  money and charging interest but kings and nobles did need money now and again. Dealing with money was deemed to be below the esteem of the nobility and for some reason only Jewish people were allowed to practice money lending. (or something like that...)

We carried on through Doctors Cove and up to Barrington where we stopped for supplies (we seem to be shopping every day, probably due to the lack of space to store enough for a week at a go). This need to stop was primarily alcohol driven but resulted in a few other bits and pieces too including  a very tasty apple crumble pie (and a bit of cream to go on top!) - oh dear, the trousers are starting to get tight again!! A very helpful pharmacist gave me a tester of an emollient cream as an alternative to E45 as my stocks are running low and they  (Crookes Healthcare i.e. Boots) do not sell it in Canada. She has also given me a different shampoo to try and help my continuing bad dandruff situation.

Our campsite was a little further on and ten kilometres up the Clyde River, suitably called Clyde Farm Camping. It is a small site with not many people there. Our first spot was hot and full of mossies so we moved to a cooler fresher place. The lady who checked us in was actually one of the people with a seasonal trailer here. Today is her birthday and her two sisters and her sister in law, whose birthday it is in a week, have come up to visit her. We could hear them guffawing for quite a while. They were friendly enough and I chatted to them for a while (the sister in law's daughter works in London and is the publisher of Investment something or other) until Stef came to rescue me.

By the time we were set up it was already quite late. Another clear night sky accompanied us but it got too cold and we retreated indoors. It then got so cold that we also resorted to tucking up in bed to watch the end of the film.

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Shelburne

We were slow to get going today. The campsite was very quiet, the sun was shining and we had no motivation for a speedy start. They had good showers and separate marine toilets. Very clean the loos came equipped with reading material  (lets face it we all take a book to the loo at some stage they, just made it easy) and a comments book. Above the loo they also had a great little poem - "If you sprinkle while you twinkle, be a sweetie and wipe the seatie". If only every public loo had this sign!

The farm dog came and paid us a visit. He was so quiet I did not hear him coming and three times on the trot I jumped and startled him, His barks brought the farmer running as the dog is not meant to go on the campsite. We also had another visit from yesterday's birthday girl. She has written a book about the local history (we opted not to stop at the local store to buy it) and he son has a website, www.8_stones.com, with photos of the local area (we have not had a chance to look at it yet). She spends as much time as she can here, rather than in her second floor flat in Barrington.

Our route today took us up and through to Shelburne, a historic place and home to ship builders. It was first settled by three hundred wealthy American families who wanted to make it a mercantile/trading port. Soldiers from the British army were decommissioned here after the American War of Independence and a few thousand freed black slaves also called it home. With these and other new settlers the massive influx of people caused the garrison town of Halifax to renege on its promise to provide supplies and assistance to the new settlement. As a result, what had once been the fourth largest city in the Americas was quickly reduced to just a small village.

The freed black slaves were not well treated by the British. Promised suitable land they were given poor quality plots in Birchtown a few kilometres away from Shelburne. One worked his passage across to the UK an went to lobby on behalf of the black community. His efforts yielded a result. For those who wanted to go free passage was given for them to emigrate and set up a new settlement in Sierra Leone in South Africa. The new settlement was called Freetown, a bit of history neither of us was familiar with.

In Shelburne we visited the Dory museum to see how they build this unique type of boat. Really no more than a fifteen foot dinghy without the sail, their flat bottomed design gave them high stability and enabled them to be stacked one on top of each other. Used for fishing, a schooner would set sail for three to four weeks with up t twelve Dory's on board. Each Dory was manned by a team of two. When the schooner was two hundred miles out in the Atlantic, the dories would be launched and the men set off with their trawler nets to fish.

They only had basic food and water supplies on board but the boats were designed to enable the men to survive for a few days in case the fog rolled in and they could not find the schooner. They had a small sail that could be used if the wind was in the right direction and one of the oars could be used as a tiller. In the bottom, a plug allowed water to be drained when the boats were hauled back on to the schooner. A rope loop on the underside of the plug was the only thing the men would be able to hold on to if their boat capsized. The fish they caught was packed in salt to preserve it until they got back to land.

We were talked though the process for building the Dory's. This is a skilled job, learned as a trade on an apprentice basis. Even though they are no longer used for fishing (they and the schooners have been replaced by modern trawlers) there is still a demand for them either as pleasure craft or as scaled down versions for children's toys. One was even being made as a coffee table! They are all painted a mucky yellow colour, apparently easy to spot in the fog. They have a set of templates that are used for cutting the wood which are now well worn having been in use for over eighty years.

The County Museum has samples of quilt work and embroidery and the oldest fire pumping cart in Canada dating back o the 1700's. It also has lots of photos of the boat building history of the town. A room at the back looks like a well informed local archive and provides a great research room for those interested. They also have photos of Charles and Di's visit when they inaugurated the opening of the Dory museum. Prince William, somewhere, has one of the five foot toy models.

