Exploring Six Mile Brook Trail
It is not often you find a trail in Nova Scotia peppered with history, stories of love and death, and a comfortable place to rest your tired body in the middle of the woods. The Six Mile Brook Trail has all that…and more.
It is just after 10:00 a.m. when our footsteps start to ascend the centuries-old path the early settlers to Pictou County had once used.
“As early as 1767, they would have used this route to pick up supplies in Truro and bring them back to Pictou,” says Pat MacDonnell, the historian in our group. Stepping carefully over the roots of the tall hemlocks lining the mountain path, I imagine the difficulty the early Scottish and British settlers must have had traveling across and farming this terrain. Luckily, the brook, and many bubbling springs around, provided plenty of clean drinking water.
The Six Mile Brook Trail, a short twenty-minute drive from Pictou along the 376-S, is a wonderful forested looped trail that follows a flowing brook on the south side of Dalhousie Mountain to a newly constructed bothy. It then climbs up to a picturesque panorama on the crest of the mountain, returning via the forest again to the trailhead.
“A bothy is an open shelter in the Scottish Highlands,” explains Pat. “Gordon Young, an avid hiker of this trail, thought it a perfect name to use for this cabin where hikers can get warm, have a snack, or sleep overnight. It’s always open, free to anyone using the trail, and has a guest book for visitors to sign. Most of the construction of the bothy was done by students at North Nova Education Centre.
“Our MacLaughlin Bothy is so well-used, especially now during COVID-19, that we are thinking of constructing another one on the Cape-to-Cape Trail, of which the Six Mile Brook is a part.”
I expect to see a rustic log cabin. Instead, an inviting post-and-beam lodge with a sleeping loft, large wooden table and chairs, and an open-air loo, greets us in a clearing by the brook about four kilometres up the trail.
“We found this serendipitous clearing in the woods and knew it was the perfect spot to build the bothy,” says Jim Vance, pointing to a wide level area. “We think it may have been flattened as part of the old 1890 copper mine. The remains of the abandoned dug mine can still be seen up behind the bothy if you look carefully.”
“In winter, many people snowshoe to the bothy. It’s beautiful and accessible at any time of year,” adds Pat who, along with many community members and students from the neighbouring school helped construct the bothy.
Resting on the wooden porch, I picture how magical it must be in winter with
the snow falling on the hemlock boughs and slivers of ice flowing down the Six Mile Brook.
“There are many remnants of the early immigrants on this unceded land,” says Jim, leaning against the open door and munching on his sandwich.
“Yes, I found a large engraved granite tombstone on a corner of the trail commemorating Sarah Luke’s death in 1835,” says Pat. “Someone must have truly loved her to have built such a huge headstone like that so long ago,” he adds, his voice full of emotion. “I found it way up behind the bothy. She died at 60 and came from County Donegal in Ireland. All I know is that she lived on a farm on Dalhousie Mountain.”
“There is so much history on this trail,” I say. “How do you know so much about it?”
“Well, James Burns Berry Jr., who in addition to being a musician in this area, kept a diary and wrote entries every day from 1849-1906,” says Pat. “Imagine that. He even built his own printing press and printed books right here in Six Mile Brook.”
At the edge of the woods, we climb to a blueberry field plateau on the south side of Dalhousie Mountain. The autumn air blazes with the newly turned auburn and golden leaves stretching far across the mountainside.
As we stop to admire the beautiful scene, the Northumberland Strait pops into view across the fields and over the distant treetops.
“To the left, we can see Pictou Harbour, Trenton Power Plant, and Green Hill. Then, way over there to the right is the escarpment to Merigomish and Irish Mountain,” pointed out by Pat and Jim as we scan the spectacular view. “You can see at least 25 or 30 miles away.”
Just below the viewpoint stood the old Mas Young House, where we stop for a quick snack before heading down to the starting point. “Years ago, when constructing a house, they would place a coin in the plaster from the year of the building,” says Pat. “The coin they found in the wall of this house was 1865.”
Gordon Young, chair of the Cape-to-Cape Trail committee, bought the house about 35 years ago. “I have five generations of connection here,” says Gordon. “My great-great-great-grandfather moved to Millsville in 1837.”
“Before we head down the trail, there is one more stop to make,” says Pat. Not far from the Mas Young House, we entered the old Willis Cemetery. “Ever heard of Willis pianos?” asks Pat.
“Yes,” I answer. “I’ve played on one of their beautiful old uprights.”
“Well, here we have the Willis family cemetery, the original makers of the Willis pianos.” I am moved by this special connection. “And over there, you have the headstone for the Air Force men who died in a plane crash in 1944, en route from Trenton, Ontario to Pictou.
The walk back through the forest and over the brook for one last time allows me time to savour the peacefulness and historic legacy of this hidden gem. Without noticing it, time has whizzed by. With all our investigating of sights and history on the trail, I hadn’t realized I have walked more than 13 kilometres. The rich history, the natural beauty of the woods and brook, along with the stories and laughter from the group made this trail a magical, time-travelling experience.
Five Tips for Snowshoeing on the Six Mile Brook Trail
The lower brook trail is open all winter. The upper brook trail is closed.
- Trekking poles are recommended due to a 600-foot elevation and potentially icy conditions.
- Snowshoe with a buddy to the Bothy where you can warm up inside, and have your snacks.
- Take a portable phone charger with you. Taking pictures of the beautiful trees and brook in winter drains the battery quickly.
- No snowshoes? Rent at the Pictou/Antigonish Regional Library with your PARL card for a period of seven days.
- Carry a pair of ice cleats in your pack. The trail can sometimes be icy in parts.