Marlinton & Pocahontas County

We arrived in Marlinton, Pocahontas County, via the Highland Scenic Highway. This was a beautiful road – we stopped at various overlooks and walked a couple of trails, for example Cranberry Glades, shown below, yet saw hardly a soul despite the huge parking lots seeming to expect more visitors. This was a theme throughout our stay in West Virginia – it really should be better known, it’s so pretty, but I gather it’s more of a weekend destination, and some areas get more trade in the Fall and skiing seasons.

We had actually visited Marlinton before. On our 2008 trip we stopped for lunch in the Dirt Bean Café and went to the Visitor Information Office, but this time neither venue was where we expected so we took a while to re-orient ourselves. It turns out that Visitor Info had moved, and there had been a fire at Dirt Bean – but its owner was working at the B&B we stayed at, Locust Hill, while she waited to re-open. I think she and Dave, the B&B owner, were surprised that we had not only chosen to visit West Virginia, but to do it twice. Again, this was a theme of our whole visit – “you mean you’ve come all the way from Scotland to here!” One guy said that if he ever got out of West Virginia he would never come back. Maybe it’s different if you live there, but we thought it was wonderful.

Anyway, back to Marlinton. Locust Hill was excellent. At the weekend, it also operates as a pub / restaurant, so another time I would try to stay Friday to Monday so that we could eat there every night. Dave is a good cook!  We arrived on a Thursday so had to eat out and the rest of the town doesn’t have much choice.

On our first full day we visited Cass Scenic Railroad to take a steam train on the old logging line to Bald Knob, a 4.5 hour journey of 11 miles each way and about 2000 feet change in elevation. Half way up, there was a stop to view Whittaker Camp, a recreated 1940s logging camp –  in the gallery below you can see the kitchen / dining car and surveyor’s shanty with its walls lined in cardboard for insulation. The caboose, along with another two on the mountain, could be hired out for an overnight stay – definitely a cut above the shanties, but still rather too Spartan for my taste. The brakeman (or woman in our case) in each car had a hard job on the way down, constantly leaning out over the track to check the wheels weren’t locking, then adjusting the brakes if they were. It was interesting, if hair-raising, to watch.

On our other full day, we visited three State Parks, linking together trails to hike a total of nine miles or so. The most interesting was Droop Mountain Battlefield, a combination of hiking trails with Civil War history which I always find haunting. In Watoga, the biggest park in WV, we followed the Ann Bailey Trail. I was amused, though possibly shouldn’t have been, at the headstone to Forest Workman which I first took to be a generic monument, but he was a real person. Hmm, not a great choice of name by his parents! The spectacular fungi were out in force in both parks – the pale yellow one was hard and solid to the touch. Weird! The final park, not pictured, was Beartown which consisted of a board walk amongst unusual rock formations and massive boulders making it hard to get a photograph to do it justice.

On our way out of Pocahontas County we visited the National Radio Astronomy Observatory at Green Bank. As soon as our guide opened her mouth I knew where she was from – Durham, very close to where I grew up in North East England. She was one of only four “Brits” I can remember meeting in West Virginia – and all were settled and working there. I guess this post sums up our experience of a State which is not a big tourist destination, especially for non-Americans,  with lovely people who are a bit self-deprecating about its attractions. Maybe I shouldn’t have written about it at all in case you all go and make it too busy next time we decide to visit!

We had one more destination in West Virginia, and headed north to Davis.

Peaks of Otter

The Blue Ridge Parkway proved as beautiful, if not more so, than the Skyline Drive and we stopped several times to get out and stretch our legs.

The most pleasant surprise, however, was the Lodge at Peaks of Otter which was almost an afterthought when we planned it. I thought it might be pretty, but wasn’t prepared for the beauty of the mountain and lakeland setting. The Lodge building was attractive with decent food, and the accommodation blocks were built facing the (artificial) Abbott Lake so all rooms had a good view from their patios or balconies.

We climbed Harkening Hill, smallest of the three Peaks, and might have done more had it not been for the spectacular thunderstorms – fortunately we had read the weather forecast accurately and were back from our walk in time to enjoy the storm from our covered patio. We watched as Sharp Peak gradually disappeared – and were glad we weren’t up it!

