After two rather rainy days at sea, I was delighted to get off the ship yesterday and to be greeted by this:
It was the perfect start to an evening’s tour of Victoria by motorcoach that finished with Craigdarroch Castle. I knew it would be a fun evening when I sat down on the bus, for the very large and manly gentleman next to me responded to my query as to what he was reading with a stonefaced admission, “Smut.” He then proceeded to show me the cover of what was indeed a supermarket romance novel, confessing that he loved them. We bonded over our mutual enjoyment of smut and its frequent history lessons (no joke), and then the bus tour began.
We had a fantastic driver/tour guide named Carl, who had a wry sense of humor and an astonishing knowledge of Victoria’s history, politics, and real estate prices (the latter being particularly interesting to me). We saw ritzy Oak Bay, the super fancy Uplands estates, the hotel and promenade that Rudyard Kipling frequented, and the University of Victoria, to name a few. Later he took us through Chinatown, the waterfront, and the former warehouse district (now all expensive condos).
However, between those two sections, we had two major stops: Mount Tolmie (350 feet above sea level) and Craigdarroch Castle.
We arrived at “Mount” Tolmie (I just can’t take that name seriously – does that make me a terrible Colorado snob??) just as the sun was setting. The warm evening light was beautiful…
The only thing missing from that last photo was the ripe smell of those blackberry bushes at the bottom of the frame. How much it brought back memories of visiting Grammer and Gramper’s house in Oregon, with plenty of berry picking for all!
Next up was the famous Craigdarroch Castle. What a cool story it had: built to the tune of half a million dollars in the 1880s (when most homes in the area were $600, and the priciest might reach $50,000), the mansion was the extravagant indulgence of a Scottish-born coal baron and brilliant businessman named Robert Duinsmuir. However, he passed away a year before the house was finished! So his wife and some of his ten children lived in the manor (which locals had taken to calling the Castle) for eighteen years anyway.
Apparently, there was plenty of family drama, from one of the daughters going insane to multiple lawsuits among the sons trying to wrest control of the family fortune from the mother. Ultimately, a tour guide related, the Duinsmuir family squandered the enormous fortune Robert had amassed within one or two generations. Doesn’t that sound like a BBC miniseries waiting to happen?
Eventually, it was sold to another family; then it later took turns as a hospital, university, and music school before finally being purchased by a nonprofit historical society, which has been restoring it into the museum it now is.
I tried to take pictures of the lush, immaculately decorated rooms at first – the woodwork was endless and incredibly luxurious, the paintings were incredible, and the feel of such Victorian elegance was captivating – but there was just no way to capture it all in my little camera phone. Here’s the one photo I got before giving up, but this doesn’t communicate the huge salon with incredible painted ceilings (restored from five layers of administrative building paint jobs!), gorgeous stained glass windows, and vintage furniture and decorative items. If you want to see more better pictures, I’m sure there are plenty at the Craigdarroch Castle website.
It was really beautiful – so much so, that at the end of the tour, I couldn’t resist the impulse to get a Craigdarroch Castle ornament from the gift shop! (Ornaments are the only souvenirs I really collect.) As a postscript, I loved this advertisement for the castle at the bus stop down the hill. Very tongue-in-cheek.
Though I am an employee of Princess Cruises, all opinions are mine only and do not necessarily reflect those of my employer.