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Jan. 21, 2020
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Vanderford's Travel Column


South Carolina's Hammock Coast is unforgettable

In the past, I have often written flowing descriptions of both Hilton Head and Myrtle Beach in South Carolina ... but, I may have left out much of the picturesque, historical and unforgettable Hammock Coast located between the two, which might be the best part! This beautiful section along South Carolina’s Atlantic shoreline teems with historic plantations, museums, sandy beaches, nature preserves, boutique shopping and challenging golf courses.
 
The centerpiece of this gorgeous area is the 300 year-old port city of Georgetown, which is the third oldest settlement in South Carolina. Boasting more than 60 structures on the National Register of Historic Places, Georgetown’s streets, historic homes, churches and museums are shaded by towering live oak trees. Fresh seafood in many forms can be sampled in the eclectic restaurants along the famous Harborwalk.
 
Another nearby setting of beauty and nature is the Brookgreen Gardens (www.brookgreen.org) that boasts many interesting sculptures and colorful gardens. However, I was more attracted to their Lowcountry Zoo which is home to many wild species of birds, animals and reptiles that can be viewed at close range.
 
To really absorb the beauty and history of the Hammock Coast, book a three to four hour trip on the Carolina Rover (www.roverboattours.com) for an Eco-tourism cruise that is guaranteed to be unlike any other attraction in this area. The comfortable, shaded 40 foot pontoon boat takes calmer inland waters to a remote barrier island where the Winyah Bay meets the Atlantic Ocean. This is a bird-watcher's paradise near South Carolina’s oldest operational lighthouse, the Georgetown Light (1811), which has functioned for more than two centuries.

Come ashore on North Island to explore and beach comb where an ever-changing array of shelling opportunities abounds. Observe the sight of a Civil War wreck, the Union flagship USS Harvest Moon, while a naturalist delivers informative commentary with reference to many historic plantations. Dolphins, bald eagles, many wading birds and even sea turtles might be seen. This cruise is a wonderful, unique experience for all ages.
 
One of the most famous places seen on this boat tour is Hobcaw Barony (www.hobcawbarony.org) which can be seen on a two hour bus tour that travels down ten miles of rustic dirt roads and includes highlights of Hobcaw Barony’s 16,000 acres of history and ecology. A privately owned research reserve, the property represents every environment and century in the Lowcountry.

Naval stores, indigo, and rice production ended by 1905 when the land was purchased by Bernard Baruch. A native South Carolinian and Wall Street financier, he and other millionaires hunted ducks, deer and wild turkeys on this winter retreat. The bus stops for a tour inside his 1930 home that played host to politicians, generals and newspapermen as well as Winston Churchill and President Franklin Roosevelt. This tour includes a drive by Bellefield Plantation and stables, the home of Belle Baruch and a drive through Friendfield Village ... the last 19th century slave village on the Waccamaw Neck.
 
The absolute best place to stay on Hammock Coast is Inlet Sports Lodge (www.inletsportslodge.com) which is only minutes away from many of the area’s most recognized golf courses, including affiliated courses, Caledonia Golf and Fish Club and True Blue Plantation.
 
The dramatic, fun layout at True Blue Plantation (www.truebluegolf.com) is known for its vast fairways, undulating greens and impressive elevation changes. The rolling terrain and native vegetation of this once thriving indigo and rice plantation makes for one of the most spectacular settings in golf. And, with an 18-acre practice facility, fully-stocked pro shop and inviting grill room, a day of golfing here is memorable!
 
From its entrance lined with centuries-old live oaks to its antebellum-styled clubhouse, a round at Caledonia Golf and Fish Club (www.caledoniagolfandfishclub.com) is a world-class experience. The Southern plantation-style clubhouse has an acclaimed pro shop and restaurant where golfers and-non-golfers alike enjoy the scenery while taking in a meal. This beautiful par-70 course winds through majestic oaks and meandering streams. The picturesque 18th hole borders on an old rice field, and requires a precise tee shot that sets up an accurate over-water shot to a green at the foot of the clubhouse.
 
