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An old-fashioned goodness accompanies the traveler through Nova Scotia with its weathered sea shanties, fishing fleets and ancient churches. Whether one is caught in rain, fog or sunshine, the memory of the journey will linger.--Jerry Hulse

February 09, 1986|ELIZABETH DEAKMAN | Deakman is a Madison, Wis., free-lance writer.

DIGBY, Canada — Digby Neck is a little strip of land trailing like a loose necktie from the western shore of Nova Scotia. You can do the tour in a day but a longer stay will get you more time to explore, and that's what the area is all about.

The trip to the end of Digby Neck is about 85 miles of easy going on the mainland and two islands connected by all-year ferry service. Most of Highway 217 from Digby is two-lane, and you will have to share it with buses, an occasional bicycle and children on tricycles, so plan a leisurely progress.

Stop in Digby to think about it while you wander the docks and watch the scallop boats come in to hire shuckers. Digby is the home of the Bay of Fundy scallop fleet, and many of the scallops find their way to Digby restaurant tables in lots of delicious ways.

Shuckers are the people who liberate the precious little mollusks from their shells. Some work by the day; others go out with the boats for three or four days, the owner of the boat providing bed, board, and a set rate per bucket for shelled scallops. A good shucker can make $100 or more in two days.

Digby has plenty of accommodations for travelers. The province provides an excellent directory at border stations.

We found a budget-priced guest house on the Digby harbor drive with a large antique-furnished room overlooking the bay, and a bathroom big enough to air-dry oneself on the walk from tub to towel bar. Our proprietor also offered a few choice remarks about the scallop boats that take on shuckers, then anchor in the bay to throw the shells over the side . . . illegal but done anyhow.

At low tide the masts and scallop dragging rigs lie well below the stilted docks so you can get a bird's-eye view of operations. If they aren't too busy, the fishermen are glad to answer questions and talk about the bad conditions of the fishing industry.

We got a sales pitch on the culinary delights of mackerel. Our fisherman claimed it was a choice fish, although in many parts of the United States it is not found on freezer shelves. If we had a place to get them cooked he would have given us a couple to prove his point.

Hang around Digby if you like, but Highway 217 is waiting to lead you to Brier Island. The mainland section is not spectacular, but bucolic. You may see ponies and calves, and it is said that the farmers around Roxville and Rossway put sweaters on their lambs on chilly spring nights.

Side roads lead to interesting places, and none of them are very long because the neck is narrow and you are soon restricted by the Bay of Fundy or St. Mary's Bay.

Along the coast on either side lie unexpected little communities with old churches, and bays where fishing boats are docked and repaired. Some of these concealed coves once provided "holes" for pirates who lived off local and coastal shipping. Here is a place for the imagination to roam, a place for dreamers, artists and photographers.

Beachcombing is good in some areas, but always be aware of the tide schedule. Bay of Fundy tides build up rapidly in that great funnel and they can rise so quickly that wide, gently sloping beaches may be two or three feet underwater in a remarkably short time. Tourist centers and motels can give you tide schedules, so do coordinate your beachcombing with safety.

Bear Cove is a particularly attractive short side trip not mentioned in the brochure and probably the better for it. The road slides around this beautifully carved-out bit of oceanside to the pier that continues the curve on into the water from the blocky buildings that anchor it to the shore.

In late spring, banks of pink and lavender lupine filter the view of the sea. We came upon a man and a woman working on the propeller of a battered, salt-scoured fishing boat. It was easy to believe the sad stories about the fishing industry then.

Approaching the last community on the mainland, East Ferry, the highway lifts you gently over a hill, then you look down at the ferry pier below. We got into the line of cars and trucks that belonged to a group of local men lounging at the loading platform by a small grocery and gas station. There is an announced schedule, but who notices that? If there is no fog you can see the Joshua Slocum coming, going, or docked at either end of its run across Petit Passage. The fare was $1 for one way to both islands; the return trip is free.

Namesake of Hero

The Joshua Slocum is the namesake of the hero of Digby Neck. Slocum was born in the area, but the local versions of his story tend to overlook that early in life he became an American citizen. He was more a citizen of the world, a mariner who served as cook, shipmaster, boat builder, captain, author and lecturer.

The only credit the tourist is likely to hear about Slocum is that alone he sailed the Spray, a sloop he built himself, from a wharf on Brier Island to circumnavigate the globe in an adventure-filled three years, the first sailor to accomplish the feat.

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