23 June - 3 July 2016 Kentucky

Thursday 23nd June

Packed up and left Asheville this morning to take the I-40 west towards Kentucky. The route took us through mountain forests with the Great Smoky Mountains National Park one side and the Cherokee National Forest on the other. We crossed over the 2,168 mile long Appalachian Trail that runs between Georgia and Maine and here marks the Tennessee state border with North Carolina.

The route continued through heavily wooded countryside with small steep valleys, known as Coves in the Appalachian areas.

Crossing the French Broad River we headed for Knoxville and the I-75 north towards Kentucky.

We crossed into Kentucky near the Cumberland Gap, the route Daniel Boone and the early settlers used on their way west across the Appalachians.

Stopped at Walmart in Corbin for the night. Not long after we had eaten and managed to get a couple of channels on the TV the programme was interrupted for a severe weather warning of thunderstorms with heavy rain and a tornedo watch. We could see the clouds building and the storm heading our way. There was quite a light show with forked lightening going on for several hours. We were pleased that we were sitting on eight rubber tyres.

Managed to pick up Walmart WiFi and followed the EU referendum results on BBC radio. Although we knew the vote was close, it was a shock when the result was for the UK to leave the EU. We felt the impact immediately because the value of the pound fell affecting the exchange rate and giving us less dollars for our money.

Friday 24th June

Arrived at the KOA campsite in Renfro Valley this morning which is near Mount Vernon. The campsite is situated within the wooded foothills of the Appalachians and we had a nicely shaded pitch.

Saturday 25th June

This morning we took a drive to the town of Mount Vernon, just a mile or so down the road and then back to the Renfro Valley Entertainment Centre.

Here is a village of old buildings, including shops, log cabins, school house and a small church. We bought the best ice cream we have ever tasted from the Grist Mill – butter pecan!

This evening we were back at the Centre for the Barn Dance in the Old Barn. In fact the Barn Dance is a weekly country and bluegrass music show that first started in 1939 and over the years was broadcast on radio.

We had a great evening of foot stomping music with our favourite being, a banjo and guitar rendition of Dueling Banjos, real good fun.

Sunday 26th June

Continued on north along the I-75 towards Lexington and into Bluegrass Country. This area is famous for breeding and racing thoroughbred horses and making Bourbon.

The Kentucky River.

We were visiting the Kentucky Horse Park, near Lexington, a state park with a campground and acres of land devoted to all things about horses.

Monday 27th June

The campground runs an on demand golf buggy service across to the Horse Park and our driver dropped us right inside the main gate at the Visitor Centre.

Our first stop was the Hall of Champions to see some of the horse legends that live in retirement here.

First on the catwalk was thoroughbred, Go For Gin a bay coloured horse and 1994 Kentucky Derby winner. I got the impression he knew he was something special, had a very regal pose and looked straight at the camera.

Next up was Won The West, a Standardbred Pacer who raced in harness and won over three million dollars during his career.

Da Hoss was next out of the stable, a thoroughbred that twice won the coverted Breeders Cup. Although he suffered with injuries and arthritis he would run on regardless. At one point he was out of racing for two years and after one prep race came back to win his second Breeders Cup and is known as the ‘Comeback Kid’. What a character.

Last out was Funny Cide, a beautiful chestnut horse and a popular winner of the 2003 Kentucky Derby.

After the parade we went into the stables and talked to one of the handlers. He said although they don’t race now they still eyeball each other when out for a walk together to see who is hedging into the lead.

On to the Draft Horse Barn. Here we heard about the variety of draft horse breeds stabled at the park and saw a demonstration on how to put on a harness. We met Quinn, a beautiful Shire Horse and went around the stalls to meet his stable mates. These gentle giants are so calm, sweet and patient, it was such a privilege to see them close up.

After lunch we went to the International Museum of the Horse. The building went around in a spiral that climbed up two floors telling the story of the relationship between horses and humans. This was a fascinating and extensive exhibition, expertly put together. We could have spent hours in the museum but it was soon time to leave and head for the Breeds Barn.