Saturday, October 24, 2015

Road Trip: On a Haunted Island

  We drove on through more spectacular scenery - even the industrial bits beautiful in their own way, reminding me of English views from the old Great North Road. 

 There were quaint iron bridges spanning rocky mountain rivers, roads called Black Dog Hollow, a sign to the unpromising  "Dry Tavern" .  We drove along the banks of the great Ohio, wide and stately. Now we were in West Virginia and looking for somewhere to stay the night. This turned out to be Parkersburg, where the Ohio and the Little Kanawha rivers meet and which boasts what was once the longest railway bridge in the world. We went for a stroll to try and get to the river but it was banked up and hard to see for the roads and railway tracks. We did go past the Oil and Gas Museum

Some elegant churches

And the odd hostelry

The first hotel we'd seen was inauspicious, surrounded by the shopping plazas and fast food joints that crowd the outskirts of American towns, so we'd fortunately headed for the historic district and  Blennerhassett Island. There was, I gleaned from squinting at my phone, a historic hotel there.

Which didn't disappoint with a nice terrace to eat dinner, overlooking the old courthouse, warm enough to eat outside with the help of some heaters. We had a great meal with roast potatoes American style - roastED potatoes they call them - not like good old big British ones with the gooey crunch on the outside but still delicious, marinaded in chipotle and lime. The pudding was possibly one of the best I'd ever tasted - pannacotta with caramel popcorn. Caramel popcorn being one of my fetishes, it was encouraging to see it served in a respectable way.

In a nice global village vignette, our waiter was a West Virginian who'd been to Liverpool - while sister-in-law engaged him in an avid discussion of American football and the fortunes of the New England Patriots, I found a kindred spirit at the next table, in the shape of a friendly Dutchman and quizzed him on the mindset of Louis Van Gaal. He couldn't fathom him out any more than I could. he said the Dutch had deserved to get knocked out of the Euros. We commiserated about how dead and empty many American downtown districts are, compared to those in Europe.
Incidentally, we should have brought a four-footed friend.

The next morning we did a quick spin around the "historic district" (a phenomenon now seemingly boasted by practically every town in America more than ten years old, though this one was older than most.) Wrought iron arches led into it and the roads were paved in brick.

But sandwiched between busy roads, railways and industry grown up around them, the houses seemed a little sad. I wonder who would choose to live in them and renovate them now?  The ones below looked as if they belonged in a south London inner suburb. Where was the bus stop?

Now apparently Blennerhassett Island has a reconstructed mansion, which we didn't have time to see, the original one having burned down. Harman Blennerhassett, born in Hampshire,  was the big cheese here in the early 19th century and had an interesting life which involved intrigue, imprisonment and, oh yes, incest.  The ghost of his wife, who also happened to be his niece, is said to haunt the place, according to some stories, looking for  her child's grave. All very Victorian and yes, Americans like to use that expression too.

Coming up: An unwelcome tunnel

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