Charleston – more than just a dance !

The week spent in the cabin in the ‘piedmont’ of Table Rock mountain was unforgettable for a number of reasons.  The hard work was actually good for the body and soul, it hopefully means I won’t be quite so unfit when I return to Wales and walling.  The finished product means that forever onward there is a part of Wales in deepest South Carolina – I am happy to say that, as I include Whitney as an honorary Welsh waller – she’s certainly skilled enough and she loves our land as much as any of us (and in some cases more than).  It also meant I got to meet some of the more ‘wild’ natives….. Salamanders, like our Great Crested Newts, and a real fascination for me since childhood, and, apparently, one of the area’s most poisonous snakes (not that I knew that as I flicked it out of my way) which Whitney’s ‘redneck’  Uncle Jack tells me can grow up to 6 feet long – ours was just a young’un sleeping the winter away, until I disturbed it. It let Whitney know, in no uncertain manner, that it was not amused and we slipped it onto a spade and moved it away.

Poisonous snake, the timber Rattler

A Timber Rattler. Small but deadly, thankfully I can stick my hands into banks in Wales without worrying about meeting these !

The bridge was something of a wonder to the extended family, as Whitney has said in her account, maybe they now know what it is she does when in Wales, the hard work, the skill and the magic of building a ‘dry-stack’ wall.  I enjoyed meeting all the visitors, her family, and I revelled in the Cabin life for that week in Table Rock.

A double arch stone bridge by Welshwaller and Whitney

I will always think of it as the ' Whitney Bridge at Table Rock', in truth she worked harder than me.

Following that hard week which saw around 20 tons of stone hauled around, and several bottles of very good French wine downed (and more doughnuts eaten by me than I care to recall) we had some R & R

We headed off to the historic town of Charleston, out on the coast of South Carolina.  It is historic for its architecture and for the fact it saw the first shots of the Civil War fired on the small fort in the estuary, Fort Sumter.  On the way we stopped off at was to be another of the great highlights of this trip, the National Park of Congaree Swamp.

Congaree Swamp National Park, South Carolina

Congaree Swamp is an astonishing place, can you imagine a boardwalk over two miles in length !

We wandered along a wooden board-walk which kept us dry and prevented any tripping whilst gazing in wonder at the huge Lob Lolly trees and the swampy areas.  We sighted a rare Red Tufted Woodpecker ( 3 in fact) and a number of other strange birds.  It was another fine day and the two hours spent strolling in that mosquito-free wooded area (another benefit of a winter trip !) and I can remember every inch of it, a marvellous experience – well done Miss Brown.

Congaree Swamp National Park, SC

What looks like old trees are in fact growths off the roots of living trees which are thought to act as anchoring points in the swampy ground

Before reporting on the Charleston visit I will just stay with trees for a moment.  The following afternoon my host took me for a surprise visit, we drove down a real bumpy track – “just like Wales” she said – where the most amazing apparition of the whole trip came into view.  The ‘Angel Tree’ is an indeterminately old (it is suggested it may be 3000 yrs old) Oak with THE most remarkable spread of limbs you will ever see.  For yet another moment I was speechless, it defies description.

Amazing Angel Tree

What can you say about this astonishing tree, it is SO massive, those limbs are SO extended, nature having a little laugh perhaps...

So, Charleston, the jewel in the tourist armoury of the South.  It has such a variety of architecture, such astounding sea food, such history and relics including the 2nd World War aircraft carrier the Yorktown.  It has wildlife including Pelicans and Dolphins roaming around, it has fashion and wealth beyond belief, it needs to be on any itinerary of a tour of this part of the U.S.

A typical Charleston house

A typical Charleston homestead - once worth millions of dollars but we saw many for sale in these times of financial hardship .

We took the ‘tourist trail’ and did a horse drawn carriage tour, a great way of seeing and hearing about the places.  We walkedfor what seemed like miles around the town and took a boat trip out to Fort Sumter, itself an interesting historic site.  On the second afternoon Whitney took me out to a beach area which included one of the most wealthy ‘gated communities’ at Kiawah Island – venue for the next Ryder Cup competition – and Edisto, a lovely beach area south of Charleston.