Another fantastic golf course designed by Jack Nicklaus is Pawleys Plantation (www.pawleysplantation.com) which is set amid the splendor of 200 year-old, moss-draped oaks. “I designed this course to capture the natural terrain and to compliment and enhance the beauty of the saltmarsh and South Carolina lowcountry,” stated Nicklaus.
 
Most of the year, the Hammock Coast of South Carolina is constantly kissed by warm southern breezes along miles of pristine beaches, expansive marshes and maritime forests. Therefore, beach lovers, thrill seekers, history buffs, outdoor enthusiasts, bird watchers, foodies, fishermen, golfers, artists and authors all love the laidback lifestyle, lush landscapes, natural attractions and diverse culture of this unforgettable area!
 
 

Bill Vanderford has won numerous awards for his writing, photography, videography, and has been inducted into the National Freshwater Fishing Hall of Fame as a Legendary Guide. 
He can be reached at jfish51@aol.com or at his web site: www.georgiafishing.com.




December 2019 column

Clarksville is beauty along the Cumberland River

Watching a colorful sunset over the Cumberland River from the Riverwalk in Downtown Clarksville, Tenn., is unforgettable! Less than an hours drive north of Nashville you will discover a historic town that is famous for its diverse and picturesque walking and bike trails, a fabulous golf course with plenty of wildlife, a park dedicated to a natural cave, a civil war fort, a skyline of unique spires and mouth-watering eateries!
 
If you arrive in Clarksville in the evening, as I did, find the Cumberland Riverwalk as the sun begins fading to the west. This 1.5 mile riverfront trail, which will be extended in the future to connect with well-known Clarksville Greenway, has spectacular views along the wide and rolling Cumberland River. Both dogs and families love it, and the sunsets are inspiring!
 
For golfers in your group, I would highly recommend the beautiful and challenging Swan Lake Golf Course that is owned and operated by the City of Clarksville. Swan Lake is an 18-hole, 6,065-yard course located at beautiful Dunbar Cave State Natural Area. This par-71 course features Champion Bermuda grass greens, hybrid 419 Bermuda fairways and tees and features a dining facility. It also supports a very healthy population of deer and other friendly animals for those who bring their cameras.
 
Directly across Swan Lake from the golf course is Dunbar Cave State Park that has a set of interesting walking trails ... including one that dissects Swan Lake. Underground, more than eight miles of cave passages have been mapped here to date, and some are open to the public during certain seasons. Both the history of ancient Indians and the early settlers are found in these cave walls.
 
If you love hiking or biking through gorgeous forest areas, the more than five mile Clarksville Greenway follows an abandoned railroad bed cut through limestone bluffs on the outskirts of Clarksville north of downtown. It meanders along a creek and through a path canopied with large trees that are often shrouded with kudzoo. The greenway establishes a buffer along the Red River and nearby streams, while providing a habitat for diverse plant and animal species.
 
Another great place for hiking or mountain biking is Rotary Park which is about 10 minutes from downtown Clarksville. The trails here are more rustic and much harder to navigate, but have an abundance natural beauty including a beautiful stream. The park has more than five miles of trails and a large playground for kids.
 
Many refurbished downtowns are not done well and become quickly boring, but Clarksville’s historic restoration is not disappointing. Most shops are locally-owned, diverse and quite interesting. Also, the eateries in the old downtown area offers quite a few options. The absolute best for me, however, is the Blackhorse Pub and Brewery! This local watering hole is pure Clarksville! It is popular both for its great menu and its locally famous brews on draft. Following a great dinner, I fell for the Big Cookie, which is a gooey chocolate chip cookie pizza topped with vanilla ice cream and chocolate sauce. This place is a family-friendly restaurant and a hangout for enjoying the excellent draft beer!
 
