The Ride for Duart: One Man's Journey to Help Save a Castle (Part II)

The Ride for Duart: One Man's Journey to Help Save a Castle (Part II)

No matter where you’re from, there is always a landmark that, once passed, says “you’re home”. For Cape Bretoners, that landmark is the Canso Causeway. A physical stretch of rock and asphalt that connects the Island to the mainland. I am sure that when visiting or returning home by sea, the first site of Duart Castle in the distance felt the same for Maclean’s. Two of us on the RFD are from Cape Breton and felt the embrace of the Island. The RFD was only two days away from reaching Washabuck, and excitement was building!

Crossing the Canso Causeway  Duart...

(Two pictures: One of the Cause way and one of Duart)

The crossing of the Causeway marked the end of day five. We loaded the bikes into George’s truck and headed to the Maritime Inn, Port Hawksbury, where once again we found the generosity and hospitality of the hotel owner and management heart warming.

We had a dinner date set for 6:30 with friends of Ian that we didn’t want to be late for. Rilla Mclean, exuded sweetness and was one of those people you just wanted to hug and squeeze. A grand-motherly figure, Rilla immediately made you feel like family by finding something in common and taking a sincere interest in your story. Her support and fondness for Ian and what he was doing was palpable. Once you meet Rilla, you will never forget her.

Sandy Mclean and his wife Nancy, also joined us for dinner. Sandy is a tall gentle-man with a keen mind and knowledge of the history of the area. Originally from Whycocomagh (Gaelic: Hogama) he spoke proudly of his Maclean roots. He grew up when Gaelic was spoken more commonly than present, and it was evident in his subtle brogue and the few Gaelic words and phrases he scattered about his sentences. 

 Although I just met these three supporters of Ian, I couldn’t help but feel I was part of a family that was just reunited. Maybe there is something to having the same surname that elevates the connection between otherwise acquaintances. Even without the same last name, I felt no less included; maybe it’s just the Scottish way.

Rounding out our dinner party was an unnamed beatnik, jazz musician we somehow (somewhere) acquired on our travels. Missing from this photo was George MacLean.

Myself, random Jazz Musician, Sandy, Nancy, Rilla, Ian and Karen

Sadly I had to leave the tour for a day and return to New Glasgow for work the following day. I missed what was another chance encounter, this time with a young couple who had been following the RFD, and for a very special reason.  Brad MacLean and Brittany Muise were to be married at Duart Castle later in August. They had been following the ride and drove down from Cheticamp to meet Ian and contribute to the cause. 

Not only did they add to Ian’s experience, but the RFD contributed some pre-wedding excitement to their lives. They are now married.

Brad MacLean and Brittany Muise on the steps of Duart Castle

 Following the short stop in Whycocomagh, the band of merry travellers continued to the Stewartdale cemetery where many of the descents of the Maclean’s from the area are laid to rest. Sandy Maclean and his brother, Dougald, were the tour guides and historians for this part of the trip. It was a highlight for Karen whose husband’s Mcleans are descendant from one of the original Maclean settlers, the Gobha Ruadh (Gaelic: Red-haired Blacksmith) as he is affectionately known by his twenty-first century family. 

Everyone has a story and some have a story that borders on fiction by today’s standards, yet Dougald Mclean’s was a true life-experience. The now 92 year old Dougald joined the army just after WWII. He was present during the Suez crisis, served in the Congo and was posted to more than one tour in the Arctic. After leaving the military he worked in the Canadian parliamentary security service for well over a decade. While on duty in Europe, he made his way to Duart Castle where he met the current Chief’s father and was given a personal tour of the castle by Chief Charles Hector Fitzroy Maclean himself. After such an adventurous life Dougald returned to Cape Breton to retire.

Having made good time and with time to spare, Ian road the 11 km to the exit for the Little Narrows ferry, where this day ended and tomorrow, the last day would begin.

The RFD was not the TDF (Tour du France) but the excitement on the last day was still noticeable. The weather was great, as it had been for the entire week, and my money was on Ian “to win”. The final stage was 24 kms to Lower Washabuck along a road that seen little traffic and little maintenance except that today happened to be a day when road work was underway! Nonetheless we made good time and arrived at the Cairn and grave-site of Lachlan MacLean just before noon.

The reception at the cairn was small but meaningful. Here was buried one of the brave Scots that sought a new life in a new land. I think if Lachlan could see his land and clan now he would be very proud. Even more so that he hasn’t been forgotten and still gets visits from family.

Vince, Ian & George The Clan at Lachlan's Cairn, Washabuck Overlooking the Bras d'or
Vince, Ian & George MacLean The Clan at Lachlan's Cairn Overlooking the Beautiful Bras d'or

Lachlan was no average man. According to his head-stone his lived to be 114! One can only imagine the century of experiences, challenges and changes Lachlan was witness to. We said goodbye to Lachlan and rode to the home of one of his descendants, Vince and his wife Charlotte. Our first item of business was to drive up to the top of one of the fields overlooking the Bras d’or Lakes and take in the scenery. The immensity of the place was almost overwhelming. To take in that much beauty all at once almost made your eyes water; but that’s what beautiful things do. We could see Baddeck and Beinn Breagh directly across the water and to East Boularderie Island splitting the Water of the Bras d’or into St. Patrick’s Channel and St. Andrew’s Channel.

If the view from the hill wasn’t intoxicating enough, we arrived back at Vince’s and celebrated a toast to Ian and the RFD with a drink of Glen Breton Whisky.

