Duncan’s Somenos Marsh Conservation Area is wildlife heaven

Wooden boardwalk and viewing platform over wetlands at Somenos Marsh Wildlife Preservation Area near Duncan, Vancouver Island

Sturdy boardwalks take visitors out over the wetlands to view hundreds of varieties of birds

We tripped across another not-so-hidden gem recently when we were looking for a quiet spot to enjoy a picnic lunch on the way to ‘somewhere else’.  The Somenos Marsh Conservation Area is located just a little north of the city of Duncan.

Tree swallow at Somenos Marsh Wildlife Preservation Area near Duncan on Vancouver Island

A tree swallow surveys his domain from the top of one of the many nesting boxes

The 500-acre (202 hectares) conservation area has resisted the invasion of development thanks to the efforts of the members of the Somenos Marsh Wildlife Society, which was incorporated as a charitable society in 1989.   Located on the Pacific Flyway, the marshlands serve as resting and feeding spots for about 200 species of winged creatures.  It is such a popular spot among the feathered set that the area is now designated  as an international globally significant important bird area (IBA).

Gravel walking trail at Somenos Marsh near Duncan, Vancouver Island

One of the well maintained gravel trails at the site

What you will see when visiting varies depending on the time of year you stop by.  Species include everything from Trumpeter Swans to rare Red Throated Loons and Tundra Swans to Blue Herons.  There is also other wildlife at the marsh, including beaver, river otter, muskrat and raccoons.

Entry way to outdoor classroom at Somenos Marsh near Duncan, Vancouver IslandWe saw very few people during our visit, but enjoyed a leisurely stroll along the gravel pathways and the wooden boardwalks. Secure viewing platforms offered great views in several directions, and we managed to find a bench on one where we enjoyed our lunch before moving on.

Interpretive sign about Ospreys at Somenos Marsh near Duncan on Vancouver Island

Interpretive signs help visitors understand the species at the marsh and the importance of wetlands

One of the best things about this beautiful spot is that it is wheelchair accessible, thus making an outing well within reach of visitors with varying degrees of mobility.

Picnic table at Somenos Marsh near Duncan on Vancouver Island

Picnic tables for those who want to enjoy an al fresco meal

There is also an outdoor classroom at the marsh, and a variety of nesting boxes and nesting platforms constructed by society members.  A series of very well-executed interpretive signs adds to the experience and the learning curve of visitors. The place is a bird watcher’s nirvana.

Although we perched on a bench to enjoy our lunch there are also picnic tables available, so it’s possible to make a day of it to enjoy this little bit of wildlife heaven.  And the really great thing about it is that it is very easily found and accessed, just off of Highway 1.

            Further information on Somenos Marsh Conservation Area can be found at the website:

            http://www.somenosmarsh.com/

 Somenos Marsh is located just east of Highway 1, north of Duncan and south of the B.C. Forest Discovery Centre.

GPS co-ordinates are:

Lat. 48.789589  Long. -123.710403

N 48 47.375  W 123 42.624

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Not your average pub food at Moby’s

Water view of Ganges Harbour from Moby's Pub on Salt Spring Island, British Columbia

The view from Moby’s Pub

We had to do a little island-hopping in the southern Gulf Islands recently and found ourselves on Salt Spring Island at lunch time. It is the largest of the southern islands and the most settled, with plenty of dining options from north end to southern terminus. The village of Ganges was teeming with activity and offered a plethora of eateries, but we ended up at Moby’s Pub, located a little bit away from the hustle and bustle of the village.

Chicken Waldorf salad sandwich at Moby's Pub on Salt Spring Island, British Columbia

The delicious and generous chicken Waldorf salad sandwich

Generally speaking we are not big fans of most pub culinary offerings, but Moby’s had come highly recommended by a fellow lover of good food (my brother), so we opted to give it a try.  Other experiences on Salt Spring had been less than stellar despite high ratings on travel sites so we weren’t feeling overly enthusiastic about any recommendations from those quarters.

It was a steaming hot day, so we asked for a seat on the patio, which offers pretty views of Ganges harbour and all the activity that goes on there.  Moby’s is located just a couple of minutes drive from the village – close enough to be convenient, but far enough away to be peaceful.

Albacore tuna bowl at Moby's Pub on Salt Spring Island, British Columbia

The SSI Albacore tuna bowl

Service was quick, efficient and friendly.  We were delighted to find the menu contained a lot of ‘not your average pub food’.  Bacon broccoli mac and cheese, a spicy tofu noodle bowl, gluten-free options, truffle aioli, warm Korean beef salad – 10 minutes considering the varied options had our mouths watering and our tummies rumbling.

