It was hard leaving Edenton…especially leaving all of the great people I had met. But it was time to hit the road and head towards a very unknown to me destination…Ocracoke on Ocracoke Island….I am loving it already.
There a couple of ways that we could have headed to the Outer Banks where Ocracoke is located. All require a ferry ride, but the one with the shortest ferry ride and what I think is the most fascinating drive is the one I chose…I am an amazing navigator on trips.
We head North East and take the Ocean Parkway, which goes through several small towns, but to be honest it was mostly beautiful countryside with some spectacular water views that we drove through. One town worth mentioning was Hertford, a pretty little town on the banks of the Perquimans River. The most notable thing about this place is that the famous dj Wolfman Jack is buried near by and that the record company that he created is still in existence there. Fun facts are everywhere…you just need to find them.
After about an hours drive, we arrive at Point Harbor, which is where we will take the Wright Memorial bridge over to the Outer Banks highway 12, which leads to Ocracoke.
The Wright Memorial Bridge is over 3 miles long and has seen millions of travelers cross over from Albermarie Sound to OBX (the Outer Banks). In the 1930’s only the very wealthy would cross the sound to go to their hunt camps and cottages. In fact there are still some of their original cottages, in what is now Nags Head, from the 1900’s on the oceanfront, which is now known as “millionares row”. When the Wright Brothers conducted their first flight on OBX, news spread quickly and the area started to grow and see more tourists from all walks of life. The original bridge was built of wood and looked much like a boardwalk. It was upgraded to a concrete structure in 1966. By the early 1990’s, there were problems for all of the thousands of travelers that were forced to evacuate the OBX during hurricanes. They traffic jammed up on the bridge and it was soon determined that the bridge needed to be expanded to get everyone safely off of the OBX without traffic jams. In 1995, the bridge was reconstructed to the way its stands today…4 lanes and although traffic is slow at peak times in the summer, the wait times to cross are not long at all.
One of the first towns is Kittyhawk. Although it is famous as the site that the wright brothers took their first flight, that is not exactly true. The first flight actually took place down the road at Kill Devil Hills which is 4 km away. Once they had completed their successful flight, the brothers walked to Kittyhawk and sent a telegram to their Dad to give him the good news.
Next we enter Nags Head. Home to the largest sand dune at Jockey Ridge State Park, which keeps moving inland due to the tides and the storms that pass through. This place is home to the worlds largest hang glding school. Easy to see why the waters are covered with hang gliders.
Roadanthe has us on a the highway with Pamlico Sound on one side and the mighty Atlantic ocean on the other…This town celebrates Christmas on January 6th, per the Julian Calendar which was used by the towns original settlers.
Hatteras Island is not so much an island any more…again. After a particularly nasty hurricane many years ago, Hatteras Island separated from a piece of land, which then became known as Pea Island. Eventually, thanks to tides and winds, the islands have joined again and now form Hatteras Island. It is in Hatteras Village, at the very tip of this island that we go to catch the ferry to Ocracoke.
In the 1920’s folks used to head to Ocracoke thanks to the tug boats of J B Tillet. Of course, JB charged them to cross…unfortunately he kept raising his fares making it costly for families to cross. Eventually the government stepped in and set up the ferries used today…eliminating jb’s entrepreneurial wallet gauging. The ferries run every day and are the only way to get to Ocracoke from Hatteras. When you arrive at the ferry loading area, you line up and load onto the ferry…there are no reservations to be made here…its first come first serve. The vehicle ferry is free and there is an express ferry that takes passengers only (no vehicles) over for $4 a person (children under 3 are free). It is a 70 minute ride in the often rough waters where the Atlantic meets Pamlico Sound, but the views are spectacular. You will see many fishing boats, both commercial and charter and pleasure craft and birds…lots of birds following the fishing boats.
We park the car and head up top to the open deck….yep it was breezy but those views are worth it. I took note of the song that was playing on the radio as we parked…sooo apprpriate, wouldn’t you say.
Ocracoke is like nothing I have ever seen before. It has the feel of an ocean community, which it is, but it also has the feel of an artists colony/tourist destination/family vacation place. I love it here.
