4 - 17 July 2016 Virginia

Monday 4th July – American Independence Day - Sandy has her stars and stripes collar on.

Heavy rain overnight. Like the UK, it always rains on a holiday Monday! We packed up camp and headed east towards West Virginia on the I-64.

Known as the Mountain State, West Virginia sits within the tree covered Appalachian Mountain Range area. In the south is the large Pocahontas Coalfield discovered in the 19th century. In the north-east is Harpers Valley where the Shenandoah and Potomac Rivers meet and Robert E Lee captured John Brown when he attempted to raid the United States Arsenal.

It was a damp misty morning with low cloud and showers as we headed towards Charleston, the state capitol of West Virginia.

Crossing over the Kanawha River the dome of the State Capitol building came into view.

As we continued east towards the Appalachians there was low cloud covering the heavily forested hills. From the interstate we could see small towns and communities nestled in the valleys down below the road level.

At Sandstone Mountain we hit 7% downgrades. Crossed the New River which is in fact one of the oldest rivers in the USA and looked down into deep gorges.

We soon crossed the state line into Virginia and the George Washington National Forest.

Virginia is a state full of history. In 1607 the first permanent British settlement was established in Jamestown. The American Revolutionary War and the American Civil War both came to a finish in Virginia where the decisive last battles were fought. Plus, seven presidents have been born in Virginia, including George Washington.

After our six hour drive we arrived in the Shenandoah Valley and the Walnut Hill RV Park, situated just outside Staunton near a little place called Mint Springs. Nearby is some very pretty farmland and substantial looking homes.

The campsite sits between the Appalachian and Blue Ridge Mountains on an old walnut plantation. The site is lovely with plenty of trees, a small creek running through the property, a fishing pond and a swimming pool.

Tuesday 5th July

We unpacked and set up our new kayak today. A twin hull Sea Eagle. The kayak is inflatable, making it light weight and easy to store.

We seem to have this area of the RV Park to ourselves. Everyone has gone home after the holiday weekend.

Sandy is enjoying the dog park.

Took a drive into Staunton. Nice town with houses built on the surrounding hills overlooking the town centre. Reminded us very much of an English market town.

Stopped off at the Byers Street Bistro.

Wednesday 6th July

Wimbledon, watched Andy Murray and Jo-Wilfred Tsonga. Five set match which Murray won for a place in the semifinals.

Thursday 7th July

Weather is very hot with 76% humidity. Went into Staunton to the Redbeard Brewing Company this evening. They have a simple tap room next to the brewing area and we had a very social evening. Ali, who was serving behind the bar, was delightful and gave us lots of information about the town and surrounding area. Several locals came in and we sat around the bar chatting,

Friday 8th July

The Shenandoah National Park is in the heart of the Valley where the Blue Ridge Parkway and the Skyline Drive converge. We had driven a few miles of the end portion of the Blue Ridge Parkway in North Carolina, today we would start at its beginning. However, instead of going south onto the Parkway we turned north into the Shenandoah National Park and along the only road through the park, the Skyline Drive which, like the Parkway, continues along the crest of the Blue Ridge Mountains.

The National Park opened in 1936 and has the Shenandoah River Valley to the west and the hills of Piedmont Virginia to the east. The 105 mile drive has 75 overlooks with fabulous views over both sides of the ridge. The area was populated before the park opened with farms and there was a logging industry. It took 10 years for the people who lived there to re-locate and gradually the land returned to its natural state and the wild animals returned.

We stopped off at our first overlook and as we got out of the car the fragrant smell of wild flowers was in the air.

Back in the car and approaching Blackrock Gap, a tiny black bear cub ran out of the forest across the road in front of us, followed by Mother bear and then another little bear and then yet another little bear.

We couldn’t believe our eyes. We came to a stop and wondered if there was any more to come but no this was a family of three. They all landed safely on the other side of the road. Mother bear stopped to have a look at us before disappearing into the forest. Two of the cubs shimmied up a tree and peaked around the trunk to check us out.

No wonder the speed limit on this road is 35 mph.

We continued on along the winding parkway climbing to just user 4000 feet. Stopping to see the marvelous forest and valley views on the way.

There are also many trails to walk suitable for all levels and the Appalachian Trail passes through the park.

We stopped off for a sandwich lunch at a nicely shaded picnic area.

At Thornton Gap we came off the Skyline Drive onto highway 211 to make our way to the I-81 and our journey back south.

Called into Staunton for a walk around. Passing the Augusta County Court House we climbed the hill to the old rail station.

Continuing on past Victorian terraced houses we turned at the end of the street down the hill and into Byers Street.

This area is known as The Wharf and back in the 19th Century many warehouses were built along this street that have now been renovated for mixed use businesses. By now we were in need of refreshments and stopped off at Byers Street Bistro, where we shared a plate of Pork Belly Nachos.

Saturday 9th July

We met up with Tidge and Doug (husband and wife town tour guides) outside the Woodrow Wyatt Library and Museum in the centre of Staunton. They were both born in Staunton and have a wealth of knowledge about the place and its history. At one time they lived in Northfield, Birmingham where their daughter was born. Tidge taught at Edgbaston High School for Girls and Doug was studying architecture at the University of Birmingham. Another example of the ‘small world’ syndrome.

Staunton is one of the oldest towns in the area. The first settlers arrived in the 1720’s from Pennsylvania, Maryland and east Virginia. There was a mixture of German speakers, Northern Irish, English and African Americans. Strategically placed on one of the travel routes to the west, the town became a centre for trade. In 1854 the arrival of the Virginia Central Railway increased commercial activity and by the late 19th century the town had grown in size and prosperity. Many fine homes and public buildings were erected during this time.

During the civil war Staunton played an important role when the fertile Shenandoah Valley acted as the ‘breadbasket’ of the Confederacy.

Our architectural tour started in the Gospel Hill district of town. An area of shady streets and elegant homes with a variety of architectural styles which Doug described.

We came across a yard sale taking place outside one house.