21 October – After a pleasant evening in our woodland campsite not far from Jamestown and a nice lazy start to the day – headed off up the James River to view “Plantation Row”. In this area were a large number of early plantations (originally tobacco) built up from the mid 1600’s. We chose Shirley Plantation to visit as it has been in the same family for 11 generations from 1619. The main house built in the 1720’s was still being lived in by the current heir of the Hill-Carter family, but they open the ground floor up to the public for tours (they live in the upper two stories). The tour was quite informative, focussing mainly on the family history and some of their historic furnishings. The other buildings on the property had some explanations in them but were mainly bare of items of interest. Originally the farm grew tobacco with the assistance of over 100 slaves, but by the 1800’s the land became unsuitable to continue with this, so they changed to winter wheat, corn and soy. Now a much smaller operation, just recently they had added cotton as a crop, which had just recently been machine harvested, sitting on the edge of each field in huge bales.
After exploring all that was on offer, we made our way to view a different part of the history around here – battlefields from the American Civil War of 1861-1865. Had hoped to visit the nearby Malvern Hill battlefield, but the road had a 4 ton weight limit so we found another a bit closer to Richmond – Fort Harrison (Confederate name) or Fort Burnham (Union name). The original earthen battlements, along with explanations of the particular battles that occurred were interesting to walk around and try and imagine what it would have been like to be a soldier in those times. Decided then to head back towards Williamsburg and return to the same campsite in the forest.
22 October – Another quiet night in the forest was followed by a grey morning. Made our way towards Williamsburg and a look around the historical colonial part of the town. We decided just to walk around the town and not bother buying the expensive tickets which get you into some of the buildings. What a neat place, the entire old part of the town had been restored and buildings reconstructed to take you back to the 1750’s. With shops, taverns and residential houses it was very well done – again a lot of Rockefeller money had been put into this venture (when you see the donor boards they have spaces for one million and up, and twenty million and up so there is serious money here!). The town was beautifully laid out, and there were some gorgeous old trees which must have been from the time when the town was originally built. There were loads of volunteers in period dress acting out their parts. The rain held off for the most part while we wandered around.
Headed off later in the afternoon to battle with the traffic down to Virginia Beach to finally arrive at the Military Aviation Museum, which was closed by the time we got there, so parked beside the gate under some trees to await the opening at 9am the next morning. We are only a few miles from a huge Naval Air Base with the constant thundering of jets which thankfully abated later in the evening.
23 October – Wakeup call this morning was the roadworking gang, so needed to get out of their way – fortunately the gate to the museum had opened so were able to shoot into their parking lot and wait for opening time. Bob got to have his fun for the day checking out all the interesting planes from the 1940’s and 1950’s, including the DH.Mosquito that had been restored at Ardmore just a couple of years ago.
Headed out of Virginia Beach towards our stop for the night at a parking spot beside the Dismal Swamp Canal. A couple of yachts had just moored up – both from Canada on their way down to Grenada (they set out in August and hope to make it by May) – nice life for some!! The Great Dismal Swamp is aptly named – the canal water is nearly black and looks quite sinister. The canal gives smaller vessels a direct protected route from Chesapeake Bay down to the protected waters long the coast of Carolina. Great place to stop – there is a biking/hiking trail right beside the canal but otherwise very quiet. Movie night tonight chez Wanda was Wyatt Earp – quite neat to see it was set in some of the places we had visited in Arizona.
24 October – Nice restful night and another clear morning. Retraced our steps back up the swamp road in order to cross over it at the north end, and then ‘westward ho’ to Suffolk, Waverley and Farmville. Mixed farming through here – cotton, soy and even tobacco farms. A lot of tree lined roads and many more swamp areas. Noticeably poorer communities through this region. South of Farmville was another WMA area where dispersed camping is allowed besides a small lake with several parking choices – we chose the boat ramp lot with nice lake views. For just a $4 per day access fee, these are great spots to camp overnight. May even get to see some wildlife – notice on the board lists all the hunting that is allowed in this area including bear, deer, coyote and dove. Trapping for beaver, otter, mink is also allowed, and trout fishing in the lake.
25 October – Another lovely day in paradise – clear blue sky and not too cold. Had a very pretty drive to Appamatox and spent a couple of hours at the historic site where Robert E Lee surrendered his Army of Northern Virginia to the Union Army under Ulysses Grant. Once again the historical talks were very interesting. The first was a ranger led one who went through the whole history of the few days surrounding the battle and surrender, and the second was a historical characterisation of a Confederate soldier who came from a farm right on the site. The Confederates lost 30,000 men klled and wounded in various engagements in just six weeks leading up to this battle, which must have been devastating to their morale and fighting power. The politics of the time meant that very generous surrender terms were offered to Lee and his men – they were allowed to keep their horses/mules if they could prove ownership and after giving up their arms were all given parole papers and bound not to take up arms against the Union. Robert E Lee finished his days as President of what is now the Washington & Lee University in Lexington but only lived for 5 years after the end of the war.
