Road to Sullivan’s Island

I’m in South Carolina, the sun is shining, and I have absolutely no commitments or plans of any kind. After a spot of musing over a nice hotel breakfast, I have come to the conclusion that today I quite fancy going to the beach.

The interwebs tell me that there is a very pleasant beach at Sullivan’s Island not too far from my hotel, and this sounds to me like a jolly good plan, even though when I say “not too far from my hotel” I actually mean a six-mile trek. A quick Google of the surrounding area also shows that there is some sort of marshland nature reserve called Shem Creek Park just a short detour away, and as it would be pretty rude of me not to explore this, I’ve factored it into my route. Thank god it’s early, because what I’m left with is a 13.4-mile round trip to get me to the beach and back. It goes something like this:

Route to SI

I get off to a promising start, but not a whole lot of progress is made before I see a sign that I just can’t ignore. It may feel like July, but technically it’s October, which in the USA means that you must consume at least one pumpkin product per day. The café turns out to be really nice, so I also buy a sandwich for the road.

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Thankfully there’s no more distractions between here and Shem Creek, and with a bit of power-walking, I manage to make up the time lost to the autumnal baked goods. Shem Creek Park sits adjacent to the fishing/tourist town of Shem Creek, from which it takes its name, and is basically a series of boardwalks over coastal saltmarsh. It’s a nice way to experience the real SC lowcounrty without getting your feet wet, and there’s something very enjoyable about breathing in the marshy sea air and looking out over the reeds to the ocean.

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And because it’s a national park, there’s a bunch of wildlife too. I was pretty stoked to get up close and personal with a great egret, and it did not seem bothered that I not-so-discretely crept up to it and stuck my camera in its face. In fact, I think he liked it. I only know it’s a great egret because a helpful fisherman saw that I was clearly a bemused foreigner and started to explain birds to me. You also get nice views of the Arthur Ravenel Jr. Bridge which connects downtown Charleston to Mount Pleasant.

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Great egrets weren’t the only bird available for viewing, and I saw a nice troupe of brown pelicans sitting on some boat-docking posts in the creek. People also kept asking me if I “knew what time the dolphins feed”, so I presume you can see those too if you have their snacking timetable handy and can read it correctly.

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I took a walk through the town, and all in all, Shem Creek (both the park and the town) seems like a super-chilled place to see some cool wildlife, do a spot of paddle boarding, catch a fish or two, and eat some crab in one of the many seafood restaurants. I’ll probably add it to my list of places to spend more time slash retire in. Preferably in one of these mansions…

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And while I could indeed have spent all day savouring the delights of Sham Creek, Sullivan’s Island Beach wasn’t getting any closer, so I ate half my sandwich (top-notch by the way) and hit the pavement again. Among the interesting sights I saw during the next part of my excursion were:

A genuine American pumpkin patch.

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Some intriguing religious stuff. What exactly is it that goes down at The Well, might I ask? Actually, I’m fine not knowing.

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The quintessential American roadside diner: tropical edition.  Oh, how I wish I had time for cocktails.. *makes note for return journey*

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The Americano marks the point where civilisation comes to an end. We have reached the beginning of the causeway/road thing that goes over the marsh/lagoon thing  and takes us Sullivan’s Island. It’s like 3 miles long, completely straight, and starts with this reassuring snippet of information:

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Christ. Good thing it’s not hurricane season. Oh wait, it is.

Trudging down a tarmac road in a straight line for over an hour had the potential for being a pretty boring endeavour. I therefore did what any sensible visitor to Charelston would have done in the situation; put on the Pirates of the Caribbean soundtrack and got fucking moving. To make matters somewhat better, the scenery along the way wasn’t completely unbearable. I mean, it’s the subtropics and there’s palm trees… how bad can it be?

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I walked, and walked and walked and walked.

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Then walked a bit more more. Then crossed a bridge that went over the river that goes through the marsh. If you want to know where I am at this point, it’s quite obvious on the map at the top of the post.

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Then just a smidge more straight-line walking and we see that sight we’ve all been waiting for. Made it!

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Ok, I lied – Apparently I have to keep on walking on this trajectory for a bit longer before we get to the actual beach. But at least the scenery is switching it up a bit. These Sullivan’s Island houses are fancy. Bit of a puddle problem, though.