To see Dolphins and Porpoises in the estuaries and Pelicans flopping into the water in an attempt to catch a fish was quite remarkable. I ate my fill of shell fish – with some guilt I have to say but I’m assured they still have plenty out here – and was interested to find that oyster shells have to be returned to the beds to assist re-colonisation.

Bridge over the water in Charleston

Charleston is a major east coast port, this wonderful suspension bridge allows large ocean going ships to pass under and allowed us to cross the Cooper river to some wonderful sea food at a restaurant called the Wreck, fried oysters and scallops.

The crossing of the estuary is via a brand new suspension bridge, typically grand and beautifully designed. The Arthur Ravenel bridge is like some artistic nail and string creation.

Our hosts in D.C. had requested my guide to purchase a hand made basket from one of the women who carry out the traditional weaving using the native sweetgrass.  We searched the Charleston market and saw many examples, all of which I thought looked fine, but Whitney’s eye was well educated and she declined all until we came across Rosalie out on the side of a highway.  She told us she was a fourth generation weaver, she was shy and retiring, her work was indeed noticeably supreme, even I could tell.  I asked her permission to photograph her and told her she would be seen in Wales – had she ever heard of it ? I doubt it.  Whitney said “Thank you Mam” (I got used to being called ‘Sir’ everywhere I went, and ‘Mam’ is the common courtesy to all women), Rosalie bowed her head, afterwards Whitney remarked it was probably still unusual for her to be called ‘Mam’ by a white girl; such is the legacy of history out there.

Traditional baskets in Charleston

Miss Rosalie, a fourth generation sweetgrass basket weaver, her work, like all the weavers, is mind blowing.

We spent three days down in Charleston eating fine food and wandering among the quiet streets, another good reason for a winter trip, and took a trip out to the Yorktown.  Walking onto a carrier that had taken part in the latter years of the War was also quite surreal.

Aircraft carrier Yorktown in Charleston harbour

The aircraft carrier Yorktown is a significant part of the offshore skyline.

A surprise in the water of Charleston harbour

Do you know what this is, swimming a few yards from me ? Another 'wow' is warranted I think.

Food for all in the harbour

Pelicans follow the shell fishermen almost stealing the crabs out of their hands.


The time in South Carolina came to something of a crescendo for me and my Tour guide when we were taken to see some vintage tractors.  Farmalls and John Deeres are quite common in the States and I saw many old tractors standing idle, rusting away in the fields as we journeyed around.  Two men are attempting to rectify this, they are collecting and restoring, one on my scale, a few tractors and a great deal of optimism, the other is in a league of his own, over 70 perfectly restored classic and rare tractors, there’s a place for each of us !

Farmall awaiting restoration

Just one of the collection of Mr John Hunter awaiting restoration, I know the feeling and the optimism that means it WILL happen.

Restored tractors in South Carolina

This collection is by far the biggest private collection I have ever seen, John Deere is obviously his favourite but Farmall and Hart Parr, Allis and Oliver abound too. I estimate this collection to be worth well into 7 figures U.S. dollars.

I cannot do justice here to all the wonderful sights I saw down there in the deep South.  The friendliness of the folk I met and their hospitality was quite humbling,  I’m not sure we could stand alongside in the way we greet and host our visitors, but I hope so.  As I head back north to begin the ‘end game’ I am left with many thoughts; there are many contradictions, politics there seem strange to me, the influence of the many Churches and the number of very large brand new church buildings is quite overwhelming but salutary.  The division in society between the ‘Haves’ and ‘Have -Nots’ is profound, but then it is back home too.  I don’t feel able to make any judgement on the place of Black Americans in the Southern society other than to say Britain needs to put her house in order in this respect before making any comment.

For my part I hope the South now knows a little more about Wales and me !

The old fort which saw the first shots of the Civil War - Fort Sumter

Fort Sumter - an important historical place indeed, I can't believe I got to visit the place where the American Civil War began, how do I follow that ?


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