Tofino, British Columbia

‘One touch of nature makes the whole world kin’-William Shakespeare.

Photo album of a two night visit to Tofino, on the West Coast of British Columbia.

This is just a small selection of photos from far too many I took. We just got back from Tofino and I’m already missing the rhythmic sound of ocean waves at night, the cool damp air, the mulchy squish of forest floor underfoot. No traffic (I realized the constant sound of traffic makes me angry). Surfers braving the frigid water. A fireplace to read by as we sprawled out on the sofa in our cosy suite. Spray from blowholes off the shoreline indicating the presence of whales. Wolf and bear territory. Nature.

Kelp on Long Beach, Tofino

Kelp on Long Beach

Sea vegetation, Mackenzie Beach, Tofino

Sea vegetation, Mackenzie Beach

Sea anemone, Mackenzie Beach, Tofino

Sea anemone, Mackenzie Beach

Tree lichen, Tofino

Tree lichen

Driftwood, Chesterman Beach, Tofino

Washed up tree rolling around in the waves at Chesterman Beach

Author at work taking photos

Sneaky shot of me by Scott

photo of photograher poring over camera

And I took a sneaky one of him!

shorebirds on Long Beach

Shorebirds on Long Beach

Seagull flying, Long Beach

Seagull in flight, Long Beach

Beach and sky merge, Long Beach, Tofino

In the other direction beach meets sky, Long Beach

Evening sun at Long Beach, Tofino

Late afternoon at Long Beach

surfers, Long Beach, Tofino

Low-key surfing as the sun sinks, Long Beach

Taking photos of waves at Florencia Beach, Tofino

Taking photos at Florencia Beach. Photo by Scott

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Carrot and Stick

The stick was my admitting that I needed to get drawing again – once I’d said it publicly I felt compelled to get on with it, knowing I would feel guilty if I didn’t. The carrot is, well, the carrot. I’ve started to draw again and it feels good. Or maybe the carrot is the number of new coloured pencils I felt were necessary to treat myself to. Either way.

Drawing of a carrot

Carrot

There’s a quote attributed to Jim Davis, but I’m not sure if it came directly from his mouth or via that of his creation, Garfield: ‘vegetables are a must on a diet. I suggest carrot cake, zucchini bread, and pumpkin pie’. I like it.

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Wild Camping (sort of) in the Nicola Valley

mountain biking near Merritt

Autumnal riding

‘Can you hear the coyotes yipping?’ Scott asked. I turned my head slightly from where it was buried in his warm shoulder, freeing my left ear from the sleeping bag pulled up to nearly the top of my head.

‘Yes, wow, there’s so many’.

Not only were the coyotes out in full force, but an owl kept up a consistent ‘whoo whoo’; good hunting I guess by the light of the three-quarter full moon. Or perhaps the wild creatures were less hesitant to make themselves heard, claiming back more of their territory as the camping season died down with the approach of late autumn. I snuggled deeper into the layers of sleeping bag, old duvet and mounds of clothes we’d thrown on top of ourselves in the freezing night. Dressed in fleece pants, thermal tops and socks we were just about warm enough in our tiny lightweight tent. The moon lighting up the flimsy grey nylon made it seem as if it was permanently twilight.

tent and bikes camping outside Merritt

Our tiny tent, and bikes, with loo roll attached! Biodegradable and burnable!

Earlier, as dusk started to fall, we’d heard what sounded like a curious cross between a grunt and a rasping cough. Spooked, we’d all looked around sharply at where the noise came from, just behind us in a small grove of trees. Images of bears and mountain lions padded through our minds but the odd sound came from high off the ground. Later we heard it from treetops on the opposite side from where we’d camped. Perhaps another owl?

We hadn’t expected it to be so cold, but it was beautiful. Looking out of the tent in the early dawn the creeping light glistened off a hard frost. I was glad of all the warm clothing we’d brought for wild camping in the backcountry, in mid autumn near Lundbom Lake outside of Merritt in the Nicola Valley of British Columbia. In an area significantly higher than sea level, I knew it would be chilly during the night at the very least.