Ocracoke Village is located on the very tip of the island. It is protected from the Atlantic Ocean by the large sand dunes on the Southern side and a salt marsh on the Northern side. It is only 5 feet above sea level…that is right…you are literally walking on a piece of land that is only 5 feet deep…on top of the Atlantic Ocean. The nearest land is over 60 miles away by water, not including the ferry trip we took from Hatteras. The population of local residents is 800, so its not very big. Its the kind of village where folks don’t lock their doors ever…no need because they all know each other and the values are very old school. Before becoming settled, it was the hunting grounds of the Hatterask Indians. They paddled from the mainland to Ocracoke to hunt, camp and to collect the native holly plant that was used for tea in ceremony. It was also a pirate haven, due to its remote location until settlers began to make it a village starting in 1750. It was also at one point connected to Hatteras Island until, in 1846 a hurricane swept away the sandy land that joined them.
Tourism thrives here in the summer months. The streets have numerous restaurants, shops, art galleries, antique stores, hand made goods, breweries and of course accommodations. Most of these close in the winter months. And you can find alot of boats…pleasure crafts, charters and commercial fishing barges.
Some of the locals have a brogue dialect and they are called high tiders (they pronounce it hoi-toide)…you don’t hear it often now as the accents are changing due to the tourists and the new locals that have moved here.
A big thing in Ocracoke is the harvesting of figs…they are growing every where. A fig festival is held every year with the grand finale being the annual fig cake contest…I so want to be a judge at that.
Blackbeard the pirate (yes I have yet another story about him), died here. He died in November of 1718. The Royal Navy had dispatched 2 ships to Ocracoke led by Lieutenant Maynard. When he found Blackbeard there, there was a large battle, and Lt Maynard killed Blackbeard. Maynard beheaded the pirate and threw his body in the ocean and stuck his head on the bow of the Navy ship. The head ended up being sent to England where it was put on display under a glass as a spectacle for all to see. Odd thing is this…the head went missing in 1840 and has never been found…still a mystery to this day. Blackbeard was killed in Pamilco Sound at Teach’s Hole Channel (named after him). It is said that his headless body has been seen wondering the beaches and that many have seen a campfire burning on the beach, but when they approach the fire…it has disappeared with no evidence what so ever of it having ever been there. There have also been sightings of a pirate ship, seen burning at sea, right in the spot where Blackbeards’ ship was burned by the Navy. Many feel that Blackbeard is haunting the area, looking to retrieve his head and to retrieve the treasure that it has been said he buried here. In 1961, hikers found numerous Spanish gold coins dated from the 1700’s on a beach at the spot where Blackbeard has been seen…..Maybe he does have a treasure buried here….an interesting final tale of Blackbeard.
I went on Air B&B to find a place for the next couple of nights, and I found the Crew’s Inn…really happy that this place was available.
The Crew’s Inn is the perfect place to stay to get a feel for the hospitality of this island and for some relaxation after a day of exploring. The Inn was built at the turn of the 20th century and is an example of an authentic island home, still maintaining the character and charm of the past with modern amenities of course. It has been in business for over 34 years and its current owner, Alton Ballance, is a local who was born and raised here, in the house next door. Alton purchased the inn from his brother and his partners in 1989 and has owned it since. Hurricane Dorian damaged a good portion of the inn in September 2019, so it is closed until 2021 for renovations and upgrades….I can’t wait to get back there one day.
One of the best parts of staying here is…Ike. Ike is a beautiful soul, who although quiet and really shy it seems, maintains the grounds and the inn, and makes a delicious breakfast every morning. He is kind, hospitable, and when you get a moment to talk to him, he just exudes joy in the fact that you are enjoying your stay….Bless your sweet soul Ike.
Before we arrived at the inn, I was texted our registration instructions…go inside to the kitchen, grab your key to your room (in my case it was the loft called the Captain’s Quarters…so cool), sign in with the form left on the table for you, and head to your room….they would collect payment at the end of our stay. Oh, and help yourself to a coffee or a cold drink if you like. That is right….no money collected, no doors locked….just absolute trust…how rare.
The loft was really cool, minus the slanted low ceiling when you stepped out of bed…ouch…and the lugging of suitcases up the narrow outdoor stairway which really was no problem at all. I settled in like it was home.
