Carolina Moon Still Shining …

So, it was down to the seaside, a South Carolina seaside with amazing food, weather and wildlife !

Drowned Forest of Botany Bay, SC

The drowned forest of Botany Bay, down the coast from Charleston, certainly deserved the term !Awesome’! It was a beach like none other I’ve ever seen.

The long five hour journey south from Raleigh ended at Edisto Beach, an estuarine stretch of sand backed by salt marshes.  Really it is an island but has been connected by man-made shoals and bridges to the mainland.  The Latitude is the same as the Azores and Marrakesh so you can imagine the sub-tropical nature of the landscape and wildlife.

There is nothing quite so relaxing as wandering an almost deserted beach, looking at the exotic and unknown animal life, or remains of, that gets washed ashore.  My favourite has to be the Pelicans, strange inelegant looking birds that turn to such graceful creatures in flight and such able sailors when afloat.  I saw them first on my last visit to Charleston two years ago and was excited to see them again, this time slowly flapping low along the estuary in search of fish.  They look ungamely but turn like some aerobatic bi-plane, to plummet into the water beak first, or, more often, stop flying and flop with a large splash onto the surface.  Either way they generate such a feeling of delight in me.

Pelicans in flight on Edisto

Large cumbersome birds that defy imagination, the Pelicans of the South Carolina shore are an absolute delight.

There were other birds to please the ‘twitcher’ in me, from huge King Fishers, the size of a British Jay, which plunged into the still waters of the marina catching fish which would make a good size dish with some chips !  Little Terns scuttled along the shoreline probing every morsel that came ashore.

On the first evening we walked out to a high tide only to be astounded by two large Horseshoe Crabs mating on the edge of the waves.  Judging by that encounter and by the hundreds of small and large exo-skeletons that littered the beach, this was the season for big changes in the lives of these oddest of the crab family.  It baffles me how a small Horseshoe crab manages to ‘undress’ itself out of all of its outer shell and legs, leaving a perfect outer body to come ashore.

Exo-skeletal Horseshoe Crabs

The perfect outer ‘clothing’, the exo-skeleton, of hundreds of young Horseshoe crabs littered the shoreline.

The site of these almost pre-historic relics was a fascination for me, so much so I started gathering them together and even tried a little ‘beach art’, much to the amusement of my hosts no doubt.  Certainly the other beach wanderers were unmoved by the shoreline flotsam, well unless that is they happened to step on one; then the most incredible hard and sharp spike would give a very painful jolt to the soles of a bare foot !

As well as the crabs there were beautiful sea fans, or rather the ‘tortoise shell’ like remains, and brightly coloured sea ferns and weird feeling sponges.

A horse-shoe of Crabs

Horse-shoe of Crabs – what else !

Sea debris

Beach debris of an exotic kind, all of it a wonder to me.

The most exciting discovery on that Edisto shoreline came on the second morning.  While watching Porpoises rising and diving close-in, itself an impressive event, I became aware of a fisherman nearby who had clearly hooked a large fish and was battling to get it ashore.  When he eventually hauled it from  the foam there appeared something I never dreamed of ever seeing.

Hammer Head Shark

A young Hammer-head shark hauled in on a fisherman’s line on Edisto Beach, thankfully to be returned to the water.

A young Hammer-head shark lay in the surf, unbelievable.  The creature is surely one of Nature’s most bizarre creations.  With no skull it has its eyes set on the ends of two protruding pieces of flesh.  The body is for all intents a true shark but the overall appearance defies logic.  Although only small this beautiful creature put up a good fight and was deservedly returned, hopefully unharmed (if getting a big hook caught in your lip and being hauled from the water unceremoniously can be a non-harming event !) but wiser from the experience to continue its wanderings in the warm oceans of the world, perhaps for another fifty years.

Just along the coast from Edisto, northwards in the direction of Charleston, lies a truly astonishing place, Botany Bay.  Now we all associate that name with Australia, or for those of us from the eastern county of Wales, with a little village just north of the Wye Valley near Tintern, but this one I suspect beats them all …

Road to Botany Bay

The road to the Bay was equally as stunning, though I had no idea what lay ahead.

