Category Archives: Blue Ridge Mountains

Carolina on my mind

Who would have thought that the wrath of Hurricane Irma would just keep on bringing a deluge to many more States? We found this morning in Virginia we were in receipt of many inches of rain, to the point where our intended route along the Blue Ridge mountains was closed due to storm damage. Our exit point in North Carolina was also affected, so we were forced to follow the interstate for over 200 miles in driving rain, low cloud, poor visibility and generally miserable conditions. We also found that the music centre on the Parkway was closed, so we tuned in to a great radio station playing classic rock and sang our way here.

‘Here’ was not quite what I had anticipated. I thought I had found a rather glamorous hotel, up a mountain, with beautiful scenery and somewhat indulgent in luxury terms. It took a few attempts to find it and several miles extra as TomTom refused to recognise the address. I think I became concerned with the whole area when I saw large and very elaborate churches, many with their own fleet of buses outside, one after the other. The houses were ordinary but the churches were anything but. Of course we were not so far from Charlottesville and other places where the infamous Bible Belt breeds its own kind of supremacy. It was not the most comfortable feeling and I seriously wondered about giving up the search for the hotel and getting as far away as possible.

Carolyn refused to be deterred and eventually we found the hotel which appeared to have stepped out of a bygone age. It resembles a southern colonial mansion with a row of rocking chairs on the front porch. The main rooms are large and a little homely. No wifi in the bedrooms and no TVs anywhere. There is a library and the bedrooms are reached via long, wide hallways. As for the bedrooms and bathrooms themselves, they are nothing like modern hotel bedrooms. Carolyn almost did herself an injury trying to access the loo in her tiny bathroom. Paint peels off the ceilings and the beds are made up with floral sheets. Dinner was the standard I had expected on booking and the longer I sit in the hotel lounge, the more charmed I become. Perhaps ‘modern’ is not what we always need and the southern charm of the hotel owner and staff is much appreciated.

So, Irma has not only provided an interesting journey today but has had a considerable impact on our route. We are recommended to avoid Charleston and Atlanta, which was to be the focus of our next 3 days. Instead we are heading for Chattanooga tomorrow and will decide then about how to spend our days before Nashville. No problem at all and it is all great fun.

 

Carolyn’s Curios & Musical Notes 🎼🎶🖌

We’re at the Balsam Mountain Inn and, despite the undoubted charm and quirkiness of this first decade of the 20th century building, I’m battling to get rid of images and sounds of Twin Peaks.

 

 

 

 

The toilet, which Kath referenced earlier, barely fits my shoulders or hips. ‘Convenience’ it is not! However, there are no mains services connected to the hotel so we should be grateful for small mercies… or small loos!

 

 

Seriously, on a summer’s day or even a crisp, autumnal day in the Fall, the hotel’s history and former grandeur would allow it to present itself really well. On a dank, dark, mist and cloud enshrouded day, we were apprehensive about even entering. The staff are characters from an Appalachian period piece but the food was lovely and was eased down with a reasonably priced, very palatable Malbec. The building is made of wood and we are advised that, as sound travels, would we please be quiet after 10pm. Lights are dimmed on the corridors at that time. Rooms are not equipped with any electronics – no TV, coffee machine etc. but coffee, tea, chocolate and… Apple cider mix are available in sachets in the Library. Breakfast starts at a very leisurely 8 am. The furniture is made of wood but sometimes repaired with gaffer tape. Pictured one of the bedheads

 

 

 

As for the bears…?!

 

 

 

Reading the history provided, it is proud that the bedroom doors didn’t have locks until relatively recently relying on an “honors (sic) system”. The curtain is thin but good quality and, they say, at 3500ft elevation, neither thermostats to the heating nor air conditioning is needed – or provided. There are wide opening sash windows for summer and layers of bedclothes for the winter. We were pleased there was hot water, though. Having said all of that – what an experience and we wouldn’t have wanted to have missed it.

The journey here qualified for a high ‘Interesting’ on my descriptive scale as 53ft long trailers proclaimed their presence on the road with engine noise and copious amounts of spray. We went up the mountains – steeply and lengthily – and then down avoiding the run off ramps for the trucks which appeared like inverted ski jumps. All the time, conscious of the reality of being in rain bearing clouds.

Yesterday, the description that I was “hot” referred to my speed and today’s “Sweetie” from a young woman five decades my junior was a mere colloquialism, y’all!

So, onto the musical miscellany…

I have to start with Aaron Copland’s ‘Appalachian Spring’ which was popularised for some by Emerson, Lake and Palmer’s 1977 rendition of ‘Fanfare for the Common Man’. A classic, for me, of Prog Rock. Ok, it isn’t Spring but Appalachian we are.

As Kath indicated, our journey was helped by the Classic Rock Station on the car radio: Fleetwood Mac, Dire Straits, Beatles, Elton John, Whitesnake, even Rod Stewart, punctuated our journey and prompted our own attempts at harmony.

After miles of struggling against the elements, our eventual arrival gave rise to a mental, “In the middle of nowhere” of Dusty’s 1965 hit and the memory of her being deported from South Africa for refusing to play for segregated audiences. Perhaps, I also felt for her as she was struggling the whole time with her own sexuality fearing exposure.

Needless to say, on several occasions of the journey here via some winding, unmade roads, “Get back” by The Beatles came to mind

‘Carolina on my mind’ is a good title and it is an impressive and beautiful pair of States but the trucker with a tee shirt proclaiming ‘Redneck’ and then passing houses flying Confederate flags together with churches more regal than the houses, reminded us that there are underlying issues which cause some concerns.

