Saturday, 10 July 2010

Denman Island - 18 May - 17 June 2010

[click the photos for a bigger version]

So, we had to bid a tearful farewell to Quadra Island. But not before our lovely little WWOOFer family had put together a surprise leaving picnic (such a surprise that we were late for it and only had very little time before dashing for the ferry to take us back to Vancouver island). I remember being particularly disgruntled at just having time to take one gulp of the rather delicious wine that Simon had bought (thank you – I know you need all the pennies you have for the rest of your travels).
So, back to Courtenay to say our final goodbyes and to make preparations to hit the USA. It was great to be back there too; meeting up with Bonnie, Helen and the many dogs. After spending a day sorting out the van etc we hit the library to plan our entry to the states in a couple of days time.

We’d recently found out about a website ( created for people like us who are travelling with time on their side. The idea (similar to wwoofing) is to register your profile as a helpx volunteer so that potential hosts can see what you are looking to do and where you are headed. Conversely, the hosts also post profiles of themselves to describe what they do and what they are looking for. After creating a brief profile, we moved on to travel planning.

Not long in, we realized the slight miscalculation in our plan… the US Visa Waiver Program would only allow us 90 days in the states with no option to extend; effectively we would be entering a month too early and thus would have required a complete rewrite of our (meager) travel plans… bugger. After exploring many options, we decided the best thing to do was to go back and have a beer and barbeque and think about it again tomorrow.

Rather serendipitously then, our email the following morning included a helpx message from someone on a place called Denman Island (which we’d only vaguely heard of - there are many islands around here). They’d looked at our post the previous day and the timing was perfect. We took a look at their profile (7368): lovely house, horses and a man sitting in a chair with more dogs on his lap than you could reliably count. A positive response was returned immediately; thereafter a number ‘arrangement’ emails were made during which we found out that they were only 30 minutes drive from our current location (not bad considering it could have been anywhere in British Columbia!) and would take us as soon as we could get there. The final email was one telling us to look out for a grey haired lady, and asking if we had space in the van for a dog…

So, goodbye – again – to Courtenay. Travelled south along the coastal highway and once out of the sprawl of suburban Courtenay we were once again surrounded by water, trees and the occasional eagle. Arrived at Buckley petrol station and found a grey haired lady with a dog; however the grey-haired lady was not old and frail and the ‘dog’ could do a fair impression of a black bear. The lady was Jackie – our new helpx host and the bear-cub was Crash, a lovely Newfoundland. My first words upon seeing them were “Kate, you going to have to move your seat forward”. Introductions were made all around then we proceeded to wedge Jackie and Crash into the van. Then down to the queue / line-up for the short ferry crossing to Denman Island.

At the ferry landing, Jackie & Crash transferred to her car. At this point there was a hitchhiker thumbing hopefully but fruitlessly at the cars leaving the ferry. Jackie beckoned her over and offered her a lift (apparently two new faces were not enough?!). We followed. Most properties appeared to have long woodland driveways adding to the feeling that the place is virtually deserted. Very quiet. No pub. What have we done?! The ferry crossing takes around 15 minutes and the journey from there to Jackies place a further 15, ending up on a road that had been graded but not paved. Oh well, if it all goes wrong, we are only 30 minutes from civilization!
We pulled into the driveway and started to smile. First the large vegetable garden, then the stables with three lovely looking horses, then a lovely looking and - for us at least – huge house. This might just work! We were greeted by most of their six dogs: Angel the lab, Yeti the gorgeous Newfoundland/Retreiver cross and one of the least deaf spaniels Repo (they have three).

Jackie, us and the hiker went inside for a cup of tea. The hiker was Paula – a 20-something woman from Canada - who was also here to WWOOF on a sheep farm on Hornby Island which is accessed via Denman. So after her cup of tea Jackie took her to the Hornby Ferry. In the meantime we met the man of the house: Doug. There must be something in the water around here; Jackie was tall but Doug was taller. We sat and chatted whilst Jackie dropped off Paula; Doug is in his mid-70s and has a very placid manner and made us feel very much at home. He explained that Denman was mainly populated by hippies back in the 70s; they are still here in reducing numbers as the price of real estate increases. He also pointed out that as there was no real economy to speak of on the island, you kind of had to have made all your money before you arrived!

We were shown our room (our very own room was such a welcome change after so much moving around from place to place) so we spent a while moving ourselves in. On Jackie’s return she gave us a tour of the house and their land (which was not insignificant). During this, she explained why they needed someone like us and what our role was to be: essentially they want to develop some of their land into a riding ring for the horses and construct a woodshed. Much of their land still had a lot of trees which unfortunately had to be cleared (hence the need for the woodshed). To do this they need someone to take care of some of the day to day activities to free up their time to do what they want.

