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“What's the worst thing you can ask a Cape Bretoner?”

Apart, perhaps, from mentioning the oft-lamented fact that Cape Breton has no brewery to call its own — although it does have a superb single-malt whisky distillery — the worst thing you can say to a Cape Bretoner is almost certainly:

"How quickly can I get around the Cabot Trail?”

And that, sadly, is a question that gets asked hundreds of times a day during the summer season.

Here's a sorry little secret for you: it was only four years ago that I, as a new resident of Cape Breton Island, was talking about travelling the Trail for the first time — and I do believe I actually asked someone how long it would take to complete. But I wasn't far into the journey when I saw my mistake: I hadn't learned enough about the culture, the heritage and the natural history of the Cabot Trail to appreciate just how fascinating a place it is.

Sure, the views are breathtaking and rightly famous — but you have to put a little bit more into the Trail than just sightseeing: that's when you get so much more back from it. The Cabot Trail experience is all about getting out of your car and sampling local life at every opportunity. It's why those who take the time to learn even a little about this remarkable place tend to come back year after year, to learn just a little more...

Yes, you can do the Cabot Trail in a day. But that's not 'doing' the Cabot Trail. Try to spend at least a day in each of the main centres, because each section is different from the last: it's not for nothing that they call the Trail “a new journey around every turn”!

Though I say so myself, the Cabot Trail Companion is a fantastic way of getting to know the area and its real-life inhabitants: it's just so much more intimate and convenient than a dry and dusty guidebook. But I freely admit: it's also far from being everything there is to know about this beautiful, historic land.

So I strongly encourage you to stop off and visit with shop-owners, craftspeople, hoteliers and other inhabitants along the Trail. It's not just about finding mementos for friends and family; it's not just about supporting our local economy (although we sincerely appreciate your custom). In this age where 'value-addedness' is so highly prized, you'll find that the friendliness of Cape Bretoners and the tales they tell will add value to your vacation in spades.

The Scots have just the word for it: the “crack”. It can mean a hundred-and-one different things depending on whom you ask — everything from enjoying a long conversation to partying riotously till the morning — but the charm of the word is not in its definition; it's in the living of it.

I'm still discovering astonishing things about the island every day, and I'm glad I get to share some of that information with you. The rest is down to you: what you get out of your visit depends on your own personal interests, but make sure you kick back, cast away your workaday stresses, and make a point of connecting with the folks down north. Enjoy the sights of the Cabot Trail, enjoy the audio guide, and above all ... enjoy the crack!

I'm looking forward to meeting you on the Trail... :-)

Jon Stackpool

Cabot Trail Companion


* Originally from Liverpool, England, the Cabot Trail Companion's editor Jon Stackpool has worked on many European travel and lifestyle magazines. He has also edited world travel guides for such publishers as National Geographic, AAA and Fodor's. He fell in love with Nova Scotia on his first visit to Canada, and moved to Cape Breton a year later. He lives beside the Mira River — another of Cape Breton's natural marvels — with his wife Martha, a professor of marine biology at Cape Breton University.