Celtic Colours festival is truly a Cape Breton event

August 5, 2011

 Rannie Gillis   One of the really unique things about our Celtic Colours International Festival is that it entices you to get out and explore our picturesque island as you make your way from one concert venue to another.

Topics : Celtic Connections , Cape Breton Post , Cape Breton , Scotland , West Bay Other large Celtic music festivals usually take place in one large city, such as the Celtic Connections festival in Scotland. This gathering, which is held each January in Glasgow, had 14 different venues this year, and all of them were basically located in, or close to, the city centre.

Contrast that with our own festival, which last October offered a total of 38 venues, spread across our entire island, and involving 33 different communities. Two of these places were at the extreme opposite ends of our little island. With respect to a map, Lower River Inhabitants is at the very bottom, close to Isle Madame, and Aspy Bay is located in northern Cape Breton, at the very top. For me to get from one to the other, in order to attend concerts on successive nights, would involve more then six hours driving time, and take up the better part of a full day.

After the Irish concert at Lower River Inhabitants, I spent the night in Arichat, on Isle Madame. Hitting the road on Wednesday morning around 10 a.m., I took the bridge and causeway over Lennox Passage, and followed the road north to the little village of Louisdale. From here, and for the next several hours, I would be on some very isolated back roads, on a route that I would never recommend to a visiting tourist, or to a resident of any of the communities around Sydney harbour who was not familiar with the area.

From Louisdale I proceeded north to the tiny community of Grand Anse (French for Big Cove), and then followed the very rough Black River road in a northerly direction to Dundee, on the southern shore of that part of the Bras d’Or Lake known as West Bay. This little settlement was originally known as Black River, until an influx of Scottish settlers in the mid-1800s changed the name to that of a certain city in Scotland. This 20-mile journey took about 30 minutes.

At Dundee I came to a junction, overlooking the tranquil waters of West Bay. If I went to the right, I would follow the southern shore of West Bay through St. Georges Channel, the Points and Roberta, and eventually end up back in St. Peters. Instead, I turned left and followed the Dundee Road for a few miles to another junction, where I turned right and entered the village of West Bay. Here there was a third junction, but I opted to continue on along the Marble Mountain Road to the village of the same name. From Dundee to Marble Mountain was approximately 14 miles, and took about 20 minutes.

I was very familiar with all of these back roads, having travelled them many times on my motorcycle. However, with only a bare minimum of road signs, and three separate junctions in only a few miles, it would be very easy for someone to end up getting lost. Not only that, but if you took a wrong turn, and ended up on a little used dirt road, you could easily find yourself lost and disoriented on the top of a nearby mountain.

Next week: from a mountain of marble to a lovely elementary school on the shore of Aspy Bay.

Rannie Gillis is an author and avid Celtic historian whose column appears every week in the Cape Breton Post. He can by reached by email at ranniegillis@ns.sympatico.ca.

Published on August 1, 2011  in the Cape Breton Post

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