Two posts back I mentioned going to Cumberland Island as we stayed at a historic hotel
in St. Mary's, Georgia. This is our trip:
We took the morning ferry over to Cumberland Island. The day was warm as we were still in our
streak of days over 90 degrees, days when the heat index was rising over
110. There was little wind when we
boarded the ferry for its 45 minute ride to the southernmost of Georgia’s Sea
Islands. These islands stretch from the
Santee River in South Carolina to Amelia Island, which is just across the
Florida border. We snaked our way through the St. Mary’s River
and into the Cumberland Sound. At the
mouth of the river, across from the large paper mill on Florida’s Amelia
Island, we headed north. (Why Florida
allowed such a thing on one of these beautiful islands is unknown to me. Thankfully, most of Georgia’s islands are
As we head north, to starboard is Cumberland Island; off
port, somewhat hidden behind another island, is King’s Bay Naval Submarine
Base. The ferry makes a short stop at
Dungeness, where a few people planning to stay for the day depart, and then
continues on to Sea Camp, where we depart.
Coming into the island, we have a mandatory ranger talk about what we
can and can’t do on a National Seashore.
She hands out red film for us to put over our flashlights if we want to
walk on the beach at night. We are
coming into turtle hatching season and the young turtles will mistake
flashlights for the moon and get lost as they make their way back to the water
(we don’t see any turtles). Then she
assigns campsites (there are four of us).
Not knowing anything about the sites, I take one she suggests for being great
for hammocks. Next time I will ask for a
campsite closer to the ocean in order to get the maximum breeze. We hike the half mile to the assigned site,
set up camp and then head to the beach.
There are some twenty miles of beach on Cumberland Island
and only a handful of people are out enjoying the sun. We set up an umbrella to give us some solar protection
and spend a leisurely afternoon reading.
I take a couple of dips in the ocean.
The water in the beaches further north in Georgia have low visibility
because of the amount of silt coming out from rivers. But Cumberland Island is larger and the water
clearer. After a couple of hours, we
retreat back to our camp, have dinner and then walk back over to the sound for
an incredible sunset.
On our second day on the island, we begin walking north along the beach. We just missed the sunrise, but enjoy incredible views and watch birds play in the surf. The shrimp boats are out working early. We return to the camp under the tangled trees, fix breakfast of oatmeal and perked coffee, before heading back out.
|Maritime Forest (live oaks, saw palmetto, pines, holly)|
|Entrance to Dungeness|
We take the river trail
down to the Dungeness ruins. At one time
a community was situated around this estate and many of the buildings still
stand. The first house on the site was
built by Catherine Greene, the widow of General Nathanael Greene. Her husband had been granted land on the
island as a part of his pay for service during the Revolutionary War. Interestingly, it was in the Greene home that
Henry “Light-horse Harry” Lee, father or Robert E. Lee, died. He had stopped there on a return trip from
the West Indies. He was sick and nursed
by Nathanael Greene’s daughter. After
his death, the naval attachment based in St. Mary’s provided the Revolutionary
War hero a military funeral on the island.
The first Dungeness fell into ruin in the middle of the 19th
Century. Even in ruins, the place is
incredible. To have been at this house
during its day, when there were large parties and the gardens were in bloom
would have been a treat. While walking
around, we keep bumping into wild horses that still inhabit the island. Two of the horses have found a low live oak to
use as a backscratcher and are seemingly pleased with themselves.
|Horses and wild turkeys |
|Horses scratching their backs|
In the 1880s, Thomas Carnegie, brother of Andrew and also a
wealthy industrialist in his own right, brought much of the island. On the ruins of the first Dungeness, he built
a much larger and more elegant home, which he also called Dungeness. Sadly, he died before he could see the
finished home, but his widow and family continued to live in the home until
1925. The home was abandoned and burned in
|Laundry Room |
Around the home are houses for
servants (which many Park Service employees stay when on the island), a huge
laundry, an ice house (ice was sailed down from New England and stored for
parties), a boat house, a huge barn and assorted other buildings that helped
make life in the 58 room mansion comfortable.
About eight miles north of Dungeness is Plum Orchard Mansion. It was built for Thomas and Lucy’s son. It’s open for tours, but we decide not to
hike that far (we could have rented bicycles, but decided against it because of
the heat). At the far end of the island
is Greyfield Inn
, which was built for one of their daughters. That mansion is still operated by a member of
the Carnegie family as a guest lodge.
Nightly Lodging starts at $645, which includes three meals and an
afternoon tea. Most of the island was
given to the National Park Service in the early 70s to create Cumberland Island
|Dungeness before the fire|
|Main Road that runs the length of the island|
|Sunset with approaching storm|
After we toured the ruins of Dungeness, we hike back to our
camp, have lunch and then head to the beach for another wonderful afternoon of
sitting under an umbrella and enjoying the sound of the surf. The wind comes up, so it doesn’t feel as hot
as the day before. However, the wind
dies around sunset, which we again watched from the marsh side. It appears we might get a thunderstorm and
there’s some spectular lightning in the distance, but the shore breeze keeps the
storms inland. Without the wind, it’s
another hot humid night of sleeping on top of the sheet. In the early morning, I’m awaken by something
rustling and making a racket in our campsite.
I wonder if I had left the door open to the food box that the park
service provides, but upon looking realize it’s just an armadillo. Those animals are as graceful as a Sherman tank. At dinner the evening before, we saw a whole
family of raccoons make their way through the camp (which is why they have food
boxes mounted on poles), but they didn’t bother us.
|Looking south at sunrise (toward paper mill on Amelia Island)|
Thanks to the armadillo, we’re up well before sunrise on our
final day on the island. We take a long
hike at sunrise, then return to camp to fix breakfast (oatmeal and perked
coffee). Then we pack everything and
hike to the dock in time for the 10:30 AM boat to the mainland. I will return to this island as there is so
much more to see.
Traveling tip: If you
go to the island and stay at sea camp (which is only a half-mile walk), you can
rent carts to haul stuff. Others came
with coolers and stuff. Although there
are no stores on the island, you can buy ice from the ferry (which comes to the
island four times a day during the summer).
They also sell snacks and sodas.
We chose to hike in, but did have folding beach chairs strapped to our
packs and an umbrella, which added a lot of weight but was worth it for
spending hours on the beach.
Have you been to Cumberland Island? Would you be interested?