We find out that a local town has a Highland Games - so we head North at speed. It's about 3 hours to our destination - Mammoth Caves. At 356 surveyed miles it's the longest cave system in the world. We took a 2.5 hour guided tour which took us through 5 levels of caves and down to the known basement - at about 360ft below ground. The caves are limestone and on this tour we range from huge caverns to some narrow squeeze passages (one appropriately called Fat Man's Misery). The bottom of the cave takes us to the River Styx and stops before the River Echo. 50 years ago you used to be able to boat across the River Echo and continue up and out 4 hours later on the other side - they also had a cholera hospital and a restaurant down here at different times. The river down here actually has life - blind crayfish, fish and the world's only known cave shrimp
. That rare wildlife is why they don't allow tours over the river any more. We climb the equivalent of 6 storeys to get back to level 1 and head back to our motel. We called it a chill day and we hit the pool and jacuzzi. The local recommended restaurant is shut on a Sunday so we head to TGIs who have a good value 3 course 13 dollar menu
Day 338 Monday 03/10/05 Bowling Green - Bardstown
Bowling Green is only famous for one thing......Corvettes. Every Corvette made now is made here. We decided to tour the factory and it turned out to be a really good tour. We saw the car assembly plant at work and everything from fitting a car door & the first engine start to the brake & engine test on completion. We then headed North and passed into another time zone before finding the Abe Lincoln birthplace. A huge stone buidling sits on a hill beside a spring - that hill is where the Lincoln cabin once stood on - and inside this huge stone building there is a log cabin. This log cabin has for years been touted as the birthplace of Lincoln and has toured the country (in the early 1900s) - but in 2004 the History Channel proved by carbon dating that it's too young to be the real thing!!
! In addition to not being the cabin that Abe was born in the architect of the Memorial Building found that the cabin was too big for his monument - so he had it chopped down a little! The cabin is interesting though and shows how a family like his would have lived - one door, one window and a dirt floor - he came from the poorest. After his birthplace we drove on another 10 miles to find the farm where he spent his early childhood years - a nice building far removed from the poor cabin that he started life in. They don't offer tours inside but are planning to do it up for that purpose. We then headed off and 30 miles later we found Loretto - and Makers Mark Distillery. Unlike JDs this distillery is much much friendlier and we had a great tour. The buildings are original and are fabulous - it's the longest running single site bourbon distillery in America and the buildings are protected. We got to dip our fingers in the the mashtuns (Stewart tasted a 1 day mash and a 3 day mash), we got to see the ladies dipping the bottles in the trademark wax in the working bottling plant and we got a free bourbon chocolate at the end of the tour. A far better tour than JDs. We headed off and went into nearby Bardstown. The town has a great collection of old buildings and is the 2nd nicest town we have been in America so far (Eureka Springs still the nicest). They have a Bourbon museum which we tour and it has a great collection. Most of the Bourbon distilleries have been (and still are) in this area - the museum houses a good collection of stuff on all the local distilleries past and present, a big collection of whiskey bottles & glasses and has all sorts of extra whiskey stuff - from advertising leaflets to stuff on Prohibition. After the tour we find a motel before heading back into town and having a nice meal at Dagwoods. It's nice to find a non-chain locally owned restaurant and the food is good (steak/ tilapia) and at last this place has different choices/flavours/ tastes
. After dinner we head back and relax with some jacuzzi/pool time.
Day 339 Tuesday 04/10/05 Bardstown - Louisville - Lexington
We started the morning by visiting Jim Beam distillery. It's a lovely setting with some lovely old buildings but the tour isn't good for such a well known and famous distillery. They show you a video and they have exhibits in the reception room - so you don't get to savour the smells and sounds of the bourbon making process. They have a nice exhibit on coopering but nothing else sets them apart from any of the other tours. After the self guided walk round we headed an hour North to Louisville. We went striaght to the Louisville Slugger baseball bat factory. We toured the factory and watched as they produced normal bats (unfinished) in 30 seconds and a professional bat in 60 seconds. The bats are then stained and scorched with the makers imprint. It's a very good tour and actually extremely interesting. We then toured the bat museum where the history of baseball is gone through and you get to see (and handle) some famous bats. One of Babe Ruth's bats is hidden in a glass case - with nicks on the bat where he hit home runs. Our tour was led by a nice Irish guy from Belfast who married a Yank - she sadly passed away last year and he is now looking at returning home after going to an Irish wedding in Kilkenny and feeling at home again
. We then headed up to Churchill Downs - home of the Kentucky Derby. We took the 2 tours on offer. The first tour took us through the history of the track, told us about some famous horses and took us into different areas of the main stand. We then took the backfield tour which took us into the infield (where 90,000 people pay 40 bucks a head to go on Derby day - seeing very little of the track or the racing) and to the famous backfield. The backfield houses loads of stables and has a capacity of about 1,400 horses. Most of them live here almost all of the year and this area has formed a little city - with lots of people (lots of Hispanic & Irish!) living here to look after the horses. They even have their own minister and are planning to build a permanent church for him. After the tours we had a bite to eat in the cafe before touring the Derby museum. The highlight of the museum is a jockey's eye view experience - where you mount a plastic horse and try to stand like a jockey for the length of the race played on the huge video screen in front of you. It's hard going on the thighs! We left and drove 1.5 hours to Lexington. We found a nice motel and headed into town. We wandered through the town centre and found a lovely restaurant called Natasha's that had an excellent and varied menu - Stewart had a superb tofu satay while Gillian had some pork stuffed with brie. We headed back to the motel and made use of the pool and spa.
Day 340 Wednesday 05/10/05 Lexington - Somerset
It's more horses
. We headed to the Kentucky Horse Park where we...got up close to some huge Shire horses, got pulled around the park in a Percheron led carriage, saw a Hall of Champions show (where we saw the only two living horses from the 25 best racehorses of the century), saw a Parade of Breeds (5 different breeds - from Arabian to mule) and toured the excellent museum. The museum took you through the use & development of horses from cavemen to today. It's a well laid out park with very friendly staff. After some lunch in their restaurant Gillian went through the American Saddlebred museum. We then drove an hour through lovely farm country to get to Pleasant Hill Shaker village. This marvellous Shaker village has kept and renovated many of the Shaker buildings and has people giving talks on things such as the singing & dancing (shaking) to the construction aspects. As always the Shaker carpentry is awesome and some of the stuff they produce is just amazing. The village had some amazing tree lined roads and the orchards produce loads of different apples - some of which we bought to try some new types. We headed South for another 1.5 hours and got to Somerset where we holed up for the night. It sounded lovely and is located on a scenic highway but Somerset turned out to be a horrible little strip mall town. We had a nice Tex Mex meal before relaxing in the motel - well, on the exercise bike and in the pool.