Once we finished settling into the room, out to the streets we go, to walk around and see the sights of Ocracoke. It is impossible to describe this place without using words like quaint, friendly, family…home. Each street brought new shops or galleries or homes that were so darn welcoming. I was having such a good time…when the rain came…and it came down hard. We got soaked, but kept on walking anyway and finally found a nice place for dinner…The Back Porch Restaurant.
This delightful restaurant and wine bar makes you feel, no matter where you sit, like you are at a cottage and eating your dinner on the back porch. The food is delicious, the dinner menu offers many selections as does the wine menu. This is a place I highly recommend if you are in Ocracoke.
After dinner, we head back to the inn, and change into dry clothes. I grab a bottle of wine and head to the back porch. Here I meet Gail, a guest as well, who is on a little vacation from Virginia Beach. I settle into a chair, pour a wine, and spend the evening chatting with Gail. Ike comes out and joins us for some conversation, sharing his story and his love of the inn and his job. All around us it is raining, and there is thunder and lightening what I think are high winds. No one seems concerned…these folks stay during hurricanes so a windy rainy night like this is nothing to them. I am wondering how I would leave in a hurricane…hmmmm. It was a beautiful evening, despite the weather…I am so happy to be here.
The next morning it is sunny and warm. I am anxious to spend my day exploring, so I quickly dress and head to the front porch for breakfast. Ike has set the tables and the food is prepared. It is self serve, but Ike will accommodate you by cooking your eggs however you like them. There are a few other guests joining us and there is much laughter and conversation. what a great start to the day. But now it is time to explore.
The first thing we do is walk towards the British cemetery, which is only a block from the Inn. This tiny site has only 4 graves. On May 11, 1942, a Navy ship was sunk by a torpedo from a German U-boat off the shores of Ocracoke. All 37 crew members were killed. Two bodies washed ashore: Lt. Thomas Cunningham and Telegraphist Stanley Craig. They were buried by the Coast Guard on a plot of land donated by a local family…this is where the graveyard is to this day. Two more unidentified bodies washed ashore one week later…and they are buried here as well. This is the smallest Commissioned cemetery in the world. Rest Peacefully brave souls.
We walk to the main street and walk away from where all of the restaurants and shops are located…towards the Ocracoke Preservation Society Museum. The society started in 1983 and offers free admission to the museum and gift shop. It has been housed in the century old David William house since 1990. This house was moved to its present location in 1989 in order to save it from demolition. The first floor houses the museum and gift shop and the second floor has a research library and administration offices. This is worth a visit, because there is so much to see here and learn about the history of Ocracoke Island. And it is run entirely by volunteers. The one that stands out to me is Euphenia Farrow Gaskoc…aka Enis. This lovely soul is now 93 years old and is the oldest living resident who was born and raised on the island. She has spent most of her life recording the geneology of Ocracoke. Enis shared so much history with me: the death of Blackbeard, the history of the island, where to visit historic sites. She also made shared a laugh when she said that her husband was buried on the island…in a hole that was only 18″ deep….in a wood coffin. That is how deep they could dig before they hit water…aka the ocean. She jokingly said that he could “pop up at any time after a good storm” because the wood coffin could float. She was a genuine love.
We head out of the musum and walk to the pier to watch a couple of young boys fishing in Pamilco Sound (which surrounds this end of the island). It is here that I fell in love…in love with pelicans. I had never seen one before and there right before me they were flying and diving into the ocean. I was in awe and so darn excited.
We walked the main street back towards the shops and such and stopped into every one. One of the ladies told me about a wine and cheese event at a local gallery that evening and gave me two tickets if I wanted to attend. Heck yes I do.
Lunch time came and we stop in at the Jolly Roger, right on the water. We order lunch and take a seat on their pier patio. I look out and see…pelicans…oodles and oodles of pelicans. They were in the water and perched on the posts of piers. What was amazing to me was that the younger pelicans were bringing food to the older sick pelicans…patiently flying over to catch some food, and then feed it to their sick or older friend. I made my partner take so many pictures of them…that was a real highlight for me to look at them all as I wrote this blog. I didn’t want to bore you with 50 pelican pics …so I only shared a couple here. As we were sitting there, a commercial shrimp boat came in and headed to unload their catch at the fish market a couple docks over. The pelicans see the boat anchor and in they come….to get some of the catch. The fishermen here unload their catch but always throw a few out to the pelicans….I think the pelicans know this routine based on their close proximity to the fish market. It was amazing to see and my love for pelicans grew even deeper.
