Being a man, I am not sure I am allowed to say this, but I figure camping can be a lot like child birth. You sometimes have to go through a lot of pain for great reward. As time passes you forget about the pain, only to do it all over again.
That's the irony of camping. The process of packing, planning for meals (for a family full of food allergies), and setting up the camp site can be somewhat of a painful process. But the reward in Nova Scotia is especially great as we look forward to the opportunity to relax, to be at one with nature, and to enjoy quality family time. With the potential threat of rain we were prepared for all that mother-nature could throw at us and we were looking forward to our two-night excursion to the Amherst Shore Provincial Park along the Northumberland Shore.
Amherst Shore Provincial Park is one of our favorites in all of Nova Scotia. The campsites are well-treed and more private than most; the park is just far enough out of the way that it is not too busy; the staff are incredibly friendly and take great pride in keeping the park clean (especially the washrooms); and I love the park's fantastic waterside trail and proximity to so many warm saltwater beaches in the area.
Once our final tent peg was secured we decided to jump right in and walk the trail to the beach. It was the kids' first time to the park so we were excited to share it with them. Although the clouds were looming we thought that we could get there and back before any serious rainfall. But after a quick look at the beach we were caught in a brief shower and had to seek refuge in the nearby change rooms until it passed. That's good ol' Nova Scotia weather for you! If you don't like it, wait a minute and it will change...and thankfully it did.
We had our first wildlife encounter on our return to the campsite as we discovered a beautiful great blue heron. We stopped to quietly take a few photos when we were surprised to find out it was not alone. We nearly jumped out of shoes as another startled us from behind when it flew away.
We were eager to have our first campfire and pizza pockets for supper and we couldn't wait for that first roasted marshmallow for dessert. Unfortunately, with my son Jaden's corn allergy, he often misses out on this camping tradition because corn syrup is a key ingredient in marshmallows. Though this year my wife Sara went above and beyond and found a corn-free homemade recipe for this tasty treat. To our amazement, they turned out perfectly and tasted just like the ones you'd buy in the store. She might have just earned the 'Mom of the Year' award for that effort!
We snuggled in for a good night's rest with the soothing chirp of frogs to lull us to sleep. The only disturbance we had throughout the night was the random hoot of a nearby owl. My daughter Lienna and I were first to rise, so we quietly snuck out of the tent and walked to the trail behind our campsite to see what we could find stirring about in the marsh.
I think a frog was the first to greet us, and then a few ducks. Next we were super-excited to see something a little bigger moving toward us. It disappeared under water before we could identify it, but when it popped up again we realized that it was a beaver! I felt like one of those guys from a documentary wildlife show (Jack Hannah maybe?) as we sat quietly trying to get a closer look.
Once everyone was up and around we decided to take a drive to the Henry Ketchum trail in Tidnish to see the historic keystone bridge and the unique suspension bridge there. The trail marks the site of one of the most ambitious civil engineering projects in the world during the late 1800's. The Chignecto Ship Railway was intended to transport fully laden ships by rail across the Isthmus of Chignecto to make shipping easier from the Bay of Fundy to the Gulf of St. Lawrence. The project was almost complete when it was abandoned in 1891 due to financial difficulties. The trail remains as a reminder of the project today.
While in the area we stopped at the nearby Tidnish Bridge Art Gallery (the "T-BAG" as they call it) for a look around. In addition to the beautiful paintings, pottery, and photography there was also a model of the Chignecto Marine Railway and a number of fascinating historic photos. The model and photos really gave perspective to the size and scope of Henry Ketchum's amazing marine railway project.
Despite a few clouds in the sky we decided to spend the rest of the day at the beach. We started with Northport Beach, but found it a little too breezy. So we moved on to Heather beach just a few kilometers down the road. Heather beach is a supervised beach with lifeguards on duty. The sandbars there seem to go on forever, making the water very shallow and surprisingly warm.
Jaden and Lienna were like a couple of dolphins jumping and plunging around out there. They looked like they were having so much fun that I decided to join them. We all had a blast! The great thing about the Northumberland shore is that there is no shortage of beaches (with most being Provincial Parks with washrooms, change rooms, picnic shelters, etc.).
We returned to the campsite for a weenie roast and an evening bocce match. Bocce is similar to lawn bowling and is a great game for all ages to play. Lienna and I looked like we were going to soundly defeat Sara and Jaden, but sadly my ego was crushed when they made a comeback to beat us.
Our owl friend returned to entertain us throughout the night, but all and all we had a good sleep. Jaden, Lienna and I got up for an early morning walk to the beach for some wildlife viewing. We saw all kinds of birds along the way and really enjoyed having the beach all to ourselves.
As we were leaving, I turned to take in the view one last time. All of the sudden I saw something pop out of the water from a distance. I hustled the kids back to the beach and pulled out our trusty binoculars to identify what I had just seen. It was a seal! In fact we saw at least four seals bobbing in the water off shore. We were all excited to report back to 'mom' to tell her about our morning adventure.
Upon packing up, the toughest decision of the day was to determine what beach we would stop at on our way home. Would it be Northport, Heather, Gulf Shore or maybe Fox Harbour or Blue Sea? All were worthy contenders, but we decided to give Northport another chance and enjoyed a great picnic and refreshing swim there. We thoroughly enjoyed our annual camping trip on the Northumberland Shore and look forward to doing it all again next year.