Magic carpet time travelling. The field was used by the Royal Air Force, and operated during WWII when it was known as Elementary Flying Training School #17. Pilots trained in Fleet Finches and DeHaviland Tiger Moths. If you go off-season, Stanley is a quiet time-out-place experience. The huge green aerodrome remains, now in romantic disrepair; large windows broken, pigeons using the interior. The building is locked, but walk around and try the doors. Inside are the remains of a ghostly aviation business—old signs on walls, half-rotting shelves with small bits of detritus. Take a picnic with a big thermos of something hot to drink and a book or old favourite letter to re-read. The field is still used, mostly on weekends, by the Bluenose Soaring Club. Call them ahead of time if you want that added action. 632-2088, chebucto.ns.ca/ Recreation/BSC
Take Route 1 towards Windsor but turn right some time after Mount Uniacke. Stanley is off Route 236. After you visit the field (near the village Stanley and the river Kennetcook in Hants County) you can continue on and circle back to Halifax on Route 2.
Bring cat food—a box of kibble, plus water with a plastic dish you can leave behind. Across a causeway and through a grove of trees with houses the road gives out onto a small point of land where people have had fishing shacks for decades. To the left, over a small mountain of rock, is a beach. Park and walk around daydreaming of when you too could have such a tiny weekend getaway, where you could finish that novel. A herd of wild cats lives here; sometimes as many as 40 cats roam. You will see their tracks on the beach and feel little beady eyes tracking you on your walk. Somewhere on the left side of the road, behind a hut or boat trailer, leave the kibble and water for the cat gods.
Take Highway 7 east out of Dartmouth and get closer to the water on Route 207. Past Lawrencetown Beach (also a good stop; watch the surfer dudes or follow the trail) drive by salt marshes, watching for eagles and herons. Look for a sign for Fishermen’s Reserve.
Postcard perfect coves and other nice things. In Hubbards eat fishcakes and salad (incredible tahini dressing), $8.95 at the Trellis Cafe (857-1188) and take some cookies or tarty cinnamon buns for the rest of the drive. Backtrack 10 seconds to Route 329. In Fox Point Shatford’s Lobster Pound is on the water side; Verna Shatford has been making homemade root beer for more than 40 years. A bottle of this elixir of life ($1.50) will help whatever ails you. Cruise down through the coves. Bayswater Beach is wide. The SwissAir monument is just after that. At the T-junction in Blandford make a detour to the left. Follow the road to the end where an old whaling factory, now used for fish processing, makes you want to plan a scary spy movie (plus there’s a moody little beach good for beachcombing on the right). Double back and continue around the peninsula. You’ll end up back on Route 3, at East River. If you’re in a hurry turn left and an entrance to Highway 101 is just around the corner. Or continue on to Chester and pick out the property you’ll get after that MBA pays off.
Drive out west of Halifax on the fast, boring Highway 103 but get off early, at Exit 5, and head left to Route 3 running by the water and beaches.
No car but a hankering for a country spin? Take the Millwood bus along Cobequid Drive and First Lake Drive in Lower Sackville. It’s like being in slightly upscale cottage country and the leaves will be beautiful in the fall. First Lake is wonderful; lots of mysterious drives to take a glimpse down. You could so live in the country and commute to school and work!
Catch the #82 ($1.75) (no service on Sundays) at the Cobequid Terminal. During rush hours you can get it deep in the heart of downtown Halifax at the ferry terminal. Call 490-4000 for times.
Watson Smith and Son
Harry Smith died last October, 99 years old. Smith and his daddy before him ran a hardware store and tinsmith shop and lived in the attached house. The Smith family made all the milk cans in Nova Scotia. When the hardware store closed Harry turned it into a personal, quirky, private museum filled with the tinsmith shop equipment and artifacts of a long life spent exploring Shubenacadie and whatever made him curious. He made a tin airplane. He had a stapler that needed no staples. He documented the changes in the town. He collected many things. After Harry died the museum (entrance $2) was taken over by the municipality of East Hants. It’s not quite as charming as when Harry and his giant cat Big Boy were there, but it’s still one of those humane country museums more interested in memory than academics. Call for times. 758-5228
Take the fast, boring Highway 102 north out of town. Get off at Exit 9 and continue north to Shubenacadie on Route 2.
