After last night’s “oh bugger” moment we establish that the “right” Lynchburg is only about 60 miles south of Nashville and therefore a manageable diversion. The drive down is very pleasant, and the tour interesting, although our guide has a very thick accent and also assumes we understand the basics of the whiskey-making process, either of which might be a challenge for other attendees. The most impressive aspect is the sheer industrial scale of production tucked into a tiny site in Tennessee.
Through the remainder of the day Tennessee proves itself a bit odd. First although Moore County houses one of the world’s most famous distilleries, they never quite got around to repealing Prohibition, so you can’t actually buy a drink. Our long drive over to the mountains goes quite smoothly, except halfway across there’s a change of time zone, and we lose an hour mid-state.
The gateway area for the Great Smoky Mountains National Park doesn’t resemble any other park gateway we’ve seen. Pigeon Forge at the bottom of the hill is like a mini Las Vegas. Frances is in shock at the concept of “The Hatfields and McCoys Dinner Experience – What All the Fuss Was About”. Bad taste or what? Gatlinburg at the top of the hill is marginally less tacky, but still more like Blackpool than Moab. The difference is probably that this is one of the Eastern USA’s main ski areas, but it’s not Cortina D’Ampezzo either!
Dinner holds another surprise, when the waiter refuses to serve me a beer without my passport. There wasn’t evidence of much ID checking in Beale Street Memphis or the Nashville Broadway. Explaining to him that I was old enough to drink beer before he was born doesn’t work. Fortunately Frances does have her passport and buys the beer for me, but he makes a big thing of checking the passport’s “expiration date”. Now it may be just me, but I fail to see the logic here. If Frances was old enough to drink beer when an ID was valid, she will presumably still be old enough if it has expired, that’s how time tends to work. I suppose there’s a small risk she is a Time Lord who has regenerated as a youngster like Matt Smith, but that’s a bit of an edge case…
The mountains beckon.
A great night’s sleep, with the gentle rush of the river a soothing influence. We forgo the free breakfast at the hotel in favour of a much nicer one at Shoneys. We end up sharing a steak, eggs, bacon, sausage and toast, which seems to be the most reliable protein-centric option.
Then we’re off into the park. Fears of overwhelming traffic rapidly prove unfounded, and other users are never in the way on the roads or at stops. In addition everyone is very friendly and welcoming.
On a less positive note the park itself is a bit underwhelming essentially just a nice large green space with a high road through the middle, and nothing to compare with the genuine wonders of the more famous parks of the American West. We are a few weeks early for true Autumn colour and I might be making a different statement seeing the colour at its height.
Lunch is taken on the North side of the park, at Cherokee which is almost exactly what we expected Gatlinburg to be, a small quiet park gateway town. I have trout from the river, Frances has steak again.
In the afternoon we do a loop which purports to be a nature trail, but serves much better as a route between old dwellings near Gatlinburg. It’s lovely to see all the old homesteads, but sobering to think what a tough life they represent.
Then into town where we find a nice “back alley” bar with excellent sandwiches, nice beer (and no nonsense about ID) and yet more live music, this time a couple singing country classics. I have a pork sandwich with crisps which have been freshly re-fried. Gorgeous, but God knows what their calorific content is. Frances has steak, again. There’s no problem getting something to eat in Tennessee, but you do run the risk of too much of a good thing, and not enough variety overall.
The infrared-converted Panasonic GF3 comes into its own photographing the “smoky” mist which give the mountains their name, rendering it by default as a dramatic “sunset” picture, as above. This is probably my favourite version, but it also works well with the red and blue channels swapped to create a deep blue sky, or as a high contrast black and white version.