A compote of history lessons.

17 Apr

Dereliction of duty – guilty as charged!

I have just looked back and realised just how long it has been since I wrote up this blog! Time flies when you are having fun……

and we have….

From the Plantation at Pettigrew State Park we drove to Roanoke Island, carefully timing our day to avoid strong winds as we crossed the bridges which join it to the mainland.


Our chosen campground was The Refuge where we were given a site overlooking their lake but before we settled down properly we drove the short distance to Wanchese which sits at one end of the 10mile long Island. Wanchese was and to a certain extent still is, a fishing town, however most of the boats lie idle, there are a couple of fish restaurants and a store for fresh fish. It was the fish I had come for, I was able to buy scallops, Tile fish (never heard of before but willing to try anything once – verdict, good!) and Monk fish, one of my favourites. They do not catch Monk fish very often and were unsure what to charge me… I explained we had paid quite a lot for a small amount in England but when it was weighed the whole tail was priced at $6.50 I think I got my self a bargain!

The opposite end of the island is Manteo, twinned with Bideford in Devon and famous for the ‘lost colony’. This was another bit of English History I was ignorant of. Sir Walter Raleigh gained permission from Queen Elizabeth I to send a group of people out to the ‘New World’ to set up an English colony, their aim was to exploit the plentiful timber which was in short supply in England. They landed at Manteo in 1584 however the conditions were difficult and the group did not contain enough men with practical skills so eventually they sailed back to England. A couple of years later a second expedition with a mixture of men and women arrived in Manteo, the hope was that with families a colony would be more successful. This expedition was led by John White whose daughter gave birth to a baby girl,Virginia Dare, the first English child to be born in America.

White returned to England in order to bring back more help for the colony, he was delayed in England by the war with Spain and did not get back to Roanoke for another three years, arriving on his granddaughters third birthday. He discovered  there was no trace of the more than 100 people he had left there and to this day no one knows what happened to them.


In a small open air theatre at Fort Raleigh National Park during the summer season, locals and semi professional actors perform a play depicting the events surrounding  the story of the Lost Colony.

The town of Manteo itself is the complete opposite of its neighbour Wanchese, it has a marina and smart apartments, small boutique stores and a smart restaurant or two. Despite the more affluent appearance it still retained a little character with the older properties.

Another bridge led us from Roanoke out to the Outer Banks and the Cape Hatteras National Seashore. These barrier islands are little more than built up sand dunes in places and this stretch of land extends around 60 miles to the end of the road then peters out into dunes and marshland. We had been advised that a trip as far as Pea Island would give us a good taste of what the rest of it was like. We dry camped in the National Park Campground at Oregon Inlet, a short walk took us to the soft sandy beach. Unfortunately four wheel drive vehicles are allowed on the beach and several were making their way up and down, this spoils a beach for me and personally I feel it should not be allowed.

A little more than 15 miles north we were able to visit the First Flight Memorial to the Wright Brothers. Another lesson in history.We were impressed by the accomplishment of two seemingly ordinary guys who owned a cycle repair business in Ohio.




We climbed to the memorial at the top of the hill where they took off for their glider flights.




We walked to the point below where their first powered flights took off and the four points at which they landed each a little greater than the last.


The museum and interpretive centre has an extensive display explaining the difficulties  they had to overcome. I was amazed at the mathematic calculations they made and the engineering they undertook. They built their own engine as a suitable one was not available at the time. I am sure the ‘engineer’ will go into more detail in his description at the end of the month when he posts in  ( www.roadvoyagers.wordpress.com)

Our journey north continued and we crossed the border into Virginia. We had Friday and Saturday night booked at First Landing State Park near Virginia Beach. We continue on the history lesson, it was here that in 1607 members of the Victoria Company made their ‘first landing’ before finally sailing up river (more history to come) where finally and English colony was established they called James Fort later known as Jamestowne.  

After a wet night Friday a cold day Saturday kept us mainly indoors however Sunday the sun came out again and began to warm us up. We drove another 70 miles north criss crossing the James River and leaving behind one of Virginias most populated areas.


Such a huge difference from one side of the water to the other, this area was again rural and agricultural,  pretty with dogwood blossom and wisteria, a few pink blossomed trees which I think may be cherry. We arrived at Chippokes State Park near Surry (no ‘e’) to be delighted by a modern clean tidy campground (loop B – loop A is still a little rustic for those who like it that way) we had three nights booked here which became extended to six – that is how good we thought it was!

Perhaps I should explain why. The campground and State Park sits alongside a plantation which has been continually farmed since 1617. A farm museum housing many old farm tools and equipment, the Plantation House and associated buildings and a Saw Mill are all available to tour. Cycle and walking trails take you from the campground to the river and out to the farm and Plantation House. At this time of year visitors are less in number so mid week we felt like we almost had the place to ourselves.



Monday we cycled to the farm museum where we were browsing the display in the old barns. A guy obviously working around the place came over to see if we were OK – he was Garry the maintenance man who was only too pleased to answer our questions and explain various pieces of equipment, after a while we were joined by Ranger Brian and the four of us discussed various things including the merits of boiled peanuts! Despite their warnings we still feel we must try a sample some time.


We cycled on the ‘College Run’ trail which had a steep down hill beginning and end, my cycling skills are improving!


Tuesday we cycled out to the House, tours only take place at week-ends at present so it was deserted. We wandered the garden, part restored with pretty beds, in the longer grass many tiger swallowtail butterflies flitted amongst the flowers.


