Evening at Butchart Gardens

A couple of mornings ago I discovered a nasty mosquito bite on my neck. Seems I am allergic to Canadian mosquitoes. Like last summer when my leg became infected after being bitten this bite hurt by the end of the following day. However, I was not about to let this prevent me from going to the world famous Butchart Gardens where my sister was singing in The Chorus choir – not to be confused with The Choir choir. (https://www.thechorusyyj.com) The two choirs blended into one for two songs.

The Chorus and The Choir

They had a wonderful stage that helped project stupendous voices. Although a non-audition choir there is no lack of talent. The setting was stellar, the audience appreciative of music and surroundings. There is always a bit of magic when a blanket can be placed on cooling grass, a picnic is laid out and music begins to drift over the landscape.

The sunken garden, probably the favourite for photos – also recognized worldwide

I had time to discover the Rose Carousel with 30 hand carved animals, (horses, frogs, cats, an orca are just a few) installed in 2009 – it had been probably 20 years since I was last visited the gardens. I also had never been on a carousel! For a twoonie a delightful 3 1/2 minutes, and even had a fleeting dream of springing off like Mary Poppins, were mine. In reality I had trouble dismounting the horse I was riding! So much fun I convinced my sister to give it a whirl which meant I had two rides. We laughed and giggled like little girls the whole time.

Photo shared by the parent of a child riding behind me – he even asked permission to take it! Beside me are two dear friends – my second ride I was on the cat with the fish. Cats have tails – not easy to climb off!

Only the rose garden has labels to name the flowers – I believe this is a Pope John Paul rose (of course I deleted the label photo)

Alas, I did not have time to truly enjoy the gardens, There was time enough to take in some of the lush gardens, like an appetizer. At 33.10 CAD plus tax it is unlikely I will return soon. There is also a yearly pass for 60.50 plus tax. (Choir members were given a free guest pass – quite a treat) However, what I did see was lovely and I even enjoyed a quick bite and coffee from the coffee shop. Everything is made fresh on the premises – my chicken curry wrap was delicious! In other words, despite mentioning a picnic I did not actually take one with me. I may have to rethink my budget.

Below is the Dragon Fountain, a gift in 2015 from Suzhou, China – sister city to Victoria

Fountain near the Blue Poppy Restaurant – take a close look at the snake and frog

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The Great Locomotive Chase: Part 3

Despite having to fly home next week, rather than take the train, I have certainly found enough varieties of rail rides to keep me happy. I even found a show on Knowledge Network about the narrow gauge India Hill Railway – very interesting. However, sitting on a train is far more fun. With that in mind my daughter asked us if we would like to go on the Great Train Robbery that starts next door to the massive St. Jacob’s Market.

Once again two buses, altogether about an hour, this time stopping before the village of St. Jacob’s. The parking lot is huge, on both sides of the market, not many horse and carriages as I though there would be. The Mennonites who do not have booths at the market most likely avoid the place or do their market shopping closer to the 7:00am opening when everything is fresh. (I really have no idea how many still use horse and buggy. We did see some in St. Jacob’s the previous day and one on the main road near the market) We arrived at 10:00, everyone else was in need of breakfast and I certainly did not say no to more coffee. Breakfast was served on real plates! Cutlery was plastic. We then spent 3 1/2 hours checking out all on offer indoors and outdoors but could easily have spent much longer. Of course there were beautiful quilts and all sorts of cured sausages in addition to delicious looking baked goods and bread. I finally gave in and had a pretzel. My only wish was for really good mustard rather than the packaged stuff.

Knowing we would have to carry everything we tried to take care with purchases. We returned with raspberries – somewhat squished by the time we put them in the fridge, lots and lots of cherries – my D discovered after 10 years of marriage her husband does not like cherries! Peaches, a large all beef summer sausage that will go home with us if we can resist opening it, spicy apple jam and strawberry jam, alpaca wool and new, heavy duty water bottles. We dallied over beans, tomatoes, strawberries, more baked goods, flowers and so much more. Our bags were very heavy. We were there long enough I needed lunch so I grabbed a baked vegetable samosa. They even served naked samosas as a GF choice.

Just some of our purchases! Everything would not fit on the table

Well sated, and burdened down with our purchases we headed for the train. The Waterloo Central Railway offers all sorts of fun throughout the year with their themed trips. I counter 19 on their website – if I visit in December I might do the Polar Express. The Mennonite Excursion to Elmira includes a farm wagon ride and a chance for a visit to a farm for lunch and a chat. I realize this is marketing to tourists but why not? If it helps to keep everything running without too much damage to culture and environment I am in favour. Back to our trip. Despite arriving early, as requested, I did not have a chance to take any photos of the engine or cars, the platform was too narrow and busy. I am quite sure we were not being pulled by the steam locomotive used for some of their trips. Slated as a one hour trip we felt lucky to have an hour & 20 minutes of rocking and rolling. I happen to enjoy the swing of trains although the cars used seem to sway far more than modern ones. Even the words often used for train travel have a dance rhythm.

