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South from Savanah

Taking leave of the pleasures and mysteries of Savannah, we headed for Jekyll Island for a visit with my cousin Martha and her husband Russell. As we were slightly early we detoured across the river to Brunswick, Georgia, which is a thoroughly charming little town. They built dozens of Liberty Ships there during WWII; there is a huge paper mill upriver and a big terminal for the automobile carriers (RORO (roll-on, roll-off) ships) bring ing imported cars from Europe. Brunswick had the usual quotient of huge live oaks lining the streets, and on a number of streets, the trees were taking up a whole lane and the road simply ran around them; very nice to see that the town respected the elders of the area.

Jekyll Island is across a 6-mile long causeway and when you reach it you have to pay a $ 5 “parking fee” to Jekyll island State Park; the whole place is owned by the State of Georgia as far as we can tell; homeowners lease the land under their houses from the state. It has a very curious and interesting history of which we knew nothing at all. Marty took us to lunch at the the gorgeous, and rather time-out-of-mind 1880’s resort and conference hotelIMG_6963 and we had a wonderful time catching up on family and friends; we toured the rest of the island in the rain before leaving. Marty loves the island for its out-of-time, unchanging quality, and it did indeed feel special in a less Stepford way than Hilton Head.

Crossing into Florida, we did our usual drill of stopping at the Visitor Bureau where we were supplied with the basics of a good state highway map (remember the ones you used to get at any gas station? You have to go to Visitor Information now to get them, and it’s worth it). We got a reservation on Amelia island, near Fernandina Beach and had a very good dinner in the historic district of Fernandina Beach (first restaurant we’ve been to since Virginia with people wearing blazers; too many New Englanders living down here…). Gorgeous little town, with a railroad running into it, a container port, and the requisite paper/pulp mill; an industrial waterfront lying between the lovely downtown and the river.IMG_6972

Woke Thursday to cold, blowing, grey weather rolling into our beach front lodging, so we bailed out and headed down the A1A. We ran through a series of gorgeous state parks lying on the swampy peninsula between Amelia Island and Mayport: beautiful area, with lots of protected land and beach, and took a ferry across to Mayport. It turns out (perhaps you all knew this) that Mayport is a MAJOR naval base and silhouettes of carriers, cruisers and destroyers loomed on the horizon. Still, there seemed to be an unusual number of CG, police and patrol boats in the river, and beady-eyed cops examining us as we drove off the ferry at Mayport. Turns out Joe Biden was visiting a high school south on Mayport on route A1A, and only a timely warning from the ferry staff and a park staffer at a local park we visited prevented us from driving right smack into a Department of Homeland Security nightmare: can you picture us having to empty the car, with Swiss driving licenses, a Maine car, no visible means of support, binoculars, cameras with long telephotos and coming out of it in less than 48 hours w/o going to jail thanks to the DHS, who are protecting the US of A from terrorists……?

We were told how to detour, and detour we did, down the A1A again, stopping in to St. Augustine to see the “oldest inhabited city in the US”. There is reason to visit the place as the history is interesting, but it is also hard to appreciate it through the fog of tacky commercial development and a style of welcome which sets your teeth on edge. Charleston and Savannah seem to have managed to preserve a sense of the feel and appearance of their history in such a way as to make it accessible and enjoyable; St. Augustine needs to study its neighbors accomplishments.

We thought we might stay in St. A. for the night, but it was too egregiously touristy, so we drove through some amazing beach scenery and ended up in Daytona Beach. Picture high rises that would put Monte Carlo and Tenerife’s Playa de los Americanos to shame. Anyone who knows what DB is famous for can surely appreciate that it’s a beach strip of an er, ah, specialized sort. But today being Dan’s birthday we thought we should spend it in an unusual setting so here we are in a comfy 10-story beachfront hotel. The real charm of it is that they offer you a bag of marshmallows with the room which you can take downstairs and in return for a $10 bill get some graham crackers, chocolate and forks and make smores over a fire out on the terrace overlooking the beach. Did we take them up on it? You take a guess.

