Saturday, October 17, 2015

Getting To Grips With Gatlinburg

After driving across Tennessee in the glorious autumn sunshine, we rolled past a Walmart and decided to stock up on the essentials (and by that I mean Moonshine and Vodka) because I was fairly certain that, by the time we made it to our log cabin in the Smoky Mountains, there would definitely be nowhere to buy supplies.

I mean, Smoky Mountains National Park is in the middle of nowhere, right?  All that wide open space, the walking trails, the rural towns and villages, and the big scary brown bears, mean that it’s an idyllic spot where you can get back to nature and enjoy total silence.   I’ve been road tripping around the US for more than a decade and you’d think I would know to expect the unexpected by now.  Except that I don’t. 

On arriving on the main street in Gatlinburg, I was speechless.   It reminded me of going to Blackpool in England.   And I don’t like it there.   Both sides of the massively long street was packed full of restaurants, gift shops and tacky touristy stuff, which I was not at all prepared for.    I had visions of some remote location where I would have to walk miles to meet another soul if I wanted to ask for a cup of sugar.   As it turns out, if I wanted sugar, I could buy it in a million different forms from a million different places.   

moonshine
How can a place that sells these gorgeous jars of moonshine possibly be bad? 
After staring out of the windows and spluttering some incomprehensible words at LT, I pulled in to a parking lot and we got out to explore.   After getting over my initial shock, I realised that my opinion didn’t really matter.   We were staying in a log cabin for a few days and we were only a few miles from Gatlinburg, which meant that we really had the best of both worlds.   If we ached for peace and tranquillity, we had it, and if we were desperate to buy tourist tat, we had a whole plethora of stores to offer it to us.   We also had more than a few bars to choose from, so that’s always guaranteed to cheer me up.

To be fair to Gatlinburg, it is offering what people want, and couldn't really deny the effort they were making to satisfy their visitors.  

Gatlinburg is a holiday resort in the boundaries of Seiver County, Tennessee, sitting on the edge of the fabulous Great Smoky Mountain National Park.   On all sides, Gatlinburg is surrounded by mountains, which rise majestically from the land and have wonderful names, such as Sugarland, Cove and Big Ridge.   

The name ‘Gatlinburg’ originated from the local post office, which was run by a chap called  Radford Gatlin.   Radford and his neighbours, the Ogle family, didn’t get along very well and, with Gatlin being very much a Confederate supporter and the majority of the townsfolk backing the Union, he was kicked out of the town just before the start of the American Civil War.   

The area was fought over during the War due to the lucrative salt mines at Alum Cave, on the Tennessee/North Carolina border.   On the arrival of the Union Army, Confederate fighters were pushed back towards North Carolina and beat a hasty retreat over the Smokies.  Life then returned to normal in Gatlinburg.   Or whatever can be classed as normal when your country is at war.   

My kind of visitor attraction.
In 1992, the town was partially devastated by a large fire, which took out Ripley’s Believe it or Not, various shops, and stores and almost an entire block.   Ripley’s also caught fire in 2002 and in 2003, so I decided not to visit.   Plus, I’ve been to the one in Orlando and I figured it might be fairly similar.    

Apart from the fire attracting Ripley’s site, there are countless other visitor hot spots to explore in the surrounding areas (no pun intended).  Other attractions include the fabulous ‘Dollywood’ and ‘Dollywood Splash Country’ in nearby Pigeon Forge; Ober Gatlinburg, which is the states only ski resort; the Hollywood Star Cars Museum (which houses the General Lee from Starsky and Hutch), and a haunted house called Mysterious Mansion, to name but a few.   There is certainly no shortage of things to do and families with kids must have a ball in town.  

dollywood sign
What a way to make a livin'... 
As we were mainly in Gatlinburg because it was the closest town to our cabin and wanted some peace and quiet, naturally we didn’t venture to any of these attractions.  We did, however, spend some time and up and down the main strip eating and drinking.  There are numerous lovely little diners and restaurants to choose from.   After clocking a Happy Days sign at the side of the road, we made a beeline for it.  Who could pass this by without going in for a look? 

happy days diner, gatlinburg
Monday, Tuesday...
The lovely thing about Gatlinburg is, if you can see past the fact that it's nestled between some gorgeous scenery and looks a touch out of place, is that amongst some of the more touristy stores, there are actually tons really beautifully designed buildings and lovely little independent stores.     It is certainly worth taking a closer look at, and I'm so glad I did.   I ended up being disappointed at myself for having judged it so harshly on arrival and, after a few days passing through, I came to find it quite charming.     It's not somewhere I would necessarily stay, but it was great to have the contrast of the tranquil mountains with the very lively town just a few miles away.    
water wheel, gatlinburg
If you look beyond the main drag, this is the kind of beauty you'll find in Gatlinburg

Have you been to Gatlinburg?   Where did you go and what did you think of it?