I settled on the daily special sandwich, a generous chicken Waldorf salad creation tumbling out of a beautiful, fresh and ‘bready’ ciabatta bun.  It arrived with a generous serving of hand-cut fries and was more than enough to satisfy.

Exterior of Moby's Pub on Salt Spring Island, British Columbia

Located on the waterfront at the end of Ganges Harbour, Moby’s offers a casual maritime ambiance

My husband ordered the SSI Albacore Tuna Bowl – a beautifully presented combination of sashimi grade B.C. albacore tuna, cucumbers, bean sprout kimchi, avocado, green onion, nori, sesame seeds, wasabi aioli and sriracha. The flavour combinations were sublime, transcending any expectations anyone could ever harbour when it comes to ‘pub food.’ The dish would have fit quite admirably on any high-end restaurant menu.

Although Moby’s seems to have a lot going on, most of the time – many special activities dominate their website – it will, hands down, be the food that takes us back there.  What a great and delightful surprise to find this caliber of culinary creativity in a pub setting.

            Further information on Moby’s Pub can be found at the website:

http://mobyspub.ca/

Price rating: $$

 Moby’s Pub is located at 124A Upper Ganges Road, Ganges, Salt Spring Island

 GPS co-ordinates are:

Lat. 48.859201  Long. -123.501084

N 48 51.552  -123.501084

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Cowichan’s historic Fairburn Farm offers unique experiences and old-fashioned charm

Farmhouse at Fairburn Farmstay and Guesthouse in the Cowichan Valley on Vancouver Island, British Columbia

The beautiful rambling farmhouse is the essence of quality craftsmanship and tender loving care

We enjoyed a little bit of heaven early this summer when we spent a night at the Cowichan Valley’s historic Fairburn Farm. Talk about bucolic bliss – nothing could have made our stay in the countryside more perfect, and we came away rested and at peace with the world after enjoying the hospitality of the Archer family.

Water buffalo at Fairburn Farmstary and Guesthouse in the Cowichan Valley on Vancouver Island, British Columbia

The greeting committee – lovely, curious and gentle water buffalo

Fairburn Farmstay and Guesthouse originally began as a working farm in the beautiful countryside of the Cowichan Valley in 1886.  Over the years it has had a number of owners and has been home to a variety of farm animals.  These days the Archers tend a herd of 100 water buffalo – some of the most charming and delightful creatures with which I have ever had the pleasure of interacting.

Verandah with table and chairs at Fairburn Farmstay and Guesthouse near Duncan on Vancouver Island, British Columbia

The verandaaaah!

Everything about Fairburn Farm resonates country living.  The secluded pastoral setting, the pretty laneways, rolling fields, the ancient and beautiful farm buildings, the rambling and well-preserved farmhouse and the genuine friendliness of the host family combine to transport visitors back to another era.

Antique sleigh bed at Fairburn Farmstay and Guesthouse near Duncan on Vancouver Island, British Columbia

Comfortable bedrooms feature antique furniture, fireplaces and beautiful views

We checked in to Fairburn and settled into our comfortable upstairs room, complete with fireplace, small love seat, big windows offering beautiful views and a very comfortable sleigh bed.  The house has been impeccably maintained and much of the fine craftsmanship that went in to its creation is still very apparent.

After a great al fresco dinner at another local farm we returned to Fairburn and settled on to the huge verandah for the rest of the evening, where we enjoyed the evensong of birds and the chirping of frogs.

Country lane at Fairburn Farmstay and Guesthouse near Duncan on Vancouver Island, British Columbia

One of the many lovely pastoral views from the farmhouse

We were up early the next morning, downed a quick cup of coffee and headed up to the barns to take in the milking process that involves 45 of the Archers’ cows – the water buffalo milk is turned in to mozzarella cheese that has an amazing fresh flavour unlike any ‘normal’ mozzarella you are likely to sink your teeth in to. From the milking parlour we headed with Anthea to the barn where the calves are bottle fed, and then it was out in to the barnyard for a visit with the heifers who had greeted us at the fence the previous day.  We spent a good deal of time scratching gentle heads and being investigated, licked and slobbered on by the heifers – it was a most delightful experience, and certainly not one you expect to enjoy at a bed and breakfast.

Water buffalo being milked at Fairburn Farmstay and Guesthouse near Duncan on Vancouver Island, British Columbia

Milking time

Following our trek to the barnyard we meandered back down the hill to the house, where Maryann had (of course!) a farm-fresh breakfast ready for us.  Fresh fruit salad was complemented with home-made zucchini muffins and a big plate filled with beautiful eggs, toast made from locally-produced organic bread, water buffalo sausage and the best blackberry jam.  And, of course, locally-roasted coffee.

