- The Washington Times - Friday, August 12, 2005

DUCK, N.C. — The redcoats are here. The redcoats are here. Well, in southern Virginia and on the North Carolina coast, they are. In Williamsburg or on Roanoke Island, traditions of (not necessarily merry) old England thrive. From Washington, it’s about a five- to six-hour drive to North Carolina’s spectacularly beautiful Outer Banks, the long, narrow sand spits just off the Atlantic seaboard. I invited my Southern California son, Alex; granddaughter Elvis, 13; grandson Miles, 8; and Sierra, their 14-year-old friend — who all live by the not-so-Pacific — on a visit to what to them is “the other shore” for a week of sand, sun and history.

Of course, we had heat, humidity and mosquitoes, too, but it was a wonderful week, enjoyed by all three generations. We had air conditioning, which the 17th- and 18th-century Colonists, in their heavy European clothes, did not.

We began by stopping off, halfway to our destination, for an overnight at the Woodlands Hotel & Suites, Williamsburg’s newest hotel. The hotel is in a pine forest at the edge of the historic area and next to the visitors center. It’s a 10-minute walk or three-minute bus ride to the historic center.

The hotel is a handsome two-story wood-and-glass building with large, bright rooms furnished in traditional Williamsburg colors. Beds (two doubles per room) are comfortable; bathrooms are well-equipped; and the swimming pool is open until 10 p.m. An informal restaurant is next door.

Williamsburg, named for King William III, was the capital of England’s largest and richest Colony. After the American Revolution, it remained the capital of Virginia until 1781, when Thomas Jefferson moved the government to Richmond.

It was in this Capitol, then the seat of the Colonial assembly, called the House of Burgesses, that Patrick Henry gave his “Caesar-Brutus” speech in defiance of the Stamp Act (his liberty-or-death speech was given at St. John’s Church in Richmond); George Washington introduced the Virginia Resolves, one of

the Colonies’ first challenges to British authority; and Thomas Jefferson introduced his Virginia Statute for Religious Freedom, which first set forth the doctrine of separation of church and state.

The Williamsburg Capitol fell into ruin, but it has been painstakingly reconstructed and furnished. There’s a fascinating tour of the building, with eloquent guides who explain its history, how it was used by the Colonial government and, later, by the government of the Commonwealth of Virginia in the fledgling United States.

After 1781, Williamsburg slowly sank into obscurity until 1926, when the Rev. W.A.R. Goodwin, rector of Bruton Parish Church in Williamsburg, approached John D. Rockefeller Jr. about restoring the village to its Colonial past. Mr. Goodwin’s vision and Mr. Rockefeller’s money have given us a magnificent glimpse into that period.

Today, in the 300-acre historic section, there are 88 original structures (including the lovely Bruton Parish Church, an active parish) as well as hundreds of houses, shops and public outbuildings that have been reconstructed on their original foundations. The shops and taverns can be visited at will, but paid passes are required to enter some of the historic buildings, such as the Capitol, the Governor’s Palace and the DeWitt Wallace Decorative Arts Museum. A new folk-art museum, which will house the collection of Abby Aldrich Rockefeller, will open adjacent to the DeWitt Wallace museum next year.

Historic Williamsburg lies adjacent to the College of William and Mary (which argues with Harvard over which is the oldest college in America; W&M; holds the first charter, but Harvard held the first classes), so there’s a minimall with a well-stocked Borders, coffee shops, ice cream and T-shirt shops and a charming farmers market on Saturday mornings.

There are plays, storytelling and concerts at night, parades and bands during the day, and lots going on at any time between 9 a.m. and 6 p.m. Attendants, guides and serving wenches in 18th-century garb are everywhere. Williamsburg also has a golf course. There’s no shortage of things for visitors of all ages to see, do, buy and learn.


After our brief stopover in Colonial America, we headed to the Outer Banks and our rented house in Duck. Houses are rented by the week, with most turnovers on Saturday. Tenants leave at 10 a.m., and new arrivals get their keys at 4 p.m.

Our delightful, four-bedroom house wasn’t in the village of Duck itself, but a couple of miles farther north in the settlement of Sanderling. The gray-shingled house stands about 50 yards from the beach, so we set out every morning with towels, an umbrella, beach chairs, suntan lotion and some reading material.

Twenty years ago, there was hardly a house to be seen on the Outer Banks. Maybe a fishing shack or two, here and there. Now, there are housing divisions all along the islands, with hardly any open dunes left.

There are a few shopping centers, high-rises and large houses on both the ocean and Currituck Sound sides as you drive north from Duck, through Corolla (pronounced “Curahla” by the locals) toward the Virginia border. You can’t drive all the way, as the paved road ends a few miles beyond Corolla. Wild horses roam the island at its northern tip. (Anyone who molests the horses risks a heavy fine.)

