SPENDING your birthday learning to be a cowboy is an experience never to be forgotten.

Although our Canadian adventure holiday was to celebrate my husband Chris' 40th birthday, by chance it was our son Alex who celebrated his actual birthday while we were away. Alex turned eight when the second part of our adventure holiday took us to deepest British Columbia for a stay at Elkin Creek, the guest ranch run by Adventure West Resorts.

From Vancouver it's a 700km road trip to the ranch through breathtaking Canadian scenery, with panoramic views of lakes, snowy mountains and scenes from the Wild West. With a Harry Potter CD playing on the car stereo and an overnight stop to break the journey, we arrived ready for a horseback adventure.

Elkin Creek Guest Ranch is nestled between Vedan Lake and the snow-capped peak of Mount Tatlow, and extends for 28,000 acres - and no, that isn't a typo!

The relaxed and informal ranch house is the gathering place for guests and staff for meals, drinks and games. Seven two-bedroom, two-bathroom log cabins are dotted nearby including a five-bed log cabin for bigger groups.

As we pulled up at the ranch house and I spotted the horses careering around the field and rows of cowboy boots to try on, I had a moment of mild panic. Donkey rides on the beach were the sum total of my equestrian experience, and here I was contemplating four days on horseback!

Susy quickly reassured me that the staff were great with beginners and we would be taught the basics before setting off on the trails. Jodie, one of the wranglers on the ranch, introduced us to our horses for the holiday and took us into the arena to teach us. By the end of the session she had Chris and Alex racing around obstacles and my lovely horse was executing slow but perfectly formed turns for me. I think he could see the fear in my eyes.

We progressed on to riding the horses down hills, up what felt like mountains and even taking them 'swimming' through a creek. Riding through water and helping the wranglers move the cattle around the ranch on horseback are two memories I'll cherish forever. We were lucky to catch the local rodeo while there - real cowboys and bull riders. Now that was serious horsemanship!

It's not all about horsey adventures though. The crystal clear waters of Vedan Lake are perfect for swimming, or you can use the canoes, kayaks, boats and pedaloes or go fishing. Or just lie on a sun lounger and read your book by the lake and enjoy the silence, which is what I did.

Elkin Creek has a well-stocked craft and activity room and during the holidays children-only activities can be organised on request. Alex enjoyed a fishing adventure on the lake and there's also archery, kayak trips and lots more.

Fantastic scenery and amazing facilities aside, the staff and the food were the icing on the cake on this part of our adventure. The staff made it feel as if you were on holiday with friends, you ate all your delicious meals together on communal tables with them, you spent your days with them and enjoyed a drink with them in the evenings.

There's no TV, no mobile reception and you're two and a half hours from the nearest large town, so your entertainment is all at the ranch.

We were so sad to leave everyone at the ranch - it was the highlight of our trip. There was only one good point about heading back for our final two nights in Vancouver at the Fairmont Vancouver Hotel - a decent bath to soak out the dirt. I don't think I've ever been so dirty in my life. Everything ends up covered in a fine layer of dust whether walking or riding around the ranch.

A long soak in the pristine bath for me and a swim in the relaxing pool for Alex and Chris were the first things we did on arriving at the historic Fairmont Vancouver Hotel.

You'd think we'd have given our horse-weary backsides a rest wouldn't you? But no, this was a holiday of adventures, so we ended our Canadian holiday of a lifetime by borrowing the hotel's bikes and doing a 15km ride round around Stanley Park before saying goodbye to awonderful part of the world.


Adventure West Resorts - Cathy and family stayed at Elkin Creek Guest Ranch in British Columbia. [25a0] See www.adventurewestresorts.com for rates and promotions including 'kids go free in August'. [25a0] Fairmont Vancouver Hotel - see www.fairmont.com for current rates and promotions.