Skip to content

The North Carolina coast

River Forest Manor at Belhaven. It’s now closed, and for sale.

I got back last night from a three-day trip to the North Carolina coast. I wish I could say it was a good trip, but mostly it wasn’t. Ocracoke Island was nice and hasn’t changed in any major way since I was last there 25 years ago (just more buildings). But much of the rest of the trip was, in ways, depressing.

For example, I had remembered the little town of Belhaven, near the the Swan Quarter terminal for the 2.5-hour ferry trip to Ocracoke, as charming. But all I saw this trip was squalor and poverty. The old River Forest Manor mansion, which for years served wonderful down-home food and offered nice B&B accommodations, has closed and is up for sale. The town of Belhaven looked shockingly shabby and poor.

Ocracoke Island is mostly national seashore that is protected from development. There are many new buildings and new businesses in the little village of Ocracoke, but they weren’t so bad. Often the new buildings look better than the old ones. Ocracoke also was the only place on the entire trip where anything approaching civilized food was to be had.

Hatteras still had a certain charm, but it has grown tremendously. Seedy development now defines once-charming villages like Rodanthe. Nags Head, Kill Devil Hills, and Kitty Hawk are now merged together into one long, dense, ugly strip development completely lacking in charm.

As a road trip, this one was nothing special. I did get to drive through Chatham County, one of the target areas for fracking in North Carolina. But the Raleigh suburban area, its bypasses, and all the roads from Raleigh east to the coast can only be described as an ugly, strip-developed mess, with much of the rural charm ruined by suburbanization. I had not seen some of these areas for 30 years. I did not like the changes I saw.

I came home on U.S. 58 through southern Virginia, and that’s much nicer, once you get west of the suburban horror of Chesapeake and Suffolk. The road passes through beautiful Virginia farming country as it approaches Danville and Martinsville.

I’m not sure I could ever endure another road trip without making some kind of arrangements to cook my own food along the way. All along these routes through Virginia and North Carolina there is nothing to eat but fast food and trash food. Too much of it would be enough to ruin one’s health. It made me fondly remember road trips when I was much younger and much poorer, when we stopped at roadside picnic tables and cooked on Coleman stoves.

It made me appreciate my Stokes County home that much more. It can’t be easy to find places in this country where honest, unsuburbanized rural landscapes are within shopping distance of a Whole Foods and an Apple store. Stokes is one of those places. It’s mighty nice to be home. Lily, the cat, thinks so too. She slept with me for part of the night, her paws clasped around my neck and her nose in my ear as though she was afraid I’d leave her again.

I’m in no hurry for another road trip. Home is just too nice.

The Ocracoke ferry approaches the Swan Quarter ferry landing.

Looking into the Ocracoke harbor from Pamlico Sound

A ferry leaves Ocracoke bound for the mainland.

The former Coast Guard station on Ocracoke, now some sort of campus

Ocracoke’s harbor

Riding around in golf carts has become the main entertainment on Ocracoke. Golf carts rent for $10 an hour.

Hatteras lighthouse

The Smart car performed beautifully on the road trip. It averaged 54 miles per gallon. It’s comfortable and handles great on the open road and in traffic.

A large solar array under construction near Bath, North Carolina

One Comment

  1. Uptown Jimmy wrote:

    Ocracoke is magical. There can’t be too many towns like that south of New England. We traveled through there on our way back from Hatteras Town a few years back. Long ferry ride from Ocracoke to the mainland.

    Anyway, we’re gonna head back to Ocracoke one day, in a few years when Jonah is a little older and we can just hang out on those deserted beaches all day and run around on the sand and build castles and chase seagulls and collect shells.

    Wednesday, October 24, 2012 at 9:53 pm | Permalink

Post a Comment

Your email is never published nor shared. Required fields are marked *