Anthea Archer with water buffalo at Fairburn Farmstay and Guesthouse near Duncan on Vancouver Island, British Columbia

Anthea Archer with a couple of her ‘girls’

The Archers live their mantra, endowing their guests as well as themselves with as much locally-produced food as possible.  It’s kind of like the good old days, when imports weren’t available and people ate what was obtainable seasonally.  In addition to everything else, we loved that about Fairburn Farm.

Farmhouse breakfast at Fairburn Farmstay and Guesthouse near Duncan on Vancouver Island, British Columbia

The very generous and tasty farmhouse breakfast

Time constraints, unfortunately, meant we were unable to make use of the great farm walking tour map that Maryann had prepared.  But one day we hope to return to enjoy the company of true farm folk, to delight once again in those sweet water buffalo and to sink into the idyllic loveliness that is Fairburn Farm.

            Further information on Fairburn Farm can be found at the website:

http://fairburnfarm.bc.ca/

            Fairburn Farm is located at 3310 Jackson Road, Duncan, in the middle of some of the most verdant countryside you are ever likely to experience.

            GPS co-ordinates are:

            Lat. 48.733307  Long. -123.701507

            N 48 43.998  W 123 42.090

 

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Whiffen Spit offers an easy waterfront walk in serene setting

aerial view of Whiffen Spit near Sooke on Vancouver Island

An aerial view of Whiffen Spit, which is very misleading as to length when viewed from the shoreline

You can make some interesting discoveries when you are dawdling along on your way to somewhere else, which is exactly what happened to us a while back when we were heading for a bed and breakfast in Sooke, on the southwest coast of the Island. With time to kill before check-in, we wandered a little off the beaten track and found Whiffen Spit.

Beach on Whiffen Spit near Sooke on Vancouver Island

Driftwood, shore grass, pebble and sand beaches offer a variety of interest

There is nothing particularly highly-organized or publicized about Whiffen Spit – it is one of those little gems that is just there, snaking for 1.2 kilomtres (3/4 mile) out in to Sooke Harbour. It has protected the Sooke Basin from breakers coming in from the Strait of Juan de Fuca and the Pacific Ocean for eons, providing safe haven for the clipper ships that plied its waters in the 19th century, and for smaller craft now.

Hikers sitting on bench at Whiffen Spit near Sooke on Vancouver Island

Benches offer visitors a variety of vistas

There are historic footnotes to the spit as well – the first successfully operated steam sawmill was built near the site by the fathers of the B.C Forest Industry, John Jr., Robert and Michael Muir.  Ever the resourceful fellows, they used the boiler from the wrecked vessel Major Tompkins in the mill, which endured until 1892.

Historical sign at Whiffen Spit near Sooke on Vancouver Island

There is a little bit of history here too….

In 1923 a bible student colony attracted adherents from across North America to the area, where they set up a school, meeting hall, bakery, barber and a fish reduction plant. The colony later moved to Port Renfrew and eventually disappeared.

We meandered along the easily-traversed trail for upwards of an hour, along with Moms pushing kids in strollers, elderly folks in wheelchairs, photographers and numerous dog walkers.

The spit’s protected location makes it a safe spot for children to play and explore along the waterline when the weather is fine. There are benches in various locations with a wide range of view options, and the shorelines on either side of this long finger of land offer up much in the way of beachcombing options. Driftwood, sea grass, cobble and sand surfaces underfoot keep things interesting.  The spit was redolent with the fragrance of wild roses during our wander there in early May – a delightful seasonal element that added to the relaxed, pleasant atmosphere.

View of Whiffen Spit, near Sooke on Vancouver Island

Easy, flat walking surfaces make the spit accessible for people of all abilities

Because of its composition we had no idea how long the spit actually was when we began our exploration – it twists and turns and presents a rather misleading countenance from the shoreline.  It was certainly no hardship, though, to enjoy the meandering trail and the surroundings.  Next time we visit we will pack a picnic  and  take more time to savour the sights of this lovely and historic area.

View of Whiffen Spit, near Sooke on Vancouver Island

Pretty views in all directions

There is a small parking lot at Whiffen Spit, which is located at the end of Whiffen Spit Road.

