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 As our wifi opportunities have been limited, we are a bit out of date with the blog!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!