Puncture helps Norfolk woman catch her Canadian dream

It sounds like a potential plot from Scooby-Doo.

A puncture while driving in sub-zero temperatures in the mountainous wilds of North-West Canada; a tentative trek to a nearby town to see if the locals are friendly; a close encounter with a sinister squatter in a rundown former strip joint.

Thankfully, this story does not contain ghosts, villains or pesky kids - and ends with a Norfolk woman and her Canadian husband setting up a top-rated backpackers' hostel.

Aylsham-born Abi Marsh and husband Gerald Wagner are now the proud owners of the Dreamcatcher Hostel in Golden, British Columbia - which, five months after opening, is rated number one on online holiday site Trip Advisor.

And they will always be grateful for the puncture that seemed like a curse but turned out to be the biggest blessing of their lives.

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Ms Marsh, 31, said they were travelling in temperatures of -27C in December last year when the puncture happened.

She said: 'It was so cold, and we had never been to Golden before. But everyone was so helpful. We stayed in town and met lots of people. We just wandered around and found ourselves settling in.

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'The town had everything we wanted, including all the outdoors adventures. It was also only three hours from the airport at Calgary, so we started talking to an estate agent about buying a home.'

She said it was a seasonal town, which meant permanent work would be difficult to find, leading the couple to consider buying a business to 'buy ourselves a job'.

She said: 'The estate agent said there was an old strip joint that had been empty for a long time. When we saw it, something just clicked.

'We got the keys. The roof was leaking, and we even got a visit from a couple of old drunks who were disappointed that it was no longer a strip bar.

'There was a woman living upstairs with her cats. She faced off my husband and shook her fist at him, but she went quietly once she got a solicitor's letter.'

Ms Marsh added: 'We took two-and-a-half months to turn it into Dreamcatcher Hostel. Gerald worked 20-hours-a-day and barely slept. My dad flew over to help as well. On June 12 we opened the hostel.'

The opening was the culmination of years of hoping and dreaming for Ms Marsh, who was born and raised at Aylsham, and attended Cawston College before studying travel and tourism at City College Norwich and adventure tourism management at Manchester City College.

She worked for two years at Galaxy Travel in Holt and worked at the Buckinghamshire Arms at Blickling and the Saracen's Head at Wolterton, near Aylsham.

But she had 'itchy feet', and in 2002 moved to Ningbo in China to teach English to local youngsters at a private school. She also spent six months in Guangzhuo, working for a teaching agency.

While at Ningbo, she met her future husband, and in 2004 the couple moved to Norfolk, where they spent five years building their own house on a plot next to her parents' home at Hevingham, near Aylsham.

Ms Marsh made ends meet by being a book keeper for Butler's Pantry and Butler's Restaurant in Holt and Tatler's Restaurant in Tombland, Norwich.

In December 2009, they sold up and headed to Canada to be near to Mr Wagner's family - triggering the chain of events that ended with them catching their dream.

Visit www.dreamcatcherhostel.com.

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