By this time Stef had had enough sight seeing so I went on my own to the Ross-Thomson House and general store. This was home to a Scottish family and was spartan to say the least. The rooms were very simple and sombre with few furnishings. The basement kitchen was cold and damp and at the time the house was lived in it had a dirt floor. The staircase down was steep and low ceilinged and I do not envy the maid who had to maker her way up and down with plates of food to serve to the family. The bedrooms were also simple except for a very fine chest of drawers and a commode. There was the original sailors chest that the mean of the house had brought with him from Scotland.

To the side of the house was the general store which the family also ran. It sold pots, pans, rolls of cloth, provisions, fine china - everything for the house and family. I asked what the white cone shaped pillar was on the counter to be told it was sugar. It came either in cones or in loaf shaped blocks (hence why things get named Sugar Loaf this and that - we passed a Sugar Loaf mountain in Ecuador) and people would come in and get a chunk cut off the block and then cut it into cubes at home. White sugar was only for the well off, most had brown unrefined sugar.

Above the shop was what used to be a storage area. When the village was under threat of a potential invasion (which never in the end occurred) the store room was turned into a base for the local militia. The racks they used to house their guns are still there for all to see. With Stef in tow once again we went to the Muir-Cox shipyard museum. This is where large boats were made, in effect in dry dock. More wall panels told again of the local ship building industry. There was also an impressive collection of tools.

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Andy, "we saw this and thought of you"!

Even though it is a small place, Shelburne had a welcoming feel. It is now simply a destination n the tourist map and, as one of the elderly ladies who act as the guides said "it is just full of old people now". Its harbour is apparently one of the three best in the world. Its waterfront makes for a pleasant stroll especially on days like today when the sun was shining.

Leaving Shelburne we tool to the main route 103 for the fast track to Lunenburg, passing the turning to Liverpool without stopping. At Lunenburg we headed for the Board of Trade campsite on the outskirts of tow by Tourist Information, We ummed and aahhed about sites - not of them were great because the flat one had electric hook ups too far to reach and the ones we could reach did not have flat sites! We really need a small supply of planks of wood to even us out when we park as more often than not we have a bit of a tilt.

As we were chilling before dinner another couple from the site walked by. They have a really clever tent that hooks up to the back of their estate car so they actually sleep in the car, Both of Dutch descent, they have lived in Canada for well over forty years, but surprisingly still spoke with a Dutch accent. As they walked past us one way I heard the lady say to her husband "that's what I really want" as she eyed up Mortimer. I offered her a sneak inside but her husband (full head of white hair, bushy white beard and stetson hat) pulled her away. I repeated the offer as they walked back and this time she could not resist. She marvelled at al the bits and pieces we have inside. We chatted for a while and we parted ways with a small female voice asking how much we would sell him for and a deeper make voice telling her not to even think about it! It is good news for us through as it is reinforcing the assumption we have that we should be able to sell easily in Vancouver.

The midges won tonight. Stef never actually managed to sit outside at the campsite. I lasted about half an hour after the Dutch/Canadian couple let. For some reason they have taken a fancy to my head and neck and I got fed up with hearing their whiney buzz and batting them away.

Today we went out and about to explore Lunenburg, Founded in 1753, it was named in honour of the Duke of Braunschweig-Lunenburg who has become King of England in 1727. It was a British colonial settlement overseen by the British military. The settlers were Protestants from Germany, Switzerland and France who had been chosen for their potential loyalty to the British Crown. They were lured here by the promise of free land. The town grew and thrived during the nineteenth century and early twentieth century, being a major base for fishing.

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Big whale jaw bones!

The town centre has been well preserved and is now a UNESCO World Heritage site. A walking tour takes you around some of the best architecture in the centre. We passed beautiful old wooden houses all with clapboard exteriors. Some looked very simple, others were really ornate. The downside was that you could not get to go inside them to see what they ere like as they are all still lived in today. All around town little plaques told you who the houses were built for and in which year.

Like the rest of Nova Scotia Lunenburg also has its fill of churches with Anglicans, Lutherins and Presbyterians all in evidence. One of the few buildings we could go into was St John's Anglican church. Gutted by fire in 2001 it has only recently been re-opened. They managed to preserve most of the pews, the altar, two stained glass windows and many memorial plaques but the rest has had to be rebuilt. To maintain its national heritage status, the new church us an exact replica of the old. Over the years the church has been extended and re-modeled and even at one time moved twenty five feet to enable new sections to be added.

Some of the towns buildings have interesting stories about them. The best for me was the Rectory for St John's. The Society for the Propagation of the Gospel, an English organisation who provided funds for the Anglican church's operation, decided in 1816 that St John's needed its own rectory. The congregation did not all agree so instead of providing money to build the rectory that gave the vicars the carpentry skills they needed and made them build it themselves.

