Day 4: Beaufort to Aiken (111 miles)
Leaving Beaufort on US 21 N, travel approximately 16 miles from downtown, then head west on Old Sheldon Road. A memorial plaque about a mile and a half up the road marks the ruins of Prince William Parish Church (aka Sheldon Church), where four outer walls and columns remain, and the church graveyard. Dating from 1753, the church suffered damage during the War of Independence and the Civil War. Historians believe it to be the first structure to emulate a Greek temple in the United States.
From Old Sheldon Road, take a slight right to National Road 68 and continue to meander on side roads as the marshes give way to cotton fields. Following signs for Barnwell, take State Route 300, which leads to US Route 278 W and finally US Route 78 W to Aiken, where huge live oak trees laden with Spanish moss form an inviting shady canopy over the above South Boundary Road.
When wealthy northerners chose Aiken as their “winter settlement” in the late 19th century, they brought polo with them, and the passion for this equestrian sport lives on. Vast cottages built by these aristocrats line the streets of the Horse Quarter, where road signs feature horses and sandy streets provide a gentle passageway for these favorite animals. Check out local equestrian superstars at the Aiken Thoroughbred Racing Hall of Fame, off Whiskey Road in this neighborhood.
Half a mile away on Newberry Street, the Aiken County Historical Museum goes beyond equestrian culture, delving into Aiken’s history through a wide variety of artifacts, including a classroom unique 1890s display on the grounds of this 1930s Winter Colony mansion.
Within the layers of Aiken’s history lies the history of the Savannah River Site, a story that comes alive at the Savannah River Site Museum, downtown on Laurel Street. The brainchild of Walt Joseph, who worked at the site for 39 years, the museum’s exhibits reveal Aiken’s role in producing materials used in the manufacture of nuclear weapons that helped the United States win the Cold War with Russia. The museum also shares the stories of sacrifice and resilience shown by the more than 6,000 residents who abandoned their homes to make way for the site.
For some fresh air, venture downtown to Hitchcock Woods, the nation’s largest private urban forest, with 2,100 acres of longleaf pine forest and 70 miles of trails. For a moderate hike, the 3.3 mile Devil’s Backbone Loop follows along a wide sand trail aptly named Sand River. Be sure to give way to riders – horses always have the right of way here.
For dinner, head downtown to Whiskey Alley, a whiskey bar and tapas restaurant. The menu changes daily, with small and large plates and charcuterie boards. Also on the menu, the Royale With Cheese Burger is loaded with American cheese, dill pickles, shredded lettuce and magic sauce. Don’t forget to taste the whiskey.
Where to stay: For a luxury experience that should cost no more than around $225 a night, check into one of the 28 rooms at the Willcox Hotel, a white-pillared downtown landmark of the Colonial Revival. Alternatively, if you are a golfer, a stay at the Inn at Houndslake includes access to golf at the Houndslake Country Club.
Terri Marshall is a New York-based journalist whose work can be found on the Global Footprints and A girls guide to cars websites and in girl camper review.