One of the best things about Edisto Island is that the tap water tastes vile.
Salty, soft and slightly soapy its effect on a cup of English tea is to render it utterly undrinkable. And every time the town has a vote on improving the flavour of the water most people vote “no!”.
You see Edisto Island occupies a very desirable piece of South Carolina geography, just 40 minutes drive from the sophistication, wealth and burgeoning suburbs of historic Charleston.
Only a certain kind of person will put up with either installing a reverse osmosis water treatment plant in their home or collecting their 5 gallons of free “RO” treated water each day from the town hall taps. And this is certainly enough to deter property developers from risking large housing developments in such quirky conditions.
And so Edisto Island, the country neighbour of sleepy Edisto Beach, remains largely unchanged while the coast to the north and south is carved up into subdivisions and hotels and connected with new roads.
If you are thinking the name Edisto sounds familiar – thank you!! It probably means you have either been reading this blog or have listened to me ramble about past holidays we have made in this lovely place. We have now visited by plane, in our ill-fated yacht last summer and most recently this November in the bus!
After discovering how cool State Parks are while camped at Poinsett State Park in the low Piedmont hills of the South Carolina Appalachians we were very excited to get to Edisto. Through some bizarre oversight we never actually visited the damn amazing State Park here on previous visits – how many towns with 2000-ish people have their own State Park for goodness sake!
Anyway…time to put that right.
Our best parking spot for the bus was tucked away in this jungle of palmettos, live oaks, magnolias and other rampant foliage.
We happily imagined we were the only ones hidden in here – especially after the weekend when most campers packed up and went home. We walked and cycled the winding sandy trails through the forest and the boardwalks over the marsh to the “hammock islands”. We watched the birds and looked out for snakes warming up in the autumn sunshine.
We did see one snake – or rather L saw it and I trod on its tail. Fortunately a baby snake, quite sleepy and bright green. EVERY time we have a close encounter with a snake I tread on it or ride my bike over it (bump bump…bump bump…) and I swear L is more annoyed that I may have hurt the snake in the immediate panicky aftermath.
What people do a lot of on Edisto is fish. For crabs; off the beaches with long lines; parked on the side of the road in the rivers threading through the endless salt marshes for flounder; for catfish; out in the deep blue water for sport fish like mahi mahi and tuna; for shrimp whether commercially or for eating at home.
Black and white, men and women, young and old, for subsistence, for pleasure or for business…they fish!
Our keen fishing friend Ronnie showed us how to drop a small wire trap into a stream to catch minnows for bait using a tempting slice of baloney sausage. Unfortunately he also illustrated how if you leave those “minnas” in a bucket in the back of your truck parked at your house a local racoon will come and eat them all thank you very much!
Also oysters. People have been enjoying the bountiful fish and oysters on this island for thousands of years and disposing of the bones and shells in a community rubbish dump has made what is called a midden.
Commented on by Spanish and English visitors to the island back in the 1500’s there are layers upon layers of oyster and clam shells, fish and animal bones built up into a heap and dating back to 1800 BC.
Intriguingly, these dumps can be found every 10 miles or so along the coast, made by nomadic early people and amongst the food debris there can be found carved bone hairpins, decorated pot fragments and items like soapstone from outside the area which would have been traded with other nomadic peoples. Apparently they did well on such a high protein diet some living to 50 years.
One of the snags of this warm, damp, forested spot is the mozzies and bugs, as summer campers in the State Park will tell you on Trip Advisor, along with horror stories of their creek side tent pitches being infested with marsh crabs in the night. It’s wild out there!
The early people had their own version of citronella candles it seems, digging shallow smudge pots filled with damp, smokey, smouldering damp Spanish Moss to keep them away.
Visiting in November is pretty perfect with plenty of sunny blue skies, surprisingly warm days and few bugs. We walked, we cycled, we went to a brightly painted launderette that was just like being back in the Bahamas and we hung out with our friends from the Edisto Island Yacht Club.
I also gave myself a funny five minutes of mind-bending-time-travel when I realised I was looking at the exact spot on the river next to the State Park where our yacht – which no longer existed having been destroyed in a fire – had been anchored a few months before.
And I had a tired but exultant photo of me on our previous arrival there to prove it.
They don’t allow you to linger too long in State Parks so we had to clear out for a week to somewhere rather ordinary, which only made us realise how special it was when we came back again.
Finally we had to move on though. To an island we could actually see from the beach!
We nearly “accidentally” kayaked to St Helena Island some years ago, when rather vague instructions from the lady in the kayak hire place to go and look at the island led us to be over ambitious. After we had paddled halfway across the 7 mile wide St Helena Sound I dug my heels in – metaphorically speaking – and refused to paddle any further.
Even though L helpfully suggested that we could just sleep on the beach if we couldn’t get back in daylight…
Anyway, in this saturated land, to drive to an island 7 miles away as the crow flies you head about 30 minutes inland, 60 minutes south and then 40 minutes back towards the coast again in a big old U.
St Helena Island is an amazing historic spot and the official centre of Gullah/Geechie culture – the language and traditions of people from many African nations brought to this coast as slaves and who are now the majority of land owners on St Helena Island.
The Gullah/Geechie women of the local Farmers Market were amazed and sympathetic when they learned I had spent 14 months in a small boat or bus with my husband. One explained that she keeps her own separate house and tells her husband it is because she is too difficult to live with!
I bought some goats-milk hand cream and thanked them for their encouragement.
Although not able to book a camping spot on the hurricane damaged Hunting Island State Park, our private RV campground on St Helena Island was a short drive away from this spectacular place with its old lighthouse and miles of forests growing right down to the sea.
The place where the sea, the beach and the woods meet is very striking in its wildness. Jumbles of huge pines, palmettos and oaks have fallen together as their roots have been gradually uncovered and washed clean by the erosion of the sea, eternally moving the coastline this way and that.
From the top of the old lighthouse it seemed as though we were looking down on a landscape from prehistory.
In contrast to this wildness is the gentility of old Beaufort town 20 minutes away, choc full of huge southern mansions, oak trees over 200 years old dripping with ghostly Spanish Moss and even in December its lush gardens were blooming with scented camelias and little trees covered with gaudy oranges.
Quite a sight!