There’s gold in them thar hills – Dahlonega

Well, contrary to expectations, we had a lovely day and reached the airport with no stress at all. We’ve said a sad goodbye to our trusty jeep which has got us about the place for three weeks:

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Now we are in the lounge waiting for our flight and I’ve copied and pasted my diary into this blog. On our way down this morning, we stopped for a short hike (2 miles) at Desoto Falls:

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We then had lunch in a lovely place called Dahlonega. It was the most successful gold mining town in Georgia in the 19th century, but is now set up for tourism – though in a much more tasteful way than Alpine Helen. All the old buildings round the main square have been turned into shops or restaurants – we ate on the balcony of the Bourbon Street Grill, a little piece of New Orleans in Georgia.

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The old courthouse in the middle of the square has been turned into an interesting little museum about gold mining, which we enjoyed.

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So now we have two flights to go and then we’ll be home. Time to start planning the next trip.

Brasstown Bald

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Saturday, 30th July, 5pm

Today, we visited Brasstown Bald, the highest point in Georgia (4784 ft). It’s another of these mountains where you cheat by driving within half a mile of the summit – but it’s a steep half mile. At the top is a little visitor centre with good exhibits about the history of the area (I particularly liked the talking model of Woody, a 1920s Ranger) and a stupendous circular viewing platform from which you can see four states if it’s not too hazy. We probably could see them, but the guide maps supposedly telling you what you were looking at weren’t very clear so I couldn’t swear to it. The picture gives some impression of the waves and waves of blue hills rolling away, but doesn’t do it justice.

We then headed to Vogel State Park for a picnic lunch and to walk the Bear Hair Gap trail, a 4+ mile loop which rises to an overlook from which you get a very pretty view of Lake Trahylta, the main focus of Vogel.

So now we’re back at the cabin drinking tea and contemplating the detritus of 3 weeks holiday which needs to be packed up for our journey home tomorrow. Before that, we have the joy of cooking up all the stuff we have left into a giant pasta concoction. The packing can probably wait till tomorrow – checkout’s not till 11am. We’re about 90 miles from Atlanta and our flight’s 9.15pm so there’s plenty of time. However, I hate these last days and although we usually do something on the way, I never settle till we’re at the airport.

Waterfalls and Alpine Helen

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Friday 29th July, 5.30pm

Back on the balcony, this time with beer and chips. An easier day today – after yesterday’s tumble we decided to limit the hiking. All the mountain areas we have been in are very proud of their waterfalls. We visited three today, driving in a loop round scenic backroads. Helton Creek Falls is not far from the cabins and these were the least spectacular. Dukes Creek Falls are 300 feet high and beautiful. Anna Ruby Falls (pictured) are unusual because they are double falls – two creeks falling into the same basin, one from about 50 feet and the other from about 125 feet. None of these falls are just off the road so we’ve still done 3-4 miles and a fair bit of descent and ascent so I feel we still deserve the beer.

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We also visited the town of “Alpine” Helen. This sounded intriguing in the guide book, a little bit of Bavaria in Georgia. It was certainly everything I expected, and more – truly tacky! Still, it had a good grocery store, Betty’s, which concealed all mod cons in a log cabin style early 20th century general store ambience. We stocked up our bread supplies there and had a tasty lunch in one of the cafés. The guy playing the oompah music in the centre was authentically dressed on his top half, but I don’t think floral shorts really cut it instead of lederhosen.

11pm. Still up so must be getting used to the mountain air. Microwave Chinese dinners tonight, not a patch on the real thing (including John’s own stir-fries).

Blood Mountain

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Thursday 28th July, 4pm

Sitting on the balcony again, this time with a nice cup of Earl Grey. That’s one of the advantages of self-catering, you can make a proper cup of tea rather than the mug of tepid water with a teabag on the side that you are served in restaurants. I’m exhausted. Today we decided to climb to the top of Blood Mountain – well, I feel you can’t avoid it if you are staying half way up, it’s only polite. The Appalachian Trail goes over it – we’ve crossed the AT several times already but not actually hiked any of it, though we did some when we were in Shenandoah a few years ago. It’s over 2 miles up and, rather than coming straight back down we decided to continue on the AT for a while then take the Freeman Trail, a link which would return us to the AT more or less back where we started, making a loop of 7 miles. It wasn’t my favourite hike ever. The summit of Blood Mountain is surrounded by trees (although there are views just before it – too hazy for pictures of course) and as for the Freeman Trail: 1.8 miles of scrambling up and down over tree roots and rocks and no views at all. (The picture shows Blood Mountain taken the next day from a viewpoint on the highway.) Mind you, it was on the easy AT return that I managed to trip and fall over a root. Two skinned elbows and a grazed knee. At least we didn’t meet any snakes or bears.

10.30pm. Lasted a bit longer tonight. Delicious veggie chilli cooked by John, red wine and a film watched on the tiny TV. Time for bed.

In a cabin in the woods….

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Our final stop was a lovely cabin in the woods in North Georgia. It was very peaceful but lacked wifi so no blog posts. I’ve been keeping a diary however, so I’m taking advantage of the wifi at Atlanta Airport to catch up.

