Epic Bridgespotting Trek

fullsizeoutput_296I knew it was really late to try and fit two bridges in before a 6.30pm Open Mic sign up in Kitsilano. Was I just drinking coffee all morning or something?  I don’t remember! It was 30 degrees, one of the hottest days yet in Vancouver, and I had water and sandwiches and all that stuff, I had directions and I was relying as usual on the ubiquitous Starbucks for wifi. What could go wrong – right? Scott RoadI got the EXPO line to Scott Road – but I could actually see the Pattullo Bridge from the stop before and was wondering whether to get off there. Too late – too indecisive – too trusting of iMaps. I got off at Scott Road Station – well it sounds harmless enough. It brought a new meaning to the term concrete desert. I had disembarked in a massive Park and Ride car park – interlaced with scary, busy roads, intersections and railways in varies states of use. I could see the Pattullo and the Sky Train Cable Stay (very elegant even though it was not the Alex Fraser) but the process of getting to it was not going to be straight forward, I could see already. I crossed a hazardous road out of the car park to find that there was in fact a MacDonald’s … but it was like none I had ever seen. Imagine a tea and butty van in an industrial estate in the UK; it was like the Mac Donald’s version of that. It only had ‘on their break’ workman as its customers, in the no air con, unhealthy lunch torture. fullsizeoutput_289Auto parts, tires (spelt like that), scrappage, tires, auto choppers, oh hang on, and Funzone! I went though car park after car park in the most intense heat of the day – trying to find a loo and a bridge. I found myself under the Pattullo bridge approaching a stairway,. The footpath was blocked by a sofa and some mattresses so I negotiated the hairy bend to get to the stairway. Well I could get on the bridge – and that’s what I did. I started walking over this great through-arch structure with its striking orange presence. The traffic and the wind was intense. but the sweep up to the arch made a nice shape – and I just grimaced, held on to my hat, and closed my eyes (risky) . After a few snaps of the neighbouring cable-stay and some of the arch I leaned over.

I need to get down there!

At least from there I could see that there was a lovely, beachy, parky kind of place below the bridge, and I also roughly how to get there, but that it would probably necessitate climbing over the railway (it didn’t look too busy) and playing chicken on a couple of freeways. After trudging all the way back across the bridge, and down the staircase, I followed a cycle path that  suddenly stopped so I had to just run the gauntlet over a sort of unfinished verge thing into oncoming traffic at hurtling speeds. I saw a person  – yes a person with a sunshade – there was life.  I found at last a pedestrian crossing but just had to take one of my shortcuts didn’t I? Yes,  a scrap yard to a dead end (should’ve followed the brolly man).  At this point I had done over 6 miles walking without a Starbucks in site and no way of navigating save by the stars – which weren’t visible obviously. To avoid climbing over the barbed wire and onto the railway line, I backtracked and followed the lane – baking, dry and littered until it eventually curved round onto the park I had seen from above. And what a treasure!


Like so many of these secret freshwater gems I had discovered, it was surrounded by ugly shipping/maritime/transportation infrastructure, but offered a stark and serene landscape. I allowed myself to eat my apple and drink water on the sand for just ten minutes,  but was aware that I still had to get to Alex Fraser. I couldn’t come this far and settle for just the one bridge. I watched the time closely – nearly three already. I took my snaps of the somewhat brash but elegant Pattullo from beneath and started heading back towards the Scott Road station. Of course, I passed plenty of bus stops along the way but since I had no sodding wifi, I couldn’t tell if I could get on any of the buses there so I marched doggedly back to the station. The last bus stop I came to said 640  Ladner Exchange, and luckily I remembered ti from my previous day’s research.It was fucking hot and I was a bit anxious and desperate. Time for a flaccid sandwich. At length the bis came and a perplexed bus driver said, “Yea, there’s a stop right under the bridge – Centre St.’ And that’s where I alighted.

Pretty much the same experience awaited. I can’t explain the significance of seeing this bridge. I didn’t have any cable stay bridges of import on my site and was pretty determined to get some shots of this one. The first tower loomed over head, immense and imposing, not coquettish like the Pattullo before it. I tried to orientate myself and discovered a little gravel track snaking along between the rail tracks and the freeway. I kept going further and further along it hoping I could get over the rails and down to the waterside. Not a chance! Hazard signs with serious penalty threats abounded and so I clambered through the undergrowth to meet the road that the bus had just come along. No footpath on this side so there was a bit of playing chicken again.  I resigned myself to the fact that I might not get any shots from this side. IMG_7218So again I started trudging down the road (after marking where the return bus stop was – always a good idea). This was not an ordinary ‘town’ with any kind of conurbation or character that I could see.Anyone who was here was here to work, I don’t rightly know what the place was called …New Westminster? But it was one long, long saw mill. In fact the road went through the saw mill and it had its own traffic lights and everything. Bugger! There were trespassing signs everywhere. How was I going to getting photos of this beauty!