We’d arrived early the morning before, following detailed instructions, and found my sister, brother-in-law and their two dogs warming themselves around a robust fire. Tucked up an innocuous dirt road away from a nearby forestry campground, we revelled in the space and quiet away from others. There was no rush to change into mountain bike gear – part of the reason we were out here was to discover flowy trails in more open country, very different from the coastal riding we’re used to. Eventually though, after chomping through some mammoth sandwiches and donning all the cold weather gear we’d brought with us, we set off on a thoroughly leisurely ride.

open grasslands, near Merritt

Sun peeking out

Gorgeous autumnal colours drenched the landscape – all browns, yellows and fading greens. We rode through soft dirt and stones, loosened by horses hooves throughout the year, the sun chasing the clouds. I could feel my lungs working a little harder, that above sea level thing again, plus we were both getting over a bad cold, but it was worth the raspy breathing and constant nose blowing we had to endure. I’d never been to this area before and I loved it. We rode for three hours, not long really but enough to give us a taste of this open country.

mountain bike trails, Merritt

Interesting mountain bike trail names

Huddled around a huge fire later as dark fell we ate far too much, washing the food down with a good bottle of red (natch) wine and several beers. Even with the moon we could see the Milky Way; we sat craning our necks for ages staring at the night sky, one of my favourite pastimes.

fire at night, camping

Relaxing around the fire

It was only one night away, but enough to fill up with the freshest of air. And good timing too, the evening after we left it started to snow.

 

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Raspberry Rhubarb Pie with Coffee Ice Cream

raspberry rhubarb pie and coffee ice cream

Sometimes, shit happens.

Last weekend we rode to Victoria on Vancouver Island for an overnight visit with a good friend. It was great; we spent time chatting, drinking excellent wine, eating delicious food. Had a lovely ride out and back on the Lochside Trail. The ferry ride is always stunning– I even saw what I’m pretty sure were porpoises carving through the water. I was thrilled, I’d made a point of not looking at my iPhone, it’s amazing how much you miss when you look at a screen instead of looking around.

The day after getting back into town we decided to take a run up to Squamish and fit in a quick mountain bike ride. It was a stunning day, a hint of chill air tempered by the autumn sun. A chipmunk bounced up to my feet and stood on its back legs peering up at me as I threw on my camelbak. I smiled, its nice to feel connected in even the smallest way to the natural world and its inhabitants.

After an hour or so of riding, muscles and joints warmed up, we started down an area called Rob’s Corners. Fully in the flow Scott suddenly, with a screech of brakes and flurry of dust, slid to a halt hacking and coughing. Turns out some kind of wasp or bee had flown in his mouth, stung him on the inside of his throat and most likely ended up being swallowed. It was freaky how quickly he felt his throat swell up on one side. I was about to call for help but Scott managed to swallow two antihistamines and we made our way gingerly back to the car. Luckily he doesn’t have allergies to bees or wasps (he carries antihistamines for hayfever) but we were ready to duck off to a surgery if there was even the slightest hint that he was having difficulty breathing.

Maybe the chipmunk had been trying to tell me something. ‘Don’t go up there!’ (in chipmunk speak it was probably more like ‘nuts, nuts, I like nuts, do you have nuts?’).

It took Scott a day or two for his throat to feel back to normal. Obviously for the bee or wasp it was a significantly worse encounter. I’m aware that in the scheme of things all this was small potatoes but it’s still a bit of jolt to realize how fast a day can change. Oh, and apparently it’s always a good idea to carry antihistamines biking, camping, riding etc.

None of this really has much to do with raspberry rhubarb pie and coffee ice cream, except that maybe it does. You have to appreciate the small things, a sunny day, rain, being with people you love, good food, good friends, a walk, a ride. Simple stuff.

The season is over for both raspberries and rhubarb (I’ve been meaning to post this recipe for a while but never got around to it) but it’s really just as good with frozen fruit.

raspberry rhubarb pie

Raspberry Rhubarb Pie

I leaned on my usual go-to for pastry. Once I’ve lined a buttered pie dish with half of the pastry I fill it with about two cups of raspberries and the same of washed and chopped rhubarb. Sprinkle over approximately two tablespoons of coconut sugar (add more or less according to your taste) and pour about 1/2 cup of orange juice over the fruit. Cover the fruit with the pastry, cutting off any extra hanging over the sides and pressing down on the edge of the pastry dish to seal. I’ll usually whisk together one egg and a little milk and brush the mixture onto the pastry so it gets that lovely golden colour and sheen when it’s cooked.

