bulk elk visiting Cobble House B&B

bulk elk visiting Cobble House B&B

We had a good year at Cobble House Bed & Breakfast in 2015 and welcomed many more new guests from around the world, as well as ones who had stayed with us before.  Our designated charity for 2015 was the local branch of the BC SPCA as the organization was celebrating its 120th year with their Million Acts of Kindness campaign.  The campaign was a big success and also included the one-millionth adoption for the organization.  Thanks to our guests we were able to make a donation of $300 to the Cowichan & District branch, (along with a bag of old towels!) In addition, one of our guests in July made a direct online donation to commemorate their stay with us, and some Dutch guests left a direct donation as well, and we are so thankful that we had this support! Life is still so busy that it just hasn’t seemed the right time to bring new dogs into our family, but we really do miss having some canine kids.

We did have numerous animal visitors of the non-domesticated variety this year.  I haven’t seen so much wildlife on the property in years.  It started with a group of 4 elk, 3 females and a juvenile, crossing our driveway as our Dutch guests were at the breakfast table one morning.  A few weeks later I walked into our Heron guestroom only to see a bear stand up and peek through the window.  When I ran to get the air horn to chase it away I thought I saw it on the back lawn, but that turned out to be bear number two!  A female elk and a youngster showed up on the back lawn a few weeks after that when my sister and brother-in-law stopped by for a visit.  Next we saw a family of 5 raccoons running across the lawn.  We know raccoons live around us, but rarely see them and continue to be very careful in not leaving any food sources for them or any other wildlife around the house.  The last major wildlife sighting was another group of elk, which this time included a bull elk and a couple of females. It’s such a privilege to live where we do on Vancouver Island and to have these opportunities to see the animals in their natural surroundings.

The Red Chair, here in Vancouver, is coming to Cobble House B&B in March!

The weather was incredible this year with a never-ending summer it seemed.  The dryness was pretty scary though.  Hand and drip-irrigation watering was the norm, and the lawn was completely brown, but the rain has since made up for that. The upside was an incredible crop of tomatoes, the best we’ve ever had by far, and I handed them out wherever I could and many made it to our breakfast table of course! So much nicer than store bought tomatoes!

We are now closed until the first weekend in March and are very excited to welcome The Red Chair at the beginning of that month.  The Red Chair is a plain wooden chair that has become a symbol of B&B hospitality on its trip around North America.  It is visiting Canada for the very first time and being welcomed in BC by members of BC Innkeepers, the provincial B&B association of which I am a life-time member. Watch for Red’s adventures when it arrives at Cobble House!

Our designated charity for 2016 will be the Trans Canada Trail.  With Canada celebrating its 150th anniversary in 2017, the goal is to complete the TCT by then.  It is now 80% complete and our annual donation will go towards that goal next year.  One of our favorite places in the Cowichan Valley is the Kinsol Trestle on the Trans Canada Trail.  The “Countdown to Connection” is July 1, 2017.

We hope all of our guests are enjoying a wonderful holiday season with family and friends and wish you a safe, happy and healthy 2016!

 

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With Cobble House Bed & Breakfast now in it’s 21st year of operation, and the innkeeper getting a little older, I’ve been contemplating the future of our Bed & Breakfast. With 2015 almost a month gone already, what are the goals for this year, and how much longer will we open our doors to all the fabulous guests we’ve met over the years?

I never imagined that we would still be here after so many years, continuing to learn new ways, especially in the online world of marketing, websites and social media. We’ve improved and adding guest comforts and amenities to our rooms, we’ve expanded and adapted our menus to current tastes, we’ve revised our website a few times and taken new photos and added some social media presence. There is never an end to the learning in the B&B business!

former "B&B dog" Simone

former “B&B dog” Simone

What I think hasn’t changed is our hospitality, our desire to welcome guests from around the world and make their stay with us the very best that it can be. We love sharing the Cowichan Valley and all the interesting things and attractions that are happening here.