Surry County lies just across the James River from Jamestowne and the historic triangle completed by Yorktown and Williamsburg. To get to Jamestowne’s historic sites we took the free ferry from Scotland, (yes Scotland….that’s what the place is called) . We had taken the precaution of driving down to the ferry on the day before, checking for any restrictions for our size of vehicle. Height restriction exists on one of the four ferries and we did have to wait for the larger one to come back to cross, however sitting on the causeway ramp in the sunshine watching the nesting Osprey is a small hardship to bear!



When the English finally managed to settle they were attempting to make money. They were under the impression they would easily find gold which the river banks were said to be lined with, (We believe they were misguided and the gold which had been spotted was actually yellow pollen which is thickly coating everything at present!) Workers from Germany and Poland were bought over to try to establish various skills one of which was glass making. Our first stop was the Glass House. For two years glass was produced and archaeologists have uncovered the remains of the kilns. These are preserved behind glass screens and a modern day working glass production area displays glass blowing techniques which have changed very little since.


National Parks claim to be ‘Americas best idea’ the second best idea must be Rangers, and Ranger led tours and talks. We joined a large group of other visitors at 2pm to listen to, and be guided around, the settlement site by a National Park Ranger who informed and entertained us with his history, keeping even the youngest members of the group interested.

Archaeological investigation is still being carried out and presently a well and the site of the original church are being explored. The well has produced many, many artefacts which are housed in an exhibition centre and are fascinating in themselves. As recently as 1997 parts of the original fort were discovered, previously assumed to be under the river water, investigation led to a reconstruction of the fort structure.


The local Indian tribe led by Powhatan traded with the English; Pocahontas a story many will be familiar with was his daughter. A statue commemorates her next to the church, however the church now being excavated a few yards away is actually the one in which she was married to John Rolfe.




As I said before the object of the Virginia Company (originally called The London Company) was to make money. One of the things they were successful with was tobacco. I am not sure present day England would ‘acknowledge the goodness thereof’! (read above)

Back across the ferry and in the campground we were pleased to have such a friendly couple as Camp Hosts – Doug and Kathy, and it was Doug who came knocking on the door Thursday evening to tell us that tours of the Plantation House were to take place from 1pm on Friday if we were interested. We passed the information on to others in the campground and Friday afternoon we once more cycled the big hill!


We waited around a while and were joined by another couple from the campground, we chatted and chatted and by 2pm decided someone had their facts wrong. No one had arrived to conduct the tour. We cycled back, Sharon and Cliff  went off to visit the farm. We decided to call into the visitor centre on the way back and ask if we had the time wrong. Camp host Kathy happened to be in there and questioned another lady about the details. This lady turned out to be (yet another) Cathy and the site historian. She happily met us back at the site, we were able to catch Sharon and Cliff who came back too and we all enjoyed her potted history of around 400 years.

We learned that the land was one of the original land grants given to the James Town settlers. It has had several owners and once the house itself stood for many years piled to the roof with hay, the last owner gave the estate to the State with an over rider that it must be farmed. Much of the land is rented out and is working agricultural land.


recently shorn alpaca who lives on the farm museum

The rooms are decorated with many of the possessions of the last owners, period tables and chairs,china and glass. Four poster beds in the bedrooms but with no canopy, this fact puzzled me, I thought maybe they had been destroyed but was told in Virginia canopies were considered bad and not used, it was thought the ghosts may hide underneath them!

Our six night stay finished on Saturday morning, before we left we visited our new found friends and it felt like leaving a place we had been in much longer, some stops are like that.

We crossed with the ferry once more to drive the Colonial Parkway, this links the three historic sites of Jamestown, Yorktown and Williamsburg. Yorktown was the site of one of the last battles in the war of Independence, ironic that it is such a short distance from the first true settlement of the English. We had planned to visit the National Park Visitor centre on our way.

As we arrived the wind was a little strong – we knew a storm was forecast – however we were greeted by the Ranger handing us our information and telling us the park tour roads were being closed as they were under a tornado watch! Hmm! We stayed to watch the film and have a reasonable look around but decided with a storm looming we should head off.

We had groceries to buy en route and then around 60 miles to Belle Isle State Park the wind was playful but not too troublesome even when we drove over the narrow exposed bridge just south of Kilmarnock. We laughed at the fact we had driven from York through Gloucester and Middlesex into Lancaster all counties here as they are in England but perhaps not in the same proximity to one another. We arrived at the State park around 5pm, the ranger on the gate complimented us on our timing, Robert agreed and said we hoped we had time to set up before the storm hit. He advised it was about 30 minutes away and we should go straight to the site and he would fill in our paper work later. Robert closed the window as huge rain drops started to land on us.

For about 2hours the rain poured, thunder rolled and lightening lit the sky, there was some wind but not the worst we have experienced by any means and we were thankful all was quiet when we went to bed. It was therefore a surprise to us when we put on the TV this morning to hear of the devastation the storm had caused elsewhere especially the small community only 20 miles south where three lives were lost and much property destroyed.

As generally happens with storms here – today has been beautiful – sunny warm and calm.


2 Responses to “A compote of history lessons.”

  1. Tammy April 21, 2011 at 7:34 pm #

    Wow just saw a comment in fiber festivals in Rav and stopped by…I’ll check back and continue to read about your adventures…I’d love to do this!

    • elainethehill April 27, 2011 at 3:44 pm #

      Thanks for calling in on my blog and I am pleased you enjoyed it, I can recommend the lifestyle and its great for knitting time and visiting yarn stores too!

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