It is relatively trivial that we have had to change our itinerary and route. We have missed some music and could have done more of the Parkway. But, we are safe and intact – tomorrow we head for Chattanooga instead of Charleston and Atlanta with Glenn Miller’s “Chattanooga Choo Choo” buzzing round our brains. (Did you know the recording of it was awarded the first ever official Gold Disc? Hmm!)

 

 

On the trail of the lonesome pine

On the trail of the lonesome pine.

The morning definitely had an autumnal feel to it and as we climbed up the Blue Ridge Parkway and emerged above the tree line, the sight of the morning mist still clinging to the distinctly blue coloured mountains was one to behold. Quite beautiful. This wonderful road is over 400 miles long and in places climbs to 6,000 feet. It links the Shenandoah Valley to the Smoky Mountains and nowhere were we going to find a lonesome pine here – there are hundreds of thousands of trees, whose branches meet and cover the road for mile after mile. There are “pull offs” or “view overs”, as they are known here, which provide opportunities to see across valleys and mountains, but you do need to be careful when something like a lake is signposted. Foolishly, I thought the sign indicated an opportunity to look out over a lake but after winding downwards for about 6 miles we came to a rather unprepossessing pond posing as a lake and surrounded by camp sites. Carolyn, who was driving, normally has an infallible sense of direction but on this occasion……we were slightly off course. Her description of the water we found was “a lacklustre lake”!

It took a while, but we were once again high up on the ridgeway and becoming slightly concerned that we still had over 150 miles to go to reach our hotel with no opportunity to go much faster than 45 miles per hour. We decided to drop down to the interstate and make up a few fast miles and find a cup of coffee at the same time. A town called Glasgow appeared on the sat nav but reality revealed a bridge with a couple of houses and a gas station. Carolyn slowed from our fast road to take the bridge (limit 35 mph), slowed again because the town (the same 2 houses and a gas station) wanted us to do 25 mph and she then slowly pulled over and came to a halt. “What’s happening?”, I asked. At this point the air went blue – no bad language, just the lights on top of the County Sheriff’s car lighting up the street. A diminutive lady officer of the Sheriff’s Office appeared at the car window.

“Was I doing something wrong?”, asked Carolyn. “Did you notice the speed limit on the bridge, Ma’am, and again at the town limit? May I see your driver’s licence and car registration documents”. I kid you not, it was just like the movies. The sergeant looked at the licence, turned it this way and that, said she assumed it was legal but didn’t intend to bother with all the paperwork it would take to book us, so on this occasion she would let us go, reminding us to take care and hoping we would have a nice day. Wot? We actually engaged her in a nice conversation before going slowly on our way. I had to chuckle to myself because the good officer told Carolyn she came over the bridge ‘a bit hot’. I thought how lucky it was she was not following us up on the Parkway half an hour earlier when I really wanted to go to the loo and Carolyn “put her foot down” to find some elusive facilities. That speed really might have been “hot”. But after all that, please note, there is no coffee in Glasgow, just two houses, a gas station and a radar trap as you go over the bridge.

We found coffee further up the road, complete with a Subway bar selling excellent sandwiches. We sadly missed (???) an opportunity to learn flat foot dancing at the Blue Ridge Parkway Music Center. But we will catch the Center when it opens tomorrow…for music only. Phew.

Whoever said a road trip might be boring??

Carolyn’s Curios & Musical Notes 🎼🎶🖌

Before the events of today, I was going to write about the differences and perils of driving in America. As I, genuinely, drive on cruise control at, or below, the speed limit here, I find myself feeling almost like a plane in a dog fight. Vehicles can overtake on either side and can turn right at a red light. Even keeping my eyes on all three mirrors and looking over both shoulders, one could still miss a ‘bandit’. Even the ones from above need to be carefully noted when 11ft high, 9 ft wide and seriously long mega trucks veer out of their lanes with apparent abandon.

I mention this to put the police incident into perspective. Using American CB slang, it could be described as, “A Kojak with a Kodak, Mama Bear, came after me in her Blue Light Special”. What really happened was nothing like Smokey and the Bandit and ‘our’ Sergeant was nothing like Buford T. Justice, Rosco P. Coltrane or J.W. Pepper. She was a firm but fair officer who realised a genuine mistake. Coming off a 70mph highway and, suddenly, encountering, without notice, a 35mph limit and then a 25mph limit within a few metres ensured I slowed quickly – albeit not quickly enough to be slow enough! This seemed to be a common occurrence hence her position with her radar. I spotted her vehicle some way behind me as it had flashing lights. I was driving at 25mph at that time and, wrongly, assumed that this was an emergency vehicle wanting to drive quickly. Of course, as it was a single lane road, I moved to the side and off the carriageway to let it pass. In almost slow motion, I saw it reduce speed rather than rush past and then stop behind me. Kath, experienced in these matters, told me not to get out of the car. When the officer arrived at the car door, looking frustratedly firm, I asked, meekly, if I had done anything wrong and “May I get out of the car?” to show her my licence. She knew I had slowed quickly before noticing her in my mirrors. However, I had got it wrong and was profuse, in a polite British way, with my apology. After looking at my licence and commenting that she didn’t know if it was legal or not and would assume it was, we were encouraged on our way cheerfully with, “Hope you both have a good day and a good trip but a little more slowly, Ma’am”! We thanked her and left… slowly!

But what of the music from this day…

I’m Sorry: Brenda Lee
Every Little Thing She Does Is Magic: The Police
Slowdown: Larry Williams (and The Beatles later!)

Despite starting off with my choice of “Blue Ridge Mountains of Virginia” and “Take me home Country Roads” (now one of the official anthems of West Virginia)… the day got even more musically interesting and included a police claxon!

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