So far we are really loving the South Carolina coastline and our original plans didn’t have us coming here! We like to go with the flow. Our next stop wasn’t too far away from Myrtle Beach and that was Huntington Beach SP where we stayed for 4 nights. On the first day we enjoyed walking along the beach, seeing Horseshoe Crabs and Sand Pipers, and looking for seashells. On the second day we did a much longer walk on the hiking trails to see the birds and the alligators and to check out if it would be possible to walk to Brookgreen Gardens for the Nights of a Thousand Candles display. We concluded we couldn’t walk because you had to cross a major highway without a light/crosswalk and the actual displays were several miles in from the road. We were able to buy tickets for Sunday night, so we planned to drive the RV over. We did a quick tour of the Atalaya visitor centre to learn about Archer and Anna Huntington. They were a wealthy artistic couple (Archer was a poet and Anna was a sculptor) that purchased 4 rice plantations in order to build their winter getaway location Atalaya (a Spanish word meaning Watchtower) and in turn also Brookgreen Gardens where many of Anna’s sculptures are on display. The amazing thing was that they built it in the depression time period. We decided to do the full tour of Atalaya the following day as they had a Christmas craft sale and some musicians playing. After the visitor centre we walked back to the campground along the beach and saw a couple of dolphins swimming just off the shore.
Even though we like to “go with the flow”, we know it is difficult to do this over the Christmas/New Year holidays. We spent the next morning researching and booking camping spots, so we know where we’ll be over the holidays. In the afternoon we headed over to Atalaya. The friends of the park were holding the sale as a fund raiser to build a new nature centre in the state park. The estate was decorated for the holidays, and most rooms were decorated by the vendor using them. It was interesting to read about the history of each room (Joel) and then check out the local artisans’ work (Sharon). The estate has two large courtyards and we got to enjoy the sunny weather while listening to The Pawley Island Jazz Band.
On Sunday morning we continued our park research and bookings and got all the way out to January 5th, finishing South Carolina and entering Georgia. It’s very rare for us to be booked out a month in time but the holidays force this as many locals go camping after Christmas. We went for a short walk along the marsh boardwalk to see the birds before driving the RV over to Brookgreen Gardens for the 3 pm opening of the gates. The staff escorted us to the zoo area for larger parking spots and then drove us back to visitor centre entrance (at the end of the night we were driven back to the RV since we’d never find it!). Brookgreen Gardens is a 9,100-acre sculpture garden and wildlife preserve built by the Huntington’s which is now a US National Historic Landmark. At this time of year they put on a display called Nights of a Thousand Candles where they put lights throughout the garden and hand light 2,700 candles every night. You can walk around to see the lights, but they also have tents setup with music, food and drinks. We were really glad we went for the opening as it allowed us to walk around in the daylight to see the gardens and sculptures and get oriented before the lights and candles were lit up. They have tons of volunteers throughout the grounds to give you guidance and to light the candles. While exploring we enjoyed some red wine and also just had to buy some sparkling wine so we could get some Christmas glasses to wear. My glasses converted the candles and lights to elves and Sharon’s let her see Angels flapping their wings😉 We saw Celtic musicians with an electric bag pipe, a soul group, an actor (Bill Oberst Jr.) playing out scrooge’s story, and a Choir singing Christmas songs. We were super impressed with the food in the dining tent, I had a Flounder dinner and Sharon had She Crab Soup and Hushpuppies. As you will see from the photos this place was absolutely magical!
When we left Huntington Beach SP we went through Georgetown South Carolina and did some shopping before heading to Hampton Plantation State Historic Site. The plantation had rice fields on Hampton Island and the mansion was built on the property between 1730 and 1750. Several wealthy families ran the plantation over the years with many slaves used as the labourers. The Rutledge family eventually donated the plantation mansion to the state although they still hunt on Hampton Island itself. We were the only people at the park so we got a personalized tour by the ranger of the rooms in the mansion. The family kept the original furniture so the park decided to only feature the architecture of the building. After finishing the tour with the ranger we hiked on some of the trails around the grounds. We stayed that night at Buck Hall Recreation Area for $20 a night right on the Intra Coastal Waterway.
The next day was Tuesday and unfortunately two of the National Historic Sites were closed today. We’ll have to catch them next time around. We ended up arriving early at James Island County Park just outside Charleston. We were able to check in early which was great because it was 80F, prefect weather for a bike ride around the park. James Island has an annual Festival of Lights so we paid $3 for the shuttle to drive us around the park at night to view all the fun displays. They have four-year round staff to look after the lights and several volunteers, most who get to camp for free at the campground. Each year they change all the light bulbs in the displays and the current estimate is that they have 5 million lights! They were going to use LED lights in all the displays but when they changed some of the older ones to LED they were too bright and you couldn’t really see the display properly so they had to change them back. Every year they add three new exhibits so the display keeps getting larger. Each night costs them between $1,200-$2,000 in electricity which is the reason they charge $20/car. After our tour we checked out the carnival area and of course Sharon had to spend time in the shops.
We choose this park because it has a shuttle that will drive you into downtown Charleston for $10/person. The next morning, we got dropped off at the Charleston visitors centre, got a few sightseeing tips and headed out on a 17 km walking adventure of Charleston. Charleston has a lot of history, dating back to the 1600’s. Our first stop was Charleston City Market, so we wandered through the craft seller booths, although we didn’t buy anything due to limited space in the RV. We followed a walking tour from our CAA tour book which pointed out some of the more interesting buildings and architecture in the downtown area, including the oldest liquor store in North America established in 1686! We also saw many churches and houses in the Palladianism style which was notable as the front door led to a porch on the side of the house instead of entering the house itself. There are lots of restaurants in downtown, but we had a recommendation to go to Hymans Seafood Restaurant (established in 1890) for lunch. Just like all the buildings we saw, the restaurant had lots of history, including all the famous people who had eaten there (Martin Sheen and Jodie Foster ate at our table). After lunch we went along the harbourfront and looped down to Battery Point before returning to catch our shuttle at 4 pm.
Next we head to Edisto SP after a few tasting stops😉