The A1A is the beach strip highway and traveling on it has rewards and drawbacks. The drawbacks are that you get to see the good, the bad and the ugly; the bad and the ugly are common to nearly all commercially developed beach strips. The good is that you find state parks, long stretches of open beach, seabirds and storks, dunes and sea oats, little to no traffic, easy parking and plenty of choice of places to stay.

The country between Jacksonville and the ocean has an astonishing number of creeks, estuaries rivers and bays. It looks like the work of a lifetime to get to know such waters. Click on the thumbnail to see the large image, or go to Google Earth or Google Maps and see for yourself. We are a little worried about what we will find the next two hundred miles down the coast. Not sure we will find Everyman’s good land. More to follow…jacksonvilleareawater

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Savannah – A dappled experience

We met up with Beth at a welcoming small pub off one of Savannah’s 20-odd leafy squares for lunch. Beth was arriving from NYC via Savannah airport and we from Hilton Head via a National Wildlife Refuge just north of Savannah in South Carolina. We met a bald eagle on our way to the Savannah River, and – once in Georgia – passed an enormous Weyerhauser paper mill and miles and miles of container shipping docks as we made our way down river on a two-lane highway filled with humongous trucks. The area we were driving through was called Garden City. No gardens in sight.

The approach was almost a metaphor for what we found in the historic district itself. Really, one should visit Savannah before Charleston. The city, laid out by Oglethorpe in the 18th century, with its squares and leafy boulevards has beautiful vistas here and there. It has 21 squares with gorgeous live oaks and shade, which in many ways give a shape to the historic area. Jones Street is likely the most consistently beautiful stretch of houses in town. Lovely monuments, here and there. Lots of history, here and there. Much evidence of the flourishing and property-rich Savannah College of Art and Design (SCAD), more here than there. And a brand-new modern art museum that is small, newly opened and stupendous. D7K_0925 The city’s historical district is full of interesting landmarks, separated by parking lots, hotels, utilitarian buildings and municipal offices. We were underwhelmed by the size and quality of the city. But that is probably more our fault than Savannah’s. We were coming from the Beauforts and Charleston; Savannah is Savannah. A bit rougher, less defined geographically, and perhaps, less “educated” in a general way. The island beach, 10 miles away – Tybee Island – is a poor person’s version of Wrightsville beach: lovely sands with tire tracks on them: cheek-by-jowl housing, and a lot of beach joints on the strip of macadam down the middle.

Complaints registered, we have had a ball testing Tybee Island and Savannah’s food offerings. IMG_6899 D7K_0823 Almost every foray out for nourishment (when we weren’t feeding ourselves in the very comfortable old “Captain’s Quarters” we rented together) has been a gas. Particularly memorable for unabashed Camp was the Crab Shack extravaganza on the causeway to Tybee Island and the 1950’s style road house, Johnnie Harris’ D7K_1002 on the way back into town. But we also had good meals and good fun at Garibaldi’s – as well as a serious and funny adventure with bad service at the Pink House Inn. In between, we have done our Savannah tour, visited a few house museums – the best of which was the tiny childhood home of the writer Flannery O’Conner – strolled along the waterfront, visited Fort Pulaski, learned our way around the city in our trusty old Avalon. People are very friendly. We suspect that many are quite content that there is no news on television and no where much to go. Ambivalent in the Garden of Good and less Good seems to be where we are until we head south again on Wednesday morning. Scenes around town: this is a hard town to catch in photos, so these are just to offer a sketch.IMG_6886 D7K_0927 D7K_1039

More Savannah images here.


Hilton Head

We don’t play golf, but they let us onto the Island in any case and we found our room way down at the south end at South Beach Marina. That had certain advantages in the sense that we got to drive the length of the William Hilton Highway and take in the panorama of blandness, highlighted by relentless tastefulness that characterizes HHI. Well, most of it anyway. Fortunately you also pass through some neighborhoods where 1950’s single-level run-down homes and double-wides predominate, a good visual reminder that the black and white population that was there after the plantations fell apart are still there and have to some extent survived the onslaught of environmental correctness. William Hilton, of the eponymous island, wouldn’t recognize the place, though he might admire the ambition.

