It’s Easter, the Year is no longer new and showing signs of wear. We are very late getting this out. Still, despite our tardiness, we wish you a Happy Easter and hope that the balance of the year treats you well. Here is short update on our 2017 highlights.
Avid readers of these columns may remember that I complained about a lack of holidays in 2016. So, it was good to get back to our Fall and Christmas holiday routines in 2017. We managed to get two weeks in Maine in the Fall and two weeks more in the Low Country over Christmas and New Year.
For the Maine event, we drove up through Baltimore, New York City and New England to get there. It was an enjoyable 675 mile journey, even the New York portion. We rented a large well appointed house on a bunch of rural acres in Waldo County. 'Large', because one of my daughters and her husband flew out from the UK and joined us there for part of the time and we needed the space. ‘Well appointed’ because the house’s owners made it that way, they have excellent taste and an eye for detail. ‘Rural’ because we like the peace and quiet and ‘acres’ because its good to be able to let the Vizslas run around.
It was a short drive from the house into Belfast. Home to seven thousand people, it’s not a big place. We spent a day there on a previous trip and looked forward to getting to know the town better with a longer stay.
It’s on the estuary of the Passagassawakeag River as it flows into the waters at the head of Penobscot Bay. It’s a big natural harbor. Pleasure craft, working boats and fishing boats, are everywhere on the water. We had expected that but soon found out that there is more to Belfast. The people are resourceful, hardworking, friendly and engaging. There is a palpable and pervasive pursuit of excellence and originality almost everywhere. It seemed to me that many of the folks there were of ‘Scotch Irish’ heritage. There are hundreds of farms in the town’s immediate hinterland and they contribute as much as all the surrounding water to its character. It has the usual supermarkets, chain stores and fast food joints on its periphery but the town center is lively and full of life. If there is an empty storefront anyplace, we didn’t see it. 'Farm to Table' is gospel in these parts. These three establishments caught our imagination during our stay;
Chase’s Daily – A family run café cum restaurant cum flower and vegetable store with an integral art gallery. The produce comes from the family farm in Freedom ME in the hinterland. It was a James Beard Foundation Outstanding Restaurant Semi Finalist in 2017 and serves mainly vegetarian dishes using the produce from their farm.
Farmers’ Markets – The United Farmers Market of Maine operate a big custom built facility that opened for business in 2017 - open mid morning to mid afternoon every Saturday. Seventy stalls selling locally produced foodstuffs and artisanal items. We were blown away by the range and quality of the produce. We learned afterwards that there is another Farmers' Market in the Town called The Belfast Farmers' Market. It runs 0900 to 1300 every Friday and operates from one of two locations depending on the season. I imagine it is every bit as good as the Saturday affair. Doing things by half isn't in Waldo County genes.
Colburn Shoe Store – Opened for business in 1832. It is the oldest shoe shop in the USA and is still going strong in the original site. It continues to serve the local community selling a range of footwear that meets the needs of farmers, boatmen and fishermen as well as everyone else that endures the long brutal Maine winters every year.
After a few days poking around looking for a good place to walk our dogs, we found ourselves at Sears Island. It is a nature reserve connected to the mainland by short gated causeway. It has miles of wooded paths and tracks and some tarmac roadways too. But the trustees ban cars beyond the causeway gate. It was ideal for our purpose and made a huge difference to the holiday. If the dogs are happy and get exercise, we are happy and get exercise too - so there are no losers.
We spent Christmas and New Year on Hilton Head Island SC. It’s in the Low Country close to Beaufort and Fripp Island where we have spent holidays before. Posher than neighboring towns and well organized, it’s replete with smart gated communities and golf courses. We hadn’t realized before that the beautiful Hilton Head beaches are so dog friendly. Out of the summer season, dogs are allowed at all hours and off leash provided they are ‘under control’. So we enjoyed all that. The beaches are well organized and tended daily.
During our second week there, we shared record low temperatures and the first snowfall in the Low Country in 29 years with the horrified locals. Shops, schools, supermarkets and everything else closed on the day of the ‘storm’. There were only about 2 inches of snow. But, as everyone under the age of 45 (16 + 29) had never driven in snowy or icy conditions we were OK with that and glad that most of them elected to stay off the roads.
The cold spell lasted for most of the last week and so we and the Vizslas had the beach to ourselves. We were fine except that the heating arrangements for the house we rented stopped working one night. Karen discovered that the melt from the snow and ice on the roof was falling into the HVAC (heat pump) unit outside and re-freezing into icicles which prevented its fan from turning. We broke the icicles off and placed a large beach umbrella over the unit to divert the roof melt away from it. All was well and warmth flowed back into the chilly house.
The downside of HH, for me at any rate, was the lack of photographic opportunity imposed by all the gated communities. Getting access to almost anyplace is tedious. For instance, the historic Leamington Rear Range Lighthouse is interesting and the last remaining of its type in SC. Range lighthouses had a forward and a rear light some distance apart. Shipping approaching the nearby Port Royal Sound took a course to align one light behind the other and thus be on the right heading. The forward light was on the beach but is long gone. Sadly, members of the public can only reach the remaining rear light by transiting through one gated community to the adjacent gated community where its tower stands on a golf course. I would need multiple visits to work out how to get a good image, have a good sky behind it and so on.
Harbor Town Lighthouse is better known than the Leamington Light but was built in 1969 as a tourist attraction in the marina. Even so, there is a manned gate to negotiate to get to that. I couldn’t be bothered. It was never a real lighthouse and would be more at home in Disneyland.
In the event, I was drawn more to Bluffton. It’s a small town full of character close-by to HH. It’s on the mainland on the bank of the inter-coastal May River. Its lively character and eclectic mix of buildings and store fronts makes it more our kind of place. I made several trips to the Church of the Cross in the town. Both the building and its location are remarkable. Consecrated in 1857, it is constructed almost entirely with heart pine (Cypress). The wood is unfinished on the exterior and finished in the interior where it has a beautiful patina. The church stands on a bluff by a wide point of the May River. The grounds are replete with Live Oaks and Palmettos but afford unhindered views over the river. The sunsets out over the water are glorious and attract a large number of visitors to the church grounds to enjoy them.
The Bluffton Oyster Company lies just a little up the May River from the Church of the Cross. It may look ramshackle from the outside but serves up and sells quality Oysters, Shrimp and other seafood harvested in local waters. This short film about the restaurant and seafood store is interesting and has good views of the river and inter-coastal system.
I wanted to photograph the shrimp boat docked outside the restaurant. I rose before dawn and drove up there. I intended to get some images just before the sun came up and with a full moon over the river. Sadly, I hadn’t taken account of the large incandescent orange floodlight they used to light the exterior of the dock and premises during dark hours. So I hung about in the frigid temperatures on an adjacent dock until the sun appeared on the horizon and the orange floodlight turned itself off. The full moon had fled the scene by then. I did eventually get some images but I was chilled to the bone and shivering. I hadn’t brought along warm clothing, it was South Carolina after all.
However, it didn’t end badly. I had a most welcome breakfast in the Corner Perks Cafe in the town after that. Big mug of coffee, an egg, cheese and sausage banjo and a bowl of cheese grits. Sometimes, simple pleasures are the best.