We’ve managed to keep ourselves busy over the past couple of weeks. Ian painted the bathroom – twice, because Sandie was not happy with the first colour chosen! While he was doing that, she cleaned out the kitchen cupboards – another job that needed doing. We finished a complete draft of our book about the journey we did last year, following that undertaken by Ian’s father during World War II. We had a meeting of our ERA partnership, and managed to attend the Marlow Folk Dance Club – for the first time in exactly a year!
Going for walks
We’ve done several walks recently, some short and some long. Sometimes we’ve managed to combine walking with doing other things. For example, when we were choosing new flooring etc for our bathroom, we wanted to visit some shops in Loudwater, two miles east of Wycombe. It was a beautiful day, and our route took us along back roads and footpaths, some of which we had not previously discovered. After looking round the shops we had a pub lunch, and then came back by a different route, stopping at more shops along the way.
Another day we had arranged to meet our friends Sarah and Tami for dinner in the Red Lion at Langley; we also wanted to take flowers to Sandie’s parents’ grave in Slough Cemetery. And we wanted to have a look at our Slough flat, as we had had reports of rubbish being dumped nearby. Again, it was a warm day and we wanted to do some walking.
We set off at 9.15 and caught the Slough bus, but alighted in the Farnham Road. (This paragraph may not mean much to those unfamiliar with the area!) We did what we have done several times before: visited charity shops there, had coffee, bought flowers and then walked through back roads to the cemetery. From there we walked down into the town centre, and had lunch. We walked along the High Street (more charity shops!) and detoured to our flat. Then we walked through Upton Court Park, along Trelawney Avenue, through to Langley ‘Village’ (where we used to live) and up to Langley Park. We walked through the Arboretum, and round the lake, and followed footpaths which would bring us to St Mary’s Road. We reached the Red Lion just as the church clock opposite was chiming 6 – after walking six or seven miles, we’d made it at exactly the right time!
A weekend with the boys
Charlie and Oscar stayed with us again the first weekend in September, while Claire was working. They are now really keen on swimming, and attend classes where they have made great progress. The forecast for Saturday was sunny in the morning, but rain in the afternoon, so we came up with what seemed to be the perfect plan. In the morning we took the bus to Bourne End, and walked along the Thames Path to Maidenhead, with stops on the way for coffee, watching the boats go through Boulter’s Lock, a picnic lunch and a playground. Reaching Maidenhead we went to the swimming pool and spent a couple of hours there before catching the bus back. It all worked well, although the forecast was sadly not entirely accurate. It was sunny when we set off, but we had rain later in the morning as well as in the afternoon.
Next morning we asked the boys what they would like to do, and with no hesitation they opted for swimming again. This time we went to the Wycombe pool, and once again we combined it with a walk: we took a taxi there and walked back (downhill!) with a stop at the adventure playground on the Rye.
A day at the seaside
The weather forecast for w/b 11 September was good, with Tuesday expected to be the warmest day. We had no other plans, and fancied a trip to the coast – perhaps we’re missing Florida (though it’s not quite the same!). We hired a car and drove to West Wittering, which we always considered to be one of the best beaches along the south coast. Once again we were disappointed with the weather – by the time we reached Wittering there was quite a lot of cloud, and a fairly strong breeze. The beach was also not as good as we remembered. Still, we were able to walk along the sands as far as Chichester Harbour, where we took photos of the boats before returning to the car park by an inland route. We then drove into Chichester, a city we always enjoy visiting, and spent a couple of hours there before heading home, with a stop en route at a country pub for dinner.
A day in London
On Saturday 17th we went up to London for the day. As usual, we went to the theatre: this time we saw a stage production of George Orwell’s 1984. But our main reason for choosing that date for our London trip was so that we could take part in the pro-refugee demonstration. Along with thousands of others, we marched from Park Lane to Parliament Square, chanting and waving placards. In the Square we heard moving speeches from politicians, church leaders, celebrities – and refugees.
We were calling on the UK government to take its fair quota of refugees (at present it is near the bottom of the list of European countries to do so). In particular, we were thinking of all the unaccompanied children currently kept in conditions described as ‘a living hell’ at Calais. Nearly 400 have a legal right to residence in the UK – many have relatives already living here – yet the government has been slow to allow them entry. We need to put pressure on our MPs and local councils to honour their obligations, so that these children can be reunited with their families and have a safe place to live.