Clarksville is also the birthplace of Olympic Champion, Wilma Rudolph, the winningest basketball coach of all time, Pat Summitt and the current quarterback at the US Naval Academy, Malcolm Perry. This Tennessee town is home to the huge US Army base at Fort Campbell and to Austin Peay State University, which always produces great sports teams.
 
Unfortunately for me, I just had a few days to sample all that Clarksville has to offer, so my suggestion is to consider this fascinating place more as a destination than a day or weekend visit.
I found the people of this area to be both friendly and helpful, the natural beauty spectacular and the outdoor adventure possibilities practically endless! For more information on this area, visit their website at: www.visitclarksvilletn.com.


November 2019 column

Little Ocmulgee State Park is a hidden gem in Middle Georgia

Just 30 miles south of I-16 near Dublin, Ga. is a natural oasis in the middle of farm country that can be enjoyed by everyone.  Little Ocmulgee State Park is a secluded 1,360-acre Georgia State Park located two miles north of McRae-Helena on the Little Ocmulgee River. The park’s origins date back to the 1930s, when it was first constructed by the Civilian Conservation Corps (CCC), which created the lake around a natural oxbow of the Little Ocmulgee River. This 256-acre lake has a white sandy beach, fishing docks, a visitor’s center, camping and RV sites, rental cabins and a boat ramp.
 
The most unforgettable part of Little Ocmulgee State Park is the Wallace Adams Golf Course that is surrounded by loblolly pines, willows, magnolias and small lakes in a picturesque but secluded setting. Be sure to bring a camera to capture the beautiful scenes complete with Spanish moss and plenty of wildlife.
 
Starting with the first hole, which is breathtaking, golfers quickly learn that accurate shots are paramount to making a good score on this course. Most of the front nine is designed for the best shotmakers. The back nine opens up ... but continues to present challenges with smaller, sloped greens and doglegs on the fairways. All 18 holes feature Bermuda fairways and greens. The full-service pro shop at Wallace Adams also offers all golf accessories and a snack bar. The entire staff is friendly and helpful at all times.
 
One of the distinctive features of the park is the soil, which, like the Ocmulgee River and the Little Ocmulgee River, is a fine white sand. The park also features the 2.6-mile Oak Ridge Trail, where hikers can admire a stand of turkey oaks as well as swamps laden with cypress and oaks. Two of Georgia’s rarest species, the harmless Indigo snake and the gopher tortoise may also be seen throughout the park.
 
Little Ocmulgee offers complete camping facilities and features 54 campsites for pitching tents, securing trailers, parking RVs. Cable TV hookups are available plus seven picnic shelters and two other shelters for group meals and gatherings.
 
The 10 secluded lakeside cabins at Little Ocmulgee State Park & Lodge range from efficiencies to two-bedroom cabins and are great for a quiet getaway. The cabins are ideal for families looking to strike a balance between rustic camping and hotel-style accommodations.
 
The Little Ocmulgee State Park & Lodge offers 60 rooms in the main lodge building with a refrigerator, microwave and a comfortable seating area. Guests may also enjoy sun-soaked days swimming in the private pool in front of the lodge.
 
In prehistoric times, this section of Georgia was under the sea, therefore the whole area is surrounded by hills of sand and lots of trees. This equates to beautiful natural scenery with opportunities for fishing, hiking, fantastic golf, a beach for the kids, boating and great camping and lodging. It is truly a getaway vacation destination with a very friendly atmosphere ... and is pet friendly! For more information or reservations, check out www.littleocmulgeelodge.com or 877-591-5572.


