Blue Ridge Parkway, Dolly Parton and Trees

Trip Start Nov 01, 2004
Trip End Nov 01, 2005

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Monday, October 17, 2005

Day 352 Monday 17/10/05 Charleston - Asheville

We started the day with a four hour drive North into our 15th state - North Carolina. The journey through South Carolina was boring and flat but as we got into North Carolina things changed. Tree covered hills and some autumn colour starting - some lovely rusty browns and reds in amongst the green. We found our motel and headed out to Biltmore House - the biggest house in America with 250 rooms. It was built in the early 1900s and uses modern construction (steel beams etc) to create a modern castle/stately home. We got to tour through about 65 rooms which ranged from an amazing banquet hall to a tin can cupboard. Some of the paintings and statues are amazing but our favourite was the huge 7 storey (in modern house terms - 4 storeys here!) wrought iron chandelier that graces the main staircase. After the house we had some ice-cream (still sunny and mid 20s) before walking through the gardens...the walled garden, the shrub garden, the rose garden, the conservatory, the wild walk, the bass took a couple of hours. The estate also contains a deerpark (closed) and a farm. We toured the farm which was also groundbreaking in its day before heading for the last highlight here - the vineyard [grin] After a long wait we finally got to the tasting rooms and tried about 10 wines - they do lovely sweetwhites here but the reds are a bit too dry for us. That was us done with Biltmore - very very nice but too expensive at 40 dollars each. We headed into Historic Asheville and ate in a lovely seafood restaurant - the Lobster Trap. Sweet potato & crab soup, Indian prawns & pesto salmon. Gillian even managed a chocolate marshmallow fluff cake.

Day 353 Tuesday 18/10/05 Asheville - Mount Airy

Eeek. Cold snap. The morning started at 5 degrees and climbed very slowly - we got to about 20 degrees about 1pm and by evening it was back to about 30. As well as that we also drove from 2500 feet to 5500 feet. The reason for the climb was...the Blue Ridge Parkway. This is one of Americas most famous drives and today we did most of the route through North Carolina. It is awesome. You are driving along a small two lane road with loads of trees on either side (some nice fall colours but still not the full whammy) and some spectacular views down into the valley on either side - 3000ft down. The 3 hour drive took us 9 hours with lots of stops. As well as some bigger attractions there were loads of viewpoints and a number of walks on offer. Our first big stop was the Linville Falls - a 1.6 mile hilly round trip for an amazing view of the falls - the falls weren't the awesome was the setting. A lovely valley, lovely surrounding rocks and some fabulous trees. When we arrived we got stopped and sent to the secondary entrance - somebody had found a skeleton near a trail close to the falls somewhere. We later found out that the skeleton may have been of a man who disappeared near the falls over Memorial Day weekend last year - his car was left in the parking lot but no sign of him was found. Another stop was the expensive Blowing Rock - 6 dollars for a 5 minute walk to see a cliff that acts as a big wind channel...great natural feeling but too expensive. Blowing Rock also has a very twee village for the bus loads of old people that come to see the windy cliff with the Indian love story. We saw Grandfather Mountain and passed over a superb eco-friendly viaduct road and did another walk at Cumberland Knob. We then peeled off the parkway and found a motel in Mount Airy. We ate across the road in the Ruby Tuesday chain...not a lot else here but chains.