The town's Fisheries Museum has exhibits about sailing and how it has changed over the years. There is a small aquarium with samples of the species they catch here - lobsters, cod, haddock, Atlantic salmon and crabs. The glass on the tanks was very think and gave you a drunken feeling if you got too close up to it. We wondered if it had the same effect on the fish on the other side.

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Move over Picasso!

It was quite an interesting museum. Stef and I both passed the test at one of the computer booths on what fish was caught, where and when. We also got to draw our own fish and have them captured on "film". An elderly man was whiling away the time at one of his hobbies, building miniature boats. He is half way through a two foot long model of The Bounty and has around two more years to go before it will be finished. He was also part way through a model of a French tall ship, again two more years to go before it will be finished. His process for building them in miniature exactly matches the way that the originals were built and he does not cheat by using glue. It is a real labour of love which I think needs a lot of patience. His reply was that if you enjoy doing it you do not need patience, which I suppose is true.

Outside we had a quick look in the whale room where they had pieced together lots of good footage of humpbacks into a continuous loop video. I found it mesmerising. In the boat shop nothing much was happening and there was no boat building in action. On the quayside we just made it in time for the demonstration of how they used to launch a ship. The demonstrator was a very enthusiastic lady who really brought the demonstration to life. She explained how planks of wood and wooden blocks were used to support the boat before it was launched. They had a scale model for the demonstration and she got people from the audience, including Stef involved in the process. Once the brakes had been removed the ship, and the supporting planks of wood, slid gracefully down into the water. The wood was reused in future launches and the ship then went on to be fitted out. She also explained that the number thirteen (or twelve plus one as she would say) was bad luck and was never mentioned. If a ship's name was thirteen characters long they would ad in a silent letter to make if fourteen.

We carried on down to the look at the Theresa E Connor (the "E" is a silent fourteenth letter) an old fishing schooner with dories stacked up on deck. It was very clear on deck, nothing to get in the way of the fishermen at work. Down below in the bow was the galley and living quarters for most of the crew. Each had their own bunk along the sides of the ship and there was a central dining table set up and ready for dinner. Midships was used for storing the fish. They were only stacked up to three feet high one of top of the other. Any higher and the weight would crush the fish at the bottom of the stack. Aft were the quarters of the Captain and the rest of the crew. Still simple  but more luxurious than those in the bow.

Back inside the museum there was a display charting the changes and improvements in fishing techniques. In the times of the dory a key change was moving from a single hook line to trawler lines, each bearing thousands of hooks. This significantly increased yield until the next advance, mechanised trawlers.

In the vessel gallery we joined a talk about the Bluenose, an apparently world famous boat that neither of us had heard of before. The Nova Scotians have a friendly rivalry with their counterparts in New England. In 1920, a local businessman fuelled the competition by putting up four thousand dollars in prize money and a big silver sup to establish a racing series known as the International Fisherman's Trophy. To be eligible to enter, boats had to be working fishing vessels and they raced over a relatively short course. Elimination races were held in both the US and Canada with the national finalists them competing for the Cup.

In the first race the Canadians were well and truly trounced by the Americans and lost the prize money and the trophy. Not happy, and not wanting it to happen again, they rapidly set to work building a new boat. The Captain, Angus J Walters, oversaw the construction and required changes to be made, most noticeable raising the bow by eighteen inches. This was to give the crew more space inside the galley and was thought by the builders to be a bad move because of the extra wood and therefore weight that it added. In practice, it helped to keep more water out of the boat, therefore improving overall efficiency and speed.

The boat was finished in a matter of months to ensure that it was ready for the next fishing season. It had to be used for fishing for a least one season to qualify for the Trophy competition. The name, Bluenose, comes from the Bluenosers nickname given to the crewmen aboard the schooners that carried blue skinned potatoes from Nova Scotia to ports in the US. In her first race in October 1921, Bluenose won the Trophy and continued to do so each year until 1938 when schooners ceased to be used for fishing. Local legend has it that Captain Walters  was good at finding tactics to tease out just a little extra speed. One of them was to get the crew to o their stuff lying on the deck to reduce the wind resistance of their bodies. In 1942 Bluenose was sold to the West India Trading company as a cargo ship and in January 1946 it hit a reef off Haiti and sank. A sad ending for such a momentous ship.

The top floor of the museum had exhibits about the illicit rum running trade during the prohibition era. I had not realised that Canada was also an alcohol free zone. Some provinces did not relax prohibition until well into the 1940's. There was also a small cinema here showing a film that had been taken on board a tall ship that was travelling round Cape Horn and then up to Chile. Probably shot in the 1920's the crew had no safety equipment but obviously still had to clamber about and up the masts in full gale force conditions. Some of them film was shot from the top of the mast. Seeing the decks totally awash with water, it was amazing that the ship survived the voyage.

