On Monday, after leaving a truly autumnal scene,
we headed up to Lancaster, where we had been advised that we could find out about the Amish community there.
We found a very nice (but even more expensive) campsite, just on the outskirts of the city. Some of the residents were rather more into Halloween than others
and I was given the chance to buy their decorations; strangely enough I was not even the least bit tempted to take the stuff with us…
On the Tuesday we were aiming to cycle into the city to observe the Amish in action, but we luckily went to the campground reception to get some information. Just as well as (once the nice lady on reception got over the idea that it might be possible to cycle three or four miles) we were told that the place to go was about seven or so miles away along nasty roads. So, we went back through the campsite, packed up the bikes and then went out to the Amish Village,
which is a tiny little museum, where you can see how a house and a small farm would work for the average Amish family without standing on their toes. It was there that we finally found out why there are such things as covered bridges (it’s been driving me nuts ever since I watched the Clint Eastwood movie about Maddison county)
Apparently (as they are made out of wood), the cover keeps the rain off so they don’t rot so quickly and so they can last up to a hundred years. Obvious now we know..
I was a bit intrigued to see this young girl using a petrol driven strimmer
and I took this picture before I realised how offensive that could be. I found out later on that they do NOT like to pose for photos.
We took the bus tour, which took us around the area, showing us where the Amish lived (pronounced Arm-ish not Aim-ish nor Amm-ish, and we eventually got it right), coupled with a very informative yet respectful explanation of their beliefs.
We came away with a real respect for the Amish coupled with some perplexity
The Amish in the Lancaster area;
Do not have telephones in the house, as they bring the outside world in and cause unnecessary distractions but they often have a phone booth at the end of the garden for emergencies.
Do not bring electricity into the house directly (they will, however use rechargeable batteries using solar power).
Do not use petrol/diesel vehicles to work the land (but do buy agricultural machinery, change the wheels to steel rims and convert them to be worked by horses).
Do not allow any photos of them to be taken, as they think of them as graven images and to pose for a picture speaks of too much pride. (We heard that an Amish man was suing the government because he wanted to buy a hunting rifle and was not able to because he had no photo ID).
Do not put anything on the wall unless it has a purpose (so calendars are OK, so that is one way to have pictures on the wall, together with decorated scissor holders etc)
They have a whole load of gas powered devices, like fridges and lights and often use diesel engines as power units to run other machinery and air compressors to run things like food mixers and sewing machines.
Wear black once they are baptised
but they can wear what they like on their feet
The Amish do not educate their children beyond the eighth grade, women do not work after they are married, men and boys eat before women and then girls, they can only get married from about this time of year to December in the marriage season, either on a Tuesday or a Thursday, so that it does not interfere with work…. The rules go on and it would be hard to imagine that lifestyle, but they do not force their children to follow on. At about 17 or so the kids are encouraged to go a little wild and to see if they would rather live as the ‘English’ (non Amish) do. if they decide that is how they want to be then, they are not chucked out, but left to get on with whatever they want to do. If, however they decide to be baptised and then at a later date change their minds, marry out, buy a car, use electricity etc and refuse to repent they will be shunned, which means they have to sit at a different table from the rest of the family.
The Amish are obviously doing much better than the Shakers, as their population is doubling every twenty years or so; not surprising as they tend to have eight to twelve children. One thing that surprised me was that the youngest son inherits the farm and he has to care for the parents. Their farms are often very prosperous too.
As we sat enjoying our evening campfire on our last evening in Lancaster, a bloke called Michael came over for a chat.
He was travelling on his own and has a mobile canvas labyrinth that he sets up as he goes for weddings etc. and the children on the campsite followed to get candy at the middle. He said they loved it so much that several of them came back more than once, even when the sweets were all gone. He also has seven sons, whom he had brought up single handed since his wife left him when the youngest was quite tiny. He had to liquidate all his assets to be able to look after seven boys, as there is no way you can work and care for that many children on your own (he said that every time he tried to bring a lady friend home, it didn’t go well, as it was like bringing someone home to a frat house). What he described reminded me of the early scenes of Seven Brides for Seven Brothers. All in all the boys have done very well, mostly settled down with good jobs and families of their own, and Michael either travels in his small RV or goes to visit them and sleeps on their couches. He was a great guy and a delight to share some time with.
We paid attention to the weather forecast on our last night in Lancaster and it was just as well we did. We cleared everything away that we could and battened down the hatches and waited for the rain. It hammered down all night long. When it eased a little bit in the morning, we put on our waterproofs, shoved everything in the car as quickly as we could and then struck the tent very quickly indeed.
We were aiming to drive along the Blue Ridge Mountain Parkway, so we headed south to a delightfully spacious campsite near Waynsboro in Virginia.
They too were rather into Halloween
but I did like the Indian in the purple hat
We erected the dripping tent, wiped the floor down and put the heater on while we waited for it to dry out. We eventually managed to get everything sorted but it was a wet and grotty night all the same.
We spent the next day sorting things out, just chilling and watching the woodpeckers that hung around the place in surprisingly large groups.
We had run out of beer, so we ended up drinking wine with our lunch, which felt strangely decadent. We decided to stay an extra night so we could visit the local cave, known as the Great Cavern. It was extremely aptly named; I have never seen anything like it. The formations were massive and hugely varied.
The cave was discovered over 200 years ago and has been a major tourist attraction ever since, but in the early days the tour would take six to eight hours and you had to help carry the ladders. There was graffiti on the walls from the Civil war; the soldiers had written in pencil and it was still legible. You could also see where someone had tried changing the shape of the place with dynamite
The stalactites and stalagmites grow at a rate of 1 cubic centimetre a year, so some of the formations there must have taken eons to form. In the past people used to chip bits off the formations or would touch the surfaces.
This one was meant to be George Washington and had been touched by so many people in the past that he no longer grows as the water just runs off due to the oils left behind by all those thousands of hands.
You could see where people had used the formations for target practice (great idea in an enclosed space…)
I particularly liked this one that looked a bit like Gandalf.
The caves were up to 200ft tall and it was well worth the entrance fee.
Back at the campsite we came across this charming creature
who seemed quite apt for the Halloween weekend….