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A training ground for Highland hiking

Looking south from the crest of Hanging Rock, with mist, just before rain

Though North Carolina’s Hanging Rock State Park is only a 15-minute drive from Acorn Abbey (through the picturesque little colonial town of Danbury), I don’t think I’ve ever written about the park here. These are iPhone photos that I took this morning.

The northern border of Stokes County, North Carolina, is formed by the state line between the states of Virginia and North Carolina. Just north of the Stokes County line, in Virginia, the Blue Ridge Mountains, part of the Appalachian chain, rise out of the foothills. Stokes County is a foothills county, but it has its own little mountain range — the Saura mountain range. Two mountains in this range are state parks — Pilot Mountain, and Hanging Rock. Both are fantastic promontories with extraordinary views from the top.

Like Pilot Mountain in the Yadkin Valley, Hanging Rock is a monadnock. Hanging Rock rises steeply out of the Dan River valley. Hanging Rock stands about 1,700 feet above the surrounding terrain. You could almost throw a rock from the top and have it land 1,700 feet below. The surrounding terrain — though you can see well into the Yadkin River valley — is the Dan River valley. The average altitude in the Dan River valley is about 800 feet above sea level. (We are about 265 miles from the Atlantic coast.) When you drive into Hanging Rock State Park, your car will get you to the visitors center at an altitude of about 1,700 feet. Then an uphill hike of about 1.3 miles will get you to the highest point in the park — Hanging Rock itself — at an altitude of 2,139 feet. The top photo was taken right on top of the USGS marker that officially marks the altitude.

The mountain is called Hanging Rock not because anybody was ever hanged there, but because a large outcropping of rock hangs out over the terrain below.

Last summer, when I was training for a hiking trip to the Scottish highlands and islands, Hanging Rock was my go-to place. At only 2.6 miles round trip, it’s not a long hike, but it’s intense. My Apple watch shows an altitude gain of 50 floors in only 1.3 miles. Most of the trail is uphill through woodland. But the last half mile or so is very steep, over a rough terrain of rocks and soil. Finally you reach the crest, the top of the monadnock. The top is fairly flat, a wooded acre or so with views in all directions.

As you might have guessed, I’m training again for another trip to Scotland, this time to the Outer Hebrides, in August. I’ve already hiked enough in the Scottish islands to know that, as in Stokes County, there is no such thing as flat land. It’s up and down, and always over uneven terrain. The only thing that a place like Hanging Rock cannot prepare you for is hiking in a bog. Nothing but hiking in a bog is like hiking in a bog. Still, uneven terrain in a bog, with lots of ankle-breakers, is a lot like uneven terrain over rocks, bog or no bog. If you’re my age, a hiking stick is an essential item.

The August trip to Scotland will include a couple of days in Edinburgh. Then the itinerary is Inverness, Ullapool, Stornaway, Mangersta, Aird a’ Mhulaidh, Lickisto, Tarbert, Kilmuir, Edinburgh. Though I’m flying into Heathrow, I’ll be bypassing London this trip and traveling through Oxford instead. I’ve never been to Oxford. Oxford will be one of the settings in my third novel, so I need see the place and do a little pub-hopping.

Part of the final ascent to the crest of Hanging Rock


  1. Chenda wrote:

    Hope you have a great trip. Although I must caution when I visited Oxford I expected the genteel inter-war place off of Brideshead Revisited, Instead I got a gritty, industrial town chock full of tourists, cars and roadworks. So I won’t blame you if you use some creative licence 😉

    Thursday, June 6, 2019 at 6:12 pm | Permalink
  2. daltoni wrote:

    Hi Chenda… Ack! I am sorry to hear that about Oxford! At least it’s smaller than London! I dreaded the prospect of laying over in London, so Oxford partly was a way of avoiding that.

    I’m tired of London, so I must be tired of life. 🙂 I felt the same way when I passed through New York last year — total overload, and as the French say, trop de monde. I also don’t have any particular wish to return to San Francisco after 11 years away.

    Thursday, June 6, 2019 at 6:20 pm | Permalink
  3. Chenda wrote:

    I can sympathise! I’m only 90 mins from central London but I rarely visit these days, prefer to be deep in the hills.

    I hear Cambridge has preserved more of its pre-war feel although I’ve never been.

    Friday, June 7, 2019 at 7:03 pm | Permalink

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