All museumed out we went in search of the local library to use its Community Access Programme internet connection. The ladies at the library were very chuffed that they had a free wireless connection. It was good but I did not have the heart to tell them it was not a patch on Fredericton where the whole of the downtown area has free wireless internet access! We had dinner in town at a place full of Cloggies before working our way back up the campsite and to bed.

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Colourful waterfront at Lunenburg
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Peggy's Cove

Having had bright sunshine for the last few days we woke today to a misty start. It soon started to clear and by the time we left the mist had gone but the day was still overcast. We worked round to the other side of the bay to get a view back across to Lunenburg but in the dull light the bright colours of the town were not at their best.

We worked our way up to Mahone Bay, a true picture postcard village. Set in a beautiful bay it had a relaxed atmosphere and seemed to be full of good boutiquey type shops. The first one we went into had lots of different bits and pieces for decorating your home and we would have been tempted if it was practical to get things home. Our (Stef's) only purchase was a red stuffed toy lobster, now named Larry. The local market shop had delicious bread and good fruit and vegetables. Driving through Mahone we went through their church strip, three churches from three different denominations all side by side along the bay. The whole of Mahone Bay was beautiful and I could understand what attracted the early settlers.

At East River we cut across on route 3 and then followed the 333 to Peggy's Cove. The road goes past a monument to SwissAir flight 111 which crashed into the water off Peggy's Cove in the late 1990's. As 297 people died in the crash its unlikely there were any survivors. Peggy's Cove itself is a tiny village of sixty people that reminded us of Cabo Polonio in Ecuador. On a small headland, houses are scattered and a lighthouse, which is also a post office, provides a focal point. There is a small harbour, gift ship, B&B, cafe, tourist information - they are well geared for the tourist trade. While we were there at least four tour buses passed through. The main sight at Peggy's Cove is the surrounding rocks. They had been worn smooth over the years and are different to any other art of the local landscape. Signs warn of the danger of sudden high waves, especially in windy conditions.

After Peggy's Cove we worked our way up to Halifax and to the Shufie Park Campsite across the bay in Dartmouth. Stef got some help from the chap in the trailer next door to see if we could clear out our pipes. The indicator lights inside are giving us funny readings. Our neighbour ignores his and recommended we do the same but Stef is still uneasy that we may have a blockage.

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Yacht in Halifax harbour
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Aboard Bluenose II

Today we had a day catching up on laundry and getting ready for another web upload session. It is hot and sunny until the wind blows and then you get reminded that winter is just around the corner. Late in the afternoon we headed into town timing it beautifully to catch the hourly bus from the main road down to Dartmouth bus station. From here we walked down to the ferry terminal and hopped on the ferry across the bay to downtown Halifax.

The harbour front where the ferry stops is total tourist-ville with boat tours, restaurants and tourist shops. It reminded me of Pier 39 in San Francisco. We were in search of tickets for a trip on Bluenose II, a replica of the original, which was built in the 1960's. Tickets can only be bought ninety minutes before sailing so we will come back tomorrow but we did go on board for a shufty around. It is a beautiful ship and well looked after, all gleaming brass and varnish. The crew live on board which means that you cannot go below, a shame because for the peeks we got through the open hatches it looks luxurious.

We stopped off at Tourist Information and I thought Stef was going to blow a fuse. The man who helped us was friendly and helpful but he was  like a very camp Danny Kaye. I got the feeling that the people he worked with found him hard going for a full day. We left with the usual stock of leaflets, one of which was a map showing where the seventy pubs in central Halifax were located. My request for a typically Canadian one was laughed at as they are all (or most of them at least) Irish pubs.

Thirsty we decided to go for an early drink before finding somewhere to eat. A fatal mistake. We went to the Old Triangle Irish Ale House, which I thought was more American than Irish. It reminded me of the Cheers bar on Regent Street in London. In the main bar they had a small corner stage with a band playing Irish music. The next room along was a dining room, and in the back was a not very cosy looking snug. It somehow seemed to neat and tidy to be a pub. The band were pretty good led by a middle aged guy playing the violin, another guy on guitar, three more girls on violins and another girl with a small guitar. One of the girls looked really nervous, she could only have been about fifteen. As well as playing three of the girls also did some Irish dancing. Their fingers and their feet moved incredibly fast.

The band stopped at eight, another one plays from ten to the early hours, so the pub is catering to the early tourist trade as well as the hardened night time revellers. I am sad to say we had fallen into the earlier group. With a few pints of Guiness inside him, Stef needed food. Our attempt to find the local Indian failed (bad eh - Irish bar and a curry) so instead we went to the Wooden Monkey, a bistro with a tasty menu. The only problem was that as Stef had the taste for curry it took him a while to stop complaining that we were not in a curry house and to switch into a different food mode.

