When the rental listing says “rustic cabin”, it’s difficult to know what to expect. Once again, just like our Orcas Island red door retreat a few years ago, we found a little slice of wonderful inside a cozy fishing cabin situated right on the shore of the Strait of Juan de Fuca. This spot is just west of Sooke, British Columbia, looking south to the Olympic Peninsula.
The cabin is about 20’ by 30’; just a little bigger than Happy Dance so it fits us perfectly. We have a kitchen/galley with coffee and provisions, a wood burning stove to keep us warm, and a couple of Adirondacks on the deck painted exactly like Mom painted the ones she made for us at the Blue Goose where we can sit and watch the view, something we’re very good at.
Our first morning in the cabin started early for me, waking to gulls screaming as they flew by and waves breaking on the shore. I went out on the patio to see low hanging clouds with only a slice of blue sky visible on the horizon. The tide was out revealing a sand spit that held back Tigwell Creek and creating a calm little pond where a flock of Canadian Geese were resting. A bit of a chilly drizzle was beginning so I went back inside to snuggle under the down comforter, falling asleep again in its coziness.
After breakfast we settled back for a few hours of reading interspersed with watching the otters playing out front. Another perfect permanent picnic day!
Today was green. We woke to sunshine with clouds covering the tops of the Olympics across the Strait of Juan de Fuca. After a leisurely morning (are there any other kind?), we hopped in the car to drive in a new direction and see what we could see.
We pulled over at a sign pointing to Sandcut Beach and started down the trail. This forest is the real thing; as soon as you step beyond the road you’re immediately engulfed in silence with only the sound of the wind swaying the treetops waaaaaay above you and an occasional crow warning his friends of intruders. When I tried to see the tops of the trees I had to have a hand hold or I’d fall backwards, just like looking up at the mast and having to hold on to the shrouds to avoid falling overboard.
We’d forgotten how much we love the Northwest. Crossing a little bridge in the green shadows we both suddenly stopped and looked around with silly grins on our faces, then Marty said what was going through my head; “we may have to move back here one day”.
We climbed up and down stone steps, over tree trunk bridges and gargantuan cedar roots to get to the beach, which unexpectedly appeared at the edge of the thick forest. There were huge mounds of large beach rocks that had been tossed by storms against the sandstone cliff making the walking tough going, so we made our way down to the sand to walk to the waterfall where Sandcut Creek makes its way to the sea. Even though the water was free-falling off the bluff, it created just a small pool in the rocks and then disappeared into the rocks.
After our beach adventure we drove farther up the windy road getting glimpses of mountains, water, and green, lots of green. I think we’ve been green deprived for a while, so our eyes were soaking it in. At Port Renfrew, where the San Juan River flows into the Strait of Juan de Fuca we walked out to the docks to see the local fishermen cleaning their catch of salmon and halibut.
We wanted to visit the Port Renfrew Pub, but not for the reasons you’d think. We’d read about a 22’ long, 30” wide, 4” deep slab of Douglas fir cut out of an old growth seven-foot diameter tree that now serves as the bar in this old hotel. Per the local tourist guide; “Two men working in tandem cut the tree, starting with 33” bars on their Husqvarna saws, moving on finally to saws with 52” bars. The belts of the high riggers could not encircle the bulk of the tree but they managed to get a steadying anchor cable in place to secure it from falling across the road. A pneumatic jack was used as well but could not withstand the weight. Finally two 40-ton screw jacks were required for the tree to be laid down safely in an area so near to a public road and houses. It was near nightfall by the time the gigantic tree came down with a resounding crash.”
When you see these old growth trees it’s absolutely mind-boggling (not to mention sad) to imagine one falling. The slab that was used for the bar in Port Renfrew was perfectly straight-grained and free of knots. It must have been incredible to see a whole forest of those gigantic sentinels, and we hope to find a few on our hiking excursions.
Continuing our color theme; today was gray. With only the slightest variation in shade from water to sky, the mountains were completely hidden and our world had shrunk down to a gray misty bubble. Otters were playing nearby, fishing boats were slowly putt putting back and forth, and rain was pattering on the roof. A good day for a fire in the wood stove, warm socks and a good book. I love beach cabins!!!
Today I woke early to the distinctive sound of an eagle calling. I’d been wondering why we hadn’t seen any yet, so I hopped out of bed hoping to catch a glimpse and was rewarded for my efforts by the sight of a mature bald eagle up in the tree on the point, calling to another eagle soaring above. I watched them having their morning chat for a few minutes then snuggled back into our warm bed. A great start to another great day.
