The Virginias

Friday 2 to Tuesday 6 June

We were entering West Virginia and the sign on the Potomac river tells us we are entering mineral country. We look up and on the top of mountains is a long line of wind turbines. 

This is the day after Trump announced USA would be leaving the ‘Paris climate change agreement‘ and the newspapers are full of indignation, disappointment and an ongoing determination by state leaders to reduce carbon emissions in spite of him. 

After a delightful drive we reach Strasburg at the foot of the Andalusian mountains. We had chosen to stay at Hotel Strasburg, which turned out to be an older hotel full of antiques. Our room was tiny but adequate for a single night. We had a drink in the pub – the room on the right at the entrance. It was full at 6pm, but emptied out as we ate. Just as we were finishing the pub filled up again. Everyone who came in seemed to know someone else. You have to assume they were all locals. 

Breakfast was a treat! It was the usual buffet but real glasses were provided for the juice and real bowls were provided for the fruit and cereal. It is common, in fact standard, to have plastic cups and cutlery and polystyrene bowls for breakfast. It is very much help yourself and clear your own rubbish away before you leave. This reduces the need for employment in a country struggling with high unemployment. It also increases the volume of non-biodegradable rubbish. And this is in a country crying out to ‘Make America Great Again’. Go figure!

We found coffee in Front Royal – the gateway to the Skyline Drive. Amazingly, coffee was served in ceramic cups – wonderful. We met a local called Bruce. He told us that in Front Royal the Democrats stand on one side of the road and the Patriots stand on the other side in what he described as a stand-off. He was clearly not impressed by what Trump was doing to America and felt the tide was quickly turning against him. Of course all the world news we had read that morning was analysing the fallout of USA leaving the Paris Accord. 

Our new friend Bruce told us that the local wage is less than $20,000 p.a., certainly not enough to live on. He said the last resort for these people is drugs, alcohol and guns. A deadly mix. 

After those somber words we headed off to the National Park of the Skyline. It was a sunny Saturday afternoon and every car park along the well established drive was full. Only 84 miles from Washington, it is within easy reach for respite from the city air and stress. 

We managed a few stops to see the spectacular scenery, but it was slow going as there were no passing points and lots of day trippers. 

Our next stop was Roanoke. Of course the beer was good!

Like many small tourist destinations the world over, Roanoke tried to create a point of difference.  For them it is the Taubman Museum – built in the style of the Guggenheim Museum in Bilbao by Frank Ghery. Unfortunately the museum in Roanake is squeezed in between a shopping street and a railway line and the amazing architecture looses the drama.

The museum is small and temporary exhibitions by Alison Pack – ‘Metal Delicious’ and by Judith Lieber – ‘Earthly Delights – Handbags: Gardens and Flowers’ were fantastic. Judith Lieber is famous for designing couture bags between 1963 and 1993 – the samples we saw here were stunning.

There was also an impressive railway museum. Roanoke was on the rail cross roads of trade and the railways were an important line of trade. The mail cart was on display – to speed delivery, mail bags were ‘grabbed’ from posts as the mail train passed by villages, and deliveries were thrown off the train in a mail bag.

Next day we resumed our journey along the beautiful Blue Ridge.  We stopped at Mabry Mill where Edwin and Mintoria Mabry had built a mill to turn furniture and mill grains up until 1936. The National Parks Service purchased the property in 1945, preserving an interesting but harsh lifestyle in the Virginias.