On a side note, I’m enjoying organic coconut sugar. It’s supposed to be on the lower side of the glycemic index and has a delicious caramel taste. It is a bit more granular than refined sugar so bear that in mind. I actually like the texture and am using it for pretty much anything I add sugar to. And it is still sugar, so best used sparingly.

I couldn’t resist throwing some coffee ice cream into the mix based on Nigella Lawson’s recipe. I’ve figured out my happy place with the ice cream after a few tries. I did have what you might call mixed results before when I used ground coffee. Not my finest hour, although loyal friends did finish it off for me. I made the effort to track down some espresso powder this time and it worked like a charm. I also reduced the amount of powder and coffee liqueur from two tablespoons to one tablespoon each as I was finding it a bit strong. Perfect!

It’s the little things…..

Raspberry rhubarb pie and coffee ice cream

Pie and ice cream

 

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Dorset Idyll. A Trip to Thomas Hardy’s Cottage

‘The sky was clear – remarkably clear – and the twinkling of all the stars seemed to be but throbs of one body, timed by a common pulse’ – Far From The Madding Crowd, Thomas Hardy
A Dorset Idyll. Thomas Hardy's Cottage

Hardy’s Cottage. View from the garden

Tears welled up a little as I leant over the pretty green gate at the side of Thomas Hardy’s cottage. I was actually here, standing where once he must have at some point in his life, looking out from the garden in front of his house to the lane that ran alongside.

Yup, geeking out on Thomas Hardy. If pressed I might also have to admit to Hardy being my favourite author. I may even have reread Under the Greenwood Tree recently and Far From the Madding Crowd for the first time (how did I miss that before?). I’m planning to revisit The Mayor of Casterbridge and at some point tackle his poetry, although I have to admit I’m more of a prose fan than a poetry fan. Don’t judge me.

My emotion leaning over the gate of course may also have had something to do with the fact that it had been a long, hot day – we were still riding in the midst of an unusual heat wave in England – and just standing in the garden of the house where Hardy was born, grew up and wrote some of his most famous work – Under the Greenwood Tree and Far From the Madding Crowd for instance – felt like a wonderful reward for our efforts.

Sunny day at Thomas Hardy's cottage

Idyllic summer day at Hardy’s cottage

Concerned by the oppressiveness of the heat and the fact everywhere we rode took far longer than we expected, English hills being a wildcard factor an’ all, we had got up early in West Sussex to ride to the train station a couple of hours away; we planned to travel via train to Dorset, so cutting out a big chunk of riding via busy Southampton and Bournemouth, saving our limited time for exploring more of the county Hardy called Wessex in his novels.

We arrived at the small, neat train station of Dorchester and struck out into the city itself; it’s of a manageable size whilst still feeling bustling and vibrant. What I saw of it as we passed through I liked, a lot. As ever it still took a while for us to find and pick up the Sustrans cycling route but we eventually stumbled across it and navigated country lanes to Higher Bockhampton and the cob and thatch cottage.

Roses over front door of Hardy's cottage

Roses over front door

Before we even attempted to explore we recouped with tea, sickly sweet coffee cake and cold cider outside the National Trust reception and tea room (Hardy’s cottage, like many historical sites, is managed by the NT) sheltering from the sun under nearby trees. It was all very English and a bit of a stomach churning mix of food and drink, but when you’ve been sweltering on bikes you’ll vacuum up just about anything.

Once again, as was becoming the norm on this trip, I had to fend off the overtures by  National Trust staff to buy yearly memberships. Their persistence was dogged but a small price to pay for their unfailing courteousness and helpfulness. We wheeled our bikes up the gravelled lane towards the cottage and were allowed to shovel our bikes, panniers and helmets along the side of a small kiosk at the entrance to the gardens where a staffer kindly volunteered to watch over our gear.

