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.
At the Breeds Barn some of the information and exhibits we saw in the museum came to life. Here there is a wide selection of horse breeds from around the world. Today we saw, met and heard about just a few:
Palomino, ArabianGypsy, Vanner, American Morgan Horse, Akhal-Teke – from Turkmenistan, American Saddlebred
On the way out of the park we stopped to talk to one of the mounted police that have horses stabled here.
Tuesday 28th June
Took a tour of Woodford Reserve Distillery today, makers of premium bourbon whiskey and situated near the town of Versailles. Our journey was through beautiful rich grassland countryside and past many thoroughbred horse stud farms.
The distillery is set in a deep wooded, picturesque valley with a modern visitor centre surrounded by nice gardens.
Terry, our guide took us down into the valley to the old limestone buildings of the original farm and distillery.
Originally there was a farm on the site established by Elijah and Sarah Pepper in the late 1700’s. They started to make a little whiskey to preserve left over grain from the harvest and in 1812 started the distillery. The buildings we toured were built in 1838.
As we walked into the distillery the rich aroma of fermenting grain was in the air. Terry explained the process of distilling corn and rye and the iron free water used in the production. Kentucky sits on top of a large bed of limestone through which water filters into the springs free of iron.
On the second floor was the fermenters, mash cookers and traditional copper pot stills.
From here to the barrel warehouse. Before being filled the barrels are burnt inside, this helps develop a toasty oak flavor to the whiskey which is left in the barrel for four years before being tasted.
The end products are a single oaked whisky and a double oaked whisky that is sweeter and good to have with desert.
After a look at the bottling plant, Terry took us to the tasting room to sample the product.
We tried the single oaked first, followed by the double oaked. I liked the sweeter double oaked.
Before leaving we sat outside the visitor centre on the patio to enjoy some delicious bourbon and honey ice cream.
Wednesday 29th June
Moved on from the Horse Park this morning to head west on the I-64 towards Louisville, the birth place of Muhammad Ali, where the famous Kentucky Derby is run at Churchill Downs and where Colonel Sanders Kentucky Fried Chicken was invented.
On reaching Louisville we approached the Ohio River which forms the state border between Kentucky and Indiana. We crossed the river on the I-65 into Clarksville, Indiana where we stayed at the KOA Louisville North campsite. The park was not as picturesque as some of the campgrounds we have stayed over the past few weeks but for a town site it was pretty good.
Thursday 30th June
We walked from the campground through Clarksville to the Falls of the Ohio River State Park.
The Park stretches along the north shore of the river with views across to Louisville.
The falls were actually a series of rapids caused by water flowing over ledges of limestone composed of vast numbers of fossils. The main attraction of the park is the fossil beds. A dam was built in the 1920’s restricting the flow of the river and most of the rapids were covered with water.
Outside the parks interpretive centre is a 400 million year old limestone fossil reef.
George Rogers Clark founded Clarksville in the late 1700’s. Commissioned by Thomas Jefferson it was from here in 1803 that William Clark (George’s younger brother) set off with Merriweather Lewis down the Ohio River to find a water route to the Pacific Ocean. They found their way there and back. During our travels in the west we often came across signs saying that the Merriweather Clark Expedition had passed by.
This evening we went to Churchill Downs, home of the Kentucky Derby and the Mint Julip. The racecourse is in a suburb of Louisville and every Thursday evening during the spring season it holds a meet. Unfortunately our luck wasn’t in and we didn’t win a thing. The Mint Julip was good though.
Afterwards we made our way back downtown to the 4th Street entertainment area.
Friday 1st July
Crossed the river bridge into Louisville today and went to the Muhammad Ali Centre which is built on the banks of the Ohio River.
The $80 million dollar centre honours Ali’s life and legacy. It tells the story of Ali and the ups and downs of his life through pictures, film and interactive exhibits. We had a fascinating, absorbing and sometimes entertaining and thought provoking few hours in the centre. To anyone our age, Muhammed Ali is one of the characters that has been part of life’s timeline since his fight with Sonny Liston in the 60’s. There are so many photographs and so much film footage it makes for a very lively and memorable autobiography.