We tend not to be planners and only make decisions on our next stop a maximum of a couple of days in advance. This week, though, we had decided a few weeks ahead that we wanted to head to Asheville, North Carolina, on our way south. What followed was not the week we expected, but has been one of our favourite so far, due in no small part to the kindness we encountered on our first visit to the small city (population c. 7,000) of Brevard, in Transylvania County. Our week of wonders comprised:
Accepting an invitation to join a nature hike with the staff and volunteers of the visitor centre, on their day off. The Pisgah National Forest visitor centre was closed when we drove up on Sunday, looking for trail maps, so we followed signs for another in Brevard, about 20 minutes from our campsite. When we discovered this was also closed, our plans for the day looked scuppered, until we were taken under the wing of the wonderful Prentiss and her team of friendly volunteers. They were meeting in the car park on their day off to test out a new tour company WNC Adventure Tours and were off on a nature hike, led by Stephanie, in the nearby Dupont State Park. Stephanie kindly invited us to join them, and we enjoyed a really lovely afternoon, hiking around the waterfalls of the park (with more than 250 in Transylvania County, it’s known as the Land of Waterfalls) and learning from the about local wildlife and the history of the area. It was a really interesting way to hike, as we now see the autumn flora and fauna with new eyes. Everyone was so kind and friendly, welcoming us with them for the day, and convincing us in a matter of hours that Brevard is a brilliant place to live.
Eating wild boar stew topped with mac and cheese in an Italian restaurant so homely it felt like being in someone’s living room. Marco was a tip that we had from Beth (part of our visitor centre gang), and we’re so glad we took the recommendation. We could well imagine this being our local restaurant, and from the buzzing Tuesday night atmosphere, it’s another reason people in Brevard are so happy. The food was delicious and the atmosphere really warm and friendly.
Sharing refillable buttered popcorn in a 1940s one-screen cinema, while watching Daniel Craig save the world (again!). I’m a sucker for any kind of retro cinema, and when you’ve got Bond to boot and free refills on your popcorn, it’s always going to be a winner.
Drinking our body weight in milkshake in Rocky’s, the retro soda fountain and grill. Thank you Prentiss for this recommendation. We had to try the southern speciality, Pimento cheese. It’s cheese, peppers, and mayo, mixed up together and put on to whatever yumminess takes your fancy – mine in a grilled sandwich, John’s on a hotdog. Add to that huge shakes in classic metal cups, red vinyl booths, and more friendly service and you can’t really go wrong for a lunch stop (we didn’t eat dinner that day!).
Hunting for the legendary Brevard white squirrel on a sunny walk about town. When we heard about these white (not albino) creatures, we thought perhaps the locals were having us on, but a tip from a nice lady in one of the cute shops on Main Street had us strolling about the local college campus, dismissing their grey cousins, before spotting a perfect white squirrel perched in a tree. We saw another munching on a bird feeder in the front garden of a house, so can confirm that the Brevard white squirrels are alive and nibbling.
Spooking ourselves in the only trailer in the forest, at the Lake Powhatan campground. Our site was under the trees and from the second pitch black night to our sixth and last, we had no one else around us. It was freezing cold and most sensible trailers had already headed south, but my boy scout makes a damn good campfire so we stuck it out for the beauty of the area and the peace of the site. It also has immaculate washrooms.
Day tripping to the Great Smoky Mountains National Park. We really wanted to visit before the cold forced us south, so we drove over for the day, through the Cherokee reservation, and into the Park. I’ll do another post on my love of National Parks, but the highlights for this day were hiking to Clingman’s Dome, the highest point in the park (at 6643 feet above sea level), seeing elk grazing feet away from us back down on the valley floor, and a late afternoon drive back along the Blue Ridge Parkway, with the mountains glowing blue on the horizon and clouds rushing up to meet us as we stepped out on the highest overlooks.
Drinking champagne in a bookshop, and listening to some country classics at the bar, in Asheville. Asheville was our main reason for coming this route, as we’d heard there was great food and music (and beer, someone wanted beer…) in this hipster mountain city . It’s all true and we had a great time wandering the streets, dipping in and out of bars and shops, and heard some brilliant, impromptu music. It was possibly just a bit too cool for us, hipster as John might appear, and we felt more at home in Brevard so ended up spending more time there. The champagne was good tho…!
Tapping our toes and clinking glasses to the Pretty Little Goat Stringband, at the Oscar Blues Brewery. Lovely Beth and Anne from the visitor centre tipped us off that the Monday night jam session at Oscar Blues Brewery was hosting the band for a wildlife fundraiser. Turning up on an unassuming industrial estate, we were delighted to see white lights and beer cans strung up above tables, and the band tuning up in front of huge beer vats. John’s beard and UK licence was not enough to convince the girl in the tap room to serve him, but luckily for us Beth was there to vouch for us so it was beers all round. The band were great, playing mandolin, fiddle, double bass, banjo and washboard, and there was such a lovely atmosphere outside under the stars, nestled in the mountains. Everyone seemed very happy to be living in Western North Carolina and we could see why – there is natural beauty on their door step, people are friendly and comfortable in their own skins, and the food and beer are great!
Lessons I learned from this week are that while it’s good to plan, be open to new opportunities, say yes to genuine invitations from kind people (I struggle with this, John is better as he worries less), and don’t worry if you can’t do it all. We intended to go on to Nashville but the cold and the fact we lingered somewhere we enjoyed meant that we decided to push straight on south for warmer climbs. The experiences we’ve had, the people we’ve met, and the fact that I’m now typing this in 75 degree sunshine in South Carolina have convinced me it’s important to be fluid in our plans. Oh, and if ever you are in Brevard, NC, pop in to the brilliant visitor centre, but be careful – you might never leave!