. Having done this journey before (from the relative safety of a train carriage), I knew what was coming. Sure enough, after about an hour and a half, we hit The Bridge. Now if it was scary on a train, that’s nothing compared to what it’s like walking over a single track railway, with nothing but railway sleepers spaced 3" apart between you and a 220ft (or is 220m?) drop. We gingerly picked our way across, staying well in the middle of the track (which really was about 10m wide, so not really anything you could fall off too easily).Still better safe than sorry, we had to stop and ground ourselves before taking any photos- no walking photos or looking at the view while you walk when one misplaced foot could send you hurtling down a gorge! (I exaggerate, it honestly wasn’t that bad.)
We soon came to realise to reach the visitor centre at the other end of the trail, we had to descend to the bottom of the gorge, so we spent the next 20 minutes scrambling down steep forest tracks, eternally grateful that we were heading down, not up. We ate our picnic at the visitor centre, overlooking a marina (spinach, artichoke, pesto and mozerella calzone for me) before continuing the loop back round to where the bus left. Now I had the bus timetable, and a watch-a vital combination – and I knew it was going to be tight. Melanie had neither, and was feeling pretty exhausted from the morning’s hike
. So I pressed on ahead, running the last 20m when I saw the bus waiting in the bus stop. I knew it was a little futile as they probably wouldn’t wait for Melanie to catch up, but in the end it didn’t matter, they pulled away just as I reached the back of the bus. The next bus was in an hour, and we had to be at the stables in 50 minutes.
I sat down on the curb to catch my breath while Melanie caught up, and I was just calling a taxi when a local who had seen my plight asked us if we needed a lift round the corner to try and catch the bus as it looped round. We gratefully accepted but didn’t quite get there in time, so he drove us all the way to the bus stop where we had to change buses. So crisis averted, we caught out connecting bus and then in turn our connecting taxi up to the stables.
The lady running the stables was very friendly, if a little scatty. It took us an hour to get the horses ready, us ready and us sitting on the horses. We decided to just go for an hour’s ridde as budgets were tight, which meant we couldonly really go so far, and while it was a nice trail, half of it was alongside a (quiet) road. And we walked, the whole way, which was a bit disappointing. BUT when I got back, she said I could go for a trot around the school, which I did, with much aplomb, and even managed to canter without feeling like I was seconds from falling off! So a definite improvement, and still lots of fun.
We then had the problem of trying to get back down to the bus stop. We tried hitch-hiking but it was quite a quiet road and after 10 cars passed us in a row without stopping, we admitted defeat, and I called a taxi
. They didn’t say how long it would take, though, and after 15minutes we were getting aa little antsy, so figured we might as well stick our thumbs out while we were waiting. Well nearly straight away we got picked up, and the guy (hm, noticing a pattern here), dropped us off at the bus stop. We never did see a taxi on the way, either, so who knows how long we would have been waiting! The rest of the journey was uneventful, and we arrived back in Victoria at 6:20pm, exhausted but well-exercised!
I had a long hot shower before going out for dinner with Melanie and her mum to a cheap diner down the road. Cheap they may be but they had the one food I was craving- souvlaki! (Yes I have strange cravings, crab one day, souvlaki the next.) We then wandered around looking for a late-night coffee shop, which was hard work on a Friday night out in a city with so many bars, and we would up going to the cinema to watch Julie and Julia, the book of which I had finished just hours earlier. It was pretty good! To be honest though, any film to do with cooking and food I'm going to be happy.
I pretty much exhausted what Victoria had to offer me on Thursday, so I asked at the front desk where I could go that would occupy me for the day, and was free. They recommended Goldstream provincial park, a couple of bus rides away but a beautiful park with lots of hiking trails to keep me occupied. As it turned out, it was the park that we had driven by on the train from Parksville- and the park that housed the two scary railway bridges. Melanie was up for some hiking too, so we set off to get our buses out there, which took about an hour. Oh to have a car. We asked some locals when we got there for some advice about good trails, and they said we should walk along the railway tracks, as the trains only run twice a day (not sure I would have taken their assurances as certain if I didn't know this already from studying the train timetable before I left Parksville!) So we hiked around a bit, visiting a beautiful waterfall and through (more of the same) very tall trees, covered in moss, peaceful, beautiful, so on and so forth. Eventually we hit the railway tracks, and feeling very much like a cross between the railway children and some character in a Western that walks for miles down the dusty railroad, we strolled off