At Vince and Charlotte’s, several friends and relatives of the hosts joined us. Vince shared a toast before settling in to some great conversation. The talk around the RFD was upstaged however by the jam and biscuits lovingly made by Charlotte; there was more talk of the biscuits than the Castle I think. 

Sometimes we forget that contributions come in many forms. It may be money that will see the restoration of Duart through and was the goal of our ride. But it was the hospitality (and meals and biscuits) that always restored us at the end of the day. If it wasn’t for the later, the former would never have been realized. It made me think about how often we over look the contributions made by the “behind the scenes” folks when the big show comes to town.

At some point, disappointingly, we had to leave Vince and Charlotte’s. So in the late afternoon we said goodbye and expressed our thanks then got back in the saddle to finish the RFD as we rode towards Iona. For me, as a cyclist, this is the saddest part of any trip, the final day. I never want to stop riding; to know that the only thing on my agenda won’t be simply riding my bike is something I must come to terms with at the end of every trip.

The last 20K of the RFD took us across the rolling hills of central Cape Breton towards the community of Iona. We were watching Ian’s odometer closely. I knew Ian’s odometer was reading “short” and we had passed the 400K mark by now. Yet the display read 300 and 90 something. We knew we would drive in circles to have the 400K display on the odometer, but it wasn’t necessary. The last three kilometres of the ride put us over the 400K mark for the picture we were after. But the last 100 metres were quite special to witness. Not because they were the last few pedal strokes per se. Rather they were up the driveway to the inn. I’m not great at estimating grades, but I’m suggesting it was between 15-20%. I thought Ian might dismount and walk up the hill but that didn’t happen. 

Paris Newspaper L’Équipe Headline (June 2019):

Ian wins the Polka-Dot Jersey as “King of the Mountains” in an amazing
100m dash to end the 2019 RFD!


Ian rose from the saddle and put the hammer down. He buried those pedals, one after the other, as close to the ground as their rotation would take them.  Ian and his Maclean-stickered bike inched up the hill without pause until the hill was crested. A display of true Scottish stubbornness. Every other pedal stroke may have been for Duart, but I think the last hundred or so were for Ian himself, they only thing he wanted, for himself, from the RFD. The RFD was over.

 But not really (that last line was just for literary effect).

At the Inn, two good friends of Ian showed up unannounced to surprise and congratulate Ian. George, greeted Vanessa and Michael Bass from Sackville NB first, and made an attempt to surprise Ian by having him back up several times for a random photo until he bumped into and discover for himself the presence of Michael and Vanessa. It was about 70% successful but 110% worth it when Ian turned to avoid stumbling, glancing at his friends and then back to George only realize he just laid eyes on Vanessa and Michael who we supposed to be anywhere but here! Ian was overjoyed. All along the RFD I witnessed the tangible expressions of the sublime meaning of “friendship”.

The evening was one of rest and reflection. With no weather, route or gathering to consider for the next day, we were more subdued. Ian was relieved to have completed the ride without incident. I was experiencing that bittersweet feeling of success and finality, similar to the moment when you crest the apex of a long climb. You pause, feel the temporary feeling of exhaustion and triumph and then begin to think of the downhill.

Everyone who travels knows the trip really never ends. I can recall being in a cafe in rural Saskatchewan in 1999 on a cross-Canada cycling trip as if I were sitting there now. It has been nearly three months since the RFD concluded but I can still see and hear Ian shifting into low gear and escalating up the hills; and will for years to come. 

Congratulations Ian!  Not bad for a portly, 73 year old!

And so we cycle. 


There is so much more to this story. I learned you don’t have to go far from home to have an “international” experience. Whether your German, Dutch, English, First Nations or identify as from elsewhere, Nova Scotia has a story for you about your past. Some are sad, others are jubilant, but all are stories to embrace and share.

I learned that no matter where you are in life, with the right preparation and planning you can achieve anything. You can find proof all around, and there are people everywhere to inspire you. But to live your best life you need to challenge yourself. (Photo: Pinterest, 2019)












































I also learned from an email I received from the Clan Chief Sir Lachlan, that I am now obligated to take up arms in support of Clan Maclean’s defence if called to do so… 


 “Ian also tells me he’s made you an Honourary Maclean and I’m absolutely delighted with that.  It’s not a very onerous job, except if I call all the Macleans out to fight, you might get an email or letter which you can easily ignore!”

I agreed and proposed to the Chief that he commission the 1st MacLean Kilted Bicycle Battalion, with “Ian of Tidnish” at the helm. I was obviously honoured to receive an email from the Clan Chief!

Although I wasn’t present for all the legs, I know Ian would want me to thank all the sponsors, without whose financial support and personal investment of time, Ian would have never got off his trainer. 

  • Acadian printing, Amherst
  • eOpen Solutions, Amherst
  • Bicycle Specialist, Amherst
  • CIBC Maltby-Casey, Amherst
  • McLean Micro, St. John, NB
  • R. MacLean Forrestry, Antigonish
  • Maritime Inns and Resorts, Antigonish
  • Maritime Inns and Resorts, Port Hawkesbury
  • Pictou Lodge, Pictou
  • Iona Heights Inn, Iona

The RFD was a smashing success! Ian raised over $20,000 CDN and the work on Duart continues towards completion. Thank you for reading, following and supporting the RFD. You can still support the RFD by donating to the Restoration of Duart Castle through the Clan Maclean Atlantic Website at: Oh, and I am neither a Scot (as far as I know) or a historian, I tried to learn as much as I could along the way and represent the people and events as accurately as possible. If you have comments or corrections, please send me an email, and I will try to resolve them.


Take care,


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