After we drove out of the Smoky Mountain National Park we decided we would drive for an hour or so and then look for a campsite. I thought we should look earlier rather than later, because a lot of places are starting to close or ‘winterise’ (AKA only deal with RVs because they want to shut the shower blocks). We found a KOA site just off our route, but they were no longer accepting tent campers. (It does make you feel a bit like a second class camper.) We were just about ready to cover a load of miles and look for a motel when I found a local campsite that appeared to be fully open. It’s called Campfire lodgings and is up a very windy track a few miles north of Asheville (we are currently in North Carolina, having passed out of Tennessee up on top of the Smoky Mountain Park).
The site is quite expensive but the view is gobsmackingly wonderful, both in the day and at night.
The nice young man, Jason,
who checked us in, gave me a guided tour of the place on his golf cart (another first for me; never ridden on one of those before)(it was quite exciting, actually) saying things like ‘you can bring a glass of wine over here and enjoy the sunset with our other guests’ and ‘we have heated, individual bathrooms here’ and ‘all our wood is stored for about a year under cover so that it burns really well’. He was lovely and brought our wood by in two big buckets
and then later brought his lovely wife by to admire our car and set up. He is the first person to have spotted Camel’s camel on the front. He also warned us that there is a mother bear with two cubs living close by and that we should make sure that we leave anything with any scent in the car. You have never seen such a tidy pitch as ours was when we went to bed and we both spent quite a time wondering what the various noises we could hear were. He had advised us that if we had bears come up to the tent we should set our car alarm off or use a taser (not on the bear, you realise, they just don’t like the noise). Failing that he gave us his personal phone number so I could call him and he and his wife would chase them off. Despite the creaking noise from the trees near us (first time I heard it, I nearly had kittens) and the various country sounds we actually slept quite well and enjoyed the relatively warm temperature of about seven degrees centigrade. I wasn’t sure if I should celebrate the fact I was actually having hot flushes again or not.
On Tuesday morning we came across the flock of wild turkeys that like to call in from time to time
and I did wonder how nerve racking it would be to park your RV quite so close to a cliff. We spent a lot of time drinking tea and coffee and then doing a bit of food shopping. When the lady on the check out realised that we were from out of town, she insisted that we had a chance to buy some of the local Cold Mountain beer, which is only sold on one day a year. She was very excited that they had some and was quite happy to keep everyone else waiting to ensure we went away with their yearly treat. Of course, we couldn’t find any and we held up the queue for about (what felt like) ten minutes, until she called the manager, who found us a box. (It turned out to be quite good.)
We then settled down to a lazy lunch but the wind blows quite freshly across the top of our little mountain, so we went for a walk along the trails that wind through the grounds here. We were meant to follow a trail that took us for four miles up to a pond and then back around, but we missed that and ended up back of the bottom on the road that you follow to drive up here. Seeing as the sky was looking pink, it seemed a good idea to give up and just cook supper.
We wondered what all the vines were that seem to strangle so many trees in this area. Apparently they are either poison ivy or poison oak or, even worse, poison sumac, a plant that will cause blisters that then burst and the puss that comes out goes on to cause more blisters. (Oh, and by the way there are several species of poisonous snake locally) (I ALWAYS stay on the trail and make a lot of noise when we go for a walk).
The weather was predicted to be awful on Wednesday, so we decided to go and see the very popular local estate of Biltmore, the family home of the one of the Vanderbilts, a railroad heir who had more money than you could shake a very large stick at. The grounds were massive (signs saying two miles to …….) and the house was loosely modelled on a French chateaux (very loosely, not at all symmetrical!).
It was very nice but, having visited various houses in the UK, it didn’t really stand out. Considering that it cost us $70 each to enter the place and enjoy the audio tour, with lavish Christmas decorations everywhere, I was rather miffed that I was not allowed to photograph the place. It’s probably because they use the house as a film set regularly.
We had a very pleasant but very naughty meal in the onsite restaurant, enjoying a shared ‘Appalachian platter’, which consisted of barbecued ribs and chicken together with pulled pork, mashed sweet potatoes and some stewed cabbage dish. It didn’t look particularly enticing, but it was really tasty.
Afterwards we went for a drive around the grounds and then for the included wine tasting. I really liked the white wine, but most of the reds were a bit dry and too thin to our taste. Tim wanted to be let loose in here..
The rain was hammering down on the way back
and that night was our wettest under canvas on all our travels so far; our weather app gives us an idea of how heavy the rain will be, one mm being drizzle and three or four being heavy rain. Over the next eight hours it went from five to six and then up to seven. We sheltered in the laundry room for most of the evening, where the campground have thoughtfully provided a couple of chairs and a work surface. We realised our error as it got dark, as we had not left a light on in the tent and we had left our head torches behind as well. Neither of us could work out how to make our mobile phones behave like torches and we had run out of supplies…. (well, we had finished the beers we took with us and the pretzels were running low, pure unadulterated hardship). Tim valiantly volunteered to go back to sort everything out and came back safely afterwards. It is a tad nerve racking around here in the dark, what with a mother bear around, and I do confess that I hold on very tightly to Tim when we make the long trek in the dark to the facilities, as they don’t light this end of the campground. When I confessed as much to Tim, he explained it was pretty damn scary walking along in the pitch black, even for him.
We decided to call it a night at about eleven and slithered through the torrential rain to the Tentipi which had leaked a bit and the edge of the bed was a bit damp. Luckily it was a fairly warm night, about 10 degrees centigrade, so we were nice and cosy, but the rain hammering down kept us awake for a bit( as well as the worry that we knew the worst was yet to come). Amazingly, we both managed to get quite a good night’s sleep and woke up to the delightful sound of no rain. Despite my fears, there was not a very big puddle inside the tent and once the mountain mist burnt off, the sun came out, the tent dried off, we washed the mud off our camp kitchen and were all set for the new day.
We decided to visit Chimney Rock National Park, which was about 30 miles away, but it took over an hour to get there, as the roads had more twists in them than the current British government’s tax policy. We finally found out what was going on with these vines
they are an invasive Japanese plant (kudzu) that they are struggling to eradicate.
The views on the way were spectacular
and even our picnic spot was pretty nice.
Chimney Rock is a granite monolith that towers over 300 ft above the car park and you can usually take a lift to the top. The lift was out of order when we visited, so we joined all the other nervous people climbing the complex stair system to the top
the view was wonderful
but it felt pretty scary right on top as the wind was truly blasting through
We drove back through Asheville
just in time to enjoy a beer, while watching the sun going down
We have been pondering the whole hillbilly bit while we have been traveling through this area. We have asked several people what they call themselves and the answers range from Appalachian to Hillbilly to Redneck. We chatted to one local man in a bar and he said that it depended where you come from. When I said that all we in the UK knew about the region was the ‘Beverly Hillbillies’ and how they ate ‘roadkill pie’, he pointed out that many people in the region were so poor that roadkill was the only meat they would ever get and that one of the few ways they could actually survive during the depression was to make moonshine, a vodka-like drink that turns into whiskey if you leave it in a barrel. He said he had a sample of the batch that was famous in the area, worth $25 a small jar, but, should the law find out about it, his relatives that brewed the liquor could be in real trouble, as it was a federal offence. Tim and I thought it reminded us of the illegal stills we could smell when he was working in the wild north of Scotland some twenty six years ago….