Sanderling has no large houses, no condos and no shops. It’s quiet, pretty and perfect for a summer holiday. Some of the divisions have swimming and tennis clubs; renting a house in the division entitles the renters to temporary membership.

The beach and the ocean are the allure here. The beach is merely sensational. A seemingly endless stretch of uncrowded beige sand with gentle breaking waves; lots of shells; little crabs scurrying into holes in the sand; and water temperature that is neither too warm nor too cold. In other words, perfect.

Pelicans soar overhead in fighter-pilot formation, diving to skim above the water in search of lunch. Barely 50 yards offshore, a school of dolphins swims by, cavorting with one another in the water like playful children. The human children squeal with delight as they ride the waves on their boogie boards. Pluperfect.

Duck has a sprinkling of shops and restaurants, including the Duck Deli, which serves terrific breakfasts and some excellent Carolina-style pork ribs with vinegar-based rather than tomato-based barbecue sauce. Across the road (two-lane N.C. Route 12) stands Tommy’s grocery store, the Balducci’s of Duck, where a summer renter can buy just about anything (including the Washington newspapers), at a dear price. A farm stand in the parking lot is selling peaches from South Carolina that leave the taste of summer lingering in your mouth.

You can rent a bicycle or a kayak in Duck, or a powerboat to roar around the sound, which separates the Outer Banks from the mainland. You can go fishing; you can walk for miles along the beach. You can eat well in Duck and in the various communities on the coast.


About a mile north of our house is the Sanderling Resort, a simple yet elegant resort on the beach. Across the road, on the sound side, are the Sanderling’s fully equipped spa and a fabulous restaurant, the Left Bank. (It’s on the left side of the road if you’re driving north.)

The Left Bank can hold its own against any downtown Washington restaurant. Chef de cuisine George Robinson is a Philadelphia native who has cooked in several outstanding restaurants, including Napa Valley’s famed French Laundry. His three-course menu (there’s also a seven-course tasting menu, but nothing is a la carte) includes a terrific rendition of seared foie gras that incorporates fresh pineapple; a perfect beef tenderloin; wild salmon so fresh that it seems to have been caught only moments before appearing on the plate; and a dessert of banana mousse and banana fritters that leaves you wanting more.

The restaurant is elegant without pretense; men must wear a collared shirt; service is delightful, and the extensive wine list offers something for everyone. Then there’s the magnificent sunset over the sound, viewed through the restaurant’s floor-to-ceiling windows.

The Sanderling’s informal restaurant on the resort side of the road is housed in the restored 1899 U.S. Lifesaving Station. Throughout the resort and the Left Bank are the owners’ priceless collection of carved wooden and porcelain birds. It’s worth a visit.

It’s also worth visiting the brick 1873 Currituck Beach Lighthouse in Corolla, which still serves as an aid to navigation, its beam flashing at 20-second intervals from a height of 158 feet. It was the last major brick lighthouse built on the Outer Banks and was opened to the public for the first time in 1990.

Unless there’s a storm, for $6 you can climb the 214 steps to the top for a splendid view of the sea, the sand and the sound. The lighthouse is known as a first-order lighthouse, meaning it has the largest of seven Fresnel lenses. The original source of light was a mineral oil lamp consisting of five concentric wicks; the largest was 4 inches in diameter. The lighthouse was automated in 1939 when the U.S. Coast Guard took over the duties of the Bureau of Lighthouses.

A new Outer Banks Center for Wildlife Education is scheduled to open in late summer between the lighthouse and the Whalehead Club, a former private home built in art-nouveau style and open for guided tours. A daily 5 p.m. tour features the legends, lore and ghosts that may or may not haunt the house.

The center will teach visitors about the birds and waterfowl of the islands, conservation of the area and how to carve wooden decoys.

One afternoon, we set out for Roanoke Island, about 30 miles down the Outer Banks. On the way, we passed through Nags Head and Kitty Hawk, both beach communities with public beaches (and lifeguards) and more commercial development than in our villages to the north.

Between Kitty Hawk and Kill Devil Hills, we found the Wright Brothers National Memorial with a museum dedicated to the brothers’ “miracle of flight.” A replica of their original flier was built for the centennial celebration in December 2003 and is on exhibit in the museum, as is a replica of their 1901 glider and video footage of successful flights of the replicas.

A few miles farther south is Jockey’s Ridge State Park, named for the tallest sand dune on the East Coast and a good place to go hang gliding. Here it’s easy to imagine how the dunes looked a century ago when the Wright brothers made history.

Time for a bite to eat, so we stopped at the Kill Devil Drive-in for a very good barbecued pork sandwich and a dish of sensational frozen custard.


On to Roanoke Island, site of Britain’s first attempt to colonize the New World, in 1584. In the town of Manteo, the county seat of Dare County (named for Virginia Dare, the first English child born in the Colonies) and the actual site of the Colony, the early settlement is celebrated with a Festival Park and the nightly outdoor performance of “The Lost Colony” in the Waterside Theatre.