The Botany Bay Plantation Heritage Preserve and Wildlife Management Area is 4,687 acres.  The history of the place runs along the same road as most of the other plantations in this state.  The crops too follow a traditional pattern with timber in the form of the great pine trees and the valuable Sea Island Cotton which gave great prosperity to the plantation owners.

Today the area of two former plantations, Bleak Hall and Sea Cloud, make up the protected site.  Conservation of flora and fauna as well as strictly enforced public access and exclusion make the whole area a jewel in the often despoiled southern countryside.  As an enthusiastic amateur naturalist and conservationist I was in my element and my host is owed a huge debt of gratitude for deciding to take me there.

I hope Mrs Pepper didn't encounter the other inhabitants !

I hope Mrs Pepper didn’t encounter the other inhabitants !

The marsh and wetland areas abound with fascinating trees, the haunted glades of Live Oak dripping with the long gossamer strands of Spanish Moss, the statuesque Lob Lolly and the few remaining Long Leaf Pines, each a relic of this once forested land.  The birds and animals are rare and somewhat scary.  Snakes are the big difference between here and there – just so many and not just on the land !

I hoped to see Mrs Peppers neighbour but no such luck nor did I get to see a common little amphibian, the Turtle, but just knowing they were in the waters and might at any moment appear made the whole experience gripping.

Green water snake, South Carolina

This little ‘critter’ slid out of the grass onto the path in front of us, cute but probably not up to having his back stroked ! It’s a Rough Green Snake (Opheodius Aestivus)

The lagoons amongst the flooded marshes were teeming with fish and Blue crab as well as huge Oyster beds which in turn attracted all manner of waders and others higher up the food chain.

Oyster beds in the mud flats

The mud banks are thronged with Oyster beds .

The old plantation fields no longer grow the cash crop of Cotton but they have not been totally abandoned.  In a move to preserve the diversity of the ecology in the heavily wooded area crops such as Sorghum have been planted.  This was and to an extent, still is, a substitute for sugar and is turned to a rich syrup – I had to watch it being poured over cooked rolled oats as a breakfast !

The whole of the protected area is well marked out with driving and walking trails and the seashore is well worth the half mile hike through woodland.

Sorghum growing in Botany Bay

The tall plant resembles an oat crop but this plant produces a dark brown molass which is a healthier sweetener than processed sugar.

I’m slightly ashamed to say we drove around the plantations, not withstanding it was a well marked out and purpose made drive-way.  It is difficult to feel easy when riding in a superbly comfortable pick-up which guzzles fuel at less than 20 mpg, but that is the common form of transport.  The V8 petrol engine is as common as the 1100 cc engine is here, whereas we pay over £7 a gallon (about $12+) they are paying around $3.30, what can you say !

Botany Bay is without doubt the most startling of places I visited, a refreshing piece of protected, conserved ‘wildlife’ zone.

Riding in a beautifully appointed 'work' truck with its burbling V8 engine was a nice way to see the plantations, but my conscience plays on me !

Riding in a beautifully appointed ‘work’ truck with its burbling V8 engine was a nice way to see the plantations, but my conscience plays on me !

A week or so of R & R was a good opportunity to re-charge the batteries and enjoy some excellent food, warm sunny weather, I even did some cycling which helped the recovery of a badly damaged knee ligament.  Next it was inland, back to Greenville and Table Rock, ultimately to the little township of Pacolet outside Spartanburg where we were to repeat our bridge building activity of 2012.

I had come to South Carolina primarily to assist Whitneybrownstone.com to build a dry stone wall across a small creek in a woodland near Pacolet.

The site was deep in the woodland which required a jeep to get us into the work area.  Now I’m a dyed-in-the-wool Land Rover man and have been known to adorn a vehicle of mine with a sticker stating “I’d rather push a Land Rover than drive a Jeep” (Lord knows I have pushed enough Landies in my day !!) but I’ve been converted, it was a real joy to drive the old 6 cylinder Wrangler each day.

Dry Stone arched bridge

The former is still in-situ but the bridge is well on the way to completion, just the side walls and roadway to install.

