This week we ventured out to the Historic Triangle, which is made up of Yorktown, Williamsburg and Jamestown, and has history dating back to 1607 (wow, a whole 405 years) which by American terms is practically prehistoric.
First up we stopped off at Yorktown, which is the site of battles between the English and Americans (helped by the French) in 1781 which resulted in a win by the Americans and the securing of their independence. I think this is the reason why the grumpy woman in the Yorktown National Parks Service refused to give us the free pass that we were entitled to, telling us that it was for Americans only. Yeah, I bet you’d give it to French visitors.
We did a nine mile cycle around the battlefields. The area is very much like the New Forest in England, except with a lot less ponies. Being America, of course, the trail through the forests is open to cars as well as cycles, and they have laybys dotted along the route with large display boards for those people too lazy to even get out of their car to read about their own history. In fact we only saw one other cyclist and one car for the whole route, which made for a very pleasant cycle.
We took a stroll into Yorktown itself which has its own Statue Of Liberty and some lovely quaint houses. More importantly for me, it has a Ben & Jerry’s shop so we refuelled ready for the next leg of the trip.
We then ventured onto Williamsburg, via the Colonial National Historic Parkway, which is a picturesque road linking the three historical sites and going through some very lovely scenery (and a Naval Weapons Station, but you hardly notice that). Williamsburg is a slightly unusual place. It was the historical capital of Virginia in the 18th century and today it’s like a living museum. The town is mainly pedestrianised and is full of the original buildings. However, there are also lots of actors wandering around the town and you can eavesdrop on them going about their business, talking about the politics of the day etc. If you really want to get involved, you can even rent your own costume to wear (it didn’t really go with the bikes though, so we didn’t partake). I would say it’s one of the most interesting ways of teaching history, especially to kids who are bored of dragging around dusty old museums. It’s a bit of a culture shock when you suddenly come out the other side into the modern traffic though. We did a small ride around the town and through the campus of the College of William & Mary (which has to be in one of the prettiest locations ever – I could certainly consider getting a job there) and then we stopped for lunch at The Cheese Shop. It sells cheese. Lots of it. Including Port Salut and Caerphilly, Not Yarg though, sadly. It’s a major step up from the sad excuse for “cheese” that’s generally sold in supermarkets over here though. They also sell McVities Chocolate Digestives, PG Tips, and redbush chocolate, amongst many weird but nice other things.
The other highlight of Williamsburg was the Christmas Shop, which sells Christmas decorations all year round. I found quite a few I could happily hang on my tree (including KISS, Stewie from Family Guy, The Grinch, and a dill pickle – which is apparently a Bavarian tradition) however at $13 a pop I declined to take any of them home with me.
We travelled the rest of the Colonial Parkway to get to Jamestown, which is where the English made their first permanent settlement in America back in 1607. For some reason I hadn’t expected to see much at Jamestown but it was fascinating, with an archaeological dig in progress and a small museum full of things that have been found on the dig, as well as a statue of Pocahontas. I did find it amusing that the Americans have such reverence for these artifacts that are only 400 years old whereas in the UK people are always digging up Viking and Roman relics in their back garden. Well, it is the only history they have (apart from the Native Americans who were already in the country way before that, but let’s not get started).
We did a nice 5.5 mile cycle around Jamestown Island, and we could see immediately why the original settlers had problems and moved inland to Williamsburg – the place is swampy and full of mosquitoes, although very picturesque. Again there were lots of boards along the way telling the history of the island.
We were going to try for one more cycle ride, a little further north, but as the parks close at sunset we didn’t quite have time. So we went to one of the two discount shopping outlets in Williamsburg instead. We certainly got value for our money there. It’s quite strange how, in Williamsburg, one minute you can be learning about life in the 18th century and the next you can blow $60 on a whole new 21st century wardrobe. Something for everyone.
So the other cycle ride is going to wait for another day – probably next week if we have the right weather again.