            Further information on Whiffen Spit can be found at the website:

http://discoversooke.com/outdoor-activities/parks-trails/whiffen-spit/

             GPS co-ordinates for the spit parking lot are:

            Lat. 48.356841823264055  Long. -123.72658439859623

            N 48 21.411  W 123 43.595

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Botanical Beach offers a plethora of aquatic flora and fauna

Hiker on boardwalk to Botanical Beach near Port Renfrew, Vancouver Island

Hiking in to Botany Bay

What a scramble!  But boy, was it worth it.  When we headed to Botanical Beach near Port Renfrew recently we tried to time our visit with low tide.  The beach is named for the teeming sea life found in the tidal pools which are, of course, only visible when the tide is out.

Hiker at botanical Beach near Port Renfrew on Vancouver Island

Botanical Beach is at its’ most intriguing best at low tide

The trip to this spot dictated a bit of a change in plans in order to accommodate the tide schedule, but we felt it was worth that for the opportunity to experience one of Vancouver Island’s most interesting  seashore locations.

Botanical Beach is so named after being chosen as a University of Minnesota

Botany Bay near Port Renfrew on Vancouver Island

Botany Bay – a little wilder, with crashing surf

Marine Station in 1900.  For seven years students and researchers from around the world travelled to what was then a very remote location to study marine life.  Access was by steamship from Victoria, followed by a very muddy and rough hike from Port Renfrew.  When the promised improved access failed to materialize the university abandoned the site, leaving it to the wild creatures that had been the attraction in the first place.

Bull kelp at Botanical Beach near Port Renfrew, Vancouver Island

There is plenty of marine life to find and enjoy at both locations

The scramble for us came with getting to the beach.  Signage indicated that there was a 2.5 kilometre (1 ½ mile) loop trail connecting Botany Bay and Botanical Beach and, although we started out just fine we did find ourselves traversing some pretty rough trails, ending up at Botany Bay rather than Botanical Beach, which had been our intention.  We weren’t sure if we had somehow lost the trail and ended up off the proverbial ‘beaten path’, but we persevered and were rewarded with views of crashing surf and dramatic foreshore at Botany Bay.

Waves at Botany Bay near Port Renfrew on Vancouver Island

Waves crash through and around sandstone rock formations at Botany Bay

Following some exploration of the wild side at Botany Bay, we found a short  linking trail that led us to the more serene Botanical Beach, home of the former marine station.  The plethora of sea life, both plant and animal, was striking and intriguing and we spent a good hour peering into the sandstone tide pools and wandering along the seaweed-strewn shoreline.

Trail to Botany Bay near Port Renfrew on Vancouver Island The hike back wasn’t overly difficult, but it would have been great if the loop trail had been properly posted. Botanical Beach is a provincial park, so it would be nice if the government would spend a few bucks to make sure folks don’t get lost or off-track as we obviously did.

A word of warning here – at low tide the beaches are very slippery, so good footwear is advised.  And keep an eye on the tide and the waves – it wouldn’t be difficult to get caught in the wrong place at the wrong time.  This is, after all, the wild Pacific.

            Further information about Botanical Beach and Botany Bay can be found on the website:

http://www.portrenfrew.com/botbeach.htm

Botanical Beach and Botany Bay are located near Port Renfrew.

GPS co-ordinates for the parking lot are:

Lat. 48.532786418930684  Long. -124.44397460225423

N 48 31.967  E 48 31.967

 

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Summertime bliss at Sproat Lake Landing

Gateway to Sproat Lake at Sproat Lake Landing

Looking down to Sproat Lake from Sproat Lake Landing

The essence of summertime bliss.  That was what we found when we made the 45-minute jaunt cross-Island to the newly-opened Sproat Lake Landing near Port Alberni.

View from room at Sproat Lake Landing Inn

The view from our lakefront room

Located at the site of the old West Bay Hotel on the shores of spectacular Sproat Lake, the Sproat Lake Landing complex is comprised of a boutique hotel, Drinkwater’s Social House pub/dining room, Della’s Café and convenience store and a liquor outlet – everything anyone could want when vacationing several miles from the nearest commercial centre.  An additional bonus: a replica tug that offers tours of the 10,000 acre lake and its 188 miles of shoreline.

Hamburger at Drinkwater's social House, Sproat Lake Landing

The house burger – no lack of good food here!

We arrived late on a steaming-hot Friday afternoon and checked in to our beautifully-designed – and, thankfully, air conditioned – lakefront room. Sweeping views of lake and mountains greeted us from our small private patio, along with the opportunity to enjoy the activity of beavers who inhabit the beaver lodge directly below us.

