Despite its name, the New River is probably one of the oldest in North America, with the most accepted estimate suggesting that it has run its present course for at least 65 million years! The National Park Service owns 70,000 acres of New River Gorge in West Virginia where we spent three days in Fayetteville, at its northern end, hiking and exploring some of the area’s industrial heritage.
One morning, we set off to hike in the rain and the Gorge looked really atmospheric with the rising mist. By the afternoon, it had cleared for good views of the New River Bridge, 876 feet above the river, which is the world’s longest single-arch steel span bridge, apparently. I’ve also included a picture of a deer here, though it was by no means the first we had taken. Deer are all over the place, but this one seemed keener than most to stand and stare at us so the picture is sharper.
One of the major resources in West Virginia’s economy is coal though, as in the UK, not all mines have survived. We visited Beckley Exhibition Coalmine in which mining finished in 1910. It then lay dormant for 50 years until the local council took it over and opened it as museum in the 1960s. You could go into the mine on a little train and view some of the left-over equipment. It was horrible to imagine working in those conditions. The guides were all retired miners – ours was called Marvin – and this made the talk of canaries and safety lamps even more unnerving than it would have been anyway. There was also a visitor centre and a replica Coal Camp: workers usually lived in company-owned dormitories or houses, the rent for which was automatically deducted from their pay. Also, instead of cash, they were often paid with scrip, a sort of voucher which could only be spent in the Company Store, and there were examples of this on display. What a hard life!
In Thurmond, we visited relics of the golden days of railroading. Thurmond was a flourishing town from about the 1870s through to the mid-twentieth century. Now, it’s part of the National Park area, the Depot is a Visitor Centre and you can walk round the remaining historic buildings – and yet, it is still a functioning station with three passenger trains per week in each direction. I particularly liked the old advertising signs with Chessie the cat, and the hobo signs decoded – a cat here means “kind lady”, which I thought was lovely.
Fayetteville designates itself “Coolest small town” and it definitely has quite a cool atmosphere – less starchy than Abingdon, our previous stop. We stayed in another lovely B&B, the Morris Harvey House, with another helpful host. Bernie gave us advice on what to do and was happy to lend us his book of walks. I liked that there was one table for breakfast – we got to talk to some interesting people. It’s always slightly awkward in a B&B with separate tables, I feel. It’s ok if they’re far enough apart to carry on your own conversation, but otherwise you have that “shall we or shan’t we strike up a conversation” moment. A short walk down the road was Pies and Pints which had amazing beer and pizzas – definitely not to be missed. As a veggie, I had to rely heavily on pizza (along with veggie burgers and pasta) and this was the best. So, all in all, Fayetteville was a hit.
Our next stop was Marlinton – not that far away, but we chose to take the scenic route.