Field Trip: The Brushy Mountain Peach Festival – Wilkesboro, NC

Every year on the last Saturday of July, the Brushy Mountain Peach Festival takes place in Wilkesboro, North Carolina. That’s about two hours and some change to the southwest of Martinsville. I’ve had so many things going on closer to home since then that this post kept getting put off and pre-empted but I finally have time to say what a treat it was to be invited along with some fine friends and to discover the Wilkesboro area.

North Carolina has been hit hard by the tropical storm known as Fred. I had already planned on going back at some point for reasons I’ll explain at the end of this post but they are really going to need us, all of their neighbors, to help them through the damages of the recent floods.

The Wilkes Heritage Museum

This particular festival is huge. It completely surrounds the Wilkesboro Heritage Museum with tents and food and music and artisans. And peaches.

Trying on Hats in Aunt B’s Attic

We had a fantastic time. We went in all the shops along the road and then took in the festival itself.

We stopped by Cook’s Outfitters to see if they might be able to set us up with a tube ride a little later in the summer. Cook’s does kayaks and bikes but no tubes. I may look into going back for a kayak trip.

Rent Kayaks and Bikes at Cook’s Outfitters

Tents packed the area next to the museum. There were some good crowds but it didn’t feel too crowded.

Checking Out the Booths

This is a good fair for hand-crafted and locally sourced items. One of my favorites is pottery. Not only was there a lot of pottery for sale but there was a woman spinning a bowl as we watched.

Hand-crafted bowl taking shape

Call Family Distillers had a display out to promote their apple pie sour mash moonshine labelled Willie Clay Call’s The Uncatchable. Displays like this are ubiquitous not only at fairs but at the numerous classic car shows you’ll find around but I’m always a sucker for it.

An Advertisement for The Call Family Distillers Moonshine

There were also a lot of skilled wood workers. I normally do a good job of grabbing cards and linking back to the artisans but too much time has gone by this time.

I bought one of the small wooden pieces that fits on top of a bottle of wine and holds two glasses. You can see one in the picture below, sitting on the top of the half-barrel wine bar. I thought the wine bar was pretty cute too.

A Wine Barrel Bar

Several people, including myself, just loved this quilt cabinet. The artist’s wife is a quilter and this cabinet allows the quilts to still be shown off a little while they are being stored.

A Quilt Cabinet

There were easily dozens of tents plus an almost equally large concession area. A band played on a sound stage that opened out onto a grassy lawn filled with chairs.

There was live music on the soundstage.

There was an exhibit that we didn’t get to (it sounded hot) but check out the log cabin. According to the Wilkesboro Town website, this is was the home of a gentleman farmer named Robert Cleveland. The home was built in the 1770’s in western Wilkes County and housed Mr. Cleveland and his 17 children.

The Robert Cleveland Log Cabin

There is a lot of history here.

This would be a great area to tour in the fall and take it all in.

We eventually had seen everything except the log cabin and it had gotten just incredibly hot so we wrapped up our day with lunch and drove up to the Wilkesboro downtown area (the festival is held in North Wilkesboro) to plunder all the shops there and there were quite a few. It’s a very good shopping area with clothing boutiques, home decor shops, and even a Hallmark store.

Plundering the shops in Wilkesboro

North Wilkesboro has a few other claims to fame that you don’t have to wait for the festival to enjoy.

For one thing, they have their own local craft brewery, Two Boros Brewery.

Local Craft Brewer Two Boros Brewery

Right next door to the Heritage Museum and across the street from the brewery is Dooley’s Grill and Tavern, where we stopped for lunch. I suppose the name should have tipped me off, but it didn’t.

Sidewalk Seating at Dooley’s Tavern

It was the menu that did that. The first selection on the menu is “Executioner’s Choice”.

Perhaps the selection below it is ringing a bell, “Laura Foster’s French Dip”?

Menu at Dooley’s Tavern

As it turns out, this is where the story that would be immortalized in the folk song Tom Dooley played out.

Long story short, and there may be different versions, Tom Dooley (actually Tom Dula) was a local man who had become involved with two women (cousins). My understanding is that one of the women became pregnant and he agreed to elope. She then disappeared and was found murdered some time later. Tom was tried and convicted of the murder but there are some that think that Laura was actually killed by the other woman, her cousin, Anne.

The Kingston Trio was a bit before my time but they were a favorite of mine when I went through a folk music phase. I had no idea that there was really any possibility of truth to the story.