How one can brag about HHI being environmentally conscious when the place is covered with buildings and streaming with cars (during the slow, off-season between Thanksgiving and Christmas) is not entirely obvious. That the square mileage of the golf courses aren’t covered with houses is a blessing, unless they use fresh water resources to keep the grass green? There are as many miles of bicycle paths as roads, and thousands of bicycles to rent, which is a good sign indeed.

The beaches (or the one we saw on a cold windy November afternoon) are as advertised: gorgeous, firm sand, free of trash IMG_6825 There was a dolphin 10 feet offshore engaged in stranding small fish for dinner, bluebirds in the brush along the high tide line and herons and ibis by the score in the salt marshes. The marshes, as they are all along this SE Atlantic coast, are gorgeous, and there are numerous public boardwalks built out into them at strategic places which allow you to get away from the shore and out where you can see the critters. IMG_6848

The architecture of houses and condos we saw was uniformly bland in color, and occasionally attractive in design. The exception was around Windmill Marina, right where you come off the bridge, where there was some real variety in colors: pinks, yellows, blues, aquas, even white – all in tasteful Williamsburg-style tones, naturally. There might have been more variety inside some of the other plantations but we didn’t want to pay $5 at each gatehouse for the privilege of finding out, or to take the time to do so. The South Carolina Yacht Club was heavily engaged in decorating for Christmas, and in design and appearance looked as if the architects had wished it had been there since the time of William Hilton, or at least since the time when gentlemen sailed yachts. D7K_0672

However, it is a pretty building, and it must be pleasant to sit on the wide porch in warmer weather and watch friends and neighbors chug by on their way in and out of the purpose-built locks that separate the harbor from the tidal river to prevent the boats owners having to cope with tides in the boat basin; in a properly managed life, it is always high tide after all. D7K_0667

One startling aspect is the school buses: there are actually people living in these houses and/or apartments/condos, and there is a public school system on HHI; there is also a private academy, as you might expect.

Dorothy Parker is known for her acerbic views, one of which was on the acting ability of Katherine Hepburn: words to the effect that her acting “… runs the gamut of emotions from A to B.” Somehow this popped into mind during our time on HHI.

Finally, a friend of ours who recently visited HHI said it reminded him of The Stepford Wives. Since he lived for many years in Greenwich Connecticut, we suspect he knows whereof he speaks.

In the end we left without the time to really dig in and get enough facts to spoil the fun we were having engaging in uninformed speculation.

On the mainland, there is Bluffton, a lovely old town with an excellent restaurant, the May Creek Café. We drove into town only to find a traffic jam and police everywhere, though they did look pretty relaxed. TV news trucks with their antennas were parked at the far edge of a crowd. We escaped and went to lunch, only to find that we had just missed wandering into a speech by Newt Gingrich. After lunch we followed our noses to the waterfront and found the Bluffton Oyster Company doing a thriving business not only in seafood but also in the oyster shells, much used by landscapers. The local population of shorebirds hung out there too. D7K_0743


Beaufort, SC

That’s “Bewfurt” please, we’re in South Carolina. So now you’re thinking The Big Chill, The Prince of Tides and all the Hollywood prices and style that go with such a history. There is some of that, but this is still a pretty small town, though it is the county seat; Wikipedia tells all.

There’s a lot more. It was occupied for the entire Civil War by the Union Army, so suffered little physical destruction; reconstruction was of course another matter. Port Royal, nearby, and looking pretty down at the heels (except for a fabulous restaurant, Dockside) was established very early on by the Spanish and the French. Across the bay is Parris Island Parris-Island-From-Port-Royal and from the boardwalk at Port Royal, you can hear the Marine recruits yelling in chorus across two miles of marsh and water.

