19 - 31 August 2018 Virginia, Tennessee

We have had a wonderful, whirlwind trip through the north-east of America. Taking in sixteen states and covering over 2,000 miles. We have seen and done so much in Ellie’s nearly six weeks with us and it was difficult to get used to the idea that she would no longer be here. We were just so pleased that she had the opportunity to take part in our travels and share with us some of our special journey.

Sunday 19th August

We made our way into DC and across the Potomac River into Arlington, Virginia and Ronald Reagan Washington National Airport. Ellie was taking an internal flight to Chicago from where she would depart later in the evening to London and home. After having lunch at the airport, Ellie got in line at security to go through to the departure lounge, where we said a tearful goodbye.

Monday 20th – Thursday 23rd August

Greenville Farm Campground

This morning we moved 75 miles south-west of Washington to Greenville Farm, Haymarket, Virginia. Here, we are nearer to Club Pet International, the company making the arrangements for Kira to travel to the UK, and Dulles Airport from where she will depart. Not only have we had Ellie leaving but Kira will also be going this week, a double whammy! Club Pet were also the company we hired to clear Sandy through customs into the US when we arrived in January 2015.

The campground is in a nice rural spot. Our site is in woodland at the back of the farm and we have the place to ourselves.

The dogs love it and enjoy their walks through the woodland.

The area has some impressive looking homes in what, I guess, part of the Washington DC greater metropolitan area being about 40 miles from the centre of DC.

Nearby there is an American Civil War battlefield at Manassas. Two major battles were fought here, the first and second Battle of Bull Run.

On Wednesday we took Kira to Pet Club to see the vet for her Tapeworm tablets. It is an entry requirement for the UK that tapeworm treatment is given within a stated period before the animal travels.

Thursday - Kira’s travel day. We wanted to keep Kira with us and out of her travel crate for as long as possible, therefore we arranged to meet James, the Pet Club representative at the United Airlines cargo office. Kira knew something was afoot because she would not eat her food or drink much in the morning.

On the way to the airport she was looking very sorrowful.

On arrival Tony assembled the travel crate.

I took Kira for a walk and she had a little water. James arrived and went through all the paperwork with the cargo staff. Lots of stickers were attached to the crate and Kira’s health certificate showing that she has had her rabies inoculation and tapeworm treatment. We had taped a bag of dog food, (incase of delay) lead and collar and the wheels for the crate to the top of the crate.

Eventually, it was time for Kira to get into her travel box. The crate was put on the scales and Kira stepped in easily, after a little encouragement and I threw a biscuit in first. When she turned around and saw the door had been shut her expression changed.

I quickly gave her another biscuit and sat opposite so that she could see me and she settled down. The crate was lifted onto a cargo trolley to wait for United PetSafe to collect. PetSafe is United’s programme for transporting dogs and cats that are not eligible to travel in the cabin. Members of the PetSafe team are trained professionals who ensure the animals receive the best care throughout the journey. For example, they have climate controlled vehicles to transport pets to the aircraft and ensure they are put on the aircraft last and removed first to keep stress to a minimum.

We had a tearful journey back to the RV but we knew Kira was in good hands. She had been getting used to her crate over the past 2/3 weeks and we felt that she did feel secure in there. But it must be very bewildering to suddenly be in unfamiliar places with strangers. There is no way to explain that it will be okay.

Needless to say, we had a very restless night. The flight left on time and we tracked the aircraft on its journey across the Atlantic. The flight arrived early which meant the journey took less than 7 hours. Simon and Ninette had a call from the Animal Reception Centre at Heathrow to say Kira is fine and that she was fed, watered and happy. Simon and Nin made their way down to Heathrow. When they first saw Kira she was a little shaky, probably wondering, where am I going now. Eventually she recognized them and had a big reunion with lots of fuss. She got into the car and settled down nicely for the journey (at last) to her forever home.