We were also protesting against the racism and xenophobia which sadly seems prevalent in large sections of British society and the media. And not just in Britain, of course. The government’s plan to build a long wall in the Calais area is horribly reminiscent of Donald Trump’s plan to build a wall on the Mexican border. We await November with trepidation, and just hope that his bid for the US presidency is unsuccessful.
We said in our last blog that we would get the results of our proposal (for an evaluation project in Cambodia) on September 9. It is now the 18th, and we have had no news, so we still do not know where we will be spending the winter!
On Sunday 14th August we said goodbye to our Florida condo, and headed back to the UK, landing at Gatwick the following morning. The time since then has passed quickly. We continued working on the proposal, in consultation with our colleagues in the UK and potential partners in Cambodia. The proposal was submitted last week, and we await the results, which should reach us on Sept 9th.
Our flat needs some cleaning and decorating, and we decided to make a start on the bathroom. We haven’t actually got down to work yet, but we’ve been looking around shops and choosing colours etc. Meanwhile, we’ve spent some time going for walks, and relaxing with friends and family.
Five pubs and a coffee shop
On Tuesday 23rd August we awoke to bright skies and sunshine. According to the weather forecast, it was to be the best day of the week, so it seemed a shame to stay indoors, and we decided to go for a walk. We took the bus to Uxbridge, where we looked in a few shops and had coffee before setting off to walk east along the Grand Union canal. We stopped at the Malt Shovel for a drink, and again at the Water’s Edge. Then we walked down to Little Britain Lake, where we ate our picnic lunch.
From the lake a footpath leads to the Slough Arm of the Grand Union, which we followed west towards Slough. We detoured to the Red Lion pub, which used to be our ‘local’ when we lived in Langley. We sat in the garden, enjoying a nostalgic drink and debating whether to press on towards the cemetery or return home. Then Sandie’s phone rang – it was our friend Caroline, and we had arranged to do a pub walk with her and her daughter Louise on Wednesday evening. Or so we thought. It transpired that Sandie had missed a text message making it Tuesday instead.
That settled the question for us! We had a long wait in Slough for a bus (having just missed one) and it was a slow journey back to Wycombe, due to heavy traffic. So we did not get home until 6.10. We had just a few minutes to turn ourselves round before Caroline and Louise called for us. Then we walked to the General Havelock for a drink, and up the hill to the village of Flackwell Heath, where we had dinner at the Stag. A good day for walking – and pubs!
A family weekend
On Friday 26th we picked up a hire car and drove to Faversham. Ellie was at work, but we were greeted by Andrew, Hope, Isobel, Charlie and Oscar. The boys had returned the previous evening from a visit to Disneyland Paris, and Claire had dropped them at Andrew’s. It was great to see all four of our grandchildren again. In the afternoon we had an excursion to Broadstairs, on the train. The beach was crowded, but we managed to find a space, and the children enjoyed splashing in the sea.
In the evening we brought Charlie and Oscar back to Wycombe – they were to stay with us for the weekend, while Claire was at a birthday celebration. The weather was not great, but we enjoyed ourselves nevertheless. The boys love swimming, and are making good progress with their lessons. So on Saturday morning we went to the leisure centre. We did not realise until we had changed that the small pool was being used for lessons and was not open to the public. We could not persuade Oskie to go in the big pool, since even at the shallow end he would have been out of his depth. But we found a great bouncy castle for him to go on, and signed him up for a climbing class the next day. In the afternoon we went to the cinema, to see the new film version of Swallows and Amazons.
On Sunday morning we were back to the leisure centre early for Oscar to do his climbing. There is a fantastic set-up, with walls of all heights and levels of difficulty, and Oscar went up like a monkey. Afterwards we all had another swim. This time the small pool was open, but after a while Charlie moved to the big one, and eventually Oscar decided to join him.
In the afternoon we braved the clouds and occasional spots of rain to go to the Rye, the big park in Wycombe. In addition to the two playgrounds there was a small children’s funfair; the boys loved the bungee trampolines, the indoor bouncy castle and the huge inflatable slide. When they got home, the boys began painting some dinosaur money boxes we’d got them.
On Monday the weather improved somewhat, so in the morning we went to Denham Country Park. There is a new adventure playground there, which kept the boys active for some time. We also walked through to the canal, and had coffee (or coke) and cakes at the tea garden by the Deep Lock. We were back home when Claire and Maggi arrived. We walked into town and had lunch in a pub; we came back through the Rye, so the boys were able to spend more time there before Claire took them home to Bussage.