Drinkwater's Social House at Sproat Lake Landing

Always a popular spot on a fine summer evening, the patios at Drinkwater’s Social House were crammed

Our room was one of the most efficiently designed we have had the pleasure of occupying – lots of sensible storage space for our travelling gear, king sized comfortable bed, wood accents (including tree stump bedside tables) that added a bit of rustic to the modern decor and a tip of the hat to the logging industry that has sustained the Alberni Valley for decades.

Patio seating at Drinkwater's Social House at Sproat Lake Landing, Port Alberni

Brunch on the patio at Drinkwater’s Social House

We enjoyed two meals downstairs at Drinkwater’s Social House.  We had dinner in the dining room due to the extreme heat outdoors, working our way through a tasty spinach dip before consuming our main courses of the Clayoquot shrimp clubhouse and the house burger, both served with hand-cut fries and house-made ketchup..  Brunch on Saturday morning was equally delightful, with some great and interesting flavour combinations.  My husband opted for the Sproat Lake Eggs Benedict, a sublime combination of chard, pine nuts, ricotta cheese, mushrooms and farm fresh eggs topped with the standard Hollandaise.  I worked my way through three lovely light lemon ricotta pancakes and a large house-made sausage.

Lemon ricotta pancakes at Drinkwater's Social House, Sproat Lake Landing, Port Alberni

Lemon ricotta pancakes and house-made sausage – unique and yummy flavour combinations

Drinkwater’s is making a special effort to source ingredients locally and to combine them into interesting and flavourful menu offerings.  The excellent food combined with the choice of dining in the pub, dining room or on the beautiful patio is obviously appealing to a lot of folks – the evening that we were there droves of patrons were coming from all over the lake by boat to enjoy a meal or a beverage. It was one of those iconic summertime tableaus that make you realize how very good life can be.

Drinkwater IV tugboat at Sproat Lake Landing, Port Alberni

The Drinkwater IV, a replica of the tugboat that served lake residents and businesses in the mid -1900s

Saturday morning post-breakfast found us hustling down the wharf to board the aforementioned tug, the Drinkwater IV.  Captained by Sproat Lake Landing owner Jeff Stephenson, the great little craft took us on a lengthy tour of some of the notable spots around the lake.   We were thrilled to see the world-famous Martin Mars water bomber, which calls Sproat Lake home.  Then it was on to a wall full of petroglyphs that no one seems able to date, and off around the lake to take in Massacre Island, what is left of Klitsa Lodge, a viewing of Vanderbilt Island and of many, many cottages and homes that have been in families for generations.

Jeff Stephenson on the Drinkwater IV at Sproat Lake Landing, Port Alberni

Captain Jeff Stephenson, affable host and partner at Sproat Lake Landing

There is a lot of intriguing history in the lake area, and we were delighted when Jeff recounted some of the stories about celebrities like Emily Carr, Walt Disney, Cornelius Vanderbilt and dozens of others who made arduous journeys in order to enjoy the splendour of the area.  It was a most interesting and very beautiful tour of Port Alberni’s traditional cottage country.

Petroglyphs at Sproat Lake, Port Alberni

Petroglyphs, seen on the lake tour

All-told, the combination of all the above factors made for one of the most relaxing and engaging get-aways we have enjoyed.  Great friendly staff abounds at Sproat Lake Landing enhancing the beautiful sunsets, the moon rises, the lovely hotel rooms, the spectacular views, the wildlife viewing, the great food, the people watching and the laid back vibe. Can’t say enough good things about this one – can’t wait to go back!

Klitsa Lodge, Sproat Lake, Port Alberni

What is left of the once-revered Klitsa Lodge, visited by luminaries from all over the world

Further information on Sproat Lake Landing and all it has to offer can be found at the website:

http://www.sproatlakelanding.com/welcome

Price rating for Drinkwater’s Social House: $$

 Sproat Lake Landing is located at 10695 Lakeshore Road, Port Alberni

GPS co-ordinates are:

Lat. 49.285386  Long. -124.975844

N 49 17.123 -124.975844

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Parksville Farmers Market offers unique heritage ambiance

Not your average farmers market - you can wander amongst heritage buildings at this one

Not your average farmers market – you can wander amongst heritage buildings at this one

There are farmers markets, and then there are farmers markets. Some are focused entirely on foodstuffs and plants, with no room for crafters.  Others are an eclectic mix offering up a huge variety of almost anything your heart could desire.  Usually, though, the settings are very similar – blocked-off streets or some sort of rural setting. That’s where the Parksville Farmers Market is unique, and charmingly so.

Just in to its second year, the Parksville market calls the Craig Heritage Park and  museum grounds home, providing an intriguing backdrop for the vegetables, baked goods, crafts, flower vendors and picnic area.