Friday 24th – Wednesday 29th August

Tennessee

This morning we headed west to pick up I-81 south, sandwiched between the Appalachian Mountain on one side and the Blue Ridge on the other. Sandy is now travelling with an empty bed next to her.

This is a very pretty valley route through Virginia with wooded hills and hollows and distant hills. It is also a major truck route. Our stop for the night is at Walmart in a town called Kingsport, just across the state line in Tennessee. Little nervous here. We had someone walking around the RV and quite obviously scrutinizing the vehicle. Didn’t like the look of him so we moved into the middle of the car park under one of the lights. The night passed without incident. Can’t say we have ever felt nervous before wherever we have parked.

Saturday 25th

Pidgeon Forge

We arrived in Pidgeon Forge a town right in the foothills of the Great Smoky Mountains. We were booked in at the Holly Haven RV Park, just minutes away from the Parkway, a busy five-mile stretch of road where all the Pidgeon Forge attractions are lined up. However, the park is quiet and pleasant with a creek running through and nice well-kept sites. Along the Parkway there is a wide variety of things to do from golf courses to raceways, dinner shows, variety theatres, museums and of course lots of music. There is also the unexpected, like the Titanic Museum. Driving along the Parkway, suddenly a replica of the ship looms into site.

Tuesday 28th

Great Smoky Mountains National Park

Set in the southern Appalachians, one of the world’s oldest mountain ranges, and America’s most visited park is the Great Smoky Mountains. This is a land of dense forest, peaks that rise 6,000 feet above sea level, waterfalls, deep hollows, sunny meadows and the distinctive smoky blue haze that clings around the mountains.

The park was founded in 1934 and to this day charges no entrance fee, unlike other national parks.

Today we packed a picnic and headed west through the Park to Cades Cove. The word Cove in Smoky Mountain speak means valley and this particular valley has beautiful scenery and lots of history. Back in the 19th century an isolated farming community lived here. After the National Park was created the park service preserved some of the original buildings erected by the early settlers.

The John Oliver house is the oldest home in the Cove built in the 1820’s. Large families often occupied these small cabins with parents, daughters and infants sleeping on the ground floor and sons up in the loft. It is easy to imagine the isolation of this place in those early days, self-sufficiency was all important.

The churches in the Cove were either Baptist or Methodist. This Methodist church was built in 1902 and replaced the earlier log cabin church.

The Missionary Baptist Church formed in 1839 belonged to a group that were expelled from the Primitive Baptist Church because they favoured missionary work. Like some other churches in the area the church ceased to meet during the Civil War. It seems there was a mix of Union and Confederate sympathisers in the Cove which obviously led to differences within the congregations.​​

Cable Mill is the site of a water powered grist mill and sawmill built in the 1870’s. Once the sawmills came into the Cove to turn the logs into lumber very few plain log cabin homes were built.

Gregg Cable House operated a store on the first floor. Rebecca Cable and her brother Dan took the store over before selling the stock and turning the building into their residence and a boarding house. Dan and his wife were both ill so Aunt Becky, as she was known, took over looking after the children and running the business. She lived in the house until she died in 1940.

Large barns were common in the Cove to provide shelter for the animals in winter.

The Dan Lawson house built in 1856.

The Tipton Place - Col. "Hamp" Tipton served in the Mexican War and lived here in the 1870’s.

Carter Shields Cabin - wounded in the Battle of Shiloh, George Washington ‘Carter’ Shields, suffered permanent disablement from his wounds. After the war he married and moved to Kansas. He came back to Cades Cove in 1906 and lived here for 11 years. Although this house is in a lovely little nook surrounded by trees, Carter couldn’t settle and moved on again.

We made our way back along the twisting tree lined roads beside fast running rivers tumbling along over broken rocks. It was easy to imagine how it must have felt here before paved roads and tourists. How atmospheric this place could be, in summer with sundrenched meadows surrounded by green hills, but how mysterious and eerie when the mists came in through the trees to fill the hollows. Travelling along tracks through dense dripping, overhanging forests, where there are few people around. After seeing how and where this isolated farming community lived and hearing about their lives and their stories gave a glimpse into a way of life that has now disappeared in a very short span of time. Thank you to the park service for preserving and keeping this history alive.

