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.
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.
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.
On Sunday, we drove through South Carolina to get to Boone in North Carolina. The drive was quite dull, all freeway, and it rained just as we got here so it wasn’t a great day. However, the place we had chosen to stay, Lovill House Inn, is absolutely lovely (I know how to pick ’em), and being received with a glass of wine definitely helped cheer us up. The first night, all the rooms were taken and it was quite sociable, but the second night we had the place to ourselves. We’d been told Boone wasn’t a very pretty town, though the reason I selected it wasn’t for its looks but to act as a gateway to the mountain part of our holiday. Actually, we really liked it. True, the road in was the usual strip of fast food chains and motels but the “Old Downtown” area was much more attractive with a good range of restaurants (always the most important thing). We ate in Hob Nob Farm Cafe which was the second place I’ve been spoilt for choice (after the Jepson Cafe in Savannah). As a vegetarian I’m used to just having one or two options and I almost don’t know how to pick when I can eat almost everything on the menu.
We visited Grandfather Mountain (see above). Part way up, there is a wildlife preserve. I’m not in favour of animals in captivity, but these were creatures who had been injured or were otherwise incapable of surviving in the wild. The highlight was this beautiful bear, below. We have seen bears in the wild but (thankfully) not up this close, so it was a wonderful experience.
Below, you can also see me looking intrepid further up on one of the peaks. Of course, the cheat is you drive almost all the way and get to this rocky part over the Mile High Bridge. There are rugged trails up the peak you can see beyond the bridge, but it looks very steep and those bare, rocky parts are navigated by ropes and ladders, so I decided that definitely wasn’t for me. Instead, we found another trail, the Boone Fork Loop, a 5 mile walk alongside a creek (which we crossed and recrossed many times) which was very muddy. Just like home.