After our camping trip, we had two weeks in Sarasota before returning to the UK. We had plenty to keep us busy. First we had to wash or clean our camping gear and pack it all away; the car needed a good clean too!
We were soon back in what has become our regular routine. On Monday mornings Sandie goes to her tap dance class (other activities are ‘on hold’ for the summer); on Saturday mornings we go downtown to the library, the charity shops and the farmers’ market. We usually go down to the bayfront for our Friday evening ‘pub crawl’, occasionally further afield to Anna Maria Island, and we’re branching out to find new places too. We’ve discovered a bar that does great ‘happy hour’ cocktails, and a really good Thai restaurant, both not far at all from our condo. One night we were later than usual going down to the bayfront (because we’d been for cocktails first) but were in perfect timing for a really wonderful sunset.
On Sunday mornings, and sometimes during the week as well, we go to one of the beaches near Sarasota. We went to Turtle Beach for the first time in quite a while; the last time we went, there was heavy machinery repairing the beach south from the car park, and we wondered if they had finished. They certainly had: the machines had all gone, and we were amazed at the difference they had made. The beach used to be very narrow, and in places it was difficult to get past rocks without wading deep in the sea. Now there is possible to walk on the wide sandy beach, all the way to the southern tip of the island.
We had a few tropical thunderstorms (which we expected) and two days’ solid rain (which we did not). However, we did not mind too much as we had plenty to do indoors. We attended a meeting (by conference call) of the Board of Directors of Central Park II, and spent time chatting with neighbours, or writing emails to the directors, about some of the issues raised. We also spent a lot of time on proposal development (so much for being retired!) in frequent electronic communication with our ERA partners, and with some Cambodian consultants who will work with us on the project – if we get it! Watch this space.
Final episode of our US camping trip, heading south along the coast.
Off to Charleston (cue for another song – and dance?), but stopped first to look round a small town called Edgefield, about 20 miles from Modoc. We’d passed through the previous day, and thought it seemed a quirky kind of place, especially with the wild turkey statues!
We treated ourselves to a motel in downtown Charleston, which was convenient for the sights. There are many beautiful historic houses, and we did a guided tour of one, the Nathanial Russell House. It was perfect timing, as the rain started as we were going in, and stopped as we came out. Later we walked down to the waterfront, and admired more of the architecture, but by then we’d almost lost the sun. We sampled a restaurant and a couple of bars which were also conveniently close to our motel!
Friday 22. Before checking out, we had time for another walk around Charleston; the white and coloured buildings look their best in the sun.
Then we were off to Edisto Island: not far as the crow flies, but about 50 miles by road. We’d never been there before, but it is the current home of Ruth and Robert Anderson, who were good friends when we lived in Greenville. Somehow we’d lost touch about 20 years ago, but last year the minister of Travelers Rest Methodist Church (see previous blog) helped us to make contact. It was great to see them again, and enjoy their hospitality. We had a lot to catch up on, so we spent much of the next two days talking!
Ruth and Robert have a beautiful house, very close to the beach, so we all went for a swim in the afternoon. In the early evening they took us to a place called Botany Bay, which used to be an old plantation. Botany Bay Beach has dead trees decorated by shells, so is very picturesque. On the way back to the car we saw the sunset.
Saturday 23. This morning we went to the Ace Basin Wildlife Refuge, and walked down a long path to the Grove plantation house, which is now being restored. It was very hot, with little shade, and lot of mosquitos! We went on to Roxbury Park, and walked round the lake there. In the afternoon we went back to the beach.
Sunday 24. After brunch, we said farewell to Ruth and Robert, and continued our journey south. First stop was the small town of Beaufort; they had a ‘Water Festival’ on, but it was almost over. Then on to Hunting Island State Park, where we spent some time on the beach, climbed the lighthouse, and had a brief stroll by the lagoon.
Monday 25. Drove down to Savannah (Georgia), and spent the day walking round the city. We’d been there twice before, long ago, but enjoyed seeing it again. The many squares, with their colonial mansions and live oaks coved in Spanish moss, are so picturesque. In Forsyth Park, there is an elaborate and beautiful fountain. We also visited the RC cathedral and the Colonial Park cemetery. And we walked along the riverfront, from the Waving Girl Monument to the Globe (WWII) monument. We looked in a couple of shops, but didn’t buy anything!
