Final fling in Florida.

6 Mar

Continuing our journey along the Florida coast north towards Jacksonville we were pleased to find the area mostly unspoiled by commercialism, long flat sandy beaches beckoned just next to the highway but signs with ‘NO RV OR TRAILER PARKING’ posted in the pull ins stopped us getting our feet sandy.

Around 10 miles south of Saint Augustine we stopped off to visit Fort Matanzas National Monument, a small fort which you reach by ferry ride from the park area. In the car park  a group of people were looking up towards the surrounding trees, a man sitting in a chair had his binoculars trained on the trees and a couple of other folk had cameras mounted on tripods pointing in the same direction. We felt sure this could be nothing to do with a fort so went over to investigate. Signs posted on a low fence (to stop spectators wandering into the roadway) asked that you stay quiet to avoid disturbing the baby owls!


Look carefully in the centre of the picture and you can see a fluffy bundle of owl.

We began a conversation with the man seated with the binoculars asking what sort of owl they were. Great Horned owl, ah! We had had an encounter with this beautiful bird while walking a trail on the Natchez Trace, we had suddenly become aware of a pair of beady eyes staring intently at us, huge pointy ears on top of a round brown head left us in no doubt which sort of owl he was, and he was big! He did not stay long but long enough to leave an impression, I was sure we had a picture of him but as I am writing I looked for it and realised it only exists in my head.

Initially it was difficult to pick out the baby bird high in the trees in front of us but to our delight one of  the seven week old chicks decided he needed to have a stretch, lifted himself up to the edge of the nest and spread his wings wide, flapping vigorously. It will be  a while before both chicks are fully fledged and ready to fly but this one is obviously eager to grow up.

I could have watched for a longer time but we had a fort to visit!

A small boat took us across to the Fort where the National Park Ranger gave us a background to its history.


The fort was built in the late 1700’s by the Spanish to help protect the town of Saint Augustine from attack by the French and English. The fort is built using a local stone called coquina, compressed tiny shells and sand. Cannonballs bounced off this stone surface due to tiny air pockets between the shells, quite a good defence for a fort. However, it was only put to the test once, when the British attempted a siege. They were scared off by the forts cannon and left never to return!

By comparison the Castillo de san Marco in Saint Augustine is huge, over 300years old it protected the oldest town in the United States (as it is now known) and is also an interesting shape, best shown by the diorama below.


The towers on each corner were built to a diamond shape to allow the soldiers a greater area of observation, no blind spots!

There are a large number of old cannon displayed on the roof of the main section of the building the details of both I am sure Robert will write more about in his blog.

Saint Augustine as a town existed long before the Pilgrims set foot on Plymouth rock and has seen French, Spanish and British rule. The small streets lined with old (some reconstructions) property show influence from all of these. Now housing various gift and tourist shops they still make for an interesting stroll.



More impressive are the buildings constructed by Henry Flagler in the late 1800’s to accommodate wealthy tourists.

The Ponce de Leon Hotel now houses the Flagler College, visitors are allowed to view the outer courtyard and magnificent hallway – a tour is also available.



The building is so huge it was really hard to get it into a picture and still be able to appreciate the detail.












This lovely fountain with terracotta frogs around the rim sits in the centre of the courtyard. The first floor rooms looking out on to this area appeared to be student accommodation. What a great place to study!








Again hard to capture the beauty and extent of this building, this is the domed interior of the hallway with galleried walkways decorated with Tiffany glass and mural ceilings. This Wikipedia link will give more information if I have whetted your appetite.

Across the street Flagler erected a second hotel now housing the City Hall and Lightner Museum the Alcazar Hotel seemed plain in comparison.


However this too had a lovely internal courtyard with a pool and huge Koi Carp swimming in it. A small coffee shop to one side had tables in the covered walkway where we were able to buy a lunchtime snack enjoy the peaceful surroundings.



Wandering as we do when in these sortP1160647 of places we found ourselves in the quieter less touristy Old Spanish Quarter









and spotted these two gentlemen at the reference     library.






A chilly wind had been blowing all day so by early afternoon we were ready to take the Sunshine Bus back to the KOA campground in Saint Augustine Beach. This had been our last stop in Florida which overall we had enjoyed. A diverse State it is worth seeing but for us one we will probably not rush back to.


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