The single arch bridge was designed to cross a small creek the sides of which were a little too steep to allow ease of crossing with an ATV.  Now there would have been easier and certainly cheaper ways of arriving at the same result but to his credit the owner wanted a stone bridge.  He had been impressed and inspired by the bridge which Whitney and I had constructed on my last visit in January 2012 albeit that bridge was pedestrian only (and double arched !).  It is important when designing a permanent feature in a wilderness area to have regard to the environmental impact of both its construction and longevity.  Luckily a newish roadway had been already carved through the woodland – itself a fairly new regeneration following years of commercial timber cropping.  The creek had a low threshold of flow and whilst there was some possibility of flooding in heavy downpours, the fact that the water emitted from a spring only a few hundred yards upstream made the threat minimal.  Aesthetically it is preferable to keep to a set of geometric patterns, either square or rectangular in the proportions of 2 x 1.  In this case we decided to go for a square – 6 feet wide across the creek and 6 feet wide across the roadway.  The former – a necessary construction to support the arch whilst it is being built up – was made up of three chords of ply tied with 6 ft battens and topped with a metal flashing.  We prefabricated the former back at the yard before hauling out to site and assembling it in the wood.  We spent a long morning cutting back the banks on both sides to allow enough width for the foundation stones and the former.  We put the former in on top of the large – and heavy ! – foundation stones but this looked a little out of keeping with the environs and so we decided, after a rather good black beans and avocado lunch, cooked on site, to widen the creek even further to allow the former to sit lower and the foundation stones to become the first stones of the arch – the voussoirs.  That took us all of the first day and we set off on the long 65 mile drive back to our cabin in the woods of Table rock.

Table Rock is such a stunning place and the route along South Carolina Highway 11 was the ideal route in and home.  Passing through flat upland plateaus of peach groves and apple orchards, seeing amazing little townships of quaint old wooden houses and isolated barns.  Each day I saw new vistas depending on the weather and the mist.

Mist on Table Rock SC

Table Rock in Pickens County, a National Park as well as this enigmatic mist shrouded peak of granite.

The second day we began sorting the main stones that were to form the arch, large elongated blocks of Tennessee field stone, in fact a sandstone similar to that which occurs in my work area of Breconshire.  We had, partly to assuage any doubts on the part of the commissioning land owner, decided to use mortar between the individual arch stones. This is not ideal of course but given the absence of correctly shaped stones – wider at the top than the bottom thereby preventing slippage out of the arch – it is the safest way of ensuring no slippage out of the arch once the former is removed.  We built up one half of the arch on both the upstream and downstream side and then, as the temperatures were plummeting, covered it with hay and plastic sheeting.  The following day we completed the arch using a pre-mixed concrete  which we found at one of the largest builder’s merchants I’ve ever seen, Lowes.

Once the arch was completed we then had to build the side walls and the roadway.  The roadway was made up of large stones and rubble laid over with a stone dust and chippings cover and ultimately sandy soil from nearby.  The side walls were built totally dry using the remaining large stones and two tons of smaller stones.  We extended  the supports wider than the archway so as to give the effect of a much bigger sturdier construction – chunky if you like.  There was one rather large stone which had no use other than to be set vertically into the ground on which I carved the year and the owner’s initials – an unrequested addition which was, I’m sure, gratefully received !

An arched stone bridge built by Whitney Brown

The finished article, at one with its environment and already looking ancient !

The finished bridge will soon ‘green-up’ and already looks like it has  been there a century or more.  Despite her continually claiming not to have ‘done anything’ (towards its construction) Miss Whitney Brownstone actually did the majority of the physical work and is more than capable of completing such a project alone, but age and experience is a great confidence booster and I am always glad to see a young up and coming waller stretching herself and doing exciting work.  I’m sure she will have a great future doing artistic stone work throughout the Carolinas.

Stone Arched Bridge by Whitney Brown

Miss Carolina, she who did most of the work despite constantly moaning otherwise, enjoys a moment as a Troll under the stone arch of the Pacolet Bridge !

The whole job consumed around ten tons of stone and at least five tons of other rubble.  It will easily support anything the land-owner wants to drive over it and will stand as a monument to his investment and two weeks of team-work by Welshwaller and Whitneybrownstone.

Job done it was time to have some fun, watch out for our music and beer tour of Asheville, drives along the Blue Ridge Parkway and a Thanksgiving to remember.  Carolina moon is still waxing !

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