Tuesday 26. Drove about 60 miles further south to Brunswick, where we had coffee and strolled around the downtown. We spotted the Presbyterian church where we had attended services in 1982 and also 1989. Then we drove over the causeway to St Simon’s Island. First stop was the Fort Frederica National Monument. The fort was built by the British in the 18th century; only a few ruins remain, but the place is quite atmospheric. We stopped at Christchurch (nearby) to see the stained glass windows, including those depicting the John and Charles Wesley, who preached there.
In the village we saw the lighthouse (but decided not to go up) and the fishing pier. We had enormous ice creams, and went for a stroll along the beach. There are no campgrounds on St Simon’s, so we drove over to Jekyll Island, and pitched our tent there. Later in the evening we heard loud rustling noises. No bears this time – just a large raccoon come to inspect our rubbish bag!
Wednesday 27. We spent the morning on Jekyll Island. First we went for an early morning walk along Driftwood Beach – lots of dead trees, very picturesque. On the way back to the car we saw a lot of small crabs in a pond. Next we stopped at the Horton House ruins, and walked round to see the cemetery and remains of the warehouse. Then to the Jekyll Island Historic District, where we walked along the river and took photos of the posh ‘cottages’. We had coffee in the café belonging to the Jekyll Club Hotel, which gave us an opportunity to see how the other half live. Finally we enjoyed a refreshing swim on Great Dunes Beach.
Then it was on to St Augustine. Back into Florida! We parked near the Castillo de San Marcos at 4pm, which gave us time for a good look round before it closed at 5.15. This was our second visit, the first being at New Year 1983. We had drinks in an Irish bar nearby, then drove out to Anastasia State Park, and booked two nights at the campground. When Sandie went to the bathroom, she heard rustling in the bushes, thought it was another raccoon, but flashed her torch around and saw three armadillos scurrying for cover! No shortage of wildlife in these parts.
Thursday 28. This morning we drove to Washington Oaks State Park; we’d read about it but were rather disappointed. The formal gardens were not that exciting, especially as the ponds had been drained for maintenance. The beach (with lots of coquina outcroppings) was more interesting, and we enjoyed a stroll.
This afternoon we went back into St Augustine, stopping briefly en route to take photos of the lighthouse. We went to the Colonial Spanish Quarter – a kind of open-air museum. The tour included demonstrations of blacksmithing and firing guns. When it finally finished we had drinks in the ‘British pub’. We had time for a quick visit to the cathedral, and the San Sebastian Winery. We then went to the Lightner Museum, where they were having an open evening, which gave us a chance to look round the works of art, with free entry and cheap drinks.
Friday 29. This morning we went for a short walk along the beach, and then headed for Silver Springs – the final stop on our nostalgia tour. On our first-ever visit to Florida (from Greenville, in December 1982) we stopped there on our way to Disneyworld. The glass-bottomed boat trips in Silver Springs have been famous for many years. We discovered that it recently became part of the adjacent state park, but otherwise it was just as we remembered.
Silver Springs is close to Ocala, on the I75 (motorway) which goes south to Sarasota. So from there it was an easy drive home!
Next instalment of our camping trip – still running a bit late!
Friday 15. Back on the parkway, we continued north. At Roanoke, we did a detour in search of a supermarket, a petrol station and a coffee shop with wifi! We needed to stock up because we were going to a National Park campground which would not have these facilities.
It was another 120 miles to the end of the parkway. We stopped to do a couple of short walks, and a longer one to the Fallingwater Cascades. Finally we made it into Shenandoah National Park. This is bisected by the Skyline Drive, which is effectively a continuation of the Blue Ridge Parkway. We discovered that the Mathews Arm campground (the only one we’d been able to book) was at the northern end of the park, so we had another 80 miles to drive. On the way, three more bears crossed the road in front of the car; at the campground there were warnings about bears, so we just hoped we would not have any closer encounters!
Saturday 16. This morning we did a hike from our campground to the highest waterfall in the park. We’d been warned that the waterfall dried up in summer, and indeed it was just a trickle, but it was an interesting walk nevertheless. We walked most of the way with two American guys, discussing travel and politics – we agreed more about the former than the latter! We also saw two bears in the woods, not far from our path. On the way back (by a different route) we saw some amazing brightly coloured fungi. Back at our campsite, we had coffee, watched by a large owl in a tree opposite the tent.