Don’t eat breakfast. Don’t eat anywhere. If you like good grease, and enjoy being heart-stupid once in a while, save yourself for Turkey Burger (543-8015), a small family joint where they make the gravy, make the fries and deep fry everything. If you tend to zone out after carbo overloads you might want to make someone the designated driver and restrict their intake. The milkshakes are fabulous ($2.95)—you get some in a glass and the rest in the cold metal mixer container. Meditate on the beads of moisture condensing on the side. Suck deeply on the straw. Split orders of onion rings, fried mushrooms and fried vegetables (served with ranch dressing) but get your own fries and don’t be stingy on yourself. If it’s around Thanksgiving (or not; whatever) the turkey dinner is great, and then you can tell Mom and Pop back home you had a good feed of turkey. A million signs and blackboards with specials named after locals and famous folk decorate the restaurant. But don’t eat dessert (although it’s all homemade). Waddle out and head south to Bridgewater. Go across the LaHave River and turn left down the west shore of the river on Route 331, to the LaHave Bakery (688-2908) where the butter tarts ($1.75) are a mouthful of heaven—made by hand with real butter.
Take the fast, boring Highway 103 to Exit 13 at Bridgewater. Go through town, cross the river and turn left, going north on Route 10. From LaHave you can take the cute cable ferry over to East LaHave and meander to Lunenburg (much beauty), Mahone Bay (three churches on the bay; peckish? Mimi’s Ocean Grill has the best foccacia in the province) and towards town.
Cape Breton Highlands
No wheels or yours is a clunker? Think about renting a car (with unlimited mileage) for 24 hours. This is not what sane (and boring) people would call a day trip, but if the actual drive is part of the joy of a road trip for you (and you can heave your lard ass out of bed early), why not? Especially in autumn when the leaves are changing. It’s about three hours to Port Hawkesbury; you could do the whole thing in about 13 hours. With decent weather, lots of snacks, coffee stops and conversation with a good friend this could be a perfect day. Port Hood is worth the small detour: island, beach, mood. Cheticamp is Acadian, Catholic, excellent food. Just after that the Highlands start; a heart-healing surprise the first time you see them. Make it to Pleasant Bay. If you have time detour for a peek at Gampo Abbey (part of the Shambhala Buddhist network) or turn around and head back. There are a million mysteries to explore in Cape Breton, but this at least will give you a taste.
Take the fast, boring Highway 102. Just after Truro edge right onto Highway 104. Watch the island move into sight once you’re past Antigonish. At the Causeway turn left onto Route 19.
Crispy apples, giant pumpkins. Yum. Excellent pie at the turn off to Grand Pre. Wolfville is home to Acadia University and the painter Alex Colville. The Odd Book on Front Street is a great used book store. It’s usually warmer in the valley than in town; throw shorts into the back seat just in case. Drive along Route 1 through Kentville, Berwick, Middleton, snacking from roadside stalls, stocking up on vegetables, watching the cows and orchards go by. If you start early you could get to Annapolis Royal, a lovely town with Fort Anne—stone buildings and grassy berms excellent for napping. The Royal Historic Gardens have a sweet little restaurant. And make it to Bear River, the Switzerland of NS (really!), a village in a valley, stuffed with artists and craftspeople. But back before all that is Exit 9 of Highway 101. You come up a hill, and just as you get to the crest and begin to descend, a beautiful universe opens up ahead of you: Cape Blomindon with rich red earth, the green of fields, the blue of sky and water.
Take the fast, boring Highway 101 to Exit 10 and switch to Route 1.
There is something about an island that makes you feel like you are really away; that people can’t get to you quite so easily. Tancook is physically closer to Blandford than any other mainland place, but because of schools and doctors and groceries and liquor, the ferry comes and goes from Chester. Stock up on pastries and a big coffee from Julian’s for the ocean voyage. Park down by the ferry wharf. The trip ($5 round trip; 40 to 50 minutes) itself is wonderful—views of St. Margaret’s Bay and her islands (and marvel at this: they used to drive teams of oxen between Tancook and Chester; the winter ice was that thick) and you can see John Risley’s gigantic billion dollar house, plus clouds from here to forever and then you start to believe you yourself are destined for something big and billowy too. Pack a big hearty lunch—walking around, sniffing the salt air and regaining a love of life is going to give you a ferocious appetite. After you eat your lunch (or if it starts to rain) you can go to Carolyn’s (228-2749) for a snack and one of those conversations about life, loss and love that folks always seem to want to have yet have so seldom do. Otherwise there are hours of walking and exploring with berries to nibble and views to take in. Maybe take a pack of colour pencils and sketch. Find the school, the general store and other surprises. You’ll get to be genuinely tired, not just filled with wearing ennui, and that will feel good. And with your windburn and twigs in your hair and salt smell on your sleeve you’ll go home again, home again, jiggity-jig and sleep in peace and dream of other isles out on some other sea, because that’s just Big Tancook Island. There’s Little Tancook too.
Take the fast, boring Highway 103 to Chester and catch the ferry down in the front harbour. Call 228-2340 for exact ferry schedule.
Originally published September 4, 2003.