17 -22 June 2016 North Carolina

Friday 17th June

It’s time to head for the hills. Said goodbye to our neighbours Jill and Ben. They have travelled around the US for several months per year over the past five years and gave us some great tips on where to go and what to see.

Travelled out of Charleston across the Ashley River

and onto the I-26 north-west towards Columbia.

Stopped off at a rest area near Orangeburg and the heat outside the RV was intense, we were soon back inside.

As we approached Columbia the sky clouded, the wind got up and we headed into heavy rain.

By the time we crossed the North Carolina state line the sun was shining and we had our first view of the foothills of the Smokey Mountains.

Reached our destination, KOA West in Asheville at 6.30pm.

Saturday 18th June

Temperature has been a very pleasant 24 degrees with a light breeze and plenty of sunshine. It is quite a relief to get away from the high temperatures and humidity further south. The camp site is wooded and we have a nicely shaded pitch. There are some good trails through the woods for Sandy’s walks

and a nice swimming pool

Sunday 19th June

Ashbridge has a trolley bus tour around the town.

The town started life amongst wooded hills in the late 18th century but the first district we saw originated in the 1880’s. Montford was built in what is known as the Gilded Age which began when the railway arrived here. The district narrowly escaped the bulldozer in the 1970’s as the area had become rundown. A local preservation society saved the day and now the old homes have been renovated and preserved.

The beautiful scenery and mountain air began to attract wealthy families from the east. Those with TB came to the town for ‘the cure’ and many sanitarium, boarding houses and luxury hotels were built.

One of the large hotels was the Grove Park Hotel and golf course built on Sunset Mountain. A few famous celebrities’ have played golf here, including Winston Churchill, Al Capone and President Obama.

We headed into the downtown area and stopped to see the house where author Thomas Wolfe lived – his mother ran a boarding house in the property. His first book published in 1929, Look Homeward Angel, caused some controversy in the town because many people recognized themselves as characters in the book.

The old warehouse area is now the River Arts District where there are numerous artist workshops.

We crossed the Broad French River where families were out on the river floating about in the calm water keeping cool.

Our last stop was Biltmore Village. This village was created by George Vanderbilt as a town for the estate workers to live from the nearby Biltmore Estate. It was constructed to resemble an English village and reminded me of Cadbury Village.

After our city tour it was back to the RV Park

for a dip in the pool.

Monday 20th June

This morning we headed west in the car from Ashville towards the Great Smokey Mountains and the town of Cherokee, reservation home of the Eastern Band of the Cherokee Nation.

The town has a cluster of shops to browse around and buy local produce.

We bought a rug and a Dream Catcher.

A Native American tradition, the dream catcher protects individuals from negative dreams, only letting positive dreams through the hole in the centre to glide down the feathers. Negative dreams get caught in the web that is weaved across the hole and expire when the first rays of the sun strike.

Although the town feels like a peaceful mountain place there is lots going on. The Museum of the Cherokee Indian, Oconaluftee Indian Village and of course a casino.

From here we went to the nearby, end of the Blue Ridge Parkway.

A scenic drive that begins at the Shenandoah National Park in Virginia and runs 469 miles south west along the mountains ending at the southern gateway to the Great Smoky Mountains National Park. It was here that we picked up the Parkway and made our way back to Asheville taking in wonderful mountains views on the way.

Tuesday 21st June

This evening we went into Asheville to the Isis Restaurant and Music Hall. The venue was in a suburb of the town in an old 1930’s theatre/cinema that had been renovated.

It reminded us of a smaller version of the Jam House in Birmingham. We had a lovely fish dinner in the restaurant and then went into the theatre to listen to The Jacob Ferry Stragglers, a Blue Grass Band.

Met Ian Hunter, a local resident and chatted about the origins of Blue Grass music and where we had been on our travels. We had a great evening, one of the best meals we have had in the US and the band was superb.

They had a really good picture on the wall of the restaurant of Johnny Cash and June Carter.

Wednesday 22nd June

I visited the very impressive Biltmore House and gardens today. This is a country house built on a grand scale by George Vanderbilt and completed in 1895. The house was opened up to the public in 1930 by Cornelia Vanderbilt and her husband. Today it is still a family business with fourth and fifth generations of George Vanderbilt’s descendants involved with day to day operations. I was a little taken back at the 64 dollar entrance ticket but after I had completed the tour I didn’t begrudge a cent.

The house contains 250 rooms and is surrounded by 8,000 acres of beautifully landscaped gardens and a great park of trees, meadows, forest plantations and a lake. From the gate house it is a three mile journey through the grounds to reach the house. I managed to get a few photographs on my phone because it did say no cameras but no one seemed to object.

The house is filled with beautiful antiques and works of art, displayed in magnificent rooms.

Downstairs below the house was a bowling alley, swimming pool and gyn. Also, below stairs was the kitchen, laundry, drying and ironing rooms. The house was state of the art for its time.

Back upstairs I went to have a look the banqueting hall before going out for a stroll around the gardens.

A splendid day out in a beautiful setting.