So unlike Quadra which had millions of small(-ish!) jobs, here there were fewer but more regular and time consuming jobs. For a start, with six dogs and working outside every day, floor sweeping in the house was a necessity and the amount of floor space meant that even this simple task took some time – particularly as Crash and Yeti would always want to be on the stairs with you… and they are BIG dogs! Whilst I was doing this, Katy was becoming quite adept at being a pooh-picker-upper (both equine and canine). Simple things such as cutting the grass also took all day (particularly when I broke the sit-on mower – oops!).

It didn’t take too long to realize that Jackie is passionate about the equestrian life. Their horses are lovely and well looked after. I won’t go into the politics of Denman Island here (this blog has already taken far too long to complete), suffice to say that she is a one-woman equine-promotion machine! Both Doug and Jackie never ceased to amaze us with their energy and enthusiasm (though I think their particularly good coffee might have had something to do with that).

Katy was lucky enough to get out horse riding on a couple of occasions (well, its not all work you know!). I was offered but declined; Doug was already aware of my poor DIY abilities, I didn't want to make Jackie aware of my levels of equestrian abilities too! Instead I got stuck in on a different kind of horsepower and - more by luck than skill - managed to fix an overflowing carburettor on the quad bike.

Doug was a very interesting guy. In his previous life he was a helicopter pilot and owned a business ferrying people and equipment around by helicopter (for example to mining operations in various parts of the world). We were moving things around one day when he mentioned that his back was sore; mine was too but he had the excuse that he’d injured his when his helicopter crashed landed and the impact squeezed all the soft bits out of part of his spine which subsequently sort of fused together… I kept quiet about my aches and pains after that!

Prior to Denman, Doug & Jackie owned a farm on Vancouver Island and consequently he is a man of many gadgets: JCB type thing (a ‘back-hoe’ over here), quad bike, Ford F350 Super Duty truck (with just a ‘small’ 5 litre engine!) with huge trailer and a huge shed of tools (if only he could find the particular thing he was looking for on any given occasion)! Personally, I became very familiar with log splitting, but this was achieved with use of a motorized hydraulic wedge. At first I thought this was cheating but as the trees kept coming, hulking them around seemed to get harder and harder, so I started to appreciate the helping hand provided by 25 tonnes of log-splitting pressure (or something like that)!

Pretty much every day, we would finish up with a well earned drink on the balcony. With no pub, there is a lot of home brewing on the island and I became quite partial to the homemade cider (Val, how’s yours coming along?). Here there was also hummingbird feeder… very popular in this part of the world but obviously new to us Brits. As with everything, you become accustomed to them but it was always amazing the watch them flying and drinking from the feeder and also defending it and attacking other birds and surprisingly being attacked by wasps.

Life on Denman can be very social, we we’re invited out to dinner at the home of another Brit, Simon. He had a – frankly – gorgeous house right on the water. A delicious meal and a very warm welcome (and a lovely spaniel called Julie). Unfortunately we did not get to meet his wife, Gladys as she was working in San Francisco (Gladys Perint Palmer, apparently a highly regarded fashion illustrator). Also we got to meet Jackie’s horsey friends at a pulled-pork eating evening – good people and good food, all very lovely indeed.

Denman also has the delight that is the “free-store” something we’d already encountered on Quadra and Cortes Islands. It’s like a kind of jumble sale where you don’t have to pay! We got ourselves decked in a fine array of clothing for our new working-outside life ready for building, chopping, sweeping and cleaning and of course pooh patrol.

It was so nice to be part of a “family” for a while, the dogs are a big part of the Ward family as are the horses, so much so that Katy got herself adopted by one of the deaf spaniels-Keeper, she’s very lovely and would hang around in the evening to get up on to our bed with us, unfortunately I had to put a stop to this as Katy & Keeper were sleeping really well but I was being squished out of bed….I’m doing manual labour and I need my sleep! My personal favourite was Crash, just such a lovely mannered gentle but huge dog.

One of our first jobs was to shift some wooden planks around to create space in which to develop the riding ring and woodshed… I’ve seen less lumbar in a timber yard! At least it all contributed to my fitness plan!

Talking of which; this travelling lark is supposed to be a relaxing kind of an adventure so imagine my surprise when one evening my heart went a tad strange - missing beats, then coming in with a thump! I was lying in bed counting as it slowly got less and less, I then woke Katy up so she could feel what was going on….by the following morning I was a wreck, you see although this Island life is great it doesn’t have a hospital, and the ferries don’t run all night, so on bank holiday Monday we lined up with a hell of a lot of other holidaying people waiting for the ferry to take us back onto the main land and get me to see a doctor ASAP.