One of the things I find fascinating on our US travels is the variety of fungi. The two below are from these few days – the orange cluster was in a picnic area just off the Parkway, and the large brown one (with my boot for size comparison) was on Harkening Hill. I find it very strange that you can get clusters on or around one particular tree, but nothing on others nearby. What makes that tree special? Answers on a postcard please.

From Peaks of Otter, we headed back onto the Parkway, heading south. Next up: Roanoke and Abingdon.

The Smokies are still smokin’

As I write, we are spending our last night in the Smokies. We are in another lovely B&B, the Charleston Inn in Bryson City – which is not, of course, a city but a rather charming small town. Our room is called the Treehouse because it’s two flights up and has a balcony overlooking a walnut tree. Excellent for the drinking of beer after a hard day, as you can see.

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We also have this lovely lily pond just outside our building.

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Yesterday, on our way over, we hiked a trail called Chimney Tops. It wasn’t the best choice, because the guide book we had didn’t warn us about the rock climb at the end. John made it some way up but was impeded by a large group of tourists who were taking their time (and lots of photographs) – and also by my anxious face peering up from below. It’s harder than it looks, so we missed the best views.

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Today, however, has been the best day’s hiking so far. There are two entrances to the Great Smoky Mountains National Park from Bryson City and we explored both. In the morning, we visited the Deep Creek area which was very busy – not with hikers, but with people going tubing. This looked great fun. However, we did the Loop Trail which took in three waterfalls: Juney Whank, Tom’s Branch and Indian Creek.

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After a picnic lunch, we moved on to the Lakeview Drive, known to locals as the Road to Nowhere. As part of FDR’s New Deal, a dam was built to create Lake Fontana and, to replace a road flooded in the process, Lakeview Drive was promised. That was 1943 and it has never been completed. It ends within the park at a 1200 foot tunnel, now only accessible on foot, and through that are various trails. We did the Goldmine Loop which took us down to the lake and back up – a stiff climb which left us needing those beers. In contrast to the morning, we didn’t see a single other person on this walk so, apart from worrying about meeting a bear, I thoroughly enjoyed it. I think we’ve done 8 or 9 miles today.

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As you might have gathered, I am fascinated by the variety of fungi here and today we saw several new kinds.

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As I said, Bryson City is a pleasant little town. Last night, we ate in Trip Advisor’s number one recommendation, the Cork and Bean, a wine bar / coffee bar combination which also does wonderful crepes. On the way home, we spotted a Chinese restaurant and went in to see if their menu was suitable for vegetarians – this is a frustration with this country, they don’t have to display a menu at the door. Anyway, the staff were friendly and it looked fine and I was ridiculously excited all day about going there – there have been some definite culinary highlights so far, but a lot of pasta and veggie burgers too. In the end, it was very good – despite the staff who were on tonight not having such good English as last night, any misgivings were unfounded and the veggie meal turned out to be completely veggie. Kung Po tofu with cashew nuts was particularly good.

So, last words on Bryson City – it’s a pretty little mountain town….

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……which post-dates the Civil War and therefore has a statue of a 1WW soldier instead of the usual Confederate…..

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…..and best of all, takes pride in encouraging its kids to read:

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This has been a long post but there was a lot to fit in. Tomorrow, we head back into Georgia to a cabin on Blood Mountain. No wi-fi and probably no phone signal, so might not be online again until we get home. Ciao.

Blue Ridge Parkway

I’ve wanted to travel the Blue Ridge Parkway for many years, and yesterday we did the Boone to Asheville section of it. It was very scenic with lush greenery and, well, the blue ridges of the mountains. I think I’d have been disappointed though if we hadn’t already done the Skyline Drive in Virginia, which runs into it, a few years ago. I had the impression that both would be roads running along ridges with the ground falling away at the sides and views all around. Neither is like that (though we did travel a road in Utah last year that was – scarily so.) We stopped at Linville Falls, Linville Caverns and Mount Mitchell, the highest point in the Eastern USA. As Mitchell was my maiden name, I was pleased to have my photograph taken with the sign! It was a bit misty to get much of a view but there was a lovely nature trail at the top with a fascinating number of different kinds of mushroom. Well, we liked them anyway. On the way down, the mist rolled in and it started to pour, so for many miles visibility was almost non-existent. Not the best thing on a mountain road, but we got here.

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