Wednesday 29th

Dollywood

Yesterday the smoky mountains, today Dollywood!

Owned by Dolly Parton this is a theme park with a bit of a difference, together with all the amusement rides there’s plenty of foot stompin’ music.

Surrounded by the Great Smoky Mountain views and good mountain air, this park has something for most people. We particularly liked the music and the shows. We had been warned about the queues we might encounter but the park was relatively quiet, probably because most schools were back following the summer break.

Although the park was quiet both shows we saw had full houses. First, was Dreamland Drive-In at the Pines Theatre with music from the 50’s and 60’s. The show was performed by a young company, very energetic, singing and dancing was superb, a first-rate show.

Next was My People, My Music performed by some of Dolly’s family – brother, cousin, two nieces, plus support band and singers. The show tells the story through music of Dolly’s journey from humble beginnings to stardom and the family that supported her. Great voices, plenty of humour and unabashed sentimentality. Without going any further, we already felt as if we had our money’s worth for the entry fee of $64.95 each.

Dolly is an RV fan and travels to her shows in an RV – I got the impression that she was not keen on flying. Her previous vehicle a 1994 Prevost is on show in the park and it didn’t take us long to find it. The interior was designed by Don and Ann Warden. Don was Dolly’s friend, manager and bus driver for years. Ann and Dolly have been friends since school days.

Chasing Rainbows – Dolly’s museum filled with memorabilia covering her life and career. Dolly is a local girl, born one of 12 children in Locust Ridge, about 11 miles from Pidgeon Forge.

The Coat of Many Colours.

Dolly and her husband Carl were married in 1966. They celebrated 50 years married in 2016 by renewing their vows.

Dolly has put a lot back into the community and the family she came from. She also started the Imagination Library programme providing free books to pre-school children. This project was inspired by her father’s inability to read and write.

We walked around the park and listened to some more live music at the Back Yard Porch.

We thoroughly enjoyed our day at Dollywood, so much to do and enjoy.

Tonight, for dinner we stepped just a short way away from the hustle and bustle of the Parkway, back in time to the beginning of Pidgeon Forge. Back in the early 1800’s a gristmill was built on the Little Pidgeon River. It produced flour and meal for the small farming community and is still doing the same today, except its expanded into the dining and shopping businesses as well. We had dinner the Pottery House Café & Grill just across the road and part of the Old Mill complex. It was a good meal sitting out in the patio and took Old Mill baked bread and coconut pie home with us.

Thursday 30th August

Nashville – Music City and the capital of Tennessee.

Staying at Nashville North KOA. We had a very private site with nobody around us. The lady in the office was super helpful and booked seats for us and arranged transport to the Grand Ole Opry ($140 all in).

Friday 31st

The Grand Ole Opry

The Grand Ole Opry in one form or another has been going since 1925 and is attributed to having made country music famous. This live performance radio programme is one not to miss. You don’t need to be a devoted fan of country music to enjoy this fun, high energy and sometimes comical show. We were enjoying it before anyone had even sung a note, the atmosphere in the audience was buzzing, everyone was here to enjoy themselves.

The artists are some of the best of their style of music in the business. Tonight, a lot of the show was dedicated to Roger Miller (Trailer for Sale or Rent….). His son Dean Miller has produced a tribute album and a some of his songs featured in the performances. There is a very relaxed atmosphere amongst the artists, with some banter and jokes, also Emmylou Harris put in an unscheduled appearance to sing a song and pay her tribute to Roger Miller.

The show is run in thirty-minute segments with a different host every session. We were treated to a suburb evening of entertainment and music, country, western, gospel and bluegrass. We particularly liked the McCrary Sisters version of Amazing Grace to the tune of House of the Rising Sun, great arrangement. The Oak Ridge Boys finished off the night with their hit song Elvira, everybody knew the chorus. Yeehaw!