We found the hospital and before we even got a seat we were charged $750 just to be there (this wasn’t helping the heart!) but you pay your money and you get whizzed away to a cubicle much quicker than the locals! I was given a fetching blue gown and told to put it on; consider that this was my first time in hospital (excluding birth), I giggled to myself as my first two attempts failed. Third time lucky just as the nurse popped her head round the curtain, told me to lay down and plugged into an ECG machine, where I’d be analyzed by another very nice nurse who would come and check me out as it were every now and again and look and say “ there’s one, oh and another…” what was reassuring was that this was not life threatening.

I was plugged in for a couple of hours a doctor came chatted to me about what may have been the cause, apparently coffee, fast food, fizzy drinks can all trigger it off. Out of that lot coffee was my only vice (Katy’s keeping an eye on me) but the coffee tastes so good, anyway I vowed to keep off the stuff and see how that goes. So after I had an armful of blood taken away to the lab, and the results came back squeaky clean I was released, unbeknown to us we would be getting another receipt for a further bill of $130 for the ECG & bloods, but hey I’m worth it! (claim is with insurance as we type…) so that was a fun day the worst thing was that Jackie had organized an evening for us to meet the neighbours, we arrived just in time to sit down for dinner, although I was wiped-out and headed to bed early. Katy held the fought for us Brits. Of course, the real pain came when it was time to take off the incredibly sticky plasters... OUCH!

So back to our working day, Katy had created with Jackie some great stepping stones for the garden, which had been imprinted with Rhubarb leaves, very nice indeed and she also created a gate for Jackie’s vast vegetable garden. She also got to ride one of Jackie’s horse, there are 3- Stetson a BIG black one, Shiloh who’s brown & white and Starbuck, who Katy says has the same colourings as Pepsi (so that’s grey to you and me) Apparently Jackie was informed that she’s actually Champagne!! So anyway Katy got to ride Weston stylie and was in her element, Doug and I stayed behind building and cutting stuff - man’s work.

One of my jobs was to mow the lawn and to have the pleasure of a sit on mower was a true delight until I broke it. And spent the rest of the day pushing around the petrol-mower… this place has a lot of grass (both sorts!). Katy has once more been on dandelion picking duty, but with a gadget, of course. I have also taken to baking bread which always goes down well, although we do have monitor Doug’s bread intake as if he happily chomp through a whole loaf if we didn’t stop him.

Whilst we were on Denman our friend from Courtenay – Maurice - was about to leave and embark on his bike ride round Europe, so we gave ourselves a day off and popped over to see him off (not bad for someone else in his mid-70s). Always nice to see Bonnie and the dogs again. We also had to sort out Jeremy’s insurance for taking him into the USofA. I also managed to get a new drive belt for the the sit-on mower so a good day all round (apart from the terrible weather that we seem to take with us wherever we go), torrential rain in shorts and flip-flops as Denman was so very sunny… apparently when we left Courtenay the sun came out. Sods law!

Back “home” to Denman and we were greeted by 6 very happy dogs and a happy Jackie, we had to promise to come back, but you never know :)

>Our mission was to build the wood shed and we spent a very hot sunny day pouring concrete into wooden forms that I had made (of dubious quality, but I blame the materials… loved the nail-gun though!), the girls were tapping and filling, I was on concrete production and Doug was manning the mixer a very long, industrious day. Time for a beer and a sit down with dogs on the balcony and look at our work. There is something really nice about doing this Helpx stuff the fact that at the end of the day you have created something that wasn’t there this morning, nice!

This whole travelling / helpx thing for us is all about learning new things and experiences. Whilst I had instigated the Tim Marsh Bread Baking Academy in Quadra, Katy had to find something to do with a bowl full of crab meat bought over by a friend of Doug & Jackie’s… the solution was Crab Chowder! And it tasted delicious! Doug kept on talking about it afterward, so much so that Katy made another batch as a leaving gift!

And leave was what we had to do. Leaving Quadra was emotional; I didn’t expect leaving Denman to so emotional too, but it was. You don’t realize how integrated you become with other people. There are far too many details about our stay with Jackie & Doug and their many animals to include in this – already lengthy – blog (instance I won’t even begin with the debacle over the HDTV!); we know we had an amazing time there and we hope (and think) that Doug & Jackie enjoyed us being there. As it came time to leave, I realized that we had to do it quite quickly otherwise I’d be too tempted to just turn back around and stay for another month. But this time the United States of America really did beckon. This time we were not a month too early. This time we would finally get to the land of cheap petrol and beer!
Thank you Jackie, Doug, dogs and horses. We are already looking forward to seeing you again.


  1. I feel like crying myself. I can imagine how idylic it is on Denman. I think I would be sad to leave too but there's a big world out there still to experience and I'm sure you'll return to Denman one day.

  2. Thanks for a lovely blog. It all sounds so wonderful and peaceful. Looking forward to hearing of your American adventures soon xxx
    Take care of that ticker Tim and drink the decaff!!!! xxx

  3. Don't worry kids, we're saving lots of work for you to return to! (o: Dogs, Doug and I all send hugs.