Had a wander around some of the reconstructed houses of the small settlement that was called Appamatox Court House before setting off through some of the prettiest countryside we have seen for quite some time. Rolling hills with a lot of fall colours still left, and glimpses from time to time of the Blue Ridge Mountains. Our drive took us to Charlottesville and after picking up supplies headed off in search of another WMA spot. Not such a great find this time – first lot of co-ordinates had us in the middle of the lake! Finally found a place to park at the end of the road but not a lot of room to manoeuvre Wanda into a comfortable spot for the night so as t was nearly dark, had to settle for being on a slight downward slope.
26 October – Pleased to leave our camp site after a not very comfortable night. Headed into Charlottesville which is not an RV friendly town. Had to park a little way from where we wanted to visit but it was the only place we could find with suitable sized spaces. Walked down to the University of Virginia, which is synonomous with Thomas Jefferson, to view all their historic buildings. What a lovely setting – mostly red brick buildings with serious portico columns on many of them. The renowned rotunda was in the process of being repaired so couldn’t get too close to it. From there walked to their historic downtown mall – a bit of a disappointment as the buildings lining both sides of the pedestrian mall didn’t seem that old. It was a thriving place, with restaurants, cafes and upmarket shops so interesting to walk around. Caught the free trolley bus back up to the University so we could get back to Wanda.
Left Charlottesville on Highway 69 – a freeway which crosses over the Blue Ridge Mountains. What a lovely drive – just about as much colour as we had seen in Vermont and an easy climb up and over the mountains (I think the pass was just under 2,000ft). On the other side we entered the Shenandoah Valley and another pretty area. At times we could have easily been back home, and other vistas were reminiscent of English countryside.
Our destination was the George Washington National Forest and a dispersed camping area off Highway 250 on Braley Pond. Neat place with a very tidy picnic area and to the side about 6 sites for free camping. Our chosen spot had a small creek at our back and a few pine and oak trees around us. The oaks had mostly lost their leaves so it was reasonably open. Arriving nice and early gave me a chance to make use of the water from the creek and get our washing done – what a treat to be able to dry our washing in the open air solar dryer! We are experiencing abnormally warm fall weather but we definitely won’t complain about it. It has been so nice to have such clear blue skies and warm (almost summer) days.
It was also good to be able to use our BBQ for another gourmet meal. You can buy really nice pork fillets over here and they cook very nicely on the BBQ, so with an accompaniment of baked onions, carrots and courgettes it turned out a nice meal.
27 October – Another beautiful day in this paradise although it got really cold in the early hours and wasn’t warm enough to poke one’s nose out in the air until the sun was well up. Nice excuse to have a lazy day. Another culinary treat for brunch – crispy bacon, eggs and hash-browns. Took a small hike around the pond that followed on to a circular trail which eventually came back to camp after about 5km. Most of the oak trees had lost their leaves and we were walking on a thick carpet of crackling brown leaves – at least we made enough noise to make sure that the bears would hear us coming for miles. Quite a few different landscapes as we walked along – some open meadows, pine forests and deciduous forests.
With the sun still beaming away – decided to get other chores done on Wanda – first a clean inside, then Bob tidied up a few loose bits around the vehicle whilst I gave it another wash. Leftovers of the pork fillet made another delicious meal, followed by BBQ’d bananas drizzled with maple syrup, cinnamon and ginger.
28 October – Another lazy start to the day. Left our peaceful spot and headed back onto Highway 250 for an interesting drive over several mountain ranges, leaving the beautiful Shenandoah behind us. Crossed over the Appalachians through several small towns with not a lot to offer. At the foot of the Cheat Mountains we were into yet another State (No 23), this time West Virginia. The route through the mountains although slow was a great road, twisty but really well engineered on the hairpin bends giving plenty of room for wide turning vehicles. Went from late autumn to winter at the tops of the ranges. Quite different to see all the bare trees and definitely a message to us that winter is a coming. This part of West Virginia dubs itself ‘Wild West Virginia’ and seems to be the poor relation, many small farms and a lot of much poorer settlements. As we passed through the small town of Durbin, noticed a steam train all fired up and ready to go, but by the time we had parked and got to the station it was pulling out and we weren’t able to get it stopped. A pity, as it would have been a neat little two hour exploring trip. Decided to hit the local bar instead and had a late lunch. That was definitely stepping back in time!
Satisfactorily fed we headed on up and down a few more large hills to Huttonsville before turning south and following valleys instead of going up and over them (mountain ranges here again run south to north and we had been travelling westward so couldn’t avoid the ups and downs.) Had hoped to find a nice pulling-off stop on the way to Marlinton, but the valley is pretty well settled all the way through, so went past there and found a State Park about 30 minutes down the road on the Greenbrier River. Lovely spot with about 50 sites and as it was nearing dusk when we came into it, the white tailed deer were bobbing about everywhere. All in all a good day for scenic roads with not too much traffic and reasonably relaxed driving.