Who can resist a lovely bouquet of fresh flowers?

Who can resist a lovely bouquet of fresh flowers?

The market isn’t as large or concentrated as the neighbouring Saturday morning fixture in Qualicum Beach, and it doesn’t attract as many customers. But for us, meandering along on a fine summer Friday evening, that was a lot of the charm of this one.  There is more of a family feel to the affair rather than the hustle and bustle found at many of the larger markets.

A great place for a casual family dinner......

A great place for a casual family dinner……

The smallness of the Parksville market means that you won’t find as many vendors, and you certainly won’t find the huge array of fruits and vegetables that you discover at bigger events.  But there is enough there to satisfy the grocery needs of anyone who cares to look – organic vegetables, artisan sausages, fine baking, pasta, meat products – they are all there.

Organic vegetables from Nanoose Edibles

Organic vegetables from Nanoose Edibles

I think a lot of the relaxed atmosphere comes from the fact that there are picnic tables set out where folks can enjoy a wood-fired pizza for dinner and linger on a lovely evening. We saw several young families partaking of the experience – a night off from the kitchen for Mom that served double duty. And of course, there is the requisite live music that seems to be at pretty much every market these days.  Musicians set up on the steps of the heritage church – a lot more interesting than your average venue for them, too, I suspect.

The picnic area adds to the unique ambiance of the market

The picnic area adds to the unique ambiance of the market

The other bonus in attending the Parksville Museum Farmers Market is that all of the museum’s heritage buildings are open, allowing those attending to wander through and learn about the lives of yesteryear in the area. We greatly enjoyed that aspect of the market and will probably return at some point specifically because of it.

The Parksville Museum Farmers Market runs every Friday night from 5 – 8 p.m. from early summer through the Thanksgiving weekend in October.  Further information on the market can be obtained at the website:

            http://parksvillemuseum.ca/events/

Craig Heritage Park and Museum is located at 1245 East Island Highway in Parksville.

GPS co-ordinates are:

Lat. 49.305032  Long. -124.259405

N 49 18.302  W 124 15.564

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Middle of nowhere at Port Renfrew’s Soule Creek Lodge

Spectacular views, pretty gardens, amazing meals and peace and quiet are the hallmarks of Soule Creek Lodge

Spectacular views, pretty gardens, amazing meals and peace and quiet are the hallmarks of Soule Creek Lodge

No television.  No phones in the rooms. No traffic noise.  No fun?  Heavens, no! It was all the ‘nos’ that made us fall in love with Soule Creek Lodge in Port Renfrew, and a whole bunch of positives.

Our room was small but very comfortable

Our room was small but very comfortable

We stayed two nights at Soule Creek, which has been operated since 2001 by brothers Jon and Tim Cash.  Perched 600 feet above sea level at the top of a two kilometre (1.25 miles) uphill gravel road, the lodge dominates the skyline.  There are sweeping views of the Strait of Juan de Fuca and the Olympic Mountains…and dead silence, thanks to the fact that the building is situated on 160 acres owned by the brothers.

Dinner at the lodge - the freshest ingredients combined with a deft hand

Dinner at the lodge – the freshest ingredients combined with a deft hand

We checked in after a long day of exploring the spectacular beaches of the southwest coast and found ourselves in a small-but-comfortable room that had a true rustic ‘lodge’ feeling to it. There was a small sitting area through the sliding doors, and a couple of easy chairs in the room gave us a second happy place to relax.

The spacious dining room affords spectacular views

The spacious dining room affords spectacular views

After a strenuous day of hiking we were looking forward to dinner at the lodge, which is a set prix fixe menu.  Both Jon and Tim are experienced chefs and the promise of a meal that focused on local products had us in anticipatory delight.  We certainly weren’t disappointed on that front.

After getting settled in to our room we hauled our tired bodies up the stairs to the spacious dining room.  The three-course meal commenced with a green salad so fresh it almost jumped off the plate.  Combined with pine nuts and kale chips and topped with an avocado oil dressing, it left us both impressed and looking forward to the main course.

Dessert.....

Dessert…..

No disappointment on that front, either. A beautiful plate featuring fresh water steelhead topped with a beurre blanc sauce brimming with shrimp, a perfectly cooked medley of fresh vegetables and an inspired couscous with organic English peas, corn, lemon juice, mint and lime leaf proved to be a feast for the eyes as well as the palate. We have a penchant for interesting food that combines unique flavours without going over the top, and this main certainly fit the bill in that respect. The Cash brothers have an innate talent for combining ingredients with a deft hand, of which I am so envious.