The number of rivers, creeks, coves, marshes and bays is impressive: Beaufort-SC

There are marinas tucked into many of those coves and it looks as if the ICW traffic enjoys visiting here, though the day we left they were all hunkered down for a day of rain and wind. D7K_0647 Normally it’s a lovely harbor IMG_6815 D7K_0596

Why were we not surprised that the harbor tour boat in this charming town is called “The Prince of Tides”? Beaufort, pronounced with a drawl, please, is Pat Conroy. The huge live oak trees lining street after street of antebellum houses drip with history and Spanish moss. D7K_0588



The town is a miniature Charleston in architectural variety and grandeur, and each house has a long and colorful story known by hairdressers and waitresses as well as the carriage tour guides. And like every other place we’ve been so far in South Carolina, people here are genuinely hospitable to the stranger: go in to get the battery replaced in your watch and you’re included without so much as a by-your-leave in a crowd which includes grandpa and the grandkids, and it seems not to matter that you’re obviously from “away” and even have a “Yankee” accent.

In a way similar to our visit to Southport, we came away from Beaufort with a sense of a town which, despite its reknown and tourism, retains its sense of itself and an openness to others which is the kind of tradition that makes the traveler feel at ease, even if not necessarily at home.


Charleston and Thanksgiving

We put the turkey in the oven on slow cook and headed off to the beach for a look at Fort Moultrie,IMG_6754 Sullivan Island and Breach Inlet: not your average Thanksgiving morning for us! The bird was delicious and the company good and we thought of everyone spread out worldwide and hoped your gathering was equally rewarding.IMG_6772

We took another horse tour of Charleston with John, and saw a lot of buildings and streets we hadn’t already seen. One neighborhood houses what were the French, German, Hibernian and Scots Social Clubs, for which read drinking establishments. They met on different evenings, starting on Monday but it was unclear if one could be a member of all four. The guide summed up another view of Charleston as an historic town with a drinking problem.

We showed John a couple more of the plantations, passing some of the local businesses (concealed weapons courses, and boiled peanuts) D7K_0570
and went to Folly Beach for lunch IMG_6793 and drove up to the northern tip to see the lighthouse and the view over to the southern tip of Sullivan’s Island and Fort Moultrie. D7K_0579

One of the discoveries of the stay was the town of Mount Pleasant. It first appears to be just a bedroom community of Charleston but turns out to have some lovely old houses and districts and some well-done access via boardwalks and old bridge causeways to marshlands and waterfront.D7K_0527. It also offers departures for visits to Fort Sumter (well worth it) and the option to visit the Yorktown. D7K_0253

There is a great deal of history to be seen in this area but unless you’re devoted only to that, it’s also rewarding to get out and visit the parks, road ends, beaches, marshes and other natural areas, which abound.

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Happy Thanksgiving

If this is Tuesday, it must be, er, ah, Charleston?

Saturday was moving in and housekeeping in our starter-kit condo in the agreeable town of Mount Pleasant, on the eastern side of the Cooper River and at the foot of the spectacular Ravenel Bridge D7K_0325 where there is a Whole Foods and a Trader Joe’s both within 5 minutes.

Sunday morning we drove around Mount Pleasant which has a lovely small old part of town with gorgeous places D7K_0359 and view on the river and a cluster of boats and eateries at Shem Creek. That evening we were taken in by Georgia Crawford Nettles (daughter of an old Small Point friend of Katie’s) and her husband Brian for a drink at home and then we treated them to a fun dinner in S.N.O.B. (Slightly North Of Broad), a great restaurant in Charlestown. Georgia gave us a way to use a parking area downtown, which is wonderful – as well as being within ten minutes of our condo. So thanks again to Georgia.

Monday we hit the Visitor Center and managed to get ourselves ensnared in a pitch for time-shares in return for $ 100+ worth of tickets to things we actually wanted to do, so while the whole pitch was even more egregious, venal and tasteless than most, we came out ahead. We actually enjoyed SarahLyn, who introduced us to a concept we didn’t know: for Thanksgiving, her family is having a TurKuckEn; sounds delicious, and a lot of work; has anyone out there ever had one?. We did a drive-by on the rows of gorgeous houses in the southern end of town in order to get oriented and then took in the SC Aquarium (free tickets), with a spectacular three-story ocean tank but a less intimate and welcoming feel than the NC Aquarium on Cape Fear.