With Simon now retired, although taking on odd jobs and traveling, it made me think of my future in the business. There are not many innkeepers who’ve been running a B&B, and have been heavily involved in the industry as well, this long. I’m thinking 25 years sounds like a nice round number, so, health and all permitting, that will be the goal. So there’s still time for you to come and experience a stay at Cobble House for a few years!

and Simone's brother "Bolton"

and Simone’s brother “Bolton”

To make these last years extra special, we will be donating 1% of our earnings each year to our designated Charity of the Year. For 2015, that charity will be the BCSPCA, which is celebrating 120 years this year. Our two beloved dogs Bolton & Simone, our “B&B dogs” who were very much a part of a stay at Cobble House, have been gone for sometime now, and with our busy lives it has not been the right time to bring home another special critter, or two, but if it was, we would support pet adoption from the SPCA. We hope you do too, and welcome your support with a visit to Cobble House in 2015!

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P1000998We finally made it out to Saison Market Vineyard a couple of weekends ago.  I’d heard about it and wanted to go check it out, and had been talking to some friends about going, but it never seemed to work out.  As their bakery/café is only open on weekends from 9 am – 4 pm, and weekends are usually the busiest at our Cobble Hill Bed & Breakfast, it took a rare Sunday morning off and everything else lining up with friends being available, to finally go!

Saison is located just a little ways north of Duncan on Mays Road, east of Bell McKinnon.  It is a vineyard, where they grow vitis vinifera grapes, and a market/café bakery.  I thought it was still a bit of a hidden gem, but the place was very busy, so lots of people have already discovered it.  It has become an agri-tourism/culinary destination in the Cowichan Valley.  They sell fresh produce from the farm, fruit preserves, artisan breads, baked goods & pastries and you can enjoy a light lunch or coffee/tea break along with a sweet or savory treat.  People were continuously arriving and even on this cloudy day with the occasional shower, the place was pretty much full all the time.  By the time we had finished our light meal and I went back to buy some fresh bread to take home, they were sold out of the bread!

enjoying the Saison terrace

enjoying the Saison terrace

We had the soup and savory scone special, while our friends had another savory treat.  All were very tasty.  Later we tried a frangipane pear pastry and split a decadent chocolate goodie and enjoyed the flavors melting on our tongues.  Yum!  I did take home a raspberry white chocolate scone and a couple of onion poppy seed buns to check out later.  We will definitely go back again, hopefully to sit on their terrace, as it was a lovely spot overlooking the farm fields.  And the food, and company, were great!

Saison is open every Saturday and Sunday from 9 am – 4 pm until just before Christmas.  If you plan to take any baked goods home, I suggest you get their early though!  They are at 7575 Mays Road, North Cowichan, tel. 250-597-0484.  I could not find an e-mail address where you might contact them if you wanted to order ahead, if that’s possible.

As their website says “Visit . Taste . Enjoy . Experience”  We did all of that!

 

 

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Lots of different kinds of music will be taking centre stage in the Cowichan Valley over the next month, at three very different music festivals.

This year is the 30th anniversary of the Islands Folk Festival.  This long running event takes place at Providence Farm, a working organic farm with programs to help the physically and mentally challenged.  The 400 acre peaceful farm is a great venue for the Folk Festival, although it won’t be quite as peaceful during Folk Festival weekend!  Dates for the festival are July 18, 19 and 20th, festival gates open at 3 pm on the Friday.  Some well-known great Canadian performers are featured this year such as Spirit of the West and Murray McLauchlan, Daniel Lapp and David Gogo, as well as other noteworthy acts from around the world.  You can still get tickets for this great summer event in the Cowichan.

The very next weekend after the Folk Festival it’s the turn of Rock of the Woods Music Festival.  The purpose of Rock of the Woods is to “bring arts, culture and awareness to the community of the Cowichan Valley”.  There is a large emphasis on sustainability and leaving a small footprint at this smaller rock music festival being held on July 25, 26 and 27th at the Rock of the Woods ranch near Duncan.  Now in its fifth year and its second location, the dedicated volunteers, as with any such event, help make this festival possible.  Headliners include Bubba Sparxxx, Robert DeLong, Pack A.D., Dope Soda, Dougal Bain.