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This straight-line path I’ve been on for the last like 4 miles just. keeps. on. going. I’m now on a boardwalk heading into what looks like some bushes, and I haven’t budged so much as a degree. I kinda feel like this is all an elaborate prank, and the path is being laid out as I walk by minions just over the horizon. Although the distance to said horizon seems to be getting smaller, so hopefully might see some sea soon.

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Drum roll please……….

…….. The beach has appeared!

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And it is so totally worth all the walking. Off come the shoes. Down goes the arse on the sand. Out comes the other half of the sandwich. Perfection.

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Never one to sit still for too long, once I had given my feet a well-earned break it was back up and off exploring some more. I’ve tied my shoes to the outside of my bag though, because this is an island and ain’t nobody got time for footwear. And also I want to paddle. I may be Scottish, but I still now how beaches work.

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After a walk along the surf line, I head back into the dunes. Because of the tropical storms that hit South Carolina last week, there’s quite a lot of water where there shouldn’t be. What was once supposed to be a boardwalk is now more of  a boardwade… but hey, no shoes = no worries.

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Soon, I can no longer feel the nice firm boards under my feet and the shrubbery is er.. encroaching. Still, this is no deterrent for a seasoned explorer such as myself, and I push forward, keen to discover what lies at the other end of this flooded walkway…

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… until the puddle gets deeper and all of a sudden I find myself at ground zero for what I can only speculate as being South Carolina’s upcoming plague of frogs. I know you can’t see it very well, but there are about seven million tadpoles in this photo. Not even exaggerating. The water is thick with them – I’ve never seen anything like it. I can feel them swimming around my ankles, and when I look down I can barely see my feet for the wee blobs and their tiny, waggley tails.

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I make a hasty retreat to avoid committing froggy genocide. Back on the beach, though, there are other creatures waiting to be stumbled upon. I had to ask a passing gentleman what this two-foot-long angry-looking alien thing was, cause it wasn’t like any creature I’d ever seen before. A horseshoe crab, apparently. He says they’re sometimes called living fossils because they’ve been around for like 450 million years. The more you look at it, the cuter it gets, right?

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And on that bombshell… time for food.

On the island’s main street, there are a bunch of nice-looking eateries, but one place in particular catches my eye. Who doesn’t love a good bit of Edgar Allan Poe? Apparently when the young Poe enlisted in the military, he was posted at Fort Moultrie, which is on Sullivan’s Island, for a number of years. Who knew? Poe’s short story The Gold Bug was set here on the island, and is known to have been the inspiration for Robert Louis Stevenson’s novel Treasure Island, which is basically the best pirate story ever written, in turn inspiring the truly bad ass Black Sails which you can currently catch on your tellybox. We’re officially at ground-zero for pirate fiction, guys.

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Even more exciting than finding an Edgar Allan Poe themed restaurant was sitting down to a pint of local beer, a massive cheeseburger, and more chips than you can shake a stick at. I’m making sure I enjoy every moment of this indulgent rest, as I’m very aware I still have to walk the 6+ miles back to my hotel…

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More joyously still, the beer I’m drinking is from a Charleston-based brewery called Coast Brewing, and apparently they like pirates as much as I do. They call their pirate mascot Blackbeerd, which is pretty much the best thing I’ve ever heard…

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And so. The long trudge home began. Boosted early on by a pretty rad over-the-marsh sunset…

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…Which then meant that the rest of the walk was done in increasingly-dark shades of nightness. Cue more Pirates of the Caribbean music – which is even more atmospheric in a dark subtropical marsh. I also took a wee peek back at Shem Creek. The little town was buzzing in the night, but the boardwalk was pitch black. Fun. Creepy, but fun.

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I did, eventually, make it back to my hotel. My mileage for the day topped out at just over 15 miles – which I do acknowledge is quite a lot of effort to put into half an afternoon at the beach – but it was a very interesting day full of new sights and cool wildlife… and just think of all the calories burned!

Now to get into my massive, comfy hotel bed and read my book. It’s called “Charleston and the Golden Age of Piracy“. I love my life.

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