Day 354 Wednesday 19/10/05 Mount Airy - Greenville

Back onto the parkway and North into our 16th state - Virginia. Our first stop was the lovely Puckett Cabin. A woman lived here and died aged 102. She had 24 kids who all died in infancy but at the age of 50ish she became a midwife and delivered about 1000 kids - and the legend says that she never lost either a baby or a mother due to her own fault. The next stop was the Mabry Mill. This mill is just stunning. We could use all our adjectives here - one of the most beautiful sights we have seen in America. It's the most photographed place on the Parkway and it has even been used on postcards from other states to drum up tourism...including Iowa & Conneticut which need the help! The mill still works, they have quilting demonstrations and a friendly (Scottish ancestral) blacksmith. It's a fabulous stop. Next up was the David Morrisette winery and a great tour through the small winery follwed by a nice sampling of no fewer than 15 of their wines.... nice sweet whites & reds and some lovely dry reds too. We then turned back towards the Interstate for a three hour drive South to Jonesborough. It's a cute little historic town that is famous for their storytelling - they have a storytelling centre and a storytelling festival here every year. We missed the afternoon talk (thanks to the winery). Gillian bought a lottery ticket - the jackpot is up to $340 million (it was won by one ticket - not ours). We toured the nice shops before having dinner outside a nice restaurant. Seared salmon & strawberry shrimp. We then headed further west to our motel in Greenville.

Day 355 Thursday 20/10/05 Greenville - Gatlinburg

We started the day with a walking tour of historic Greenville. The tour guide was enthusiastic but Greenville lacks in character. There are a number of old buildings in the town but sadly the town centre has suffered (more than most we have seen) with businesses moving out of town to the strips. We wandered around looking at churches, the old gaol, the first cemetery and the first town hall - a log cabin (replica - the original one was washed away when in Boston for a show in the early 1900s!). The most important event seems to be the shooting of General Morgan of Morgan's Raiders fame - a confederate raiding group who didn't keep to the rules of war. Morgan and his raiders are still revered here and a re-enactment is held here every five years on the anniversary of his death by descendants of the raiders. More importantly the town is associated with three Presidents - Polk, Jackson and Andrew Johnson. Johnson was a tailor here before moving into politics and eventually becoming Lincoln's Vice President and then...due to a bullet...President. Our guide told us about these people on our walk round. After the tour we headed to the Andrew Johnson visitor centre where we learnt about his life, his politics (a Union supporter in the South) and toured the house he grew up in and his tailor shop - they even have suits on display which were made by him. After lunch in the Tannery Gillian headed for the beauty salon before we headed East. We visited the Davy Crockett birthplace and museum. The museum exploded the myths about David (never Davy in real life) Crockett but didn't actually have much interesting - they only mention the Alamo as a brief aside. Rather disappointing show for a man who did a lot of good for his community - forget the superb hunter and wildsman - he was a poor shot but had a great big heart. We then drove 2 hours SW through some lovely tree lined roads which took us around the foothills of the Smokey Mountains. The best times when driving through the fall trees is where the wind is causing the leaves to fall like snow - beautiful. We arrived in Gatlinburg and found our motel. Gatlinburg is a very touristy Swiss style town - a bit too much the tourist trap though - TGIs, Ripleys, an aquarium, etc. Kids would love it....and people seem to flock here from all over America. We had a quick freshen up and headed out to the nearby town of Pigeon Forge. Pigeon Forge is a very very tacky strip mall town that has grown up around Dollywood. We had tickets for the Dolly Parton's Dixie Stampede show. The evening started with a free Music show by a pretty good band made of quite famous country music stars. With some humour and chat they played a number of big hits (Sweet Home Alabama, Rawhide, The Beverley Hillbillies Theme, etc) which warmed the crowd up as we drank from plastic cowboy boot cups. Then it was showtime.....which turned out to be a little disappointing. Through the night we were served our dinner - veg soup, a roast chicken, a bit of ham, a potato, a corn on the cob and followed by an apple pastry. Stewart was given half a plate of fruit and some raw broccoli and carrots as his veggie meal. The show started with a buffalo stampede which we had been looking forward to - 4 rather dopey buffalos which the horsemen tried to chase round the ring. The first half had some excellent horse-riding but was very gung-ho American - they didn't seem to take account of foreigners. We all sat in North or South sections and had to cheer on our team for the second half competitions - ranging from chicken chasing & ostrich riding to slalom horse racing. After the "Are you proud to be an American" cheers they ended the night with "America the beautiful" - we snuck off and headed home.