Wednesday 27 July, 4pm

Today, we left North Carolina and returned to Georgia. It was a very pretty run through to Blairsville, which is the nearest town to the cabin we are staying in. We didn’t explore the place much but still had a very good impression of it. We started at the Welcome Centre at the Chamber of Commerce, to get trail information etc, and came across possibly the most helpful person we’ve ever found in one of those places. Then we moved on to the nearest shopping centre where we ate a good lunch in The Aviator Cafe (excellent service again) before grocery shopping in the supermarket next door. This was Bi-Lo, a chain new to us, and it was really brilliant – full of good, fresh fruit and vegetables and even stuff like tofu and other vegetarian staples which we’ve struggled to find in US supermarkets in the past. Even their checkout system seemed super- efficient compared to home. Maybe I have been on holiday too long if I am finding a supermarket so exciting but Tesco in Maryhill will now seem a terrible climbdown (though I don’t like it much anyhow, even if it is new).

Our cabin is a few miles further on half way up Blood Mountain (not as remote as it sounds, it is just off US 19). We had swithered about choosing more modern cabins closer to town or these ones which are more basic but have the advantage of almost straddling the Appalachian Trail. The trail won. The cabin (Wild Boar) is great, we have all we need and are now sitting on the balcony enjoying coffee. There are two wild boar heads on the cabin wall, Henry and Clyde apparently (the latter a good name for visiting Glaswegians). According to the cabin log book, other guests have found them spooky but they seem ok to me, and they also seem to have died accidental deaths (trucks on the road). I wouldn’t like to think they’d been hunted.

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There are two bedrooms – a small one downstairs and a loft under the eaves. We’ll sleep in the latter and use the other as a walk-in dressing room. Such luxury! Our last room in Bryson City was called the tree house, but this almost literally is one. The balcony has been built round a living tree while the trunk supporting the roof has not been modified and still has its branches intact.

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10pm. Pizza cooked and eaten. Beer drunk. Most people who have written in the cabin log drive out somewhere for dinner but, as I’ve said before, we’d rather both be able to have beer or wine so we’ll be eating in every evening. Even if the booze does send me to sleep. And so to bed.

Savannah, Georgia

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Our second port of call was Savannah, where we stayed in another beautiful inn. The Catherine Ward House was built by a sea captain for his wife in 1886 and, apparently, the exterior featured in the film of Midnight in the Garden of Good and Evil. I meant to do my homework before we came and read the book or watch the film or, preferably both, but like many things it never got done.

The first day was very hot, high 90s, but thunderstorms cooled it down a bit the next day. Going out was still a bit like stepping into a sauna, but we had a great time wandering around all the same. I would recommend the three Telfair Museums. The original museum was founded in 1883, in a house bequeathed by Mary Telfair, and shows 19th and 20th century art. The Owens-Thomas House is set out as a late 18th / early 19th century house complete with slave quarters and the Jepson Centre is a contemporary building with contemporary art. Best of all was the Jepson cafe – probably the best lunch menu I have ever seen!

Our other memorable meal was at Leoci’s, an Italian near where we were staying. The food was excellent but the floor show was better. When we went in, the place was buzzing because part of the ceiling had just collapsed after an earlier storm. A few minutes later, a candle set fire to one of the umbrellas outside causing much panic amongst the staff. When one of them then dropped some glasses behind the bar, the child at the next table couldn’t contain himself and screamed “This is AWESOME!” It certainly was.

Below are some pictures taken on our wanderings.

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Ocmulgee National Monument

We visited Ocmulgee National Monument on our way out of Macon. It’s a Native American site (Muskogee) with a good little museum and several mounds – you can go into the Earth Lodge which has the genuine floor, about 1100 years old, but reconstructed walls. As in Maes Howe in Orkney, it is aligned so that on certain days the sun shines directly through the entrance tunnel across the centre.

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The other mounds were used as temples (one was partially destroyed during the construction of a railroad) and for funerals. Eventually the Muskogee were displaced and ended up in Oklahoma. The usual sad and shameful story.

Macon, Georgia

Our first real port of call: Macon (pronounced May-con). According to our guidebook (Frommer’s) “only Savannah tops Macon for its striking old buildings” and “the 1842 Inn is reason enough to come to Macon”. Probably right on both counts I would say. The Inn is elegant and comfortable – we had coffee on the verandah, breakfast in the courtyard and hors d’oeuvres in the parlour. The latter was an opportunity for guests to socialise and we met a lovely lady who had travelled from upstate New York to attend to her house in Macon. She had previously lived there and was now renting it out to students.

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Other highlights of our visit were the Hay House, an Italian Renaissance Revival home built c1855, and St Joseph’s Cathedral.

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We found good places to eat, notably Lemongrass, an award winning Thai restaurant whose cool and minimalist decor contrasted with the faded Southern charm elsewhere. The sad thing was that the place was really quiet – we felt we were almost the only tourists around. Macon deserves more visitors.

Callaway Gardens

Our fifth annual North American road tour has begun! Since 2007 we have visited the Canadian Rockies, Virginia, Arizona and Utah. This year, I will add 4 states to my tally: Georgia, both Carolinas and Tennessee. We started with a very long journey on Sunday, 10th July, then, after a night in one of the hotels at Atlanta Airport, we picked up our car en route to our first port of call, Macon, Georgia. On the way though, we stopped off to visit Callaway Gardens, a 14000 acre site created in the 1930s. It was really beautiful and we wished we’d had time to do more there. The pictures are of hibiscus in the horticultural centre, the garden’s signature flower, the plumleaf azalea, and the butterfly house.

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