With our provisions running a bit low we decided to splurge and go out to breakfast at the Kemp Lake Music Café, and we were very glad we did! It’s a cozy little spot full of guitars on the walls and outgoing characters (including Cousin Earl) serving up a delicious home cooked meal. It’s a place that is true to their ad that says; “Enjoy great tunes and fresh food in the funky, retro vibe of the most musical café on the west coast”.
With full tummies and tired laugh muscles we decided to explore Sooke Potholes Provincial Park. We really didn’t have any idea what the potholes would look like and pretty much expected some hard to see prehistoric shallow dips in the ground covered by moss. It was a pleasant surprise to realize that the Sooke River created the potholes in the riverbed; lots of rounded pools of water connected by waterfalls cascading down the smooth rocks. There wasn’t much water in the river, but we could imagine what it must look and sound like when the spring melt is in full force! We walked up and down the river for a bit, and even took a jaunt on the Galloping Goose Trail, a trail that was built where the old railways used to run.
Today the silence woke me up. The Strait of Juan de Fuca was glass and not a single wave could be heard. I did however hear my morning eagle friend, who chose a different tree from which to survey his domain; always a great way to start the day.
The driveway from our cabin enters the main road through two huge fir trees so we have a choice each morning of left or right. Today was a leftie to Sheringham Point lighthouse. The lighthouse is now in the town of Shirley, so named because at some point the postmaster decided that Sheringham Point was too long for the cancellation stamp, so he changed the name to Shirley in memory of the town in England that his wife hailed from. From what we could tell, the best part of Shirley is the Shirley Delicious Café, and even though we didn’t stop for a bite it was very cute!
When we got to the Sheringham Point Loop Trail, we had a choice; go left or right. We decided to try right and ended up walking a long way up and down through the forest to get to the lighthouse that was just a short distance from where we’d parked. So we had a lovely walk, worked up a sweat and saw lots of trees! The trail then suddenly ended, dumping us onto a paved road into a new development, and no signs for where we wanted to go. Luckily we didn’t have to walk the entire trail backwards to find out where we were; we soon saw the lighthouse and went out on the point to investigate. It’s no longer a working lighthouse, but it still holds the boundary markers for the U.S. / Canada border.
Today we wanted to see the big trees, so we made another left turn leaving our sentinel firs at the end of the drive. We drove all the way back up to Port Renfrew, and instead of going right into town we took a quick left toward Fairy Lake. Luckily we started to see some signs to the Avatar Grove, since we really had no idea where we were going!
The road got narrower and narrower, bumpier and bumpier, with more and more gravel patches, until finally we were on a gravel road with one lane bridges and a few wash outs. At one point the ruts were so big that our car bottomed out causing Marty to want to have a look “just to see if the oil pan was ruptured”…oh great! All was well and we continued on, wondering if we’d end up sleeping in the wilderness.
Then around a curve low and behold, a sign! We had arrived at the trailhead. Up we climbed into the Avatar Grove, an old growth section of forest that is like walking into another world. It’s silent and dark and the trees dwarfed us, in fact I’m sure there were dwarves and hobbits running about hiding and spying on us. The steps on the trail had been made by giants and I felt like I had to climb each one onto my knees to get up, but Marty gave me a hand and made it easier for my creaky ski instructor knees.
The trail wound through huge roots and fallen giants and we kept craning our necks to see the tops of the trees. It’s an amazing feeling to be in these ancient groves and to think that the entire Northwest was once covered with huge trees like these. I don’t think you’d have to be in the forest to hear one of these babies fall, it would shake the entire continent!
After our big trees encounter we headed for the Port Renfrew Hotel for a bite of lunch while looking out at the San Juan River. It’s fun to find great food in crazy out-of-the-way places and this was one of those times. If you go there, try the poutine, then have a beef dip sandwich with a hard cider…ahhh (but don’t tell the waitress that you live on a sailboat as she’ll get really upset!).
With tummies full once again we decided we needed a bit more walking, so we headed down a different one lane road and found our way to the Botanical Garden Provincial Park. The Canadians know how to do parks. We walked a 2 km loop trail that took us through birch forests and led us out to a huge shelf of sandstone with a bazillion tide pools. A geologist would be in heaven here. The sandstone cliffs all of a sudden have sections of black basalt type rocks, with a few golden boulders that just seemed to have magically appeared from another part of the island. There must be a story! At any rate we enjoyed playing in the tide pools and looking out to Cape Flattery and the Pacific Ocean.
And that is how we spent our last full day in our cottage by the sea. As I’m writing this we’re back inside all snug and warm while a chilly wind is blowing onshore, the waves are breaking high on the beach, and the sun is starting to turn the sky some nice colors. A couple of freighters are working their way out to the ocean and the gulls are floating by. Another great adventure for these permanent picnickers in a rustic cabin by the sea!