This morning was our turn to use the free tickets (again) to take the horse-drawn carriage trip through town, and listen to the guide describe what we saw and discuss some of the history of Charleston; it was well-done: he had a fine sense of humor and a solid grasp of not only the facts but also the social and political trends of the times. Moving at a clip-clop pace is useful, as you get time to see details and are high enough in the air to snoop over the neighbors’ fences. The horse come equipped with pooper-catchers D7K_0365 and are clearly well-cared for and trained.

This afternoon, we took a tour of Magnolia Plantation IMG_6744 still in the same family after 16 generations. This was one of the rice plantations but survived after Reconstruction by selling off 2/3 of its 2000 acres and diversifying. Despite the hype on its website, its a beautiful spot and manages to convey a sense of how people lived then (we didn’t do the house visit….). But the alligators were on display. D7K_0426

At first you think that the South Carolinians were just the most rebellious around: first to declare themselves no longer a colony, first to secede (unanimously) from the US. Then you add it up fast that they were most determined to protect their slave-driven economy and privileges and it takes the shine off the gestures. But there are a LOT of Oldest Thises and Historic Thats here: gardens, houses, churches, attitudes. It is undeniably a lovely downtown area and appears to be thriving; there a lots of young people around (and an unusual and noticeable number of gorgeous girls), some clearly students at the College of Charleston (our guide asserted that SC comes 49th in educational ratings of the 50 states) where the student body is 2/3 female); clearly there are also many local businesses, likely many related to the tourist trade. Charleston is also the fourth-largest shipping container port in the US, and the second largest on the East Coast. They are, unfortunately, planning to add a cruise ship pier in the near future, which should seriously affect the quality of visiting the downtown area. It’s the only city we’ve been in so far which has touts all over the place, in front of some eateries or peddling horse-drawn carriage tours; unusual, though they are low-key about the pitch.

We try to mix visits to the “usual suspects”, i.e., Magnolia Plantation or doing the horse-drawn carriage tour, with looking for wild corners, back streets, architectural details, people in their back yards, swamps, critters and other details not quite so susceptible to commercial packaging. Sometimes it just means driving around, or walking around the corner, or going to the local grocery store. It’s a bit harder in a city like Charleston.

Dan’s brother John arrives, by train from Boston, tomorrow morning early, we’re baking a pie tonight, and going to cook a turkey on Thursday; that in itself will be unusual as we are nearly always in Switzerland at Thanksgiving, and have to have it on the weekend after if we want to do it.

This being our favorite holiday, we will think of all of you, and raise our glasses to absent friends and family, and wish you a lovely holiday in good company.


Wilmington, NC, to Charleston, SC

Via Georgetown, SC.

We went across the Cape Fear River at Wilmington and headed down Route 17 towards South Carolina. We debated going going back down the peninsula to Fort Fisher on Cape Fear and taking the ferry across to Southport, but the ferry schedule helped us decide to drive instead.

Part way down we detoured off at the sign pointing to Brunswick Town and Fort Anderson. You can read All About It here, rather than let us get it wrong and not as well explained. Right next to it was the Orton Plantation which is clearly still in operation but farming pine trees for International Paper (that’s right, you do remember: the paper company that sold off its operations in Maine to concentrate on monoculture pine cropping in the SE US; drive through the town of Jay Maine and look at the tower in the middle of town, at the falls on the Androscoggin and admire the name still there: International Paper).

But part of the pleasure is just exactly this kind of of spur-of-the-moment little detour; the maps and guidebooks (unless you have some seriously detailed ones) don’t mention such places. At this season, the number of visitors midweek in November can likely be counted on the fingers of one finger. This site had some interesting archeology and displays, but unless you’re a serious student of Civil War torpedoes or Colonial artifacts, interest flags fast; it isn’t because the displays are not well-done – they are, and you have to admire the resources that the State spends here; they might cut budgets in any number of ways these days, and probably are doing so. Meanwhile we enjoy the work they put into educating the public about these bits of history.