Talking about Tom Dooley, one of my lunch mates said that there were still bullet holes in the courthouse steps. I have no idea what she was talking about and the stream of conversation moved away from the subject so I left no better informed. But I’ve made a mental note.

I’d like to go back and learn more about this community. And Tom Dooley.

And why are there bullet holes in the courthouse steps?

I think the North Wilkesboro may just be like that. It’s always going to leave you asking about something.

Another Story for Another Day

If your curiosity can’t stand it, check out Save the Speedway.

Another Hidden Gem: Laurel Ridge Trail and Twin Ridge Park

On the heels of having made it out to Hamlet Vineyards for the first time, I have found another local attraction hiding in plain sight. I’ve been here since 2014 and I had never heard anything about how pretty Twin Ridge Park is on Philpott Lake or seen any pictures of the amenities there.

In fact, prior to this, the only true access point for Philpott Lake that I had been to was the Philpott Marina (The yellow 1 in the shot below, lower right).

Imagine a trail going around this

Today I want to share some photos from a recent hike with the Homestead Hikers. Homestead Hikers is a hiking club (dues are $10 a year) connected with Reynolds Homestead, a historic property and extension of Virginia Tech. This extension is host to the College for Older Adults and they have some AMAZING programs. Honestly (and I am not kidding) I was looking forward to turning 50 because of the programs for seniors here. But I digress. Again.

Trail Head Sign

Twin Ridge Park is actually in Franklin County, Henry County’s neighbor. The trail we were hitting today was the Laurel Ridge Trail heading to Salthouse Branch. We would do a 3-mile round trip out-and-back hike.

There is parking along the side of the road at the trail head. A small stretch has stone put down for traction while the rest is mown grass. There’s room for maybe 8 to 10 cars parked perpendicular to the road. The boat launch is about a half a mile down the road so there is additional parking there but add a mile onto your hike if you park there.

The trail head sign says that this is a 2.5 mile long trail of moderate difficulty (1 hour to complete one way) and that it is open to hikers, bicyclists, and hunters. It describes the trail this way:

“Laurel Ridge Trail traverses through beautiful forested mountains, with stretches that hug the Philpott Lake shoreline, connecting Salthouse Branch Park and Twin Ridge Park. The trail is marked by trees with blue markings.”

A woodland path

Don’t worry about the “forested mountains” part. If that is true, it is in only the most technical sense. This is a nice woodland walk with only a slight decline as you progress along the path. It wouldn’t have been noticeable at all except that we did notice the slight incline when we reversed for our return.

The blue markings are critical. This is a beautiful path that is very visible most of the time but there are times when the trail forks and you need to know which way to go.

A fork in the trail

There were some things we all enjoyed looking at along the path. This tree had grown up right next to the path and then fell away from it, leaving a canopy of roots for an opportunistic woodland vine to climb.

A fallen tree

While this trail is going from point A to point B along the lake, the lake’s shoreline narrows until it becomes little more than a creek. You have to go a distance away from the body of the lake before you can get to a crossing. At one point, it is no more than a foot or two wide and it winds back and forth like a snake.

There, before we crossed, we found a foundation or basement for a structure now long gone. No one knows what its history is.

A foundation for a farm or a mill?

You do eventually have to cross the water but, by the time that you do, it’s not a significant crossing. At least, this is what it looked like when we did it.

The water crossing

We saw a turtle. It was right on the trail but it blended in so well that it very nearly got stepped on.

Can you see the turtle?

Being woodland, much of the trail looks alike and it was challenging to get good photos. I would see something I considered beautiful, snap a shot, and then, once I got home, not be able to make out what in particular I was seeing. I think that it is worth continuing to try.

It really is a beautiful trail

We were all pleased with our hike. Afterwards, some of our group went on down to the boat launch area to investigate and swim.

Twin Ridge Boat Launch

This is Philpott Lake, standing on the Twin Ridge Ramp. In the photo below, I’ve labeled the horizon (loosely) with the points of interest. That whole mass on the right is Goose Point Campground. Turkey Island is the only island on Philpott Lake that allows camping. There is an island behind it that does not have a name. Deer Island is somewhere over towards the shore between Salthouse Branch and Turkey Island.

Points of interest standing on Twin Ridge Park boat ramp

There is a placard that gives you this information, a little more accurately. I, honestly, had not paid any attention to the new Philpott Lake Blueway Water Trail went I first heard of it. Every time I saw a photo of Philpott Lake, it was from the same vantage point. I thought that that must be all there was. I was incredibly wrong. There so much more to see. I could take a whole season to see all of the points of interest, maybe more.