Amongst all the industry I found signs to a cycle path and followed this across the main road and by the side of the lumber yard where a huge fountain of bark chipping was being spewed into the air. The expanse of the cable began revealing themselves in fits and starts. You must remember the heat at this point is claying and very extreme for a Brit. And I have at this point done nearly 9 miles of walking. A bit fighter along I saw what looked to be a break in the fencing and barriers and some folks were picking blackberries. Through the brambly thicket I could see a path of sorts.  Scratched and stung, I burst through the undergrowth to get to a rocky bank which snaked round the back of the lumber yard. But whoa! The views of the bridge were spectacular and as I clambered my way along the shifting rocks thinking this was not very safe, at the same time I was feeling a bit smug.


Don’t forget I had to get back to Downtown for 6pm if I was to make the Open Mic and I was kind of stuck on a brambly cliff in a scene from Insomnia. Bugger it! I climbed up and into the lumber yard – trying to look purposeful but probably not appearing so. I guess in a skulking manner I found my way to the main road without confrontation and up the sweltering mile back to the bus stop. It always feels quick on a return journey and it was quite a relief to get back on the Sky Train as then I felt I was really entering civilisation again. I made it to my Open Mic, getting ready in 8 minutes and on the number 2 bus to Kits in 15 –  but late – hence only getting two songs in. Bit of an epic day – but as usual you can see the pictures on bridgephile.co.uk .

Bowen’s Primordial Paradise

fullsizeoutput_277The wildfire smoke has been problematic over the last few days – eaking eastwards with the stagnant weather. It has cast a moody and somewhat grainy aspect to the landscape both urban and rural, with islands, high-rises and mountains alternately looming and disappearing into the haze. Bowen Island has not escaped and the bus ride to Horseshoe Bay got steadily more grey. I guess it might look somewhat tropical under a clear blue fullsizeoutput_274summer sky, but as it was today it could be something out of Lost. A grey blue triplet of peaks encompassing the harbour. After waiting for 50 minutes for the 257 Express, and having to stand all the way, the ferry over was a breath of fresh air – but not literally because there are an inordinate amount of particulates in it at the moment. But it was lovely to be sea-borne – there’s nothing like it.

fullsizeoutput_27cSnug Cove, the harbour area,  despite having a slight connotations of a Pirate theme park to it, was very welcoming and I had to try hard to resist all the little sea-side bistros and cafes (but not the market stall with the gluten free muffin, though) and to push on into the island depths. I had a late start so knew I wouldn’t be able to it all, but a coffee was a good start. I headed out to or should I say up – this is very hilly place and I was glad of it – to Artisan Square, a chocolate box cluster of art outlets and a restaurant. But it took 4 minutes to look round and 30 mins to consume a coffee under a shady tree and study a map.

I decided that the Killarney lake expedition would be the most doable with a return ferry in mind and it being a Sunday. I began walking up the Main Road ( think Wrong Turn or Insomnia) which has no traffic. Ironically Bowen Island has signposted legal ‘Lift” stops where you can hitch a lift. I wouldn’t hold your breath though – not on a Sunday anyhow. Quite suddenly as you round a bend after a couple of km, you meet the picnic area of the lake. Its breathtaking – and there begins the prehistoric adventure. The trail hugs the lake at first with pretty little accessible beaches and an abundance of different dragonflies. Trying to snap dragonflies is always a trial but I could not get over the exquisite beauty of these eight spotted skimmers and was disappointed I could not get one under the macro. They were too damn quick. The trail then becomes a little more rooty and natural fullsizeoutput_275until you reach the boardwalk which takes you right out into the swamp. You are transported into ta strange carboniferous desolation and primordial luxuriance if I can hyperbolise. It is just silent and beautiful. The trail then rises well up above the lake and becomes quite technical until you drop down again to meet the Killarney Creek main path that heads back to the harbour. There were not many people on this trail unlike Ladybower back home. Everything was older, bigger and more natural.


I took a detour to Angel Falls which was more like Angel Fails unfortunately as it was dry as a bone, but the trip down past the lagoon and Deep Bay was worth another leg.  I had walked about 8 miles in all and was glad to get back to Snug Cove and it’s quaintness. This island has a population of just about 3000 and it seems like it might be a perfect place to live, picturesque, clean, unspoilt –  if you like that Stepford kind of vibe. I may go back to see more – it’s lovely.


Hamilton – you surprised me 

Imagine having stayed in Sheffield for a bit, and then you decide to have three days in Rotherham before you go home . Well I really did feel like that was happening to me. The bus journey from Toronto was unremarkable but whizzing through the town centre I thought it looked promising. That bit disappeared when I boarded the local bus and disembarked in a distinctively dodgy area. After walking a couple of blocks past piles of rubbish bags stinking on the heat, broken down verandas and myriad auto body repairs, I found the Hamilton Guest House. I thought –  I’m staying here?  It smelt when I went in – the sort of smell a house gets when an old person has been living there a while with no help.

