“He was ornery – and liked to chase women in red dresses”.
That frank description of someone called Huey is writ large on the wall of a restaurant overlooking one of the golf courses at Wild Dunes Resort, a 1,600 acres seaside resort a little to the north of Charleston in South Carolina.
As someone who, in his misspent youth, was tempted to chase women in dresses of all colours, I thought I should find out more about Huey – who was clearly unable, unlike me, to resist that temptation.
Huey turned out to be a gander. He hung around the old Texaco filling station, hated men, but liked women drivers who stopped for petrol (or gas as they call it over there). However, if the lady happened to be wearing red, Huey would chase her.
“He could knock you down like a grown man could,” said the gas station owner, Gene White. “But he was still our mascot and I put up with him because people loved him.”
The strange tale of Huey the gander was just one I encountered during a recent visit to South Carolina to attend the AGM of the British Guild of Travel Writers.
Our choice of destination was linked to a new direct service by British Airways between Heathrow and Charleston, and the recent opening of a large hotel called The Bennett in that city. I think I ought to tell you about that in a later article, as the entire trip was so full of incident and interest that a single essay cannot do it justice.
Indeed, there is a very strong ‘Now and Then’ angle to my visit, which can’t be dismissed in a sentence. So we’ll get round to Charleston, the Hotel Bennett, and lots of other stuff, in due course.
Meanwhile, back to Huey the gander – or, rather, the scene of his erratic activities.
In September 1989, Hurricane Hugo swept across the Atlantic from the Cape Verde islands and made mincemeat of Guadeloupe, St. Croix, St. Thomas and Puerto Rico before hitting the coast of South Carolina at a place called the Isle of Palms.
Precisely where the Texaco gas station, and Huey, were located. (Category 4. Winds of 140 mph. You get the picture?)
This was tough luck on the locals – and Huey, of course – but they do say that it is an ill wind that blows no good, and that was literally true in this case. In due course the devastated and virtually deserted Isle of Palms was developed into a large and very smart resort, where I spent the first couple of nights of my American trip.
Wild Dunes Resort has a couple of golf courses – on which some of my colleagues played and returned with glowing reports – and 17 tennis courts – on which they didn’t. It also has an hotel, called the Boardwalk Inn, and plans for another, though the majority of its accommodation is in apartments owned by individuals and looked after by the resort management.
When the owners are not in residence – which is probably most of the time – their holiday homes are available as guest accommodation, and if the one I occupied is anything to go by, they are of the very highest quality. They are ideal for a family, having fully-equipped kitchens and plenty of bedrooms, en-suite bathrooms, and sitting rooms.
A swift tour of the resort’s core, which lies behind the Boardwalk Inn, took us to a wide and very long sandy beach. A lot of work is being done to protect the dunes, by way of planting grasses to hold them together, and to protect the sea turtles who lay their eggs in the sands here.
There are a couple of swimming pools and a burger bar, but the majority of visitors take themselves out to the water’s edge where beach chairs and parasols can be rented. The location is one of the best I have seen in a long time, and is bound to attract UK visitors, especially families, when the direct service to Charleston gets into its stride.
It takes a mere half hour or so to reach Wild Dunes Resort from the airport, but, if you are planning to drive when in South Carolina, my advice would be to take a bus or taxi on arrival and pick up your hire car in the resort the next morning. That way you avoid having to drive in darkness at the end of a long flight – not a good idea. Though I have not researched it, I am pretty sure that the folk who run Wild Dunes Resort would be able to sort out that transfer, as they certainly displayed a ‘can do’ attitude, which, thankfully, tends to come as standard in the USA.
Having a couple of hours to spare one afternoon, we were offered a choice of activities. Some played golf, as I mentioned. Others took bicycles and explored the full extent of Wild Dunes Resort.
Not being a golfer (I agree with Mark Twain that it represents “a good walk spoiled”), nor a cyclist, I decided to make the acquaintance of Lynette Youson who describes herself as a fifth-generation basket weaver. She promised to initiate me into that intricate art, and so she did.
We (two other writers joined me) spent a very instructive couple of hours making the simplest of small baskets from sea grass and strips of palm leaf, while she told us of how her family’s skill originated in Sierra Leone, from where her ancestors came on the slave ships, and how it is now a thriving branch of Charleston’s commerce.
(A few days later, in the city, I saw several street and market stall vendors offering intricate weaving work for sale, but I have to say that the prices struck me as being pretty steep. Which makes me value all the more the slightly wonky shallow bowl, not much bigger than a drinks coaster, which now sits on my desk, containing a trio of pencil sharpeners and a pink paperclip.)
So there’s my first impression of South Carolina. A very high quality resort which will appeal mainly to families who like lazing on the beach, riding bikes for exercise and fun, playing golf and enjoying good food in pleasant restaurants when they tire of fending for themselves in their apartments’ ultra-smart kitchens. And just as appealing to those of us who, perhaps, take our golfing and cycling at a gentler pace.
I have still to tell you about a superb ‘boutique’ hotel in the heart of Charleston, the unexpected technical challenges that face guests at the Hotel Bennett, the oldest theatre in America, and lots of other splendid stuff, including a visit to an aircraft carrier, and a very well organised ‘knees up’ in a brewery (though, strictly speaking, it was a distillery).
As they say, watch this space.