This afternoon we did a short walk, and planned to do a second, but then we were hit by a thunderstorm. The rain seemed set, and we thought it would be impossible to cook, so we left the park and found a restaurant. The annoying thing was that, while we were there, the rain stopped and the sun came out!
Sunday 17. Today we headed south through the park, stopping at several overlooks for views, and to do three walks. We saw some impressive greenstone rocks, especially on the third and longest walk, where we also saw lots of mushrooms, in an amazing variety of colours and shapes!
At 5.30 we left the park, and drove a short way to the Charlottesville KOA – the kind of campground that has the facilities that national park campgrounds do not. This was a deliberate choice, as by then our phones, cameras and laptop were almost out of charge, and we had several urgent emails to write, so wifi was an essential rather than a luxury. Hot showers were needed too, and a laundry was definitely useful.
Monday 18. We’d discovered that Monticello, Thomas Jefferson’s house, was not far from our campground, and decided to visit. It was nice to do something completely different for a change. We had a guided tour of the house, or at least the ground floor, which was interesting. Then we were free to look round other areas ourselves, including ‘below stairs’ (kitchen, cellars etc) and the grounds. Sandie went on a tour of Mulberry Row, where the slaves were housed; this was not really a tour at all, but a talk in three different locations, which gave a totally different perspective on what we’d seen.
Since we were in the area, we sampled some of products of the Jefferson winery; strolled around the pedestrianised mall in downtown Charlottesville, where we had lunch; and explored the University of Virginia campus (designed by Jefferson). What was intended to be a brief pause in our travels ended up taking nearly all day! Shenandoah was the furthest point north on our itinerary, so we now started the long journey south, but we did not get far before it was time to find another campground.
Tuesday 19. Today was mainly a driving day, as it was about 400 miles to the next place on our itinerary. However, we did have one interesting stop. We like to have coffee (preferably cappuccinos!) around 11am, and detoured into Danville, an old industrial town that has undergone partial restoration. After our coffee we walked down the Main Street, to look at a fountain and a mural illustrating a famous rail crash that took place there in 1903. Then we crossed a bridge and walked along the river.
Soon after Danville, we crossed from Virginia into North Carolina. Later in the day, just after skirting Charlotte, we crossed into South Carolina, and camped in a rather strange campground that had obviously once been part of a theme park!
Wednesday 20. We crossed South Caroline, heading for Modoc – the only place where the campground was the destination, rather than just somewhere convenient to stop. Back in 1982, someone in Greenville suggested Clark’s Hill Lake as a good place for a weekend camping trip. The lake is actually a reservoir, and there are campgrounds all around, run by the US Corps of Engineers. Our favourite was Modoc, where the campsites were strung out along a peninsula. There were few facilities – just a pit toilet on the site, and the bathhouse was a mile away – but it was so peaceful and picturesque, you had a whole bay for your individual campsite and your own private beach. We loved it, and went back several times, including a never to be forgotten night in 1989 when Claire was violently sick – not easy to clean up when it’s dark and the nearest water source is a mile away!
So we had to go back to Modoc, and found that it had much changed. More campsites have been created, so they are not so enormous, but there is still a lot of space. More facilities: water and electricity on every site! And three new bathhouses, so you were never far away from one. But still just as peaceful and picturesque, so we enjoyed a relaxing afternoon, strolling and swimming in the lake. After our barbecued veggieburgers, we sat reading for a while, but the lamp was attracting insects. So we switched it off and drank our wine by the light of the almost full moon which was shining over the lake.
The next instalment of our US camping trip. As our wifi opportunities have been limited, we are a bit out of date with the blog!
Monday 11 July. Today was to be a highlight of our nostalgia trip – we were going to visit places in Greenville, where we lived in 1982-3. We started in downtown Greenville, and were amazed by the changes that had taken place. In the 80s it was rundown and shabby – we rarely went there, except to visit the city library, with the big revolving globe in the entrance. Now it is completely different. The main street is trendy and upmarket, with lots of bars, restaurants, coffee shops etc. At the end, a roadbridge has been demolished and a new footbridge built, revealing the falls that were partly hidden before, and creating a very pleasant park. The building which used to house the library is now a children’s museum, the library is in a smart new building – but the globe is still revolving, although no longer in such a prominent position.