Dessert – a luscious blueberry/raspberry crumble accompanied by house-made strawberry ice cream – topped off the meal.  At the end of it all we were replete, but not feeling overly-stuffed.

Unique artwork abounds in the dining room

Unique artwork abounds in the dining room

Dinners are only available to guests staying at the lodge, and for $38 a head they are one heck of a wonderful deal.  This is most definitely not your average fishing lodge ‘grub’ – it is more akin to haute cuisine, without all the fancy details – clean, fresh flavours simply served. And, a bonus for those who like an alcoholic beverage with their meal – you can take your own choice to the dining room with you.  Soule Creek doesn’t have a liquor license, but there is no corkage fee when guests supply their own liquor.

We slept soundly in a comfortable bed that night and headed upstairs the next morning to enjoy a sumptuous breakfast.  While my husband chose a larger meal consisting of bacon, farm-fresh eggs, blueberry pancakes and fruit salad I was able to opt for a smaller repast featuring the items of my choice, in the quantities that I requested.  I liked that aspect of the breakfasts at Soule Creek – the wait staff is happy to take individual orders rather than just put the prescribed ‘breakfast of the day’ on the table in front of you.  Nice, too, that the lodge accommodates special diets.

Breakfasts, large or small,  are included with your stay

Breakfasts, large or small, are included with your stay

After breakfast and before heading off to explore more beaches we took a wander around the property, enjoying the gardens and spectacular views.  Our only regret from our entire experience at Soule Creek was that we didn’t book dinner there both nights that we were in residence. We opted instead for a more famous but nowhere-near-as-good restaurant down the road.  Won’t make that mistake again!

            Further information on Soule Creek Lodge can be found at:

http://soulecreeklodge.com/

            The lodge is located at the top of Powder Main Road in Port Renfrew.

GPS co-ordinates are:

Lat.  48.543948  Long. -124.413385

N 48 32.637  W 124 24.803

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Fairy magic at Milner Gardens

One of our favourite fairy houses - the attention to detail in all of the creations is amazing

One of our favourite fairy houses – the attention to detail in all of the creations is amazing

When the lives of children are so caught up these days with scheduled activities, the cyber world and the hard business of growing up in modern times, it’s refreshing to find a place and occasion where magic, timelessness and imagination predominate.  We found that recently at the annual Milner Gardens fairy festival.  Even the grown-ups were enchanted.

This one came complete with a fairy-sized hammock....

This one came complete with a fairy-sized hammock….

Every year around the summer solstice, the story goes, the fairies at Qualicum Beach’s Milner Gardens and Woodland allow their homes to be visible to humans.  This year no less than 50 of the miniscule dwellings appeared, tucked into the woodland and gardens, hidden amongst shade-dappled trails.

Tea in the fairy garden....

Tea in the fairy garden….

Created by volunteers, the fairy houses ran the gamut, from the very simplest and most basic to elaborate.  There were fairy homes created from wood bark, dried ferns, moss, bird nests, teeny tiny bits and pieces gleaned from woods and beach. Visitors were guided to them by ribbons hung from branches with notes asking to please not touch the houses, as the fairies would probably be napping.

Human fairies were also plentiful

Human fairies were also plentiful

It wasn’t just the houses that enchanted, though.  Many of them were surrounded by tableaus that were evocative of a slower, gentler life.  Miniscule ladders led to tiny swings, miniature hand-made tables and chairs were located in petite garden settings that suggested a fairy tea was about to commence.  There were tiny hammocks, tiny beds, tiny patios, pathways, floral displays.  Some fairy houses hung from branches while others were tucked among the woodland beauty that is Milner. All of them fired the imagination and brought magic to the day.

Another beautiful creation

Another beautiful creation

The other great thing about this event is that the children (and some of the adults, too!) really get in to the spirit, There were dozens of fairies of the human variety, complete with fancy dresses and wings, flitting about the gardens.

Be-ribboned signs helped show the way to the hidden houses

Be-ribboned signs helped show the way to the hidden houses

We spent a good 90 minutes seeking out the hidden gems, then wandered along to the historic and very lovely Milner house where tea, lemonade and fairy cakes were being served in the shade of the back terrace. I can never say enough about the dedicated ladies who volunteer their time to run the inside tea room and outdoor venues for special events like this – they offer superb, cheerful service every time we are there, along with tasty sustenance.