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Disco Lobster

Amazingly, Stef did not have a sore head today - he deserved one! Our little local bus doe not run on Sundays so we drove down into Central Halifax to get our tickets for Bluenose II. Knowing that numbers were limited we divided and conquered. Stef went to get the coffee while I watched the ticket booth and joined the queue early on so we would be sure to get tickets (i.e. we did a German). With time to kill, we ambled along the harbour front and into a little market. It had lots of gifty shops selling nick-knacky bits and pieces. Stef resisted the temptation to buy a giant Larry the Lobster! We were back in time for our trip on Bluenose II, a two house tour of the Halifax harbour and bay.

In total it has eight sails but only three were in use today. The masts are solid wood and polished and gleaming all the way. The main sails have booms on top and bottom, needed because they are too heavy for halyards and sheets alone (ropes to you and me). The fifteen year old main sail ripped a few weeks ago and its replacement, all 950lbs of it, has just arrived and is sitting on the deck waiting to be rigged, a process that will take a couple of days to complete. It will look out of place being so clean and white amongst the other sails that al have a well worn character.

The wind in the harbour was light so we made slow progress an much to Stef's disappointment it was horizontal sailing all the way. The crew were happy to chat to passengers along the way. There are sixteen crew in total, eleven deckhands, a chief cook, engineer, captain and two others. The deckhands were all young people, they looked like students. They work the full season from April to October and do not necessarily have any sailing experience. The only condition for them to work on Bluenose II is that they are from Nova Scotia. The first two months are spent rigging the ship, the last two weeks de-rigging and putting it into winter storage.

They certainly work hard. The main halyard and the mooring sheets were a good two inches thick. The foresail sheet (which is what is used to keep the boom in place) was even thicker. It makes the rigging on the (comparatively) little yachts Stef sails on look a bit poxy. It took three people to pull in the sail each time we tacked and four to adjust the foresail sheet for each jibe. As we turned back to harbour the sailing became more fun. "Oh the boat's leaning" said one American lady, obviously wanting it to level out again. When they get up a full "head of steam" it heels to about thirty degrees, far enough for water to come in over the gunwale.

It must be great fun to be on board with all the sails hoisted and cruising through the water. Health and safety regulations do not allow them to do this with passengers on board. Racing the original must also have been something quite special. Bluenose II is not allowed to race. Officially this is so that it does not detract away from the reputation of the original Bluenose but one of the crew joked that it was so that it could not lose.

After the cruise we stopped off at a Second Cup coffee shop where they have wireless internet access (£15 for 24 hours which is pretty cheap). We have decided to restructure our Canada section which has created some structural problems that Stef needed to sort out. It is all very technical and well and truly beyond my internet abilities.

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Sailing on Bluenose II

In the evening we went to see a Harold Pinter play, The Dumb Waiter, shown as part of Halifax's Fringe Festival. It was at the Neptune Theatre Studio, a small auditorium that probably only seats a couple of hundred people. It was an ideal location for this two man play. The characters are waiting in a dark and dismal basement for their next assignment. It soon becomes clear that they are hit men waiting for their next kill. Events take a strange turn when a dumb waiter in the wall springs to life sending down orders from what must have been a cafe upstairs. Te characters were obviously from London, the play set in Birmingham. Not many in the audience laughed at the joke about the Villa.

We went to the Economy Shoe Store for dinner, another Irish pub come restaurant. The food was very good when it finally arrived - a bit of a cock up with the kitchen meant it took thirty minutes. Back at the campsite we watched some of the evening news. It must have been a slow news day as they were talking about The Ashes cricket competition between Britain and Australia. Cricket is not a very well known sport here so they gave a brief explanation of the rules. It went something along the lines of "the batsman hits the ball with a bat that looks like the end of a canoe paddle, hitting the ball before it can knock down a few sticks of wood known as stumps" From the way they talked about it  I think they felt it was a pretty boring game (which, of course, it is ...)

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Where are the white flappy things?!

We have decided to stay for another day to do a bit of sightseeing and shopping before moving on. We went back to Second Cup to make the most of our internet 24 hours. It was mid afternoon by the time we were done. We had an unsuccessful look at Mountain Equipment to try and get some new trousers for Stef as one of his pairs is uncomfy and he spends all day pulling them down.

After that we headed down to the waterfront and walked down towards Pier 21 to where the cruise ships dock. They get one or two every other day here, the QE2 was here on Saturday but we missed her. Today there is the Maasdam from Rotterdam and the Golden Princess from Hamilton, Bermuda. Apparently they are small cruise ships but they look pretty big to me. I fancy going on one just for a long weekend to see what it is like. Some people love it, others hate it. I think it would probably make a good girlie weekend.

