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Our Travels: Exploring Fairy Hole Cave

The lore and legend of Fairy Hole Cave haunted Andrea MacEachern from childhood. It wasn’t until years later that she had the opportunity to fully explore the mysterious formation.

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Fairy Hole Cave in Cape BretonPhoto: Andrea MacEachern

Cape Breton’s Best-Kept Secret

I made a trip to the Fairy Hole – or Glooscap Cave as it is officially known – in Cape Breton, when I was a kid. The terrain was treacherous, though, and the cave so hard to reach at high tide that my parents wouldn’t allow me to venture past the beach. I remember seeing the brave, older kids and adventurous tourists scaling large rocks, swimming through treacherous surf and climbing like monkeys along the side of cliffs with the aid of some frail-looking ropes to get to the interior lagoon where the cave was located. I vowed to return one day and do the same. I’d heard so much about the cave and the legends surrounding it, how it supposedly never ended and just kept going into the depths of the earth – I wanted to badly to see it venture inside to discover what everyone was talking about. Many years would pass before I got that opportunity.

The day I chose to return to the cave was as perfect as a late summer day could be – sunny, warm and calm. I checked the tides the night before to make sure I’d arrive at low tide, when the lagoon and cave would not be flooded. Based on tidal information, my goal was to make it to the trailhead by 5 p.m. to hike the trail that would lead me to the beach near the cave by 6 p.m.

The trail started out fine but a bout halfway to the beach, it became very steep. There were ropes in place to aid in the descent to the beach and it’s a good thing there was because I don’t think it would been possible to make it all the way down in one piece otherwise. Once I safely made it to the bottom, my next challenge awaited me, one I didn’t anticipate.

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cape-breton-hikingPhoto: Andrea MacEachern

I read up on the Fairy Hole before I embarked on the hike and was certain that you could just walk to the cave at low tide, maybe getting your feet a little wet. So I didn’t pack a bathing suit. If the trip was not to be wasted standing on the beach imagining what the cave on the other side of the cliffs looked like, I would have to swim in the cold Atlantic Ocean, fully clothed. You live once, so that’s what I did.

The water wasn’t as cold as it could have been for that time of year, but it was a bit rough. I secured my camera in a waterproof Ziplock bag and held it in my teeth so it would not get away from me. After getting tossed around in the surf and banging my ankles and knees off many submerged boulders in the deeper water, I made it to the entrance way to the lagoon, a small hole carved through the cliffside. I had to be quick to get through it because the waves were sending large amounts of water in and out of the lagoon periodically. After getting tossed around in those waves one more time, I was finally inside and what a difference!

The water inside was warm, calm and clear enough to see the bottom even though it was quite deep in some places. And there it was – The Fairy Hole. A large and deep cave on the back wall of the lagoon.

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Andrea MacEachern swimmingPhoto: Andrea MacEachern

Because it was low tide, the cave was located a bit higher than I thought it would be and, although there were ropes to help me get up and inside, I thought it would be too hard to get back out. The water would need to be a bit higher. I was okay with that because I could see inside it anyway and I was really enjoying swimming in the lagoon—completely oblivious to the punishment I would suffer later on for that lengthy and leisurely swim wearing the only clothing I had with me.

It started getting dark quickly so I found a rock to stand on in the centre of the lagoon and took my camera out of the waterproof casing to take some pictures. And those would be the last pictures I took that day because as I was snapping away, I lost my balance and slipped under the water—with the camera in my hand. I did manage to slip it inside the case when I started to lose my balance but I didn’t have a chance to secure it and water seeped through.

The water was much rougher leaving the lagoon than it was entering it and once again, I was tossed around in the surf before safely reaching the beach.

After trying to dry off as much as possible, I made my way back towards the car. It was almost dark and much colder than it had been earlier in the evening. Any hope of drying off faded as the sun disappeared beyond the horizon and I was forced to make the long hike back to the car dripping wet and then drive all the way home with the heat cranked on high just so I wouldn’t develop hypothermia before I was able to settle into my warm, dry bed!