"Welcome to the best place on God's earth," says the man behind the wheel of the gray 1985 Oldsmobile. We're driving on a slender road that eases across swirling sweet grass and dusky marsh toward a steely vault of ocean. Crabbers prowl the crimson swamp with dip nets, and fishermen on shrimp boats—their nets spread wide like angels' wings—pluck pearly shellfish from the river...
|Shrimp boats at Gay Fish Co.|
I wish I had Catherine O'Neal's words as her 2001 article on the Sea Islands of coastal South Carolina vividly describes the landscape, history and culture we're enjoying. The Lowcountry not only refers to the geography of the area, but the food, and the unique Gullah Geechee culture. I was born southern, but this is not Durham, NC southern, by any means.
|There's a land's end in every direction|
|And tidal marshes|
We ran from the freezing temps of the Blue Ridge to St. Helena Island here in Beaufort County to get warm, but also to immerse ourselves in the experience. Our rhythm slowed and we got in a groove, and in bits and pieces we wandered out to Lands End, to Hunting Island State Park, and beautiful downtown Historic Beaufort.
|The Atlantic at Hunting Island|
|Lying down for the photo at Hunting Island Lighthouse|
|Playing in the Atlantic|
After going through what seems like thousands of photos, I've decided to divide our time into two posts. Here is a glimpse of our immediate area around St. Helena Island as we cruised the backroads and beaches. If you take the time to click on the many links I've highlighted, you can glean a lot of interesting facts and history which I won't try to paraphrase, especially working with a very slow park wifi connection. Beaufort, about 6 miles west and across the Intracoastal Waterway, will be covered in the next.
|Our site surrounded by mossy oaks|
Years ago we stayed at beautiful Hunting Island State Park and would highly recommend, but it is at the end of the chain of sea islands and we wanted to be a bit more centrally located. I found Tuck in the Woods campground whose location seemed perfect from the map, but honestly, the name really turned me off. I could only envision being smothered in a sunless, dense forest of pines. Instead we're in a huge cleared setting framed by mossy Live Oak trees. The park offers wifi and cable TV, laundry facilities,and its own alligator swamp with boardwalk for viewing the sunning turtles. The alligators became too friendly from too much people food and had to be removed! Oh, and to seal the deal that we had once again scored, our satellite immediately picked up a signal without nary a tuning! (Did you notice I casually neglected to mention the occasional mosquito?)
|No gators in this swamp!|
|Boardwalk through Gator Bait Alley|
We wanted to experience the Gullah style of cooking which has been passed down through generations since the early days of slavery here in the islands. These folks grew up in a community where everyone farmed, fished, and raised their own livestock without access to mass transportation. Families ate local, seasonal, simple food, adding their own unique flare. Gullah Grub Restaurant on Sea Island Parkway came highly recommended. Howard had shrimp gumbo which also came with Lima beans, collard greens, and red rice! I choose BBQ chicken with a side of potato salad. We both were given starters of delicious corn bread right out of the oven, but had to pass on peanut butter pie for dessert!
|At Gullah Grub Restaurant|
Fort Fremont Historical Park is situated near Lands End, just down the road from us. It was built in 1899 as one of the fortifications to protect the southeastern coast during the Spanish American War. Its batteries and bunkers are in a beautiful setting of Live Oaks near the beach. Another outing for photos and a history lesson called.
Finally, just some fun drive-by stops:
|Browsing Gullah Art at The Red Piano Too Gallery|
|We grabbed a tomato and a lb. of shrimp|