It may be a mere 6 km hike, but what it lacks in distance, it makes up for in beauty, allure, and myth.
Pounded relentlessly by the Atlantic, the gorge at the Fairy Holes near Cape Dauphin on Cape Breton Island greet you initially with a wide cavern that is relatively easy to explore. But, about 50m inside, the cave narrows, leaving only tight crawl spaces to explore, many of which are virtually impassable. Prepare for some scrapes and callouses on the elbows as you pull yourself along the small passages (if your age is in the double digits), and don’t forget your headlamp.
To get to the cavern following our short hike, my friends Paul Finney (owner of Escape Outdoors), Lory Mackenzie and I tied a few sturdy bowlines into the ropes that were left behind or washed ashore by the local lobster fisheries, and we “hand over handed” down the boulders at the end of the trail to the base of the majestic gorge. Ten minutes later, we were in, and boy…the sight did not disappoint. The Fairy Hole is surrounded by a beautiful cobble stone beach, a protected lagoon, huge cliffs, expansive views of the Atlantic, and Cape Smokey can be seen off in the distance. In addition to splendid scenery, the gorge holds ample history and plenty of local folklore.
My favourite of the local legends is from the Mi’kmaq tribe. It is said that Glooscap (a Mi’kmaq hero) lived in the area, and the cave was his domain. While fishing out in his canoe one day, he noticed two women on shore. They began to tease him from a distance. The teasing infuriated him. In protest, Glooscap jumped forcibly in his canoe breaking it into two pieces. As the legend would have it, the two pieces of canoe are said to be the Bird Islands where the famous Puffins now reside. In his rage, when he returned to shore, Glooscap turned the women into stone. They are said to be the two stone pillars that guard the cave and can be seen near the entrance.
If bouldering and rappelling isn’t your thing, you can wait for a low tide and swim into the gorge. Since spring has yet to make a stable appearance, we opted to climb down the rocks this time and to save the swim in the lagoon for our next trip. There’s not a lot of opportunity for rock climbing on the east coast, so the bouldering was a little reminder of home and heaps of fun. I’ll admit, the quick climb into the gorge certainly has me longing for more time on the rocks. Until then, I’ll keep myself occupied by exploring local gems on Cape Breton Island like the Ferry Holes, which is hands down one of the most scenic swimming holes I’ve ever encountered.
To explore the Ferry Holes:
From Sydney, take Route 125 to the Trans-Canada Highway (Hwy. 104). Continue until you cross the Seal Island Bridge. Once you cross the bridge you will be at the base of Kelly’s Mountain. Mid-way up the mountain, there is a sharp hair-pin curve and a gravel road that turns right in the middle of it. That gravel road is Newcampbellton Rd. Drive to the end, which is approximately 18km to Cape Dauphin. Park on the side of the road and the trail entrance is clearly visible to the left.