WALTERBORO — One of the perks of being a solo senior is friendship. A couple of friends who are part of your social circle when you are married may fade away after divorce or widowhood, often to be replaced by interesting new ones.
Bill Thompson and I have been friends for more than 25 years. In that time, we have traveled a lot. One of our goals was to visit every city within a two- to four-hour drive from Charleston, which means we have hit most major places in an arc from St. Augustine, Fla., to Wilmington, N.C.
We have also done some “staycationing” during that time. We’ve played tourist in various downtown Charleston inns and hotels and spent time on Folly Beach as well.
Walterboro was an obvious place for a staycation. Old and graceful, it is also refreshingly quiet and surrounded by outdoor attractions. Best of all, it is only a short drive from Charleston.
Bed and board can be a challenge for single solos traveling together. As all of them know very well, much of the travel world is based on the “dual occupancy” concept.
In Walterboro, that problem was easily solved for us by staying at the newly opened (we were the first guests) Hammock Hotel on Jefferies Boulevard. Here, we were accommodated in an inexpensive suite. We shared a bath, but each had our own bedroom, one with a table and chairs, sink and microwave. Both of us had access to the outdoors, thus solving the logistics of a night guy like Bill and a crack-of-dawner like me coming and going when we pleased.
(Note to hoteliers around the world. Please create more of these affordable suites for what surely will be a continuing explosion of traveling boomers.)
Before reaching the inn, we stopped in Colleton State Park and wandered a bit, cameras in hand. The plan was to spend a good part of our trip taking pictures. We were quickly absorbed in capturing the interplay of flora, light and water in the area.
After we dropped our gear at the hotel and were shown the run of the place by its truly hospitable owners, Mike and Sandy Katchuk, we walked through Walterboro’s lovely residential areas. Founded in the late 18th century as a summer retreat for local planters, the town is full of the type of interesting homes and gardens that on first sight make snowbirds want to move south.
On Washington Street, we drifted in and out of the book and antiques stores, ending up at Hiott’s Drug Store for a cold drink. A group of gentlemen were gathered at a table in the middle of this venerable establishment, talking politics and local business, as they do in every small town in America. We were not there five minutes when one of them walked over and asked us that classic Lowcountry question. “Where y’all from?”
Another Washington Street gem, the Old Bank Christmas shop, is an unusual place. Chock-full of Christmas decorations and gifts among other things, it is also a little restaurant with tables dotting the place here and there. One morning, owner Cindy Corley served cinnamon twists she had just pulled out of the oven along with tea in a delicate Waterford cup.
I learned a lot about city events from Cindy, including the Walterboro Antiques, History and Arts Festival, of which she is justifiably proud. She was so pleasant that we returned there for lunch. I felt like I was at a friend’s house.
The Colleton Regional Museum provides a nice history of the area for the visitor, a highlight being an exhibit on the Tuskegee Airmen, who received part of their training in Walterboro.
Around the corner on Wichman Street is the real Walterboro treasure. The South Carolina Artisans Center is a place where local artists of all kinds can display their wares. It contains items that range from the highly sophisticated to the near kitschy, something for everyone.
For more outdoor photography, we drove to the Great Swamp Sanctuary not far from the back of our hotel and finished with a visit to Caw Caw Plantation on our way back to Charleston.
A walk through these two haunting and well-preserved venues reminds us of how fragile and beautiful our own home ecosystem is. It was the perfect ending to our Lowcountry getaway.