The informational placard at Twin Ridge Park

The placard also suggests the following kayaking trips:

Deer Island Kayak Trip – 4 miles round trip – From the ramp, paddle southeast across the mouth of the cove and continue along this shoreline. Deer Island is the landmass on your right as you round the point. The scenic and secluded shores of the largest island on the lake it is only accessed by boat, and the only island on Philpott used for camping. Continue around Deer Island between Turkey Island and the western side of Deer Island.

Rabbit Island – 3.5 miles round trip – The open water of the lake must be crossed to reach the secluded shores of Rabbit Island. It is recommended this trip not be attempted by paddle craft during high wind or heavy motorized boat traffic conditions. Head west from Twin Ridge to make the scenic round trip to Rabbit Island. A compass is always recommended when negotiating large open water. No camping is allowed on Rabbit Island.

Pavilion at Twin Ridge Park

The park itself is beautiful. The pavilion is big, well maintained, and clean. The person emptying the trash bin while I was there ducked out of the shot above.

There is a dedicated swimming area. River shoes might be a good idea for the rocky terrain.

The swimming area at Twin Creek Park

They also have concerts in the park designed for an audience of boaters, kayakers, and paddle boarders. One of our cohort was local to this particular area and he said that it is a very safe area and that the concert series have been well managed.

Boat dock at Twin Ridge Park

There is a lot here. I didn’t expect so many photos from a short hike but, there you are. The dappled light of the path was too challenging for me to come away with any truly good shots but that only means that I need to try again. The launch photos have not been tinkered with for saturation. It is just, honest to God, is that pretty.

Sunday Afternoon at Hamlet Vineyard

This is one of the best kept secrets I’ve ever seen. And it’s a secret from the locals, it seems. I’ve been there twice now. Both times it was sold out. The first time it was Labor Day weekend so I figured, holiday weekend. This past Sunday (August 7th)? Lobster rolls, apparently.

Hamlet Vineyard is up in Bassett, just a stone’s throw from Stanleytown Health & Rehabilitation Center, where my mom went to recover from a stroke. I was there every day and I never realized that there was a vineyard just down the road. Literally, within sight.

There is just a small sign on the left side of road and a long gravel drive leading off into the trees.

Driving into Hamlet Vineyards

I arrived only about a quarter of an hour after the 1 o’clock opening and the parking lot was already quite full. There is ample parking. It is all on mown grass.

I’m told that this rush always happens when lobster rolls are available and that was what I was here for. Salty’s Lobster & Co had brought them down from Roanoke.

There was still a line at the door

I think that the fireside seating and the picnic tables up by the vineyards are new since the last time I came. That time, I just gave up in the parking lot when people were coming back to their cars saying that there was no more seating.

The place filled up quickly. I didn’t dilly dally that much looking around but I missed my opportunity at the last table. I think other people are aware of the limited seating and do not waste any time getting seated.

Shaded picnic tables on the vineyard may be the best seats in the house

I wasn’t about to miss my opportunity here a second time so I ended up taking up a chair in the fire pit area. The chair was comfortable and the umbrella provided good shade. This seemed like more of a waiting area than a dining area but any port in a storm, right?

The waitress came and took my order and I sat and watched other late arrivals. Most decided not to stay. Two ladies from Greensboro and the lovely labradoodle, Willow, decided to brave the limited shade and joined me.

We chatted and had a wonderful conversation about all types of things. One was a physical therapist and one was a teacher. One was a single mom and the other, a fur mom. They had driven quite a ways for a day of wine and lobster rolls. Unfortunately, Hamlet had run out of lobster rolls. And it was really hot. Their day wasn’t shaping up too well.

We managed to keep Willow in the shade and two of the three humans. We were on the brink of rearranging their fire pit furniture to get all three of us in the shade when tables started clearing on the covered patio.

That made a huge difference. We all moved together and finished our wine and conversation in the shade. The covered patio, we noticed, has heaters in the ceiling for cold weather. They said that they enjoyed their day enough to come back. I hope so.

Tips for going to Hamlet Vineyard:

Get to the location early. There is a gate across the drive so get in line if you can. If you can’t, there is a drug store across the street where you can lay in wait for a good opportunity to get in earlier.

Try the sangria. It really is out of this world. They have a peach sangria and a pomegranate sangria. I had the pomegranate sangria and I LOVED it.

Budget to get a truffle a piece. They are $2.50 each but they are so worth it. They are made by local chocolatier Cocoa Trails Chocolates and I think they may be their best flavor.

Be persistent. This really is worth the wait.