When it comes to travel, it’s rather difficult to convince my favorite co-pilot, Lady Jane, to return to a place we’ve already checked off the list of trips always in the developmental stages somewhere just above her pretty blue eyes. Now, she will occasionally make an exception, especially if the trip is European in nature or, domestically, if it involves that alluring combination of autumn and New England.
However, during our pandemic times, when so many remain pretty much tethered to their domiciles, I told her I’d found a very friendly condo price, thanks to my friends Gene and Sharon Reaman, for the week between Christmas and New Year’s in Hilton Head’s Sea Pines. And, despite the fact that we’d availed ourselves of the special charms of the South Carolina Low Country before three times, she was all in. And, so was I, despite my having been to Hilton Head several more times pre-Jane, since my sister and brother-in-law had a condo there for years.
Eighteen years had passed since we’d visited the island and used it as a headquarters to venture forth on sides trips to Bluffton, Beaufort and Charleston and across the Talmadge Memorial Bridge, where South Carolina morphs to Georgia on U.S. 17 that spans the Savannah River leading into Savannah.
When 18 years pass between visits to a region, you remember the things that have pretty much remained the same and also take note of what has changed. Certainly one thing that changed in almost 20 years has more to do with me than the region. The distance between my crib and Hilton Head is a couple ticks over 800 miles. And, while I used to be able to cover that distance with an early start in one day, I discovered now, just months shy of the big 7-0, to quell the sciatica that comes a calling during my long-distance driving times and to stay more alert, a stopover was necessary.
For us, that stopover was in Asheville, North Carolina, leaving us a very manageable half day’s driving the next day. By noon on that second day, we were driving onto Hilton Head across the J. Wilton Graves Bridge. As I gazed out at the broad estuary with its brackish water that stretched forth on either side, I realized that while some manmade creations in a region may change over time, nature remains pleasingly the same.
Driving in on the familiar island route, U.S. 278, I got a tinge of sorrow when I saw the yellow abandoned building that was once a favorite restaurant of mine, one called Abe’s Native Shrimp House, which featured such unique cuisine, a combination of Low Country boil and soul food. I still have the T-shirt I bought advertising for the restaurant with the slogan emblazoned, “You don’t have to be a native to eat like one.”
A couple other of my famous eateries, I pleasantly discovered, were still putting smiles on diners’ faces. The Crazy Crab in scenic Harbour Town, where the rocking chairs beckon for tourists to sit awhile, and Old Oyster Factory, where every table offers a spectacular view of Broad Creek and surrounding marshes rife with oysters.
During our week, something else that didn’t change was the beach. With its hard-packed sand, it’s still perfect for long walks and for biking, both of which we did. Of course, to golfers, Hilton Head holds a special charm but certainly not for me. The game long ago turned its back on me.
As for our side trips, well, Jane and I when in Beaufort enjoyed the impromptu water show provided by three dolphins in the harbor just off the boardwalk, and our horse-and-carriage ride around town to see the historic houses, some of which were used in movies like “The Big Chill” and “Forrest Gump,” and listen to the town’s history that dates back even before the British founded the city in 1771 was excellent.
In Bluffton, we were astonished at how much the downtown area had changed, and for the better, with several new gastro-pubs and coffee shops. We can attest the lattes are delicious at the Corner Perk. What hasn’t changed in Bluffton is the May River area with that beautiful wooden Anglican church that’s on the National Register of Historic Places built in 1857.
In Savannah, we took note of the changes on River Street that fronts the Savannah River, now expanded to include even more shops, confectionery shops and restaurants and pubs than we’d remembered. What hasn’t changed are the uneven brick-paved surfaces and very steep, what are euphemistically called “historic steps,” which can cause trouble for older folks with weak ankles and bad knees who aren’t looking down and proceeding cautiously.
During our Old Town Trolley tour, we saw most of the 22 wooded-and-gardened squares, which are parks carved way back in 1733 to provide a logical grid of thoroughfares. The driver’s narration of the rich history of this venerable belle of the South was also first rate.
In our COVID-dominated times, it was so nice to travel again and the 18-year gap between our last visit and this one made even the familiar ever so new again.
John Grindrod is a regular columnist for The Lima News, a division of AIM Media Midwest.