Pier 21 has an interesting history in its own right. It was the main immigration point of entry for the 1 million people who have emigrated to Nova Scotia in the first half of this century. There is now a small museum commemorating this history. From the museum you get fantastic views of the cruise ships. They were about to leave so we stayed to see them go. Close up they really are big. We looked up the Golden Princess on the internet. With 2,900 passengers and 1,100 crew there are more people on this liner than there have been in many of the villages we have passed through in both South America and Canada. They really are floating towns. Considering their size, they have relatively little tying them up to port, although their mooring ropes were pretty big. They had automated winches on board to reel the ropes back in. It took three people on the harbour to lift them over the cleats they were tied to.

As it got to time to go more and more people came out to sit on their balconies and to watch the proceedings. A few were watching us watching them  and waved goodbye. The power of the engines was vast as the liner pulled out into the channel. The whole process was well rehearsed and trouble free. Stef got a great shot of the liner pulling away.

Having watched the liners we then went through the Pier 21 exhibit. They had a short film depicting the change in use of the Pier over the years. From the 1920's to World War II it was primarily a point of entry for immigrants from around the world, people who came with nothing hoping for a better life in Canada. Often they did not understand the questions that the immigration officers asked as they did not speak English but they were always relieved when they got the "landed" stamp on their papers. Some people were refused entry but they did not say what happened to them and there was no one available to ask. Presumably they were sent back home. Others would be short of the money they needed for entry and on occasion and immigration office would help them out with the shortfall. Years later some people when they were established would then send the money back to the immigration officer.

With the onset of World War II Pier 21 changed use to become a major departure point for the Canadian military and their role in supporting the war effort around the world. As the second largest natural harbour in the world, and one that does not ice over in winter, Halifax was an important supply post and was central to supporting convoys of supplies to keep Europe going. With the combination of Halifax, Bermuda, Gibraltar and Portsmouth the British Navy had the four corners of the Atlantic covered, a major strategic strength. After the war Pier 21 was the entry point for orphaned Jewish children, war brides who had married Canadian soldiers and their children. During the war seven thousand children were also evacuated here from the UK. With the change in transport from sea to air Pier 21 ceased to be an immigration point in the 1970's.

After the Pier we carried on to Alexander Keith's Brewery and their tour. Keith was a Scot who had learned the brewing trade in the north of England before coming to Canada. When he arrived in Halifax e took his credentials with him to the local brewery in time becoming joint owner and then sole owner of the brewery. He had been involved in creating India Pale Ale (IPA) which was brewed specifically for British troops stationed in India. All members of the British Armed Forces, where ever they were in the world, were eligible for a daily ration of a gallon of beer. Keith knew that with Halifax's military importance he was on to a good thing.

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Brewery tour

With his brewing skills he soon made beer far superior to anything else that was available in Halifax and hi business flourished and he prospered. He became a well regarded member of the local community, serving as a Director for many companies and holding the position of Mayor of Halifax a couple of times.

One of the things they do well in Canada is the tours of sights and monuments and this was no exception. We were met by a very barrel shaped man who explained that we were in the year 1870 something (or was it 1780 something?). He led us through into Mr Keith's dining room (chairs very similar to Mum and Dad's at home) and apologised that Mr Keith had been delayed and would not be able to join us just yet (a theme repeated throughout the tour). Here we were shown a short film about the brewery before another "worker" came to show us the brewing process.

Their malt now comes from somewhere in Canada but their hops still come all the way from Kent in the UK. If they changed the hops the beer would no longer taste the same! They still have Mr Keith's recipe under "lock and key" in a big red leather bound book. The brewing room was full of copper kettles and vats, each performing a different part of the process. Copper is used because its a good insulator and coolant. We were then taken by a serving girl through to the Stag's Head Pub. Here she and two male waiters entertained us with song, dance and tales while we were able to try the local brew - quite tasty. A quick hand of three card brag (I won!), a visit to Mr Keith's office and then it was back out the door through the tunnel that had been built between the brewery and Keith Hall next door. This ensured that Mr Keith was on hand and easily accessible at any time if he was needed to support the brewing process.

All in all it was a fun visit and worth doing. We decided to eat at the brewery (which was not great) before heading back to camp and crashing out.

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78th Highlanders

This morning we decided to go to see the Halifax Citadel before leaving and moving on, still with lots more than we could see and do in Halifax, The Citadel is at the top of a hill overlooking the city giving great views down and across the harbour. The view now is slightly marred as here are a fair few high rise blocks in the way. It is a large site, first established in 1749 and has been home to four separate forts. Each was built at a time when the city was under threat of attack and then fell into decline one the threat had passed. The current Citadel took twenty eight years to build and was finished in 1856. It was designed to deter an overland attack on the city in the event of war with the US.

The garrison was home to the 78th Highlanders and the guides all wear the uniforms of the regiment as at 1869, stressing several times that they are not real soldiers. The tartan is that of the McKenzie clan who founded the regiment. The soldiers wear red tunics, the pipers and drummers wear green. The kilts have a box pleat rather than the normal knife pleat which apparently makes them more durable. Their sporrans are very decorative and their hats are made of ostrich and vulture (the white parts) feathers.