But the building was quirky, the staff were nice – but oh did it need a good clean. But in a way,  it was a third of the cost of the HI Toronto hostel and you pay for what you get.  So I’d seen an open mic on th Internet at a place called Zyla’s. It looked not far – so I thought I’d do my intial walkabout thing to check it out.  I walked down Cannon – thinking I’d come to the back end of nowhere . But then I hit James St. It was like walking through some kind of a portal. Suddenly there were bistros, coffee shops and all things I like. Zyla’s was open at 6. I turned back on to Barton and here we were again in Rotherham . Weird. 

I went back for the guitar and a cuppa in the very scary kitchen and off I headed. Well what a night!  I played a full set and how quickly Zyla’s went from demure ladies’ birthday dinner to a really lively buzzing music bar with everybody spilling onto the street in the nicest possible way. A full four piece funk band – Monkley Cascade were a tip-top professional outfit and in such a small venue were less noisy that some guys with acoustics at open mic night!

Had to do a bit of bridgespotting before I left, and the next day I took the number 1 bus towards Burlington to see the Thomas McQuesten. It felt great jumping a fence to access the now closed staircase that goes underneath it. Some fine old ironworks on this Scottish design steel arch. And later I hopped on the number 2 and 11 to get to the Beach Boulevard area to photograph the Skyway though arch build. Got footage of the canal bridge going up and down – superb!  Click here

And then there was the beach. A  strange Costa del Hamilton – folks bringing their own little ecosystems of music and bars – not a destination for the affluent. But a thin sliver of really soft forgiving sand and the warmest of water adjunct to the cycle path. Very pleasant when you find a spot of your own.

Despite the strange lack of suitable accommodation for backpackers – I’d go again.


 Ferries and festivals

1Xf%PKFhQ2mdM1oRUQc61Q_thumb_999It is only $16 for a day pass and I love the water – so thought I’d take advantage of the Vancouver local water transit. As I was going to Kits, it had to be False Creek Ferries.

UNADJUSTEDNONRAW_thumb_a59Granville Island? Well I’d give that a miss – but if you like New York’s Chelsea market and Kensington Market, Toronto, you might get something out of it. But if you know me, you can guess that I had sensory overload almost  immediately and was in and out of there in thirty minutes. It’s kind of Coney Island, fishy stalls meets a Sunday craft fair, all a bit tired, fishy  ( I repeat myself) and extremely sticky with people. It might be more pleasant in winter but definitely needs an upgrade.

UNADJUSTEDNONRAW_thumb_a58After a quick salmon flax wrap, (risky) I headed for Kitsilano as I still didn’t realise I could walk there this at this stage.  Dismbarking, I thought  – ooh what a quiet unspoilt part of the city – a few logs – a few dogs and just the lapping tide. Lay down on the sand for a bit. When I walked round the corner I met …. the real beach. Lots of volley ball youngsters, students, back packers. Families are further up.  UNADJUSTEDNONRAW_thumb_a5aA broad stretch of waterfront sand and dry parkland – pleasant enough. There didn’t appear to be much happening in the urban part –  just a smattering of bars and restaurants. Walk back the same way, if you can, as it’s gets worse  – ending at the lido. I walked a long way to find a pen, and in the end, a lady in a flower shop sold me her own – now that’s  business acumen.

But  in the opposite direction, back toward Granville, you have a large grassy, now drought crisped expanse that’s lovely and largely empty. I couldn’t understand why a group of hot dog stands would set up there with no customers. It appeared they were expecting crowds for the ‘festival’. The festival turned out to be an annual firework competition and that this area was a prime viewing spot.

UNADJUSTEDNONRAW_thumb_a35I’d been to David Lam park already, so I headed for The Village, once the Olympic village -pretty,  clean and with a market square of sorts. Beautiful landscaped water park and ergonomic outdoor seating – a bit Feng Shui I suppose. And a tiny little peninsula that you can get to with stepping stones. I liked this area although some might not see the point of it. But I’m kind of a bit aimless anyway – so what would I know? I had a snooze and that’s always good.

UNADJUSTEDNONRAW_thumb_a28So ready for tea, (remember I’m on a budget) I returned to the hostel deciding to make full use of my day pass and head back to Kitsilano for the fireworks festival. It was team GB’s night. As I boarded the ferry at David Lam again, I saw the crowds of sunset beach already amassing, and to my complete surprise, also the beaches of Kits  –  even the dog beach which had hitherto been largely deserted. There was a small and entirely unnecessary police presence, as there was a real serenity and sense of something cultural about this event – and perched up above the beach, it felt like Henman Hill or an outdoor Philharmonic performance at Chatsworth. Families on blankets – seniors in camping chairs, keen photographers and tourists. All for a thirty minute firework display. Team GB – they did alright! Although the smoke from the wildfires was still a problem it did not interfere with the delight. T%tol5FhTLO%jxmyn77SYg_thumb_9cf
Fireworks are always such a source of wonderment and magic to people and this was no exception. I hadn’t realised there were no ferries back from Kitsilano at that time and for the third time that day found myself walking down to Granville Island (not really an island) in time for the last ferry back.  All those lucky enough to have been able to watch on boats, were also making their way back to the arbour in a noisy and enthusiastic flotilla. All in all, good value for ten quid, I’d say.