Map of Hardy's Wessex

Hardy’s Wessex

A flower-lined path led to the rose festooned front door of the cottage. Inside we bowed under low door frames into sparsely furnished small rooms that still smelt of smoke from many, many years of wood fires. An almost impossibly narrow stairway led up to the bedroom where Hardy wrote. Reproductions of his maps and writing artifacts are carefully placed throughout (the originals are on view in the Dorset Museum in Dorchester). It all effectively conjured up the life of rural simplicity that  Hardy loved and was reflected in his writing, even in his darkest novels.

The bedroom where Thomas Hardy wrote

Thomas Hardy’s bedroom

We emerged to wander the forested grounds, ponds and surrounding heathland, all inspiration for his work. It’s nice to know that from humble beginnings Hardy enjoyed success in his lifetime ultimately moving into the home he designed and had built, Max Gate, just outside of Dorchester.

view into garden from front door of Thomas Hardy's cottage

View from front door of Thomas Hardy’s cottage

We finally tore ourselves away from this idyll, retrieving our bikes and setting out for another hour or so of riding surrounded by sun-drenched countryside. In the evening, as the day cooled, we wandered down to a gate in the garden of the latest B&B and gazed across a heritage orchard as the light dipped. I was in Hardy country, I couldn’t have asked for much more.

Looking across an orchard in Dorset

Gate to orchard, Dorset

‘To dwellers in a wood almost every tree has its voice as well as its feature’ – Under the Greenwood Tree, Thomas Hardy.

 

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The Green Fields of England

Don’t be fooled. You may think of England’s hills as ‘green and pleasant’ – and they are – but they are also incredibly, and often quite suddenly, steep. They seem even steeper when you’re toiling up them on a touring bike loaded down with far-too-heavy panniers.

I’ve found my limit is a 17% incline, the point at which I can’t push the pedal around just one more time. My speed drops to around 4kms and then that’s it, I’m off the bike and walking, slumping over the handlebars in defeat as I toil up the hill. In Dorset even the local cows were wondering what the heck we were doing as we trudged up a road towards them.

Dorset Cows

Curious Cows

We were nearing the end of an roughly eight hour day, blood sugar crashing as we wolfed down Clif shot bloks, water and chocolate digestives. I didn’t think I had much left in me until I looked up and saw two faces peeking above a hedgerow as if to say ‘what you guys doin’? I started laughing instead of crying, which is what I’d wanted to do a minute before.

Small Blue Planet Post Bike Routes

Sustrans route signs

We cycle toured for just over two weeks often using  Sustrans routes from roughly the South Downs to Dartmoor with a couple of hops on the train, bypassing busy cities to save time. I’ll write in more detail about our trip later but for now the photos give an idea of some of the gorgeous countryside we passed through.

Small Blue Planet Post Distant Hills

Distant hills

Small Blue Planet Post Country Lane

Classic English countryside, with a local hiker.

We landed in England at the beginning of an unusual 30c heatwave and spent the next five days negotiating hills and patches of melting, freshly laid tarmac that stuck to our wheels or was thrown into our faces by passing cars.

Small Blue Planet Post Dorset Roads

Dorset roads. Patches of newly laid tarmac were melting

Small Blue Planet Post Pub Sign

Pubs quenched our thirst of course.

In Devon we were met with cooler temperatures…..

Small Blue Planet Post Devon Lanes

Devon lanes

and sustenance in the form of clotted cream teas….

Small Blue Planet Post Cream Teas

Devon cream tea

What more could you ask for?

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Fields of Lavender

‘To make a perfume, take some rose water and wash your hands in it, then take a lavender flower and rub it with your palms, and you will achieve the desired effect.’Leonardo da Vinci

Lavender rows, photo by Scott

…..or if you want to just inhale the gorgeous scent of lavender rub some of the flowers between your palms then inhale through your nose and breathe out of your mouth. That way you’ll not only smell it but taste it. It’s subtle, and delicious.

