Big Glace Bay Beach occupies a very special place in my heart. It is perhaps my favourite beach in Cape Breton because of the long history that I have with it and the memories that are associated with that history. Beaches are like that for people. We become intimate with them from time spent blending with them – tracing the line of the water and the sand with our soles, dipping our toes into their refreshing waters, wading, swimming, digging, walking, rolling in the sand and the water. I have memories of Big Glace Bay from childhood. I always loved the beach. It seemed more remote and less busy than Dominion and it offered amazing views of both Glace Bay and Donkin – not to mention the amazing protected wetland that is home to the endangered piping plover. When we were kids, it was a different time. I remember my dad and his friend driving their truck way down the beach and getting stuck deep in the sand. A tow truck came to tow them out and it also became wedged in. Both trucks spun their tires for quite some time. Finally, both vehicles were pulled out by a tractor. I’m so happy that we respect beaches a little more these days.
It was 30 degrees the day we escaped the heat of Sydney for Big Glace Bay. We had to go there because we hadn’t visited my old friend this summer and it was almost the second week of August. I felt like I was being unfaithful by visiting all the other wonderful beaches in Cape Breton and neglecting my first love. Here’s what I love about Big Glace Bay. It is a great beach for swimming. The beach is very long and the water is shallow but not so shallow that you can’t swim. Today, all I wanted to do was swim. So, while Marcie and Bailey played on the beach (and picked up some of the garbage that people had left behind), I swam up and down the beach. There were little rolling waves. They would lift me gently and then let me fall. Every once in a while, I would swim down under the water and flip on my back so that I would be looking up at the surface and the blue sky above. The sky looks watery and ethereal when you do this and you feel like you are on another planet. It is one of my favourite things to do in the world.
After I swam, I took Bailey in the water. She was going in deeper than usual. She grows braver the more time she spends at the beach. Today, she put her head down really close to the water and a wave washed completely over her. I thought she was going to scream and run out of the water. Instead, she came up and shook the water off, a big smile covering her face and a giggle erupting from her body. She perhaps had her first intimate experience with Big Glace Bay.
When you’re at Big Glace Bay (or any other long beach), it’s always nice to take the time to walk to the end – away from the people. On Big Glace Bay, this is a treat. There are so many seabirds to view on the beach and in the wetland. The grasses are vibrant green and the sand dunes get bigger the farther you get from the crowds. When you get to the far end, you are almost in the town of Glace Bay. You can see the hospital and South Street Beach across the narrow channel. This is also where you see the largest concentration of birds.
Now, I know it is summer. But I have to tell you about Big Glace Bay in the winter. It is an amazing place to go in the winter. You will have the beach to yourself. Later in the winter, the sea ice packs into the bay and it becomes a sublime white world. You can imagine you are in Antarctica. On very windy, cold winter days, the sand dances across the beach in a way that is reminiscent of a desert – a very cold desert!
Any season, Big Glace Bay is a wonder. And it is very close to the town of Glace Bay. If you’re hungry afterwards (which you undoubtedly will be), you can go to the famous Chip Wagon on the corner of Commercial, South, Brookside and Water Streets. The Chip Wagon is an antique from the 1940s and has been a fixture in the town for decades. They also have the best fries in Cape Breton! Or, if you want a larger meal, check out Mike’s Lunch, another Glace Bay landmark which is up by the Sterling Mall.
To get to Big Glace Bay, drive out towards Donkin from Glace Bay. When you get to the turn off for Port Morien, take the dirt road on the left hand side. That bumpy road will take you to my soul beach. Enjoy it. And treat it with respect.
Until next time, I’m off on another Beach Bum Adventure!