Markham House B&B: Chronicles of a Weekend Escape to Narnia from Vancouver BC
Heavy rain filmed the windshield. As dusk deepened, the rain forest on either side of the narrow highway 14 neared. The wipers on highest speed barely cleared the glass for us to peer out, searching for the sign. Behind us, a caterpillar of cars crept homeward.
This is the rainforest, where the west coast of Vancouver Island meets Juan de Fuca Strait. We had come from Vancouver, BC for a weekend to Sooke. A long time ago my friend Lynn, who had been working as a nurse at Stanton Territorial Hospital in Yellowknife, had told me how she loved the feel of this place, the verdure, the moss on the trees, the year-long growing season. In the depths of Northwest Territories' winter as we spun yarns of what we would do once we left the gelid nights of the northern lights, she had spoken of this place, her words a seed in my mind that I was harvesting now, thirty years later.
The blue rectangular B & B sign appeared. We eased left onto gravel and followed Connie Road uphill for a short distance. Above us barely visible mountains vanished and appeared in swathes of cloud. Through the wooden gates of Markham House we followed the forest road past the orchard and the greenhouse. The glow of coloured Christmas lights on the dormant vines of honeysuckle warmed the darkness.
Earlier in the afternoon we had found the place and turned in on impulse. A phone call an hour before canceling tonight's reservation had left the place free for us, Our hostess Sally Markham had shown us around the one-bedroom Honeysuckle Cottage with wooden floors, an iron stove for winter heat, a couch for a third bed, a snug bathroom and a cupboard that opened to reveal a microwave, kettle, sink, dishes and whatever you might need to prepare a snack or simple meal. My daughter and I were on the road that weekend for a birthday present, a trip to give my daughter, new to driving, some road experience on the highways and ferries of coastal British Columbia. My eyes met hers in conference, but I didn't need conversation to confirm that the magic of the place held her in thrall as well.
"Do you want to stay here tonight?" I asked her. She nodded, speechless, barely containing her delight.
After settling in we drove the 30 minute trip to Victoria for sightseeing and dinner, then returned home eagerly in rainy darkness to our Honeysuckle Cottage.
In 5 minutes, changed into our bathing suits and fluffy terry robes that came with the room, we were kneeling once again on the porch, heaving the cover off the Jacuzzi. Despite the drizzle, fog and mid-September temperatures, the hot tub held a snug 104 degrees. Bath-warm water immersed us as we settled in.
Above us pines and Douglas firs towered, still and reverent in the fall darkness. Beyond the deer fence, they grew thickly up the slope of the hillside to the high horizon. I sipped Chardonnay and watched wafts of steam dissolve into fingers of fog from the forest. We floated.
Later, in the tiny perfect kitchen that opened up inside a cabinet like the wardrobe of Narnia,we made hot drinks and popcorn, then settled under blankets for a movie picked from the selection of about 20 available for guests to run.
Hot showers, a feather comforter on an exquisitely comfortable bed, and the sound of rain on the leaves and eaves outside brought a sound sleep.
In the morning garden, I followed a small brown rabbit to an orchard fruitful with tart small apples and orange plums, where cedar-lath arbours trailed tendrils of grape. In the border near the putting green, scarlet and yellow begonias rampaged at the feet of a stone lion whose left paw was raised like Buddha in a mudra of blessing. Near a pond with reeds and an island, the brown rabbit hopped away for cover. The pond was more than decorative, for in the country like this, on well and septic system and away from city water, the property's pond provided for fire safety, where the pumpers could find a water supply.
Leaving the 10-acre garden, I wandered through the main house, furnished with antiques, wooden stairs and banisters, with views of the colourful borders from every window. TheTudor style house has 3 guest bedrooms, all with private or ensuite bathrooms.
We ate breakfast on English Staffordshire china with pale green napkins--delivered in a picnic basket at 9:30--granola, scones, butter, jam, fruit salad, and later blueberry pancakes with bacon, "if you like," Lyall asked us when he delivered the picnic basket. We liked.
We felt like daughters of Eve in a faun’s cottage.
After breakfast we drove to the shore at low tide, drawn by the smell of salt flats and seaweed to walk out Whiffen Spit and watch sailboats tack off the harbour of Victoria. Bicyclists could follow the Galloping Goose Bike Trail from Victoria to Sooke for a weekend getaway, less than a two-hour trip.
Nearby restaurants include the award winning Sooke Harbour House. It was closed during our visit in late September, but summer visitors might want to check it out.
We left Sooke around 1 and caught the 4 pm ferry from Swartz Bay to Tsawassen, then drove through the Lower Mainland and reached home near Vancouver before 7. There are also ferries between Port Angeles, Washington and Victoria for travellers who want to explore the scenic Olympic peninsula or visit the Twilight town of Forks, Washington. We left that trip for another day, but, in the words of Robert Frost, knowing "how way leads on to way," I wondered if we would ever be back. We need to make it soon, for now Markham House is for sale. Sally and Lyall want to leave Vancouver Island and relocate closer to their growing grandchildren, and who would blame them for succumbiing to the lure of that spell?
References: Frost, Robert. "The Road Not Taken."
C.S. Lewis' timeless classic about a door through a wardrobe into another world where animals talk and the struggle between good and evil is in the hands of the human children. A read-aloud fantasy for family shared reading of all ages.