John Grindrod: Early winter South Carolinian travels

Now that winter’s behind us, I got to thinking about how the season began. For me, always a lover of travel, a great time to get away is between Christmas and New Year’s, just right for heading in a southerly direction with my trusty navigator Lady Jane. Over time, I’ve traveled, borrowing a movie title, in trains, planes and automobiles, but I think road trips are my favorite. There’s never an extra charge for a second bag tossed in the trunk, and the seats are much wider.

As I have both last year and the year before, I headed for South Carolina’s island named for Captain William Hilton, who discovered the island in 1663. We left on the day after Christmas, overnighting in Knoxville, Tennessee, at a Drury on the city’s west side.

Once arriving on the island and getting into our VRBO condo just outside the Sea Pines gate, we headed for our first walk on the beach, always one of our main attractions. The sand is firm enough to enjoy walking and the sandy consistency also plays well for biking, another favorite activity of ours. With Jane always on the spy for shells while I do my people and dolphin watching, we always enjoy our three-mile daily walks, ones accompanied by the soundtrack of the rhythmic waves that wash ashore.

One thing we noted this trip that was different from other forays onto the island during our beach walking and biking is the proliferation of canines. It seems, unlike what I used to see, few dog lovers are leaving Fido at home anymore. I also see the four-legged ones in greater and greater numbers in hotels and at rest stops as well.

As far as our favorite two side trips while there, one was a bit of a drive while the other was just next door.

As for the longer, Charleston, over 100 miles from Hilton Head, we wanted to get into a favorite restaurant of ours we’d enjoyed on earlier trips into this charming city of approximately 150,000, called Poogan’s Porch.

The restaurant on Queen Street in the Historic District opened in 1976 and is actually named for the family dog when the property was a private residence. Poogan greeted anyone who came up on the porch both when it was a residence and during the first few years the restaurant opened.

“The Porch” is noted for its authentic Southern cuisine, such a Jane’s choice of bone-in fried chicken, collard greens and Hoppin’ John, a slowly cooked rice dish infused with black-eyed peas. The former house also is a favorite for ghost enthusiasts. Both diners and staff in the later evening hours have reported seeing the spirits both of Poogan and of Zoe St. Armand, a never-married grade-school teacher who lived with her sister at the residence in the early 20th century. When her sister and lone friend died, Zoe was so distraught she eventually was committed and died without ever returning, that is, in the flesh.

Following lunch, we strolled the city with a stop in Washington Square and checked out the cobblestoned Chalmers Street in the French Quarter and were particularly impressed with the architecture of the venerable buildings, especially the beautiful Roman Catholic Cathedral of St. John the Baptist. Charleston is truly one of America’s best walking cities.

As for our shorter side trip, that would be in Bluffton, just 14 miles away. The city has a coffee shop called The Corner Perk that has become a favorite of Jane’s. While I’ve always preferred as my favorite stops pubs, I also enjoy both the vibe of “The Perk” as well as those decadent salted caramel lattes. A trip to the docks off the May River, actually less a river than a salt-water tidal waterway since it flows into the ocean, is also a treat. From the May is harvested some of the area’s most succulent oysters.

A final recommendation if you’re in Hilton Head is to dine at the Old Oyster Factory. The restaurant, known for its bare wood interior, has excellent seafood and overlooks the Broad Creek and vast wetlands, also known for its abundant oyster beds. The restaurant sits just above an actual oyster cannery that operated from 1925 into the 1990s.

Jane and I requested the same corner table overlooking the creek and wetlands we had the year before. Below us, a lone angler tried his luck off the dock.

On New Year’s Day, we departed very early for the 13-hour drive home to cold Ohio. Traffic was light, meaning relatively stress-free motoring.

I’ll admit, the older I get the more arduous travel is, but as long as my arthritic knees and lower back continue to earn passing grades, even just a “C,” I’ll continue to strike out in search of different faces to be found in different places.

John Grindrod is a regular columnist for The Lima News, a freelance writer and editor and the author of two books. Reach him at [email protected].