Day 356 Friday 21/10/05 Gatlinburg - Sylva

It's a lovely autumn morning - bright sunshine & blue skies - but only 10 degrees! We headed into the Smokey Mountains and decided to visit Cades Cove - one of the most popular scenic routes here. This turned out to be a big mistake. We drove for about 20 miles following a beautiful river valley and entered Cades Cove - it's an 11 mile drive with various offshoot walks and buildings you can visit. What the blurb doesn't say is that it's a bumper to bumper 11 mile traffic jam. We took a side road out and quickly returned back to the main road over the mountain. We headed up along beautiful tree lined roads which took us over the Smoky Mountains - lots of trees, a little fall colour and some spectacular views. We drove to the stop point and walked the mile round trip up to the highest point in the Smokys. Sadly a bug is slowly killing off the trees here but the view is still great from the top. We headed back down the other side and went to Oconaluftee - a small Indian "museum" on the edge of a Cherokee reservation. They have Cherokees here who take you through the local crafts and skills and take you into some recreated buildings that their ancestors lived in. The Cherokee were a farming community and actually built mud huts and log cabins and not the usual wigwams etc that Indians are portrayed as living in. It was interesting and we learnt quite a bit about them. We then headed South and toured Historic Dillsboro - a very small but nice railway town. The chocolate shop here is excellent. We then headed to neighbouring Sylva - also a nice small town. We went to the cinema and caught "North Country" (for 4 euro!) before having a late meal in Bogarts.

Day 357 Saturday 22/10/05 Sylva - Charlotte

Our first stop was the Cherokee museum. It was well done and very easy to follow - but seemed to lack in depth in areas we wanted to know more about. We left here and joined the start of the Blue Ridge Parkway. We drove for two hours on the Parkway which took us up to the highest point - about 6053ft - some 3800 feet higher than where we had started. We saw some more fall colour up here and also had to drive through clouds at some points! We spotted some dogs on the road - bear dogs - dogs set loose to find bears. They have electronic tags on them so the hunters can find them and the is a federal offence to remove the tags. We arrived at Chimney Rock about 1ish and caught a bus up to the lift...and the lift up to the top of the rock! Well almost - they left 42 steps for you to climb! You get a great view from here across the valley. We then climbed up 200ft of steps and walked for an hour across the Skyline trail - which took us to a lovely waterfall. This waterfall and several sections of the cliff hugging trail were used in the film "The Last Of The Mohicans". We got back down and drove to 3 hours to Charlotte along boring roads and eventually found a motel. We had a superb Mexican meal in a place called Chilis before lounging in the motel.

Day 358 Sunday 23/10/05 Charlotte

We started the day by visiting the Daniel Stowe Botanical Gardens. They're impressive gardens and they still have 30 years of their 40 year master plan to go! They have all sorts of gardens and plants here but we loved the "canal" garden the most - a superb long thin colourful garden split down the middle by a water feature. They also had a great sculpture exhibition - giant insects! We left and headed back into the city and found another hotel - with computer, laundry, pool, etc! We then headed into the city and visited the Levine Museum of the New South - a good museum on what happened to the area after the Civil War - from cottonfields to skyscrapers. Charlotte is a major financial centre and has loads of blue chip companies and banks. We left the museum and had a quick stroll in the city - which was more or less deserted and quite characterless. The city has been modernised and the old nice buildings were ripped down and replaced by shopping centres and large office buildings. We headed South out of the city and through the strip mall area. We went to a cinema and caught "Dreamer" before doing some clothes shopping for Stewart. We then had a lovely meal in a brewhouse (seared tuna salad, wood smoked pizza) before cleaning the car out and tidying it up! It's our last night here before flying to Chicago - so lots of chores.

Scots Irish Ancestors

When we tell people where we come from Scotland is definitely the winner. Almost everyone gets interested in that and promptly tells us that their ancestors came from there - but they aren't really sure where..but they are proud of it. There are some Irish too but the majority seem to be of Scottish persuasion. We just hope that the iffy Mormons haven't told everyone that they come from noble birth.

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