Human fairies need sustenance too - fairy cakes and lemonade on the terrace at the house

Human fairies need sustenance too – fairy cakes and lemonade on the terrace at the house

We finished the day by purchasing a couple of jars of the house-made jams on offer at the house.  Created with fruit from the gardens, they are some of the best, and proceeds go to supporting the heritage treasure that has become a popular destination for residents and visitors alike.            Fairy signSo, thanks to Veronica Milner, her belief in fairies and the many staff and volunteers who keep her vision alive and thriving, another delightful event at Milner Gardens and Woodland. We are so fortunate to have this beautiful estate on the Island, and to have it open to the public.wheelchair-m

            Further information on Milner Gardens and Woodland and coming events can be found at the website:

            https://www2.viu.ca/milnergardens/

            Milner Gardens is located at 2179 West Island Highway, Qualicum Beach

            GPS co-ordinates are:

            Lat. 49.353670  Long. -124.414487

            N 49 21.220  W 124 24.869

Posted in ATTRACTIONS, EAST CENTRAL ISLAND, EVENTS, KID FRIENDLY, SPECIAL PLACES, WHEELCHAIR ACCESS | Tagged , , , | Leave a comment

Bird’s Eye Cove Pizza Night offers the best of all worlds

Can there be any more beautiful venue for an al fresco dinner?

Can there be any more beautiful venue for an al fresco dinner?

What to do for supper on a lovely early summer evening when all of your favourite restaurants (and the new ones you would like to try) are closed? We were faced with exactly this conundrum during a recent trip to the Duncan area, but found a very happy solution with Pizza Night at Bird’s Eye Cove Farm.

Fresh made-to-order pizza from a wood-fired oven.....

Fresh made-to-order pizza from a wood-fired oven…..

Bird’s Eye Cove is a working farm that sprawls over 300 acres (121 hectares) of rolling fields and forest.  Founded in 1860, the spectacular site embraces breathtaking views of bucolic bliss and, of course, of Bird’s Eye Cove.

The final result

The final result

The Pizza Nights are held on Mondays and Thursdays throughout the fine weather months and have obviously become a happy tradition for area residents – when we arrived at 6 p.m., two hours after opening, the parking area was pretty much full.  Often the food is all gone well before the 8 p.m. ‘closing’ time, which says legions about the popularity of this new – now in to its third year – Cowichan Valley tradition.

Pizza picnic dinner on the grass.  Dogs, kids - everyone is welcome

Pizza picnic dinner on the grass. Dogs, kids – everyone is welcome

One of the beauties of this venue is that it is so relaxed, very informal and very welcoming of kids and dogs.  There are a number of picnic tables available for larger groups, small bistro tables for couples and, of course, green grass that invites the spreading of a blanket and a dining experience at ground level. Bird’s Eye Cove doesn’t have a liquor license, but patrons are welcome to bring along their own alcoholic liquid refreshments.

The pizza menu varies from night to night, but is always entertaining

The pizza menu varies from night to night, but is always entertaining

The pizza menu is a saucy affair with fun descriptions of the many local ingredients that go into creating the culinary delights.  The offerings vary depending on the night, and can include anything from a vegetarian creation to the Drunken Cow, made with a bourbon barbecue sauce.

Pizzas are all made to order and baked in the wood-fired outdoor brick oven. Mason jar vegetables and fruit are offered as ‘sides’ along with a variety of cold beverages.

For larger groups there are picnic tables.....

For larger groups there are picnic tables…..

Although the folks in the outdoor kitchen were busy with orders when we arrived we were made very welcome. We placed our own order, then proceeded to find a small bistro table that looked down the long sweep of fields to the cove. We spent a few minutes watching bald eagles, turkey vultures and swallows while we waited.  It was the perfect start to several days of travel – warm summer breeze, lovely evening, great views and a totally laid-back ambiance.

Good food and a view like this - it doesn't get any better on a lovely summer's evening

Good food and a view like this – it doesn’t get any better on a lovely summer’s evening

And then, our pizza arrived – which was quite simply the icing on the cake. Great ingredients in generous portions left us savouring the last crumbs.  We lingered for quite a while after our dinner, enjoying the relaxed vibe and partaking of some people-watching, before wandering back to our van and heading back to our bed and breakfast for the night. It was without a doubt the best start to a trip that I can remember in a long, long time, putting us in the right frame of mind.  Proof, I guess, that simple, honest food served in naturally breathtaking surroundings is the best.

Bird’s Eye Cove offers the pizza nights rain or shine – there is heated indoor seating available in the event of inclement weather.

            Further information on Bird’s Eye Cove Farm can be found at the website:

http://birdseyecovefarm.com/

            The farm is located at 5881 Genoa Bay Road, Duncan

            GPS co-ordinates are:

            Lat. 48.786863  Long. -123.60065400000002

            N 48 47.212    W 123 36.039

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