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.