Wednesday, June 19, 2013

Botany Bay Plantation Personifies The Reasons Why I Love Charleston And The Lowcountry-A Must-see

A 4,687 acre wildlife preserve tucked away on the mossy oak draped roads among the marshy tidal creeks of Edisto Island is a pristine step away from civilization. Even its name summons an air of resplendence, as do the two plantations that were combined to make it, Bleak Hall and Sea Cloud. However, having been established after the Civil War, it is not officially a plantation. But that is of little import when compared to the beauty and splendor of Botany Bay Plantation.

The original homes of Bleak Hall and Sea Cloud Plantations are but a whisper of the glory days of Edisto Island's Golden Age. The sea island cotton raised on these plantations was famous for its high quality and highly prized throughout Europe. It all ended when they become occupied by Northern troops during the Civil War and were devastated at its end. Bleak Hall was burned in a fire and barely traceable ruins are what's left of Sea Cloud. What remained after was finished off by the boll weevil. That's Botany Bay's history in a sea shell. If you want the full historical details visit Edisto Island Museum.

This would be my first visit to Botany Bay. I have seen photographs and read articles, which only heightened my desire for a visit even more. I have been to Edisto Beach in previous years, driven past what has become known as the mystery tree, but had no idea the entrance to Botany Bay was right there. That realization came to me when we turned off of Highway 174.

The drive on Botany Bay Rd was magical. A dense canopy of old oak trees covered the dirt road. We passed cultivated fields of sunflowers and corn before arriving at a kiosk manned by an older gentleman who requested me to sign in and gave me printed material. It was a guide for taking a driving tour of the preserve with 15 marked locations of interest and an explanation of their significance. I am a beach person, so my focus was on the two miles of unspoiled shoreline accessible only by foot. From the kiosk, it was another two mile drive to the beach parking area where a sign reminded patrons of what was prohibited on the beach-notably shell collection.
From the parking area, it would be a 1/2 mile walk through a sprawling salt marsh to the beach. It was high tide, so the creeks and marshes were filled with the salty waters from the ocean. At the halfway point of the narrow path, we came to a patch of treed land called Hammock Island, but no hammocks did I see nor should I have expected to. Islands located landward of barrier islands are called hammocks and are typically inhabited only by plants and animals. South Carolina has 3,500 such islands. Always something new to learn.

We continued down the marsh path toward a thick line of trees common to the barrier islands that opened up onto Botany Bay's beach. The resulting view was everything I had envisioned and more. Weatherworn palmetto trees grayed by the salty sea breezes and age lined the sea shelled beach. As we walked, looking for the ideal spot to plant our chairs, we soon became aware of a custom peculiar to the beach. Visitors indulge in a practice of lining the trunks of downed trees with sea shells and hanging them on their branches. I saluted this custom by honoring it with a gesture of my own. I hung a couple of hand-picked shells on my ears while we sat.

We let the whole experience wash over us like the waves rolling onto the beach. I stepped into the warming surf for a swim, but walking into the waters was precarious due to the numerous sharp shells. Some people came to fish, some came to look at the shells, some came to photograph and some laid out blankets under beach umbrellas. I came because Botany Bay Plantation personifies the reasons why I love Charleston and the Lowcountry. It was idyllic.

We later drove into Edisto Beach and had lunch at the Seacow Eatery located at 145 Jungle Road. Nothing fancy, just a typical beach restaurant with the smell of beer batter soaked fish and french fries. It had decent prices and hospitable service. We sat on the beach near the Pavilion Restaurant and took more memorable pictures. Enjoy the photographs. They tell the whole incredible story. Botany Bay Plantation and beach is a must-see.


Bill Stewart said...

I loved Charleston when we visited there. This year we decided to go somewhere else so I'm trying to find 3 bedroom vacation homes in Orlando. I don't suppose you had any suggestions as to where to look.

Vacation Rick said...

Thank you for your post. I have been to Orlando many times. I have stayed on Disney properties and other resorts in the area, but don't have any knowledge of available vacation homes. I will have to research it.