Friday, June 14, 2019

Road Trip Part 7: Sea Ponies

  I never did read Misty of Chincoteague when I was little, even though I was mad about pony books. 

  But I'd heard about the fabled wild ponies that lived on an island called Chincoteague. (Or was it Assateague?) And swam across the water from somewhere to somewhere in a roundup every year. We had some trouble puzzling it out - were Assateague and Chincoteague one island or two? And which was which? And more to the point, where could we see the ponies?
  We drove up through the bit of Virginia that, along with Delaware and Maryland, forms the "DelMarVa" peninsula. It started inauspiciouly. It seemed to be chicken farm central - you can tell from the long buildings with huge fans at the ends. Dread to think what the interiors look and smell like. And where there weren't chicken farms there were run-down wooden houses and signs to places like "Modest Town". Then we saw another sign to a place called "Horsey", which gave us some hope that we were on the right road.  We spotted more blossoming trees and dazzling azaleas and a whole forest of purple wisteria gone rampant. Were things getting wilder? Not quite yet.
 As we turned off onto the causeway to Chincoteague,  driving over expanses of water and marsh grass, the way was marred by an endless  procession of telegraph poles (utility poles to Americans) and billboards, some with worthy slogans, "One Road To Chincoteague, Jesus Christ The Only Way To Heaven" , others just plain tacky. Here they are on the return journey, so you can only see the backs. 

  Chincoteague proved to be a tourist trap par excellence. T-shirt vendors vied with bike rentals, souvenir shops and what looked like mini golf and mini theme parks and eateries called things like Sandy Pony Donuts, though we never actually saw that one, only heard about it. We did have a chuckle at "Wallops Flight Facility" . It wasn't quite as bad as Pigeon Forge, Tennessee - few things could be. But it was getting there. Then we realised that there was some method in the madness. Chincoteague did prove to be a separate island. And once we started crossing over to Assateague, things changed dramatically.

 Marsh, grassland, sea and forests,

made for a wonderfully peaceful place. So at least if you restrict the tourist tat to one area, you can have a nice nature reserve in the rest.

 And here at last

Across the marsh in the appropriately misty distance

 .. were the ponies

  There's some dispute about how they got there in the first place. The popular legend is that they swam ashore from a shipwrecked Spanish galleon. More mundane historians say they're descendants of horses grazed on the island by the early settlers to avoid taxes on the mainland. Apparently the ponies have bloated tummies because they drink a lot of water.
  To complicate things further, Assateague is divided between Virginia and Maryland, making for two separate sets of ponies. Interestingly, the Virginia herd is managed by the local volunteer firemen.
Every year the Virginia ponies swim across to Chincoteague (actually not all that far) to be sold. And to complicate things further the Chincoteague equines are "ponies" and the Assateague ones "horses". Or vice versa. I give up.
  We overnighted in Easton, but heard that the best seafood was to be had in St Michaels, a few miles away on the water. St Michaels proved to be another tourist hotbed, though slightly more tasteful, in a twee sort of way with charming little wooden cottages and charming prices too. Apparently hubby  anchored his sailing boat here once. It was bursting with visitors - goodness knows what it's like in high summer. So we tried our luck back at Easton. The hotel suggested Brannings Tavern. "If you choose the rock fish, it'll have been caught off the pier this morning." The only encounter I ever had with a rock fish was with the one I very nearly trod on in Egypt many years ago. (If I had done, I wouldn't be around to tell the tale). So I was a bit dubious but excellent it proved to be. Maybe it was a good, honest American rock fish. Brannings Tavern held some historic promise but the interior had been modernised - just like all the gastropubs in Surrey.
  The rest of our trip was to a cold and windy Washington DC and thence through Pennsylvania to western New York. By then sister-in-law and I had stinking colds and didn't stop to take photographs.

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