After a brief visit to the Haywood Mall, where we used to do some of our shopping, we went to Furman University. This is where Ian taught for a year; Sandie also did some teaching, and worked on her PhD. After such a long period of time, we did not expect to see anyone we knew there, but planned to walk around the lake, as we did almost every day when we were working there. But we had a very pleasant surprise. We’d assumed that Bob Fray, who was Ian’s exchange partner, would have retired by now, but we found that he was still working in the Math Department, and in his office on the day we visited. As we’d lost touch years ago, it was great to renew acquaintance. And we were invited by Bob to have an early dinner with him and his wife Mickey at their home – the house we lived in for a year long ago. We were impressed by the improvements they’d made, but most of all enjoyed spending time together, chatting over a meal.
We returned to our campsite about 8.30 – just as a thunderstorm broke. Luckily the campground had a place where we could take shelter, next to the laundry where we did some washing. We hoped that the storm would not last too long, but the rain went on and on. At one point it started blowing in where we were sitting, so we took refuge inside the laundry. Luckily there was a table and two chairs which we could use. The only problem was that the light was motion sensored – so one of us had to jump up every couple of minutes to ensure that it stayed on!
Tuesday 12. We started this morning with a visit to the Methodist church at Travelers Rest, which we had attended while in Greenville. When we visited briefly in 1989, we found that they had built a new, bigger church beside the old one where we had worshipped; this time, we found that they had built a Family Life Center as well, creating an enormous (by UK standards) church campus. We were welcomed by the current minister and church secretary, who gave us keys to the old church to help us reminisce.
After leaving Travelers Rest we detoured 11 miles to visit Campbell’s Covered Bridge. We’d seen signs to this close to our campground, but could not remember visiting it before. Not surprising, because we discovered that the bridge has only recently become a county park, open to the public.
And then we were off to Gatlinburg, which involves driving through the Great Smoky Mountains National Park. We stopped at the Newfound Gap (on the border between North Carolina and Tennessee) to admire the view. Entering Gatlinburg is really going from the sublime to the ridiculous. We visited the town a few times in the 80s, and judged it tacky, but in a fairly upmarket way – and we really liked it! Now we found that it was much more tacky, and less upmarket, but nevertheless fascinating, in a strange kind of way.
From our previous visit, we remembered that ‘frozen chocolate covered bananas’ were a Gatlinburg speciality. We saw no evidence of them this time: we did see a shop advertising frozen custard, but even that had shut. We found the Pancake Pantry, which serves an enormous range of huge pancakes, and we remembered having lunch there with our friend Robin in 1983. We were hoping to sample its delights for dinner, but sadly found it had closed at 4pm.
One thing we did not remember from way back was a big store selling about a dozen varieties of ‘moonshine’. It was fun to sample then all, while listening to the salesman’s spiel. At least Sandie thought so – Ian gave up after the first sip.
We went up the Space Needle, a high tower which gives views of the town and surrounding area. Our tickets entitled us to two trips, so we went up at night and again in daylight.
Wednesday 13. After our second trip up the Space Needle, we headed back across the Great Smoky Mountains. This time we detoured to Clingman’s Dome, the second highest mountain east of the Mississippi. Twice before we’d walked up to the observation tower, but seen very little because of the clouds. This time we had better luck – there were clouds, but they were moving, and we were able to get some good views.
From the Smokies we turned on to the Blue Ridge Parkway. This road runs through the foothills of the Appalachian mountains of North Carolina and Virginia. We followed part of the parkway on our journey from Washington to Greenville in 1982. It is a beautiful road (lorries not allowed, max speed 45mph) and lots of possible stops on the way for walks and places of historic interest. This time we planned to drive the whole parkway, but had forgotten how long it is – 459 miles! We could easily have spent a week doing it, but had a campsite reserved at Shenandoah, so we were not able to make as many stops as we might have liked. At one point a bear lolloped across the road in front of us! We hoped there would be none at our campground that night, but luckily the only animal we saw there was a deer.
Thursday 14. Our campground was at Crabtree Falls, so we walked to the falls before setting off. We saw still-blooming rhododendrons on the way, and several interesting fungi. About 20 miles further on, we stopped at Linville Falls and walked to some overlooks. On to the Brinegar Cabin, and later to Mabry Mill – both giving insights into the way of life of the settlers in the 19th and early 20th centuries.
We left the parkway to find a campground, but did not have to go too far. Although it was still hot during the day, the evenings were relatively cool, compared with Florida and Georgia. A sure sign that we were up in the mountains!
