Fayetteville and the New River Gorge

Despite its name, the New River is probably one of the oldest in North America, with the most accepted estimate suggesting that it has run its present course for at least 65 million years! The National Park Service owns 70,000 acres of New River Gorge in West Virginia where we spent three days in Fayetteville, at its northern end, hiking and exploring some of the area’s industrial heritage.

One morning, we set off to hike in the rain and the Gorge looked really atmospheric with the rising mist. By the afternoon, it had cleared for good views of the New River Bridge, 876 feet above the river, which is the world’s longest single-arch steel span bridge, apparently. I’ve also included a picture of a deer here, though it was by no means the first we had taken. Deer are all over the place, but this one seemed keener than most to stand and stare at us so the picture is sharper.

One of the major resources in West Virginia’s economy is coal though, as in the UK, not all mines have survived. We visited Beckley Exhibition Coalmine in which mining finished in 1910. It then lay dormant for 50 years until the local council took it over and opened it as museum in the 1960s. You could go into the mine on a little train and view some of the left-over equipment. It was horrible to imagine working in those conditions. The guides were all retired miners – ours was called Marvin – and this made the talk of canaries and safety lamps even more unnerving than it would have been anyway. There was also a visitor centre and a replica Coal Camp: workers usually lived in company-owned dormitories or houses, the rent for which was automatically deducted from their pay. Also, instead of cash, they were often paid with scrip, a sort of voucher which could only be spent in the Company Store, and there were examples of this on display. What a hard life!

In Thurmond, we visited relics of the golden days of railroading. Thurmond was a flourishing town from about the 1870s through to the mid-twentieth century. Now, it’s part of the National Park area, the Depot is a Visitor Centre and you can walk round the remaining historic buildings – and yet, it is still a functioning station with three passenger trains per week in each direction. I particularly liked the old advertising signs with Chessie the cat, and the hobo signs decoded – a cat here means “kind lady”, which I thought was lovely.

Fayetteville designates itself “Coolest small town” and it definitely has quite a cool atmosphere – less starchy than Abingdon, our previous stop. We stayed in another lovely B&B, the Morris Harvey House, with another helpful host. Bernie gave us advice on what to do and was happy to lend us his book of walks. I liked that there was one table for breakfast – we got to talk to some interesting people. It’s always slightly awkward in a B&B with separate tables, I feel. It’s ok if they’re far enough apart to carry on your own conversation, but otherwise you have that “shall we or shan’t we strike up a conversation” moment. A short walk down the road was Pies and Pints which had amazing beer and pizzas – definitely not to be missed. As a veggie, I had to rely heavily on pizza (along with veggie burgers and pasta) and this was the best. So, all in all, Fayetteville was a hit.

Our next stop was Marlinton – not that far away, but we chose to take the scenic route.

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16 thoughts on “Fayetteville and the New River Gorge

  1. nomad, interrupted December 13, 2016 / 13:06

    It’s so nice to see your post about your trip to Fayetteville. I love that photo of the Grand View. I wish we had seen that. Also, you both stood awfully close to the edge of the Endless Wall cliffs! I’m too much of a scaredy-cat to stand anywhere close to the edge of cliffs. I’m afraid I’ll be my usual klutzy self and trip over my own feet, toppling over the edge! I recognize a lot of sights in your post. I don’t think I could have gone on the mine tour – I hate enclosed spaces! I’m really glad you enjoyed your trip here. 🙂

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  2. Donna August 25, 2014 / 06:03

    The New River bridge is so beautiful. And miners had it incredibly bad. Not only did they “owe my soul to the company store” they risked their lives.. mine explosions, black lung, methane gas. Fascinating history though.

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    • Anabel Marsh August 25, 2014 / 07:44

      You could do a Bridge Walk (underneath I think) which we might have investigated had we been there longer – didn’t know about it till we arrived. Yes, I have great admiration for miners and the dangers they faced, and still face despite improved safety. In addition to all you mention, “kettle bottoms” are fossilised trees which have a tendency to drop out of the mine roof. It’s a silly name, but another hazard to add to the list.

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  3. cvail August 24, 2014 / 09:30

    Anabel, Wow. I have driven through West Virginia, but never really spent any time there. I would love to do the coal mining tour. It sounds interesting!

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    • Anabel Marsh August 24, 2014 / 09:54

      We loved WV and were amazed how quiet it was. Not many overseas tourists, and apparently just a weekend destination for Americans. Great for us to have certain places to ourselves, but I hope people can still make a living.

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  4. njmagas August 24, 2014 / 03:27

    Ah! History and nature! The two things I desperately need when I travel. Beautiful photos!

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  5. Lori L MacLaughlin August 23, 2014 / 04:20

    Sounds like another great place to visit. I can’t imagine having to work in those mines. My claustrophobia wouldn’t let me. Makes me really feel bad for the miners, working in such dangerous conditions and not even getting fairly paid. It gives new meaning to the line from “Sixteen Tons” that you quote in your above comment. I always liked that song.
    I agree about B&Bs being nicer than hotels. When we traveled through Britain, we stayed in a different B&B every night and met the nicest people. I’m so glad we went that route.

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    • Anabel Marsh August 23, 2014 / 08:31

      Thanks for the comment Lori. I was ok in the mine because we didn’t go far in and I knew I could get out quickly but, like you, I’d be claustrophobic if I had to work there. I’m glad you enjoyed British B&Bs. I’ve not stayed in one for a few years so I’m not sure how they compare to American ones these days. At one time, they were very informal – just someone’s spare bedroom – but everything is more sophisticated now! > > >

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      • Lori L MacLaughlin August 24, 2014 / 03:19

        That’s basically what it was — staying in people’s spare bedrooms. I liked it. The people were so friendly, it made the trip that much more interesting and enjoyable.

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        • Anabel Marsh August 24, 2014 / 09:05

          Good to hear. The American definition of B&B seems to cover everything up to small inns. But I love the variety.

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  6. Silvia Writes August 22, 2014 / 20:17

    I certainly looks like it was a hit from those pictures. So much history to walk through, one thing I love about West Virginia.

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  7. Birgit August 22, 2014 / 19:47

    The gorge looks beautiful but so scary for me. I am nervous seeing your husband so close to the edge:) It almost seems like the miners were slaves to the owners. To be given just script to be forced to use the store is not right. Miners still have one of the most dangerous jobs. The B & B’s (the homes you show) look really lovely. They look huge! I know what you mean about sitting close although my husband has no qualms about talking:)

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    • Anabel Marsh August 22, 2014 / 20:28

      The pictures are artfully taken to make them look a bit more scary than they actually were! We do like to appear intrepid.

      We just started using B&Bs a few years ago – they are so much nicer than chain hotels. When I was younger I would have been much more wary about getting into conversation with strangers but it gets easier – especially for us, as we are usually a novelty act! Not many British tourists in West Virginia.

      Agree about the miners. I owe my soul to the Company Store is a line in a song.

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