We’ve visited Sacred Mountain Lavender farm on Salt Spring Island, one of the Gulf Islands in the Georgia Strait, several times over the last couple of years but this is the first time we’ve actually managed to catch the flowers in full bloom. It was a baking hot day; we smelt the lavender before the turnoff for the organic farm after a sweaty bike ride up a steep and curving road.

Lavender Fields

Lavender in full bloom

The fields were fairly buzzing with bees as we wandered around the lower and higher fields, comparing the differing types of lavender.

Norfolk variety

I asked if we could have a look inside the drying room; Sacred Lavender creates its own products, including lavender oils, soaps, teas and ice creams.

Drying lavender

It was an idyllic way to spend an afternoon, wandering amongst flowers, birds and bees, eating lavender chocolate and ice cream bought from the farm store.

photo by Scott

‘The richness I achieve comes from Nature, the source of my inspiration’Claude Monet

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Delicious Tarte Tatin

Butter, sugar, puff pastry and apples. That’s all that’s needed for this delicious recipe. Oh and some amazing vanilla ice cream to top it off.

I would seriously encourage anyone to give this tarte tatin recipe a try. It’s categorized as ‘a challenge’ but it’s really not. Well, so long as you watch the sugar to make sure it doesn’t burn, it cooks really fast and I of course thought I could do a couple of other things whilst it was on the stove top. Short cut to smoke filling our tiny kitchen, me panicking and turning cold water onto it, which instantly hardened it (half of which was already down the drain). I had to run a lot of hot water to disintegrate it. I apologised to the sink drain. What else can you do. Scott just looked pained, he’d suggested I keep an eye on it and I rebuffed his concern with an insouciant shrug of the shoulders. Humble pie anyone?

I know my tarte tatin doesn’t look at all like the perfect rendition that is Raymond Blanc’s, but that’s okay, it tasted fantastic. Even my long-suffering friends, on whom I tend to inflict my baking adventures on a regular basis, were supportive – there were some appreciative lip smacking and plate scraping sounds. You have to flip the skillet when the tarte is finished to get the apple right side up. Here’s where I diverge from the recipe, DO NOT wait until the tarte has cooled (at least with a cast iron skillet). Flip it if you can whilst it’s still warm, it’ll come out of the pan way easier that way.

Bon appetit!

Before the flip…..

Successfully flipped tarte tatin. Add ice cream and enjoy.

 

Floods and Winds

A duck and her brood. The bucolic scene belies the flooding and windstorms we ran into when we went camping for a couple of days.

Unable to get away for the Victoria Day holiday weekend in BC, we chose to stay in town until the Monday and take off against the returning traffic for a couple of nights (we have weird work schedules) to camp in the Okanagan. The never-ending watery spring weather, more like winter really, had finally broken and as we headed east the temperature rose exponentially until it hit around 30c. We rolled into our favourite campground, mostly emptied out after the departure of the holiday crowd – if you can ever get away on days when everyone else is working it’s worth it. Lambasted by the unexpected heat we arrived to unexpectedly find half of the campsites sodden, several were even underwater.

Underwater campsites

Brackish water puddled at one end of the campground; a couple of ducks floated across the surface. The base of trees were submerged, their roots soaking in groundwater that had inched up over the last couple of weeks as snowmelt from nearby mountains and hills funneled down into Okanagan Lake and flowed down the Okanagan River, raising water levels throughout the valley. We could see and hear the cresting waves of the river as it flowed past the campground with a kind of dulled roar in contrast to the usual gentle gurgling we were attuned to. Stretching our car-cramped legs on a short walk along the riverbank we were surprised to see a duck and her brood brave the flood; the attentive mother had managed to find a quiet eddy for her offspring.

A mite worried we chatted to the camp host, who agreed it could get worse as the heat added yet more of the incredible snowpack we’ve had this year to the massive volume of water. ‘If you hear a screech horn in the middle of the night, get out!’ were her reassuring words. They’d had to use it late last summer but for different reasons. Smelling smoke one night she’d realized it wasn’t from a campfire and raised the alarm. The side of the mountain behind the campground was ablaze. By the time she’d got everyone out she was driving through flames on the road at the base of the hill. The campground wasn’t touched, nor was the property of friends of ours who live on the other side of the mountain, although they were worriedly watching the wind. For no particular reason that they could fathom the fire spontaneously died. The hillside is lush and green again with little evidence of the conflagration. It’s an extreme but resilient area of the country.

