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Antigonish

Antigonish, Antigonish. What a fun town name to say. (Makes me think of knish – yum.)

The town of Antigonish was recommended to us by one of our friends, by a coworker of mine, and by a man whom we met on the ferry crossing to Nova Scotia. This last recommend-er, CS, approached G and I on our ferry ride and asked if we were the cyclist he had seen boarding the boat. We admitted that we were and told him that we were at the beginning of a three week tour. CS told us that he lives in West Virginia but has spent every summer for over a decade in the Nova Scotian town of Antigonish. He lives on the St. Francis Xavier campus in a rented suite and volunteers for the theater there. CS had no Canadian phone number or regular access to email, but he invited us to find him on the campus if we came through Antigonish and told us that we could stay with him in the suite’s extra bedroom.

Antigonish is a college town with strong Gaelic influence. We rode in on an overcast afternoon after a stressful stretch on the TransCanada Highway. We found St. Francis Xavier’s campus, but had no idea where to go once we were on the property. G and I were standing by Leonid looking lost and anxious when an elderly man sitting on a nearby bench called out to us. He asked us you we were looking for and we told him CS’ name and that we were looking to stay with him. Our helpful man did not know CS, but he knew where most summer lodgers stayed and he told us the way to go. We started to walk in the direction that he had pointed, but were clearly still lacking confidence so he stood up and made to show us. This man was stooped and relied on a cane, but he took off walking with surprising speed and we had to do an akward speed-walk skip to keep up without jogging. We were led to the college hotel and the receptionist there was able to call CS who came and met us in the lobby. He was surprised and happy to see us after two weeks without thinking of us at all.

We ended up staying two nights with CS, hearing about his life in Antigonish, walking the town, visiting the farmer’s market and the local nature sanctuary, shopping for gifts, and eating at the local restaurants. (Unfortunately, we were in the lull season for the live music for which Antigonish is famous.) Taking a full day off during any trip always makes me jittering, but the rainy time spent in Antigonish turned out to be just the thing for my painful hamstring. The pain there diminished and did not bother me again for the remainder of our trip. Hurrah.

Nova Scotia’s Celtic Shores Trail

We left Cheticamp early in the morning, eager to reach Inverness, a small coal mining town — the mines are closed, but the coal mining town identity remains — and the start of the Celtic Shores Trail. Also the birthplace of Alistair MacLeod. Goodbye, obnoxiously steep grades! This section of Nova Scotia’s rail-trail system is well maintained and beautiful with views of Gulf of Lawrence and Northumberland Straight to the northwest.

We spent a night in the woods just out of sight over the trailside berm. It was not our most or least comfortable night of the trip. The next morning, we woke up with the sun and packed quickly, as one does when sleeping in a wood without permission.

Our next stop was the Celtic Cultural Center in Judique. Thanks to our early start, we arrived well before it opened. I ate breakfast at a picnic table on the front lawn while G treated himself to burnt gas station coffee and packaged doughnuts. This center is a must-see. Probably a must-hear too, but once again our schedule didn’t allow for us to stay until the live music began at 11. So it goes on rushed bicycle tours.