The tartan patterned socks you see above their spats only go down as far as their ankles, normal hard wearing grey socks were actually worn on the feet. Boots come in one size only, size 9, and there is no difference between left and right. This makes re-supplies easy to manage but must have pretty uncomfortable especially if you had big feet. The soldiers would alternate their boots between their left and right foot every couple of weeks to ensure that they wore out evenly. The underwear of the day consisted simply of a long tunic, there was no equivalent of today's underpants or boxer shorts, hence the reason why Scotsmen wear "nothing" under their kilts.

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Firing the noon gun

The Citadel site is a national historic monument run by Parks Canada. They had an extensive exhibit documenting the history of the Citadel and the important role it has played in Canada's military defences. The Army Museum focused primarily on Canada's role in World War I but also had information on their involvement in other wars. Bunkers and gun placements had been mocked up as part of the display.

For most of the time we were there we joined a tour run by Kevin, one of the senior guides who is employed there full time and not just fro the May to October season. He can get his full military kit on in about five minutes, pretty good going considering the complexity of it. He explained all about what life was like for the soldiers. Having their one gallon of beer a day seemed to ensure that if they were not drunk they were hung over. He explained how the two masts on one corner of the site were used for communication. The tallest displayed the colours of ships entering he harbour so that people in town knew what was coming. The smaller mast was used for communication by the military.

At noon, time in Halifax for the last one hundred and fifty years has been marked by the firing of the noon gun. We watched as two "soldiers" loaded the cannon, rolled it into position and then fired it as twelve sharp. Even though I knew it was coming it still made me jump. The same was true of the rifle firing demonstration later in the day.

The Citadel has never needed to defend itself but it would be a formidable stronghold. It is in the shape of an eight pointed star. All around it is a moat shaped ditch about nine metres wide and a couple of metres deep. If anyone had managed to get to the top of the hill alive they would surely have been hit by gunfire trying to cross the ditch. There are big cisterns below the ground to catch rainwater, and a natural spring on the site, which ensure that the Citadel could withstand a siege situation where its supplies were cut off for a while. Pipes and drums were playing throughout our visit. We left after a couple of hours, still with lots left to see.

We stopped to do some shopping before leaving Halifax. Stef got his trousers, I got a replacement battery for my watch. Stef's watch has also stopped, not because his battery is dead but because his watch is all mouldy inside! Our route them took us out to the other side of Nova Scotia to Pictou from where we hope tomorrow to get a ferry across to Prince Edward Island (PEI). The campground is run by a Canadian Scot who gave us one of the seasonal plots normally used by big trailers. It came with decking and a patio looking out over the estuary. It is also the first campsite we have come across with free high speed wireless internet access  so we were able to catch up on mails sitting inside Morty and supping a little glass of vino - luxury!

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Welcome to Prince Edward Island

I had a chat with my sister Beccie this morning via email and the chat room on our website. I still find it amazing that we can be so far away from each other but can keep in touch so easily. We had nothing in particular to say but just chatted as we would over the phone of if we were sat together in the same room.

We then took Morty to an RV dealer in nearby New Glasgow to get his waterworks checked out. After a couple of hours reading a book on the history of RV's (a bit interesting) and RV monthly type magazines I was thoroughly bored. As I reached saturation point the chap from the garage came by to confirm that one of the valves had not been working properly which is why we were having problems. If we flush the tanks we should get better information from the on board indicators of how full/empty the tanks are but he did not seem too hopeful on that score.

By the time that was all finished it was pretty late in the day. We made it in time for the six o'clock ferry across to Prince Edward Island and headed up to the Brudenell River National Park campsite, stopping en route to pick up a Chinese take away as neither of us felt like cooking by that stage.

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Dune grass on PEI

I woke to the sound of horses neighing nearby. It was already dark by the time we reached the campground last night. I knew we had driven through a holiday resort complex to get here which has a hotel and golf course as well as the campground. In daylight though it looks like it has a whole activity centre and there were about twenty horses in two separate corrals. For some reason they had found it necessary to electrify the fences. We are not sure if that is to keep the visitors out and away from saying hello to the horses or whether it is to keep the horses in.

PEI is split into three main districts, Kings, Queens and Prince. They have three driving tours taking you around the island and we started our day on the Kings Byway Coastal Drive. The island itself is not huge, only about two hundred kilometres long. Still switching into the smaller scale of distances, what we thought would take us a couple of hours only took about forty minutes.

