Everything in Nova Scotia is intimately tied to the sea. Driving less than 25 miles in any direction will lead you to the shoreline. In the summertime you are spoiled for choice as to where to go to find the perfect getaway. Much of the city of Halifax empties out in August as family’s head to cottages, either at the ocean or inland on a lake. We are not beach house owners, but we spend a good chunk of the summer out of the city, exploring as a family, or with friends, finding lodging in cottages, tents or sailboats. Our haven is often the South Shore, along the aptly named Lighthouse Route that winds its way along the rocky coastline. The picturesque village of Hubbard’s always reminds of a quintessential North American, old school summer camp and where The Shore Club has been putting on Lobster suppers for eighty years. The sailing hub of Chester, where families have been summering for generations and where in mid August the Chester Race week is a buzz with more than 200 sailboats. The charming Mahone Bay with its 365 islands (one for each day of the week) and where we have discovered our favorite one, Round Island. The historical Lunenburg, where we have found ourselves walking the old narrow streets and eating Solomon Gundy (pickled herring & onions) and watching the sailboats dock in and out of the little harbor.
All along the route in the inlets and bays, lobster trawlers and sail boats animate the otherwise perfectly still crystal clear, electric blue, sparkling North Atlantic Ocean. Small, grey weathered shingled cottages dot the way. Many of them have lobster nets piled high, a reminder of how most of these communities still make their living from the sea. It’s hard to believe that the weather could ever plummet below -20°F. It is filled with places the names of which conjure up images of a different era. It is the tiny places in Queens County that have stolen our hearts - Lehave, Petite Riviere, Broad Cove, Voglers Cove, Mill Village and Port Medway. In each of these small spots we have found ourselves roaming their small streets, usually with a bunch of little boys in tow, often in search of ice cream. The soundtrack is often an eclectic mix of soccer anthems in multiple languages, Latin dance music, Sam Roberts and old school South African jazz. In each place we have discovered some of our sweetest summer retreats and we love each one for different reasons.
On the banks of the tranquil LeHave River, the Lehave Bakery serves mint infused fizzy drinks and grass fed, juicy burgers on potato buns. In the sleepy village of Port Medway, The Port Medway Grocer makes one of the best seafood chowders I have tasted, with freshly baked cheese tea biscuits and we can never leave without one of their freshly baked cinnamon buns. There is always a queue of people that snakes out the door of the Petite General Store as big and small alike wait for salted caramel ice cream. A little inland from the coast, at Mill Village, we eat sandwiches overlooking the Medway River and take a stroll over the ancient bridge and I am transported back to Greyton, our weekend getaway (village) when my husband and I lived in Cape Town. On a hot evening in August we eat a bucket of fresh mussels with friends outside at the Quarter Deck drinking ice-cold beer from the bottle and watching little boys bury one another in sand on Summerside Beach. Over food we solve all of the world problems.
The beaches along this route are wild, white sandy stretches interrupted by rocky headlands. As far back as I can remember I have been leaving heart shapes on beaches made from treasures collected. It started as a suggestion from my mum, who said it would be better to bless the beach, rather than take the bucket load of shells, rocks and sea glass back home with us. It was a way to allow me to keep collecting, but smart of her to get me to leave it all behind. On every beach the hearts are different - from Cape Town to Indonesia beaches are my happy place. The wilder and less inhabited by people the better and I have found my bliss on many Nova Scotia beaches. At Beach Meadows my hearts are lush and varied with an abundance of treasures - sand dollars, moon snail shells, jonacrab skeletons, razor clams, golden spongy seaweed. Cherry Hill Beach offers up the most perfectly formed, polished black pebbles that are warm in my hands when I pick them up. An African heart on Cherry Hill beach I am thinking, as I lay them in a heart shape on the damp white sand.
Kejimkujic (meaning aching muscles in Mi’kmaq) beach is a wild expanse of 13 miles of white sand juxtaposed against ancient granite boulders where seals lie out of reach of the crashing waves. The weather is cool and windy and the beach is filled with mustard colour rockweed and sugar kelp, zinfandel coloured Irish moss and dulce, that make up a kaleidoscope heart. If ever however, I were tasked to go out and collect beaches then Carters Beach would be one of them. Stepping over poison ivy at the entrance to the rocky pathway, we can see three-half-moon shaped white sand beaches from high up on the ridge. The water is turquoise from a distance but up-close it is as clear as glass. The combination of the clear water and the fine sugar sand make it easy to spot Sand Dollars. In their various lifecycles in shades of ash, amber and charcoal, round discs with tiny pressed star patterns lie in achingly cold water even though it must be 90°F degrees outside. A solid heart of sand dollars seems like a fitting tribute to this beautiful place.