Monday July 4th was of course American Independence Day. We spent most of the day preparing for our camping trip, but in the evening we went down to the Bayfront to see the firework display. There were crowds of people, which meant long queues to get drinks or use the toilets. But the fireworks were spectacular.
Our camping trip had been planned a long while back. It was intended to be a nostalgia trip, revisiting places that were familiar from the year we spent in South Carolina (1982-3). A secondary purpose was to visit Shenandoah National Park, about the only national park which we had not previously seen. So our itinerary was to take us north from Florida in a loop around Georgia and the Carolinas, with bits of Tennessee and Virginia thrown in. Here’s how the first part worked out.
Tuesday 5 July. We spent most of the day driving – about 270 miles, although we were still in Florida when we camped at the Suwannee River State Park (cue for a song, or maybe two). After putting up the tent we went to explore the park on foot. We enjoyed a late afternoon/early evening walk. The scenery was unusual and picturesque; the cypress knees in and near the water were bigger than any we’d ever seen, and some had grown into weird and dramatic shapes – they reminded us of the pinnacles in Cappadocia!
Wednesday 6. This morning we walked the remaining trails in Suwannee River, then paid a brief visit to the nearby Madison Blue Springs State Park: small, but the scenery was beautiful.
We crossed the border into Georgia and stopped at the Welcome Center to pick up information. Flicking through a booklet over coffee, we spotted a picture of the Providence Canyon State Park, aka ‘Georgia’s Little Grand Canyon’. The blurb said that it would particularly interest hiker and photographers, and we thought ‘That’s us!’.
Unfortunately, during the long drive there, the sun disappeared and the rain started. We decided to continue, and after a while the rain stopped. When we finally reached Providence Canyon, there was more rain, but it was very light, so it did not stop us exploring the park. The coloured rock formations (white, pink, orange, red) were truly amazing – a kind of miniature Bryce Canyon, which we had not expected to find in Georgia! But the colours would have looked even better in sunshine, so we spent the night nearby in the hope of better luck in the morning. We decided to risk camping, but as there was only rough camping at Providence, we went a few miles further to the Florence Marina State Park. Luckily there was no more rain!
Thursday 7. After a brief look at the Florence Marina reservoir, we returned to Province Canyon. The weather had improved, but there was still lots of cloud, so we did not get the bright blue sky which would have formed the perfect background to the rocks. But there was some sun, so we took plenty of photos. We walked along the rim and down to the canyon floor. There are nine linked canyons, and we explored all the ones we had not walked through the day before.
Our next stop was Atlanta, and here we were not camping, but staying at the home of our friend Alice. We were welcomed with wine and nibbles, and later had a delicious meal – and of course lots of chat!
Friday 8. Allice lives several miles north of Atlanta centre, so we drove back part of the way and then took the Metro. When we lived in Greenville, Atlanta was our nearest big city, so we visited several times. But the two places we went to today were new to us – so much for the nostalgia trip! In the morning we went to the Botanical Gardens, where there was an exhibition of blown glass installations by Chihuly; in the afternoon to the Human and Civil Rights Center, which is devoted to the work of Martin Luther King and other people who have fought for the rights of minority groups.
Saturday 9. After accompanying Alice to her local farmers’ market, we said our farewells and headed up to Lake Lanier, just north of Atlanta. The lake is very jagged, so has a long shoreline, and there are many campgrounds, marinas and ‘day use’ parks all round the lake. We visited several, enjoyed strolling and taking photos. Sandie even had a brief dip in the water. We ended up at the Don Carter State Park (on the northernmost ‘finger’ of the lake), and there we camped for the night.
Sunday 10. After doing a couple of trails round the lake in Don Carter, we moved on to the Tallulah Gorge State Park. We walked along the north rim of the gorge, stopping at overlooks for views of waterfalls. Next stop was Toccoa Falls, which we visited more than once ‘back in the day’, as it was a pleasant stop between Atlanta and Greenville. Another waterfall, but this one is viewed from below.
We crossed the border into South Carolina, and camped at a KOA campground just north of Travelers Rest – our old stamping ground. Following our custom, we put up the tent, and then had a drink while our airbed was being pumped up. Next task would be cooking dinner (Ian) and making up the bed (Sandie). But there was a sudden violent thunderstorm, so we took refuge in the ‘pavilion’, where there were covered picnic tables. The thunderstorm eventually abated, but the rain continued, with no sign of a pause. So Ian collected our food and cooking equipment, and we had dinner under cover. It could have been much worse!