By Bonnie and Bill Neely
When it's safe to travel again, we suggest a visit to the "Lowcountry" of the South. The most popular places to go here are Charleston, Beaufort, Hilton Head and Bluffton, and Savannah isn't far away in Georgia. But we narrowed our visit to Beaufort, where my ancestors once lived.
In fact, one of my grandfathers back in the 1600s was a swashbuckling pirate hired by Britain's King Charles II to fight off the Spanish and French and protect this coastline for England. For successfully fulfilling this task, Johannes Fripp was granted 3,000 acres of lower South Carolina Sea Islands, and one is known to this day as the exclusive private community of Fripp Island.
Coastal sunrises and sunsets are exquisite over Beaufort's Port Royal Sound through which the Intracoastal Waterway passes to the Atlantic Ocean. Cruiseliners and many personal yachts also go in and out of this harbor. The visitors center is at Beaufort's beautiful Waterfront Park, where the water is edged with palm trees, magnolias, and many tropical plants and flowers. Inviting chair swings and benches welcome visitors to have a moment of rest. The large grassy area is the center of the huge Water Fest every July that brings visitors from both far and near. Convenient and clean public restrooms with showers for boaters in dock are located here. Restaurants of every kind open onto this park with outdoor eating at many. On the other side of this line of eateries is the main shopping area on Bay Street.
A large parking lot is the starting point for walking tours and delightful horse and carriage rides that add to the picturesque beauty of this remarkably well-kept historic town that was founded in 1711 and officially chartered in 1718. We chose to learn about Beaufort's history on the Southurn Rose Buggy Tour. Pulling a carriage that was typical of the 1800s was the sweet and smart Max, a white Percheron horse. Our driver guide, Charlotte, gave Max carrots before the ride and thanked him with granola afterward. He amazed everyone with his thorough knowledge of the route, even leading the carriage around low-hanging branches of the exquisite 300-year-old live oak trees permanently decorated with gray Spanish moss. He also seemed able to read stop signs and know when traffic lights were red or green.
Charlotte, a Beaufort native, was an informative, interesting and fun guide. She took us along neighborhood streets with perfectly kept homes in the Historic District and told us stories (and some fun gossip) about each of the city fathers and famous people who had lived here in the days of the Revolutionary War and the Civil War. Many of these were of great influence in founding the nation, leading the area, the state and the country and affecting both secession and the Reconstruction Era in the South.
When the ride was over we headed downtown for shopping. It is so much fun here, with each little store filled with unique finds for yourself or gifts for others. Beach and Lowcountry souvenirs abound that include paintings, crafts, jewelry, foods and so much more.
Carolina Me Crazy has every kind of South Carolina takeaway you could imagine, and a stop at Kilwin's Sweets is an absolute must. Their ice cream and candied popcorn may be the best we have ever had. They feature 32 flavors of ice cream, and they invite you to sample up to 14 kinds before you select the right one for your craving.
Beaufort has many places to stay from chain hotels to historic bed-and-breakfast inns, and the restaurants are many. The Sea Islands have many more places and wonders to enjoy. We loved visiting the Hunting Island State Park, where a live alligator languished in a pond at the viewing area. A good state park campground on the beach is available there, too. Just across Scott Street from Beth Israel Synagogue is the new indoor Reconstruction Era National Park dedicated to the period following the Civil War and the emancipation of the slaves. Many churches are several centuries old, and they welcome people to visit their cemeteries. A large American Cemetery has tombs of both Union and Confederate soldiers.
Beaufort proudly protects its impressive history and keeps the beautiful old mansions and other buildings in excellent condition. With the charm and grace for which the South is known, we'll return many times to this restful Lowcountry Southern belle of a town.
WHEN YOU GO
Bonnie and Bill Neely are freelance writers. To read features by other Creators Syndicate writers and cartoonists, visit the Creators Syndicate website at www.creators.com.
Charlotte, a native of Beaufort , South Carolina, and her horse, Max, take visitors for carriage rides through the town. Photo courtesy of Bill Neely.