Located between Mabou and Inverness is a small range of hills known as the Mabou Highlands.
They make up an oval-shaped pattern about 10 miles long and six miles wide. The tops of the hills range up to 1,000 feet above sea level. Their edges are deeply dissected by small streams flowing in all directions. They are bound by the Gulf of St. Lawrence on the west and the Glenora Falls/Glenville/Strathlorne valleys on the east.
For years the whole range of hills have been commonly called Cape Mabou. The gulf seacoast side of the hills is probably one of the most beautiful seacoasts in all of Cape Breton. Roads extend in both directions from Inverness and Mabou Harbour but never quite meet.
However, an old road between Sight Point and Mabou Harbour Coal Mines is now the Sight Point Hiking Trail. At MacKinnon’s Brook, a triangular block of fairly flat land tells of old farms and remnant cellars where an early farming community once stood.
From these old pastures and hayfields – that are now overgrown with wild roses, elderberry bushes, and low creeping juniper – one can notice a slightly bald peak of the Mabou Highlands. It is the “Beinn Bhiorach” (Gaelic for Sharp Mountain). The trail makes its way along the coast about halfway up the mountainside. Just below the Beinn Bhiorach is a rock and earth slide that took away a good portion of the old road.
This part of the hike is a bit of a rush for the inexperienced hiker. On several occasions, a group of us sat and had our lunch on top of the slide while small lobster boats darted about picking up their traps. The old fields of the MacKinnon’s Brook settlement stretched out in front of us and a small pebbly beach lay at the foot of the cliff.
Two small pockets of Pennsylvanian sedimentary rocks are found on this portion of the coastline and are in sharp contrast to the igneous and metamorphic rocks that make up the rolling hills of the area. One is at Mabou Coal Mines and Finlay Point, while the other extended out in front of us at MacKinnon’s Brook.
The Sight Point Trail follows a good portion of the old road that connected the early community of MacKinnon’s Brook with Mabou and Inverness. During the 1800s and early 1900s, the area was a thriving farming community with a school, a store and cultivated fields and pastures stretching from the foot of the highlands to the shores of the gulf. Although it was a sort of subsistence type of farming, it still filled the needs of those who lived and worked the land.
A great story was related to me by my mother a few years ago. She was visiting relatives in MacKinnon’s Brook for a weekend, when produce from the small farm had to be taken and sold in Inverness the next day. Butter and eggs and other produce from the farm were loaded in the wagon and the trek to Inverness took place. After some sales and many teas along the way, the trip homeward began. By the time they got to the slide at the foot of the Beinn Bhiorach, there was only one way to deal with the steepness of the mountainside and the darkness of night; drop the reins and let the horse do his own thing. The trip ended safely.
Many years later, on numerous hiking trips across the Beinn Bhiorach, I often thought of what life and travel was like for those early settlers. It is nice to soak in the beauty of the landscape, and even more important to appreciate the efforts of the early settlers who were in harmony with their natural environment.
This tidbit of coastline is truly the centerpiece of a hiking trail that might not have an equal anywhere in Nova Scotia.