The Festival Park, on Manteo’s waterfront, has a museum, an auditorium showing an amateurish film on the legend of the Indian tribes who fought with and against the settlers, and two interpretive sites — a settlement site and a replica of a 16th-century Elizabethan sailing ship. The settlement is a small exhibit of a tented dwelling, some early tools and a costumed blacksmith who demonstrates the work done by his ancestors 400 years ago.

The Elizabeth II, a full-scale reconstruction of the type of ship in which the earliest settlers would have crossed the Atlantic, is 69 feet long and 17 feet wide; it carried several hundred passengers and crew. The ship is manned by several sailors in Elizabethan dress who answer questions about the ship, the passage and any other information visitors may seek about the crossing — such as how such a small ship could carry so many on such a long voyage.


“The Lost Colony” at the Waterside Theatre was written in 1937 by Paul Green, a North Carolina native. There’s a recorded greeting from Andy Griffith, a local boy who made good after getting his start in the play. “The Lost Colony” is a blend of music, dance, drama and humor with a large cast of Indians, Colonists, children, soldiers and Englishmen.

It recounts the story of the 117 men, women and children, sponsored by Sir Walter Raleigh, who arrived on Roanoke Island in 1587. Eleanor White Dare, the daughter of Gov. John White, was the mother of that first English child, whom she named Virginia. Gov. White returned to England for supplies and help, but because England was involved in the war against Spain, he did not return for several years. When he did, the Colony had vanished. No trace has ever been found: no bones, no pottery shards, nothing.

Theories of what happened include destruction by a hurricane; a massacre by a local Algonquin tribe or by Spanish soldiers. Were the Colonists wiped out in the course of a war between Indian tribes? Did the entire Colony move inland to an unknown destination? The only clue was part of the word “Croatoan” carved on a post, which Gov. White interpreted as a message that the settlers were waiting for him at Croatoan Island (now Hatteras Island). When he sailed to Croatoan, he found nothing.

There is one other theory: There is a lore among the Lumbee Indians of Robeson County, N.C., that they are the descendants of the lost Colony, as occasionally a Lumbee is born with European features. There are no definite answers, only the potential that archaeological digs may one day come up with some surprises.

Near the theater is the Fort Raleigh National Historic Site with its accurately restored earthwork moat and remnants of the fort built to protect the members of Ralph Lane’s first Colony in 1585. There’s not much to see, but the simple fort is a poignant reminder of how difficult it must have been for those courageous men and women. A 10-minute walk brings a visitor to the lovely Elizabethan Gardens, created by the Garden Club of North Carolina as a memorial to the first Colonists.


The North Carolina Aquarium, also on Roanoke Island, has an exhibit showing what it would be like to live through a storm on the Outer Banks. Another shows the sea creatures that swim among the wreckage of many ships, including sailing ships and warships sunk by German U-boats in World War II, in what is called the “Graveyard of the Atlantic.”

Beyond, Cape Hatteras, the Hatteras Lighthouse, more beaches, educational centers and campgrounds dot the islands. There are even two vineyards on the Outer Banks — Moonrise Bay Vineyard and Martin Orchard & Vineyards, both on Knotts Island. There are golf and miniature golf, shops, restaurants and movie theaters.

But you can’t beat sitting on the beach, under an umbrella, watching the children jump the waves and following the swooping pelicans and playful dolphins. Ah, the summer of ‘05. Bliss.

• • •

The cost of accommodations varies, depending on the season.

Sanderling Resort & Spa, 1461 Duck Road, Duck, NC 27949; phone 800/701-4111 or 252/261-4111

Williamsburg Woodlands Hotel & Suites, 105 Visitor Center Drive, P.O. Box 1776, Williamsburg, VA 23187; 800/361-5261

Colonial Williamsburg also offers accommodations in the Williamsburg Inn, the Williamsburg Lodge and in Colonial Houses, Colonial-style guesthouses of varying sizes, furnished with authentic period reproductions.

We rented our house from Stan White Realty (1232 Duck Road, Duck, NC 27949; 800/992-2976 or 252/261-4614) and found the company to have an excellent selection of rental properties. Employees are helpful and friendly, and we found the company to be reliable and highly to be recommended. Other rental agents offer similar houses.

Sites Outer Banks Visitors Bureau, 1 Visitors Center Circle, Manteo, NC 27954; 877/629-4386

Roanoke Island Festival Park, Manteo, NC 27954; 252/475-1500

“The Lost Colony,” Manteo, NC 27954; 252/473-3414; visit www.thelostcolony.org

North Carolina Aquarium, Airport Road, P.O. Box 967, Manteo, NC, 27954; 252/473-3494

Wright Brothers National Memorial; 252/441-7430; www.nps.gov/wrbr

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