The end of that route south led us to Southport, NC. This is another of the many ports along the ICW and is a thoroughly delightful place, with lots of interestingly history. It resembles Beaufort in the sense that it lies at the intersection of a number of waterways, harbors the station for the pilots for the Cape Fear River and Wilmington, and has a gorgeous old town with the classic wide-set-back streets of North Carolina with lines of beautiful live oaks overhanging them. When you look at the Google Map of the area you see that there are a lot of waterways meeting there. It’s a an area which has been punished by hurricanes but you’d never know it today. See more images of Southport. D7K_0190

The live oak is a tree we’re learning to love on this trip. In Virginia they aren’t quite as impressive, but as you move south they assume really impressive size and are really gorgeous trees; they grow into enormous spreading trees, with wonderful twists in the trunks, and resist hurricane winds and salt spray. They were one of the principle shipbuilding timbers in the Colonial period and are reportedly responsible for cannonballs bouncing of the sides of Constitution (can anyone say “Old Ironsides”?).

A small find off the highway south of Southport, un-nnoticed by the guidebooks: Hampton Plantation State Park, an example of the low-country rice plantations. Gorgeous spot, with spectacular live oaks.

From Southport, NC, on into South Carolina, you want to avoid Myrtle Beach at all costs, and the State of South Carolina has made that possible with a lovely bypass. You end up in Georgetown, SC. We spent the night, and wanted to go to the Rice Museum the next morning but they were not open. We tend to think that King Cotton made the fortune of the South, but in this area, it was rice during the 1800’s, and the old homes in Georgetown demonstrate that clearly. Like Southport, it’s a town with wide set-back streets, live oaks and many lovely old houses (and an expected number of fixer-uppers), and what appears to be a
functioning movie theater, which was all lit up the night we were “downtown”.

Nowadays the southwestern horizon in G’Town outlines the mills of International Paper and Arcelor/Mittal Steel; why a a steel mill should be located in coastal South Carolina isn’t clear (though this article provides a little background), but there it is, and it’s an ugly hulk; but when the wind blows the wrong way, what you notice is the good ol’ hydrogen sulfide (i.e., rotten eggs) odor of a pulp mill. Otherwise it’s a lovely place.

Having time we wandered into Charlestown via Sullivan Island, looking for lunch (found) and to inspect the beaches, which are beautiful, and while heavily built up, the houses are at least set a couple of hundred yards back behind heavy vegetation on the low dunes. We added to the lighthouse collection here as well: and it has an unusual shape D7K_0245 to say the least.

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Last stops in North Carolina (Wilmington)

Driving into Wilmington you pass through the now expected miles of commercial strip that surround most old towns in the US; at least in cases like Wilmington (or Beaufort, or any other you can name) they didn’t gut the original town to build these strips, but it likely isn’t because it wasn’t considered at the time.

We took a look around town at the end of the afternoon, doing a drive-by on the neighborhoods and downtown streets and a foot prowl in the downtown district. Like many an old town in the US, the downtown is a mix of old brick or wood structures, and some public buildings: here an enormous, lovely Post Office and a Federal District Courthouse. More amazing was the residential district on the southern edge of town, on the rise of hill naturally. There is block after block of splendid wood, brick and stone houses, brick-paved streets and nearly every one is in good condition.






While there are some closed store-fronts the town has a feel of, if not booming prosperity, at least of thriving: lots of young people, interesting shops, very good restaurants and well-maintained civic infrastructure. The town has a lot of charming and interesting small details, and a wander by foot lets you see them. Given the combination of poor weather and constraint of schedule, we stuck to some of the large details, but it’s a lovely little town. Nice discovery.

Wilmington is a major Coast Guard station D7K_0062 and also has one of the WWII battleships open for visits, the North Carolina: D7K_0057

Wikipedia has a pretty good outline describing the area. It mentions the beach areas of Wrightsville, Carolina and Kure Beach, but having driven down there we can say that they are just as horrendously overbuilt and crowded as every other beach town we’ve seen in North Carolina. We wouldn’t live here for the beach access…

We took the afternoon of a cold, grey windy day to look at the North Carolina aquarium at Cape Fear; note the paragraph: “It is the fifth-oldest surviving English place name in the U.S.” – who knew there was such a classification? Wonderful facility, with an albino alligator D7K_0080 on prominent display, a great touch-tank for kids, or adults: you too can pick up a horseshoe crab. Also one of the better “don’t run” signs: D7K_0072

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Last stops in North Carolina

We have really enjoyed lingering along the estuaries and wandering through the old coastal towns of North Carolina. There is a similarity between coast lovers in New England and here. Fish and boats occupy a great many people, and there is a pride of place in many towns that feels familiar.

