Chesterman Beach& wild and open and free.

Rhiannon says over the roar of the surf: “Now paddle.” I do as she says, arms flapping like a deranged turtle, my attempts to propel the board forward fast enough to keep up with the moving foam surprisingly effective.

I actually start accelerating, just as the wave picks up 100kg of middle-aged surfing novice (I grew up by the sea but never tried this) and oversized beginner board and propels the ungainly combination towards the shore at what feels like 50 knots but is more like five.

With a weary sigh, I try to stand up as instructed and, with equally weary inevitability, fail, thudding into the sand.

Never mind, there are plenty more waves in the sea. I collect my board, now yanking at my ankle on its leash, and head off once more towards the horizon.

For something I am so clearly bad at, this is fun. At 7am the rain was lashing hard against my bedroom skylight. I nearly cancelled, but five hours later, fluffy white clouds scurried across the blue sky like a flock of geese.

The pristine sea sparkles, the mica-rich sand a silvery grey. In the distance a tree-clad rocky archipelago glistens in the sun and life feels good.

“Don’t take your gloves off,” instructs Rhiannon. Although I am warm, the sea is not – maybe 8°C. This is not Hawaii, nor even Cornwall, but western Canada.

For a country with the longest shoreline in the world (a quarter of the planet’s coastline), Canada’s wild beaches are something of a closed book.

People do not go to Canada for the sunbathing, after all. In the north it’s more walruses and ice floes, but here in mild, temperate southern British Columbia (on the same latitude as the Scillies), there are 24 000km of pristine strands, inlets and rocky cliffs to explore.

This vastness is so empty that two people on an 8km beach seems crowded. Tofino is a strange, wonderful little settlement on the west coast of Vancouver Island, and now legendary in surfing circles.

The first surfers here were refugees, draft-dodging dudes who fled north during the Vietnam war and set up camp in this majestic wilderness of rain forest, beaches and myriad islands.

There is a pretty little park with a chunk of temperate rain forest, huge redwoods and cedars clad in dripping moss crashing down to a pair of perfect coves, all overlooking a necklace of islands.

Since then, an indigenous surfing scene has grown up – one that I suspect is quite different from anywhere else.

My lesson comes courtesy of Surf Sister, an all-woman outfit that offers lessons to all ages and sexes.

That evening, in the Spotted Bear bistro, a group of attractive young women on the next table are downing ferocious-looking martinis. Nothing odd about that, save the fact they are all knitting.

There are hippies, artists and hitch-hiking Native Americans. Until his death in 2004, a hippy called Henry Nolla lived in a shack on the beach and produced hundreds of beautiful driftwood carvings, many of which have ended up in the nearby Wickaninnish Inn.

After dawn one morning, I take a seaplane ride up over Clayoquot Sound with Atleo River Air Services.

From the air the majesty of this part of Canada becomes apparent. I am told the primeval forests have been devastated by logging, but from 300ft up it looks as pristine as Eden.

After a day I want to live here, though there is wildlife to consider.

“This bear was stalking me, I suppose,” Charles McDiarmid, owner of the lovely Wickaninnish Inn tells me over a splendid dinner of rabbit and British Columbian wine.

Charles was not up in the mountains, but playing golf down the road. There are cougars, too, and wolves. They don’t usually attack people.

But if they do, you fight back – never play dead. Less threatening are the huge pink starfish and pods of killer whales.

Tofino sits at the end of a wiggly peninsula, much of which is taken up by national park, a park begun by Charles’s father, the town’s doctor in the days when the only way of getting here was by seaplane or along a spine-wrenching logging track.

This is my first visit to Canada in more than 30 trips to North America and after a few days I find the differences with its brasher, shoutier southern neighbour refreshing

People are quieter, more polite. Canada does tea. Signs are bilingual, even in this English-speaking province.

Vancouver, the glittering city-by-the-sea, often voted the best place in which to live in the entire universe, is the city that nearby Seattle thinks it is but isn’t.

It has the laid-back, coffee-bar, high-tech vibes, but without the crime, grinding traffic and bizarre, elevated motorway that ruins the American city’s waterfront.

It is hard to find fault with this most family-friendly of cities.

For a start, pedestrians and cyclists seem to have priority over cars – little Nissans and Fiats rather than monstrous four-wheel-drive vehicles.

The waterfront feels European, like Copenhagen, say, with its seafood restaurants and bars, joggers and cyclists going along the 10km seawall promenade that skirts lovely Stanley Park – home to the city’s clean, sandy beaches.

The food is excellent, immeasurably better than you will find over the border.

Oru, at the swanky Fairmont Pacific Rim, offers top-end Pacific Northwest cuisine and there are scores of Chinese eateries, as befits a large Oriental population.

Don’t let the weather put you off. It’s rarely cold here and the Pacific storms are spectacular, especially with a warm mug of (proper) tea.

Walk along Chesterman Beach and be blasted by rain, hail and bleaching sunlight all in the space of five minutes. You can even surf; it may be cold, but you'll never feel more alive. – The Daily Mail

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For more information from Tourism British Columbia, visit and for more on Canada as a holiday destination visit the Canadian Tourism Commission on