With lunch in my belly, we decide to head back towards the inn, grab the car and head out to see the wild horses on the beach out of town. I stop at a little store and pick up a few souvenirs for myself and my daughter, hop in the car and away we go. There are wild mustangs here on the OBX…specifically in Corolla and on the beaches just outside of Ocracoke Village…..that is where we are headed. We park in the parking lot of what looks like a corral and I read the sign on the fence. This is the housing area that is 100 acres, where the wild mustangs are enclosed to keep them safe from storms and tourism…sad. They range free here but they are so far back from the road, I do not get to see any. I am just happy that they are protected and safe…and free. We cross the road and head over the massive sand dunes to check out the Atlantic ocean. I can’t resist and off come my shoes and into the water go my toes…only toes because the Atlantic is always cold. It so beautiful to stand there, appreciating the vastness and power of the water, the heat from the sand, the creation by nature of the sand dunes and the serenity of it all….I do so love it here.
We drive back to the Inn, park the car and cross the street to grab a drink at Zillies’ Island Pantry…a very popular spot…(ps…my pants were dry by then). Zillies’ is where you go to buy wines and beers, and specialty foods, but they also have a wine patio that is just lovely to sit on…and I wanted to do just that. We share a nice bottle of wine and then head to our room to get changed for the art gallery event.
We get changed for our evening out and head out to the wine and cheese gala at the Down Creek Gallery. We met so many local folks, tourists and many talented artists who were showcasing their pieces. It was hard not to fill the car up with their beautiful work. The wine flowed, cheeses and crackers and fig jelly was consumed and it was a really wonderful time.
We decide to head to the Jolly Roger for a few drinks and to listen to the live music. Once settled at the bar a very drunk fella named Ben decided to buy fireball shots for all of us….now its a party. Actually… Ben only wanted to buy shots for a select few…I was not in the select few… and he told me so when he said “not for you’…(it was only shots for the boys at the bar and my partner)…so I bought my own damn shot. Ben eventually leaves and a really nice couple sit beside me; Diette and James. They are tourists from New York and they are so much fun. Diette and I hit it off right away and the four of us spent a great night together. Diette and I are still friends and we are working out a way to meet one day again…fingers crossed. We leave the bar and head over to Ocracoke Pizza Company to grab some food to take back to the inn. It seems like everyone in Ocracoke had the same idea….the line up was long, but to their credit, the service was quick and really friendly. We headed back to the Crew’s Inn, where we ate pizza and talked with several of the other guests to the wee hours of the morning.
Today we leave Ocracoke…I don’t want to go. I have fallen for this place. I take a moment to just take it all in. The air is fresh here, the people friendly…this is community and life as it should be lived…simple, safe, loving. I realize how I need to incorporate these things into my own daily life. I notice the fig trees in the back yard for the first time and the ducks. Ike tells me the ducks come every morning, very early, to eat the figs that have fallen off of the trees. They seem very content with their breakfast selection.
We pack up the car and then head to the front porch for our breakfast. Again it was delicious and there were more guests to chat with…a lovely couple that were newly engaged and Tim, a professor who comes here every year…he wrote me a note in a little book I had that says “It was an absolute pleasure to meet you in my favorite place in the world. The people who visit the Crews Inn are unique and special…you certainly belong here. Till our paths cross again.” What a sweet man.
Its time to say our goodbyes and head off. Ike tells me to come back in September for the Pirate Festival….oh, how I wish I could.
We drive towards the ferry terminal and as we wait in line to board, I walk over to the water for one last glance. The ferry boards quickly and the ride seems to fly by. There are plenty of fishing boats on the water and …pelicans…I wonder if my partner would mind if I brought one back….hmmm. We retrace our route back to the Wright Memorial bridge… and back to the mainland of North Carolina.
We are heading north…vacation is almost over but there is one more stop we want to make…Washington DC, to see Arlington Cemetery.
There are still a few more adventures to be had before this trip is over….stay with me…you won’t want to miss it.
Live Your Life…Jan