The number of old and beautiful houses along the waterfront and parallel streets of Beaufort rival those in Bath, Camden and Freeport, Maine. D7K_9991 IMG_6596 D7K_0054

Every other house has a plaque next to the front door identifying the original owners, their dates and stories. Across the lively waterfront is Carrot Island and a Rachel Carson nature reserve, inhabited only by birds and wild horses. We saw only one grazing along the edge of the beach as we sat on a sunny restaurant deck eating lunch and watching groups of pelicans float by over our heads. To see more, we took a little flat-bottomed skiff ferry out to Shackleford Banks at the mouth of Beaufort Inlet, close to the spot where Blackbeard’s sunken ship, the Queen Anne’s Revenge, is being excavated from the sand bank which has covered her for almost 300 years. (Her story, and many of the artifacts already cleaned and identified are on display in Beaufort’s fine small Marine Museum.) The Bank, a mile wide and nine miles long, is home to a herd of one hundred and forty really wild horses. None of this grazing on people’s lawns. We didn’t see any galloping on the beach, however. The three we did see were too busy cropping breakfast from amongst the sand dunes and under scrub pines to expend energy running with the wind, but it was easy to imagine what a sight it must be when they do gallop over the deserted beach. D7K_0017<D7K_0025 D7K_0032

Lani would have been pleased to hear our ferryman tell the story of Rachel Carson’s work to make people realize that the DDT runoff from upland farms had killed the fish and birds along the coast, and then praise the work that had been done to clean up the rivers that were carrying poisons to the estuaries. He remembered how exciting it was to see the brown pelican population come back to Beaufort, and how grateful the locals were to Carson. Thrilling, indeed.

The Bogue Banks, heavily built up along the Crystal Coast west and south of Morehead City (named for the town’s founder, John Motley Morehead!), were less of a thrill. We made a short visit to the famed fishing pier on Bogue Banks IMG_6599 which was surrounded by at least a hundred parked trailers. The people fishing off the pier looked happy, but what an eyesore on the land side of the lovely beach.

Cape Lookout National Seashore begins on the south side of Ocracoke Inlet and runs for 56 miles south to the Shackleford Banks. It no longer has any permanent settlements but is accessible for camping and hiking, and yes, including ferries to take your truck over there to drive on the beaches. D7K_0013 So far the only beach we’ve found in NC where you cannot drive on the the beach is Wrightsville Beach, a hugely over-developed strand of beach off Wilmington.

To get from Beaufort to Wilmington, you have to drive inland in order to get around Camp Lejeune, and it’s a long detour as Lejeune is enormous and includes a big estuary. As you can imagine, the shopping centers and strips around it feature heavily Hummers and similar vehicles, and other services attuned to the population of Lejeune. The best one we saw, from the road, was Dirty Deeds: Bar and Laundromat.

Driving along the highway that borders the camp, especially close to the main gate, you see lots of heartfelt welcome home signs for servicemen returning from wherever their duty has taken them.

We detoured through Wrightsville Beach IMG_6607 IMG_6606 in honor of Katie’s college classmate Martha, had lunch in a local fish hangout, and went on into Wilmington with no undue regret – either for the horribly built-up beachfront or for Old Tom’s family attachments to the place. Imagine having to drive down from Cambridge, MA to go to that beach when you could drive Down East to Maine…


Again, I am surprised by the things I don’t know (well, I hear you say, why wouldn’t you be!).

I have always been struck by the bold black and white patterns painted on the Banks lighthouses, but never thought to ask if it had any significance.

Well, of course, it does. The patterns are what are called the “daymark” of the light: the pattern which enables a mariner to distinguish it from another Banks light during the day, when the flash pattern isn’t visible.

See the lighthouses gallery.

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