Sun Fest Country Music Festival

Sun Fest Country Music Festival

Finally there is the biggest festival of the three, the Sun Fest Country Music Festival on the August long weekend, July 31 through August 3rd, at the Cowichan Exhibition Grounds.  Starting out as a 1-day rock festival at Providence Farm twelve years ago, this event has morphed and grown into one of the biggest country music festivals around, bringing in big name entertainers while providing a stage for local and regional artists as well.  Partial proceeds are donated to local organizations.  This year’s headliners include Jake Owen, George Canyon, Dean Brody, Aaron Pritchett and Tim McGraw.  Find out about tickets on the Sun Fest website.

Camping is available at all three events, but if you’d like a little more comfort and a hot shower here and there, not to mention great breakfasts and peaceful sleeps, there are many Bed & Breakfasts in the Cowichan Valley offering great festival accommodation.  But don’t wait any longer to book as this next month is a busy month with music festivals alone!

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A couple of days ago I had the pleasure of taking the new Genoa Bay Shuttle from Cowichan Bay to the Genoa Bay Marina.  Local B&B innkeepers were invited by Tim at Greylag Boat Tours and Stacey and Gord at the Genoa Bay Café to share an afternoon outing experiencing what they both have to offer.

A sunny afternoon on the Genoa Bay Café deck

A sunny afternoon on the Genoa Bay Café deck

 

This shuttle service was first started last summer and makes for a great outing when combined with lunch or dinner at the Genoa Bay Café.  While it’s a very pretty drive down Genoa Bay Road to the marina, it’s actually just as quick if not quicker to take Greylag’s shuttle service from Cowichan Bay’s Fisherman’s Wharf.  I think we were across in about 20-25 minutes and got to see things from the water side for a new perspective.  It was a bit choppy going out of Cow Bay, so do plan ahead if you suffer from motion sickness as I do.  This is how you hear “insider” information about the marine world and Tim had some interesting stories to share.  Once we arrived at the Genoa Bay Café we were treated to local wine and a fantastic seafood feast starting with samples of their famous calamari, crab & chorizo cakes, and Salt Spring Island mussels.  Local artists from the Cowichan Valley Artisans group also joined us, and it was a wonderful afternoon on the sunny deck at the Café with a great exchange of information and brochures.

Greylag Tours leaving Genoa Bay Marina

Greylag Tours leaving Genoa Bay Marina

Thank you to Tim, Stacey and Gord and their staff for their wonderful hospitality.  Being in the Bed & Breakfast business, us innkeepers really appreciate hospitality, let me tell you!  We’re fortunate here in the Cowichan Valley to have such a great community working together to enhance the visitor experience.  Many artisans make their home in, and are inspired by, the Valley, and we have numerous top notch restaurants serving local food and local wines.  The rates for the Genoa Bay Shuttle are so reasonable at only $15 round trip (seniors and students pay less) from Cowichan Bay to Genoa Bay and back.  The last shuttle leaves Genoa Bay at 9:30 pm, so you can easily enjoy a leisurely dinner at the Café.  Call Tim at 250-812-7543 to book your trip (Tim also does tours of the Bay).  Reservations are recommended at the Genoa Bay Café, ranked #2 on TripAdvisor for Duncan restaurants, so call 250-746-7621 to enjoy their casual and fresh dining experience.

 

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baby barn owls

baby barn owls at The Raptors

Last Sunday, in the rain, I visited The Raptors in Duncan again for a second time.  If you’re at all interested in birds, and specifically birds of prey, it really is worth a visit, especially because of the flying demonstrations and all the information on these birds they share at that time.  At the entrance where you pay admission, they had a plastic bin on the counter with 2 several-days-old barn owls.  Hard to believe these ugly little things become such beautiful owls!

The staff handed out rubber mats to sit on during the flying demonstration, so you don’t have to sit directly on the wet benches, which was a relief!

