If the traffic engineers had their way, every road in the world would be dead straight and perfectly level. Fortunately, the engineers don't always get their way. So I go looking for the roads that are the stuff of poetry and song – the ones that twist and turn, careening through the landscape like a bobsled course, ideally with no traffic, no police, and beautiful scenery at every turn.
These are the great roads, and they know no country - they exist all over the world. But you have to find them. Some are well known - like the Forks of the Credit Road in Ontario, and California's Pacific Coast Highway. Others are secret spots, known only to locals and the lucky drivers who chance upon them. I've found a few, and hope to find many more. And when I do, I'll share them here on Globedrive.com in our new collection of great roads.
We'll show you where they are, what you'll see, and what makes them worth driving. What makes a great road? Beautiful scenery. Cool roadside attractions. But above all: plenty of curves. On a great road, you commune with your car, the pavement, and the forces of physics. Get it wrong and you may crash. Get it right, and you will glimpse driving nirvana.
Great roads are the ones that make driving worthwhile. A rule of thumb: If you can use cruise control or go for more than 30 seconds without turning, you're not on a great road.
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The roads of Nova Scotia's Northumberland Shore are one of the best-kept secrets in driving. Unlike the Cabot Trail, (yes, I agree that the Cabot Trail is beautiful) the Northumberland Shore is far from the beaten path. On Route 245 and Route 337, I found a deserted playground of spectacular curves, lost coves and perfect fishing villages - and in 100 kilometres, we only saw a handful of other cars.
Our drive began in nearby Pictou, N.S., home of my wife's best friend Joan Fraser, who runs a marine supply company with her husband Drew. My wife and I are both from Nova Scotia, and thought we knew every road in the province, but we were wrong.
Joan and Drew guided us to Route 245, which runs northeast along the shore of the Northumberland Strait. This isn't tourist country. The roads were empty, and the villages we came across were hard working fishing operations, with battered boats and wooden churches where they pray for the crews out on the Atlantic.
We were in undiscovered driving country, and I loved it. Many great driving roads turn into the vehicular equivalent of Disney World, drawing epic crowds (and usually a heavy police presence.) Not here. We had the curves to ourselves.
To take a break, we pulled into the harbour at Lismore, home of J&K Fisheries, and watched as the crews unloaded live crabs that would be dinner in Toronto and New York the next day. The fish plant crew gave us a tour – they don't see to many outsiders, after all.
We continued north and turned onto Route 337. On our left was the ocean, on our right, a green and grey landscape that looked like Scotland, but with more sun. At Ballantyne's Cove, we ate fish and chips in a restaurant made from a steel Quonset hut, then visited the Bluefin Tuna Interpretive Centre. (I didn't know that tuna grow to the size of a sports car, or that they can swim at 80 kilometres an hour.)
The scenery has a severe beauty: rocks, wind-blasted trees, and the blue-green sheet of the Atlantic. Back on the road, we headed around the tip of the peninsula. The road unspooled before the windshield like a tarmac dissertation – it soared up hills, twisted down into valleys, and offered every kind of curve imaginable, from long, fast sweepers to tight, cambered switchbacks that pinned us into our seats. Cruise control was out of the question. Yes, we were on a great road.
Great Road No. 1
Where: Nova Scotia
The Drive: The Northumberland Shore
Distance: Approximately 100 kilometres
Road Style: Winding, two-lane oceanfront road with plenty of hills and varied curves
What you see: The Atlantic ocean, fishing villages, Bluefin tuna centre
Reason to go: Unlike Nova Scotia’s Cabot Trail, it’s a secret spot – there’s hardly anyone there
How to get there: From Trans Canada Highway 104, turn north onto Route 245 (Shore Road.) Follow Route 245 for about 40 kilometres to Malignant Cove. At Malignant Cove, take Route 337 toward Cape George Point. Route 337 follows the coast, then loops back south to Antigonish, where you can return to the Trans Canada Highway.
You can see more photos and video clips from Peter Cheney's drives on his Facebook fan page at www.fb.com/cheneydrive
Twitter: Peter Cheney@cheneydrive
Globe and Mail Road Rush archive: http://www.theglobeandmail.com/globe-drive/car-life/cheney/