29 October – The screams you heard this morning were from me – I decided to have a shower in the camp’s facilities and it was like something out of a horror movie. As I entered the block there were black spiders all over the place so I gingerly made my way through them and found a shower which didn’t seem to have any – how wrong was I! As soon as I turned on the water several popped up, so I waited until they had drowned and thought all was safe before hopping in under the nice warm water only to notice a few moments later two of the monsters climbing up my leg – hence the shrieks. I can tell you I was in and out of that shower like greased lightning.
After that horrible start to the day it was nice to get on the road despite the light rain. We made our way to Lewisburg and had a walk around their town. Quite an interesting town centre with several interesting antique shops, a few nice cafe’s and some upmarket clothing shops. The farmland in this valley is just like home – fences and cattle in the fields but the housing conditions are much more basic.
Leaving Lewisburg we hit the Interstate 64 to cross back over the Appalachians and into the Shenandoah again, stopping at Lexington and their Waldorf for the night. Another stunning drive to a lower altitude – we went from bare trees back to trees with leaves and some nice vivid colours.
It looks like our unseasonably warm weather is coming to an end – forecast for the next few days is much colder weather and even possibly a snow flurry, so we will be keeping a watchful eye out as we don’t want to get caught out. If do we experience freezing temperatures we can get into problems with the water lines bursting so have to be careful to avoid those situations.
Found out yesterday that the company we had been getting our internet services from was not going to exist from the beginning of November and that we would have to transfer back to a direct service with Verizon. Two hours of waiting on the phone (just as well I have the patience of Job) finally got through to a real person and established that we couldn’t transfer easily as we are not US Citizens and they can’t do a credit check on us, so the only way that we keep on with Verizon is purchase another hotspot (there goes $250 down the tubes for the original one we had to buy) and go on to a prepaid service. The only plus is that the replacement one was $60 and we will still be paying the same as before for each month’s data. Wallies had the devices in stock so come the beginning of November we should be able to activate our new one and continue with coverage.
30 October – Down into the heart of Lexington and first stop was in the grounds of the Virginia Military Institute and the George Marshall museum. George Marshall is most well known for his part in the Europe Recovery Plan after the end of WWII which became known as the Marshall Plan. The museum revealed so much more about the man and his many achievements. He devoted his entire life to serving his country both in the military, becoming Army Chief of Staff and a Four Star General during WWII with overall control of all US theatres, commanding Eisenhower, Patton, Bradley, MacArthur, etc. and Secretary of State under President Harry Truman, before being warded the Nobel Peace Prize in 1953, the first military man to be so recognised. During a hoped for retirement post war he was made President of the Red Cross, but was almost immediately recalled by Truman to deal with America’s interests in China and during the Korean War, then later became Secretary of Defence. For his work with the Marshall Plan he won the gratitide of many world leaders, including Winston Churchill, but has been largely ignored by history, perhaps because he always refused to write any memoirs. We emerged several hours later and after a spot of lunch headed to the nearby VMI museum. Virginia Military Academy is the State equivalent of the Federal ‘West Point’, but from which graduates can enter any of the US armed services. This collection had some good displays on former graduates from the Academy – the main feature being TJ ‘Stonewall’ Jackson. There was the horse (stuffed) he was riding when he received injuries (shot by friendly fire) which were to prove fatal a few days later, as well as many of his personal items. Downstairs was a large gun collection – so many of the guns were still in their original cases with their various tools and bullet making equipment. Of particular interest was the air-rifle taken by Merriweather Lewis on his (Lewis and Clark) expedition across the continent at the beginning of the 19th Century, which so astounded all the native indians they came into contact with. The grounds around the VMI were stunning, with the centrepiece being the barracks building. With the day pretty much over we headed out of town and in the direction of the Blue Ridge Parkway – crossing over it and a few miles down the road found another dispersed camping spot in the George Washington National Forest to be nicely placed to start our exploration of the Parkway tomorrow.
31 October – Cold start to the day so a nice little walk up the valley to get warm before setting off. A few minutes up the road, we got on to the Blue Ridge Parkway and commenced a day of gorgeous motoring – the road climbed a little up and down and although a bit curvy, the 45mph speed limit ensured a relaxing drive. We had splendid views in places where the road went along the ridgeline – valley bottoms on both side of the road were visible. The leaves came and went as we changed elevations with still some patches of vibrant colours. The campground we were heading for was closed for the season so had to get off the parkway towards Roanoke and Wallies. We may not hit the Parkway tomorrow as the weather is forecast to have some snow showers.