Some random facts I learned on my trip to The Raptors this time:

  • birds don’t like to fly as much in the rain – the great horned owl was not that interested in flying, and they used the great horned owl that day because the barn owl that was scheduled to fly is even more susceptible to the rain
  • raptors SIT about 90 – 100% of the time
  • all raptors have in common large eyes, a sharp downward curving beak, and strong talons
  • male bald eagles are considerably smaller than female bald eagles
  • one of the heaviest owls in the world is the Eurasian Eagle Owl, while the largest owl in the world is the Great Grey Owl (although a lot of its size is comprised of its fluffy feathers and large head)
  • turkey vultures, while not raptors, are very interesting birds – they can only make hisses and grunts as they have no vocal organ
  • to keep cool, turkey vultures will urinate on their own feet
  • if they’ve been gorging on carrion, their main food source, and feel threatened, turkey vultures will vomit to make themselves lighter so they can take off in flight – and the vomit smells absolutely foul, not surprising considering the source!
  • turkey vultures can smell carrion through the forest canopy – they fly low to the ground and their sense of smell can pick up a gas that is released at the start of decay of a dead body
  • falcons are one of the fastest birds in the world, catching their prey in the air
  • they also have a marabou-stork at the centre, a very interesting looking bird from Africa
  • birds trained by the staff at The Raptors are working at YVR to help control flocks of birds that could collide with planes on the flight paths
best falcon upright

Falcon during flying demonstration at The Raptors

It was a fascinating afternoon.  The Raptors is one of the great attractions here in the Cowichan Valley, with a primary focus on education.  For more intimate and up close encounters with some of these incredible birds you can also take a “hawk walk” or an “owl prowl” or book a day class or an even more comprehensive course to learn about hawks, eagles, owls, falcons and turkey vultures and have a chance to work with them.  I’m certainly hoping to do that sometime in the near future.

Cobble House is less than half an hour away from The Raptors, so centrally located for a visit there and to the many other attractions and activities here in the Valley.  Come and stay with us to explore all that the Cowichan has to offer!

 

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The Brandy House at Merridale

The Brandy House at Merridale

A couple of weeks ago owners Janet and Rick and the staff at Merridale Cidery hosted a special event for folks in the tourism industry to come and see what Merridale is all about.  Never having done the full tour at Merridale, even though we’re practically neighbours and many of our guests have visited the cidery, we just had to go!

In spite of the pouring rain at times, it was a fun and informative event.  The tour had been set up as a bit of a scavenger hunt as you had to pay attention to complete the questions about the cidery on the little map you received at the start, as the winning team members were going to go home with a free bottle of tradional cider!

Rick gave us the tour of the Brandy House.  Merridale is one of very few craft distilleries in BC, which means that they both ferment and distill the fruit on the premises, and they have been working at this new passion since 2005.  Their pear brandy recently won a Best of Class and a gold medal at the American Distilling Association competition, while their cider brandy won a silver medal.  Pretty impressive results!

We had a cider tasting at the cider bar, while Janet told us about their orchard, their bees and gave us a tour of the cellar.  Thankfully all of it was pretty much under cover as it was raining pretty hard by then!  Great snacks and hors d’oeuvres were circulated to balance out all the liquid tasting we were doing!

P1000899

cider tasting at the cider bar!

We’d like to thank Janet, Rick and their staff for hosting us!  And yeah, red team for the win!

(We’re also working with Merridale Cidery on a package that is now available until the end of June.  Check out our “Specials & Packages” page for all the details on the “Taste of Cowichan Cider” package!)

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While the weather did not exactly co-operate, Cherry Point Estate Wines celebrated the grand opening of Amuse at their vineyard on May 4th.  It rained off and on and was pretty cool, but a good crowd of people was present to check out the new location of Amuse on The Vineyard.

Grand Opening of Amuse on The Vineyard at Cherry Point Estate Wines

Grand Opening of Amuse on The Vineyard at Cherry Point Estate Wines

Until recently located at Unsworth Vineyards, just down the road from our own Cobble Hill B&B, Amuse has found a new home at Cherry Point Estate Winery.  The fireplace in the garden pavilion where Amuse is now located was on, and a wood fire was burning out on the patio to help offset the rain and cool temperatures.  A ticket to the official opening included a glass of sparkling wine, canapés and grazing stations, which included oysters on the shell.  The wine bar , as well as the Cherry Point tasting room, was doing a nice business, and people were enjoying the atmosphere.  The interior looks nicely set up and it will be an enjoyable location to enjoy one of Amuse’s great dinners.  The kitchen, as well as washrooms, are in separate buildings from the actual dining room.