From Brudenell we drove through Cardigan and around Cardigan Bay, a long way away from the Cardigan Bay I have been to back home in Wales, and followed the coastal drive until we reached Fortune Bridge. This whole area is agricultural land. The British separated the land into separate plots which were then sold. Most were bought by absent owners and the farmers were tenants having a hard life trying to make ends meet. The land division was on a strip farm basis so the road system, which follows the demarcations of the plots is a criss-cross of long straight lines. The countryside in this part of the island is gently rolling hills with woodland and forest thrown in every now and again to keep some variety. The soil is a very rich dark red colour

Our route took us past a village called Five Houses, which has grown in size and now has at least ten. At St Peters we followed the road down to Greenwich to visit the National Park. The visitor's centre was open and we went in to get a guide to the National Park and information on the walks available to do. They had a short film outlining the history of the island. Originally joined to the mainland by a river, rising sea levels resulted in the Northumberland Strait and PEI becoming an island. Alongside the local Micmac Indians, Acadians populated the island as well as Scottish and Irish immigrants. Evidence of the latter is very obvious in the place names and the culture of the place.

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On the beach (u%=0, yippee!)

St Peter's Bay is also home to a thriving cultured mussels industry and oyster farming is also growing on the back of this success. They grow mussels here both for eating and as seed to export to other parts of the world. In the bay there are hundreds of small floats visible on the surface of the water. Each of them marks the sight of a mussel "sock", a long plastic netted tube into which the seed mussels are put. The mussels hook on to the outside of the sock and feed and grow until harvest time. In the summer this is a relatively easy process as boats "simply" cruise up the bay, hooking the float and pulling the sock onto a conveyor belt that pulls it up onto the ship. The winter harvest is more tough. Holes are cut into the ice and a diver in full scuba gear goes below the ice to retrieve the mussel socks. Fully laden they look as if they weigh quite a lot.

This area of PEI is famous for its sand dunes, which the National Park is here to protect. They have information explaining how dunes are created by sand being blown into sheltered spaces from rocks or clumps of seaweed. Marram grass quickly establishes itself in the dunes and its root systems help to stabilise the sand enabling other plants to also grow. The plant life in turn attracts birds and other animals and soon a whole ecosystem has developed. You can have a go at making your own sand dune in a big drum with a fan that blows onto sand. They also had the pelts from a muskrat and a beaver, very soft and warm.

Leaving the visitor centre we drove another kilometre or so down the road to the start of the local walking trails and walked along the Greenwich Dunes trail. Although the dunes are protected they have made boarded walking trails so that people can still get to see and enjoy the local landscape. The route initially went through some open farmland and then turned in through woodland. The wood was mainly of white spruce. This tree was the least useful to local farmers and more samples of it were left when the farmers cleared their land. As such, it is now the most prolific tree as the land changes back to non farmed land. Other species are taking root but it is a slower process.

Through the forest the trail then started on a boardwalk to the dunes. A large section of this spans Bowley Pond, a freshwater pond that is only protected from the sea by the dunes. As the level of the pond rises and falls the boardwalk itself floats on small pontoons, quite a unique experience. All along the walk information panels explain about the local scenery, how it has developed and what flora and fauna you can expect to see along the way.

Although the dunes are highly protected here, they reminded us both of dunes we have seen in Holland and me of dunes I have seen in Britain. In neither Holland nor Britain are they protected and we are not sure whether that it just because there are more of them or because we are not as environmentally aware as Canada. The Canadians are very environmentally aware - throwing out your rubbish is a complex process and in some places there are four different types of bins you have to split waste into!

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Mussel farms in the river

We walked along the beach, a long, wide beautifully sandy beach, reminiscent again of the coast of Holland but also of Mahabalipuram on the East Coast of India (although a bit colder!). Away from the water's edge the sand was a light yellow almost white colour. The closer down to the waterline you got (it was low tide when we were there) it changed and became darker and more reddy in colour. The water was relatively warm, tempting Stef for a paddle but not warm enough to go for a full blown swim. We had also been warned that as it was a windy day there was the danger of strong undercurrents and rip tides.

For most of the time we were on the beach we could see no other people. The only evidence of civilisation was footprints in the sand and marker buoys out to sea. It was windy, but a warm wind, and also quite humid. We followed the beach around the point and back into St Peter's Bay at some points along the way walking through some very soft and spongy bits of sand. On the Bay side, the colour of the water showed that the shoreline dropped away quickly into a deep and wide channel. Pale blue at the edge of the beach quickly changed to a very deep dark blue.

Back on the headland we joined the Tlaqatk trail back to the car park. This trail explained more about the culture of the local people and their traditions in fishing and farming. The headland had until 1985 been an active working farm. It has now been left to re-establish its natural environment and is now awash with colourful plants and shrubs. Blue herons patrol the shore looking for food.

Leaving the park, we rejoined the Kings Byway Coastal Trail heading for another section of the park further west on the Island at Dalvay. Our campsite was just inside the park at Stanhope. We went into the village to fill up with petrol, had an unsuccessful attempt to find a local shop for some water and then went and made camp for the night.