October 2019 column

Fall is coming to Prague, the most beautiful city in Europe

​From the main railway station in Prague, the comfortable Mercedes taxi seemed to wind its way through a maze of tiny streets in a circular manner similar to a labyrinth. Though it couldn’t have been more than a couple of blocks from the train station, it took more than 20 minutes to arrive in the heart of Old Town. The trip was a quick lesson that the best way to navigate this ancient section of Prague is by walking.​
 
​Despite the many wars that Europe has endured throughout history, Prague is the only city that has avoided most of the destruction. It is the largest city in the Czech Republic and part of Bohemia, which runs the gamut architecturally of Roman, Gothic, Baroque and Renaissance influences. Visitors marvel at the massive churches, cathedrals, castles, theaters, bridges over the Vltava River, and art or sculptures on or around every structure. The wonders of Prague’s diverse art and culture keep newcomers’ heads turning constantly as though they were on a swivel. It would take months to see even half of this picturesque city.
 
​From the historical Old Town area, it’s a short morning walk through narrow, colorful streets lined with tiny retail shops to the famous Charles Bridge, which is the best place to begin your walking tour of Prague. This pathway across the Vltava River from Old Town to New Town is almost six football fields in length and was first built of sandstone blocks in 1357. It was originally named the Stone Bridge or the Prague Bridge, but was officially christened the Charles Bridge in 1870.
 
​Because of the magnificent construction, the huge towers at both ends, the more than 70 sculptures and the breathtaking views of either side of the river, the Charles Bridge is probably the most visited site in Prague. To enjoy the beauty and serenity, early morning is the best time, but the evening can be a very romantic period to stroll the bridge. During the middle of the day, however, hundreds of street vendors, artists, musicians of all kinds and a few unsavory types show up to vie for your money.
 
​The most famous statue on the Charles Bridge is that of Saint John Nepomuk, who King Wenceslas IV had thrown from the bridge to his death in the river because he wouldn’t reveal a confession that the queen had given. Therefore, tradition implies that anyone who rubs the statue in the right place will be granted a wish or become lucky. The brass plaque on the statue has been polished to a bright shine by all the people who have touched it throughout the history of the Charles Bridge. Only touch the part depicting Saint John Nepomuk being thrown from the bridge – not the other one with the queen and the dog – that is bad luck!
 
​After the bridge and during the picturesque climb over cobblestone roads and up steep, stone stairways to the Prague Castle, many interesting shops, restaurants and drinking establishments are passed. Looking backward during this sojourn, unforgettable vistas of Prague and the Vltava River can be enjoyed.
 
​The Prague Castle has been in existence for more than 1,100 years, is the largest castle complex in the world, and with the St. Vitus Cathedral is the defining structure of the Czech Republic. Despite numerous fires, changes of rulers, invasions and even world wars, the area has remained a living history. 
 
​The castle was originally built by one the early Czech rulers around 870 AD using only dirt and timber. Since then, it was rebuilt in the Romanesque style during the 13th century, the Gothic style in the 15th century and after a horrific fire in 1541, it emerged with a Renaissance look. The last change to its modern Baroque style was accomplished during the 18th century. Also, since 1918, the Prague Castle has served as official home to the president of the country. 
 
​After returning from the castle and going back across the Charles Bridge, take a left turn and proceed to the Jewish Quarter. You can visit synagogues, the cemetery and the remnants of the Jewish Ghetto where many Jews died during World War II. This is a beautiful and historical section of Prague.
 
​Walk in an angle to the right after the Jewish Quarter and you will be in the heart of Old Town which dates back to 1091. All of this section revolves around Old Town Square, the Church of Our Lady before Tyn, and the Town Hall with its Astronomical Clock and tower. Highlighted by colorful pastel buildings and historical statues, the square is always active with tourists browsing the many portable retail shops or tasting the food from vendors in the square or outdoor restaurants.
 
​Though parts of Prague are very modern, the true beauty of this magnificent city is the practically undisturbed history. Add to that a culture, language, cuisine and lifestyle that is totally unique to the Czech Republic, and you have a destination that should be on everyone’s “must see” list – especially during the natural beauty of the fall season!
 
 
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