Roanoke and Abingdon

From Peaks of Otter, we set off down the Blue Ridge Parkway again to Roanoke. It took all morning to do about 30 miles because we stopped so often – at overlooks, at Virginia’s Explore Park (a collection of historic buildings and riverside trails) and at Roanoke and Mill Mountains. The latter mountain has a huge neon star which can be seen from the town – we wished we were staying overnight so that we could see it properly. After lunch and an all too brief walk round Roanoke itself it was onto the interstate and a straight road down to Abingdon for our next three nights.

Our guidebook described Abingdon as a “show-stopping town” and it was indeed very beautiful. We stayed in a self catering apartment this time, Creeper’s End Lodging, though we didn’t use the small kitchen for anything but breakfast. On the first day, we followed the self-guided walking tour of Abingdon’s Downtown Historic District highlighting buildings which were established on the map of 1880. One of these was the Barter Theatre where we rounded off the day with dinner and a show. The theatre was set up by unemployed actors in the 1930s when they would accept produce, livestock or other goods in exchange for tickets, hence the name, but now houses the State Theater of Virginia. Apparently, they also paid playwrights in kind and George Bernard Shaw,  a vegetarian, was obliged to return a Virginia ham and request spinach instead (which he got).  There was also a wolf trail around the town (“Who’s afraid of Virginia’s wolves?”) which was originally called Wolf Hill in the days of Daniel Boone. My favourite was Material Girl.

The second day, we cycled part of the Virginian Creeper Trail, 34 miles of an old railroad bed.  The term creeper in this case comes from the slow speed of the trains which had to crawl up White Top mountain – the lower end was just across from our cottage which explains its name. We did the trail the easy way – hired bikes from a company which took you to the top and let you cycle all the way or half way back. We chose the latter and opted to be picked up in Damascus. Given that I hadn’t been on a bike for 20 years or so, I was just grateful to survive! Along the way, we dropped into the old Green Cove station, now a Forest Service information post decked out as an old shop. The two volunteers running it were about to go on vacation to Scotland for three weeks! Much discussion and swapping of travel tips took place.

On our last evening, there was a massive thunderstorm and tornado warning with sirens going off in the town and high-pitched noises emitted from our mobile phones which gave us quite a shock! Fortunately, it was short-lived and we got on with our preparations for the next day’s journey back into West Virginia.

Peaks of Otter

The Blue Ridge Parkway proved as beautiful, if not more so, than the Skyline Drive and we stopped several times to get out and stretch our legs.

The most pleasant surprise, however, was the Lodge at Peaks of Otter which was almost an afterthought when we planned it. I thought it might be pretty, but wasn’t prepared for the beauty of the mountain and lakeland setting. The Lodge building was attractive with decent food, and the accommodation blocks were built facing the (artificial) Abbott Lake so all rooms had a good view from their patios or balconies.

We climbed Harkening Hill, smallest of the three Peaks, and might have done more had it not been for the spectacular thunderstorms – fortunately we had read the weather forecast accurately and were back from our walk in time to enjoy the storm from our covered patio. We watched as Sharp Peak gradually disappeared – and were glad we weren’t up it!

One of the things I find fascinating on our US travels is the variety of fungi. The two below are from these few days – the orange cluster was in a picnic area just off the Parkway, and the large brown one (with my boot for size comparison) was on Harkening Hill. I find it very strange that you can get clusters on or around one particular tree, but nothing on others nearby. What makes that tree special? Answers on a postcard please.

From Peaks of Otter, we headed back onto the Parkway, heading south. Next up: Roanoke and Abingdon.

Blue Ridge Parkway

I’ve wanted to travel the Blue Ridge Parkway for many years, and yesterday we did the Boone to Asheville section of it. It was very scenic with lush greenery and, well, the blue ridges of the mountains. I think I’d have been disappointed though if we hadn’t already done the Skyline Drive in Virginia, which runs into it, a few years ago. I had the impression that both would be roads running along ridges with the ground falling away at the sides and views all around. Neither is like that (though we did travel a road in Utah last year that was – scarily so.) We stopped at Linville Falls, Linville Caverns and Mount Mitchell, the highest point in the Eastern USA. As Mitchell was my maiden name, I was pleased to have my photograph taken with the sign! It was a bit misty to get much of a view but there was a lovely nature trail at the top with a fascinating number of different kinds of mushroom. Well, we liked them anyway. On the way down, the mist rolled in and it started to pour, so for many miles visibility was almost non-existent. Not the best thing on a mountain road, but we got here.