The whole Robbery is hammed up by conductor and sheriff with jokey comments to fit into conversation with passengers. We kept hearing about the valuable valuables that were being carried to Elmira – then brought through each car as proof. We later discovered that one of the young men playing a role was on his first day – he did an excellent job. Also while out of character he mentioned he has a degree in Theology. Before these sidetracked bits of information we were kept entertained by fields of corn gently swaying, cows grazing, horses neighing (I assume) and stopping traffic at various crossings. We passed by decommissioned cars and engines, one had the 1867-1967 logo on it from Canada’s centennial – I had hoped to get a photo on our return, no luck. I have fond memories of those white symbols flashing by and stopped at the grain elevator in Prince Rupert.

Gold? What gold?

Of course the pinnacle of the hour was sighting kerchief garbed bandits riding in the distance, parallel to the train before galloping alongside us – and they were definitely moving swiftly. The train came to a standstill, the train robbers, all female by the way, boarded and quickly divided their booty of goodies to passengers. The conductor and sheriff were in hot pursuit. My companions quickly hid their portion of gold and my SIL seemed to be in cahoots with the bandits. Basically a fun way to while away 1 1/2 hours before heading back to Kitchener. My daughter who lives there and I had just enough energy left to walk to the Cherry Park Festival that was winding down its last hour – we shared a cup of cherry cheesecake ice-cream then called it day.

seeking witnesses and the stolen gold. Middle photo- caught!

If becoming a professor does not pan out she might make a good train robber.

Beach Walk: driftwood art

When my daughter said she did not feel like walking in a forest again I suggested we head to Esquimalt Lagoon, a five minute drive from where we live, where we could enjoy the ocean on one side and the lagoon opposite. It was a perfect day for such a meander, not too hot, only a light breeze, and plenty of fresh air. Little did we imagine we would stumble on an aviary. Of course I have also included some random shots of just how stunning my part of the world is. Thank goodness we are on an island. Without further ado – wild Vancouver Island. Can you name all of these lovely winged creatures?

Mini Adventure: Francis/King Park (path less travelled)

The Victoria Day long weekend tends to make me want to stay put. The long waits to catch a ferry, longer lines of vehicles clogging the highways, and crowds downtown do not mean a relaxing time. Fortunately we do have places to visit that are within a 5-15 minute drive and many of them can be visited without seeing another person. Expecting a slightly clouded over lazy Sunday I had hoped to visit the Hatley Park Gardens – once a family castle and gardens, then a military college and now the Royal Roads University I had enjoyed the gardens a few times over the 33+ years I have lived in Victoria. It was not to be – the summer months now see a fee being charged to see the gardens. Plus parking unless walking or transit. Thank goodness we always look for a second possibility when making plans.

We wanted an easy walk. Francis/King Regional Park, a 15 minute drive without highway driving, is the perfect spot with its accessible, cedar boardwalk and gravel, Elsie King Trail, to the moderate Centennial Trail that has more difficult offshoot trails. After passing 2-3 interpretive sidebars (pleasant seating, excellent information, and space for more than one stroller, scooter, or wheelchair) we tripped past a post pointing towards a Shooting Star Trail. I could not resist latching onto the trail of a shooting star! We were leaving the comfort of the manmade trail for the depths of the less travelled yet still within the limits of safety for us and the forest. With eleven trails in this 107 hectare park there is enough nature, ranging from 500 year old Douglas Firs to tiny meadow flowers and giant skunk cabbage, to please all visitors. A small, largely untouched, oasis surrounded by farms and modern life.

We enjoyed a peaceful, enchanting two hours, roughly six kilometres, accompanied by the light thunk thunk of a lone woodpecker, the far off call of a raven, light birdsong and many insects. Everything seemed muted by the soft sphagnum mosses in meadow, Grandpa’s Beard moss hanging from trees and the deeper green mosses wrapping the branches of grand, bare limbs. Roots and rock provided natural steps and designs far more original than any paintings. I was on the hunt for fungi knowing this was perfect weather. I hit the mother lode! To add to the perfect day we also discovered a small, floral clad roof cave – I could almost see the magic beginning to peek out.

There were a few trees that appeared to have been hit by lightening, shot through their cores and split; the remains of one lay across the side of the path, already renewed with growth. Although we did not seek out Skunk Cabbage Loop Trail we were happy to find that Shooting Star Trail closed the loop. The leaves reached up and across 2-3 feet up and over one foot across, out of a relatively small marsh. These beautiful plants (even the smell) always make me think of the arrival of spring, we had entered the stage of full renewal. (No photos, I could not figure out how to do the leaves justice)

I love looking up when on walks, in the notch of this host tree a holly plant was growing.

One of the still standing split, blackened trunks with a gnarled tree to its right that I only discovered when going through my photos

Sometimes taking the path less travelled, or at least giving the sense of unexplored, makes for the best adventure.

Mini-Adventure: Goldstream Park, the other side

At the beginning of the week my daughter and I were in the mood for a bigger adventure than our recent forays onto a few of the many fantastic trails in my area. Feeling boosted from our unplanned Mill Hill jaunt a week earlier we both believed we were prepared. Even the weather cooperated.