Amuse on The Vineyard's new home at Cherry Point Estate Wines

Amuse on The Vineyard’s new home at Cherry Point Estate Wines

The restaurant will be open for lunch daily from 11:30 – 3, and for dinners only on Friday and Saturday.  A Long Table dining event is being planned for July, and brunch is on tap for Mothers Day on May 11th.  Cherry Point and Amuse also are available for weddings and other special events.  Call 250-743-1272 to inquire and make reservations.

We’re sorry to lose one of the Cowichan Valley’s finests restaurants from its just-down-the-road location from our Bed & Breakfast, but Cherry Point is only a 10-12 minute drive, so our guests can still easily enjoy their West Coast inspired cuisine while staying at Cobble House.  We wish chef Brad and partner Leah all the best in their new home!

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The first triathlon of the Subaru Western Triathlon series is coming up on May 25, 2014 at beautiful Shawnigan Lake, just 45 minutes north of Victoria on Vancouver Island.  2014 will be the 8th year that the Cowichan Valley has hosted this event.  Subsequent races in this series take place in Victoria, Saskatoon, Vancouver and Banff.

The Shawnigan Lake Triathlon is the first open water swim of the season.  Runners hit the Trans Canada Trail and the restored historic Kinsol Trestle.  In fact, a new event this year is the “Trestle Challenge” which includes a 1.5 km swim, 45 km bike ride and a half marathon to the Trestle and back.  Also included are the Western Highschool Championships for middle and high school students.  The event is also a Triathlon Canada 2015 ITU World Championship qualifying event.  The village of Shawnigan Lake hosts a fun festival on Saturday May 24th with live entertainment, clinics, food, booths by local businesses, and concessions.  The triathlon weekend has quickly become a very popular event in the area.

south end view from the viewing platform at the Kinsol Trestle

participants will hit the restored Kinsol Trestle

Accommodation for the Triathlon is available at Camp Pringle on the west side of Shawnigan Lake, which is also the location of the pre-race dinner on Saturday.  Other accommodation options are the great Bed & Breakfasts in the area.  Innkeepers at your local Bed & Breakfast will certainly be able to accommodate your race schedule.  Book your stay soon while there is still lots of space available, and have a great weekend and a great race!

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A week ago there was an ad in the local Cowichan Valley paper that the Farm Table dining room was open for the season.  We had a lovely dinner there in October last year just before the end of their season, so great to hear that they are once again open for reservations.

The Farm Table is the teaching dining room for the Vancouver Island University Culinary program.  For quite a few years the teaching dining room was part of Frances Kelsey Secondary School in Mill Bay, with the attendant limitations of the room used for the dining room also serving as a class room.  The program seemed to be quite successful, also with takeout meals that they sold.  We had several lunches and dinners there over the years and they were always great, and also very affordable.

Enjoy a wonderful meal at the Farm Table dining room at Providence Farm

Enjoy a wonderful meal at the Farm Table dining room at Providence Farm

In 2013 the program formed a new partnership with the historic Providence Farm in Duncan, near Cowichan Bay.  Providence Farm is a 400 acre organic, not-for-profit, therapeutic farm that has for many years helped adults with developmental and mental issues.  The teaching dining room opened at Providence as the Farm Table in April of 2013.  It is not only a larger venue than the highschool but is able to access all the fresh produce grown at the farm.  In fact, the students enrolled in the culinary program participate in the growing and harvesting of the produce.  In addition they offer full banquet facilities.

Costs are still very reasonable, but the restaurant does not have a liquor license.  The Farm Table is open for dinner on Thursday, Friday and Saturday from 5:30 – 9:00 pm.  Call 250-597-0599 for reservations.  We will be doing just that!

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