We lounged around for the rest of that day and the next, unable to move much in the heat let alone go for bike rides. Perhaps that’s exactly what we needed, time to slow down, read, drink coffee (which always seems to taste the best when camping). Night reminded us it was still spring as the temperature suddenly dipped, easy to sleep in. The soaking grass surrounding our site was an indicator that there wouldn’t be a campfire ban for a while yet. Our friends dropped by on our first night in the campground and we shared some pasta and wine. P, as we’ll call him, had just got back from some paragliding. We’d spotted the blue and white wing of a paraglider as we drove to our destination and wondered if it was him. ‘That’ll have been B!’ said P. Everyone knows everyone here.

We visited our friends at their home the next evening, retreating inside from the patio as a howling wind suddenly picked up and roiled around the house. P was worried about us: ‘You know there’s a storm coming in, seriously, think about staying with us, there’s going to be strong winds later tonight and there’s big trees in the campground’ (this from a man who once stuck his hand inside a large open wound, sustained on a work site, to staunch the flow of blood and after he was thoroughly stitched up went waterskiing later that same day. He doesn’t get rattled easily is what I’m saying).

I was a bit worried too, we were in a flimsy tent with large trees looming over us, their roots weakened by the water that had been soaking them for days now. The wind had been gusting all day, blowing great clouds of pollen across us; a greenish yellowish dusty film covered the car, tent, camp chairs and cooking gear. Driving back in the pitch dark from the house to the campground the wind died and we thought that just maybe we’d missed the worst of it. The headlights picked out the aftermath of the recent event – branches, twigs, and fir cones lay scattered across the road in patches where powerful gusts had swept through.

Before we retreated into the tent that night we parked the car nearby (I was thinking it might take the brunt of the one tree that we might be in danger from if a northerly picked up again, but I’m not sure it would’ve helped!) and stared up at a perfectly calm, star-filled sky. We finally clambered into our temporary home and like the evening before were lulled to sleep by the sound of cascading water, frogs and the unidentifiable sounds of anonymous night critters.

It was somewhere around midnight or so that we both started awake to an unimaginably loud roar of wind that rolled down the valley and with monstrous force blew through the campground, buffeting the tent full on. I’ve never heard anything like it. Every now and again a momentary ebb in the force of the wind would be followed by a great whoomph. It went on like that for a full two hours or so. Scott and I burrowed down further into our sleeping bags, but for some reason, and very unlike my usual self, I didn’t panic. Perhaps because Scott was alert but calm – if he starts to get stressed I know things are serious. The trees were buffeted relentlessly but I didn’t hear any major creaking, or sudden cracking of tree limbs, the tent fly didn’t take off. I honestly don’t know why not. Whatever the reason, when the wind finally dropped off we fell asleep again pretty quickly to the sound of rain smattering on the tent.

Emerging the next day we found plenty of small twigs and branches that had been ripped from the trees lying around, but no major damage until we drove out on our way home. A single, dried out and not very big tree lay across part of the road. We were lucky, some areas of the valley experienced some real damage. It was all a bit wild and exciting……living in a generally temperate region you can forget all too quickly how forceful nature can be.

We briefly stopped once more to assist a painted turtle valiantly attempting to cross the road, her shell covered in pollen – a gentle reminder of the storm we were all caught out in.

A lone casualty of the storm

 

Great Bear Rainforest

I was ecstatic when I received an email in my inbox from Kickstarter with the latest news from the National Observer on their project ‘State of the Animal’. Their plan to head into the Great Bear Rainforest and report in-depth on the impacts of global warming, trophy hunting and fracking on the wildlife that inhabits this stunning coastal wilderness will go ahead as they raised the necessary funds. Yay! Really looking forward to their eventual and detailed articles. Here are the facebook posts in case you missed this fantastic undertaking. And check out their short film (just click on the photo or Kickstarter link), it’s worth it.