One of the negatives of hiking with anyone is time. I tend to wake up early – rarely sleeping past 6:30; my daughter stays up late reading or online, this means she is rarely up before 9:30. Despite knowing we needed probably a few hours from start to finish we decided to go with our usual flow of the day rather than feel pressured to be ready by a specific time. (This only works if you know the average time to cover the selected destination and back) We picked the Gold Mine Trail at Goldstream Park. Barely 30 minutes from downtown Victoria and only ten minutes from my front door. Park information showed 8.5km, average 4 hours return, difficult or, as the website states, strenuous.

Despite visiting Goldstream Park (designated in 1958) many times when my children were still children and excited to visit the river during salmon spawning I was not aware an additional extensive parcel of land had been designated for the park in 1994 and 1996 through the Commonwealth Nature Legacy and Crown Land on the other side of the highway that now includes an extensive, yet carefully laid out and managed, campground nestled at the base of trails. Not exactly the other side of the mountain – that is on the original side of the park – it is a relatively new place waiting to be discovered.

A gold mine tunnel – on Gold Mine Trail – stunning waterways, side trails to waterfalls, a Hidden Spring, massive trees, tiny, delicate flowers, furled ferns, and steep trails greeted us. The air was silent and still, we had managed to traverse ancient trails on a perfect day, protected from the sun, the slight breeze barely rustling the leaves. For at least an hour we did not even hear any birds – that was rather eerie. Eventually the guttural call of ravens in the distance penetrated the silence. I discovered a dead pigeon down a slight embankment, surely the dropped dinner of an eagle. Pigeons do not tend to live in the Westcoast forests. A lone garter snake, very healthy looking, lazed in the dappled sun, completely comfortable in his domain.

It is important to always be prepared, we had to cover portions of two other trails before reaching the Gold Mine Trail. The beginning of Prospector’s, a section of Arbutus, then Arbutus Ridge, before finally the trail we wanted. We think this may be one reason the 8.5km ended up being 12km! There are two options to begin at Gold Mine Trail if a parking space in one of the lots off the highway can be accessed – any left hand turn off the Malahat section of Island Highway without traffic lights is foolhardy. We had prepared to be gone for at least six hours. The first time to notify family where we were going and when we expected to be back to the car.

Never hike alone on the difficult trails, we did meet with a couple of people who chose to disregard this. Do they not read signs? Bears and cougars live in these woods. There are very dangerous drops if footing is lost. One very short length, perhaps eighteen inches, is particularly frightening, barely twelve inches wide with a slight slope towards a ravine on one side and an extremely solid tree on the inside that is too wide to hug gave me pause to wonder what the hell I had embarked on. Hiking with someone might not prevent a fall but it could mean faster rescue. I always carry a whistle with my keys, not too helpful when in my bag but better than nothing. We had decided to take only one bag for my daughter to carry in order for me to use my walking stick. Upon reflection we decided that for any hikes of more than 10km we need a pack each. Back to the trails. Despite steep switchbacks, an extensive, thick web of tree roots, natural and man made steps, we were bewitched enough to keep going a little further whenever one of us felt that last climb was enough.

The little discoveries, a broken down footbridge and the embedded sign on a tree pointing the other way, an old cairn, the giant tree fallen (it seemed too convenient to have been felled by nature – although definitely possible. I should have taken note if the very long, younger tree laid parallel to the path extended that far) then sawn through to open the way. We discovered uprooted, massive 600 year old Douglas firs, Arbutus wrapped around still standing tall, unyielding firs, and yes, a tunnel that was one of a few gold mine entrances. I had already wondered if we were following a trail where over equipped and exuberant miners had passed, or even earlier, local First Nations: “Goldstream is located on traditional fishing grounds of local First Nations. Old mining shafts and tunnels are all that remain of the gold rush that Goldstream River experienced during the mid-19th century.” (BC Parks) A plaque provides only a hint of a possible gold rush in the area. A quick peek inside the tunnel shows signs of braver than me recent visitors with graffiti covering most of the moss covered rock walls for as far as my phone flashlight could penetrate the dark.

Our destination was Niagara Falls, close to the now disused railway trestle, which meant that as we came close to the side trails to Hidden Spring Falls and Miner’s Spring we chose to not visit these. However, at the start of our hike we agreed that if either of us needed to turn around we would. By 1 3/4 hours of nearly continuous trekking I knew my energy was flagging and we would still have to return. We stopped for a snack, ALWAYS take food, and NEVER leave garbage. Two notes here, do not wait to have a snack and take more water – this is one reason we decided two packs are important. Replenished we walked for another 15 minutes before I said it was time to turn around. Niagara Falls will be there for another time and we could always try that nasty left hand turn.

Exactly four hours from when we left the car we were back. I sent a message saying we had returned like the good hikerI am trying to be, drank a bottle of water – always stored in the car fry emergencies – before heading home. We also discovered we did not have to take the highway now that the area where we live has drastically expanded. We are fortunate to live in such close proximity to the real wilds of the island.