Day 8/ Mar 6th – Amelia Courthouse, VA to Burkeville, VA: The back-roads

Cookies for sale

The friendly Girl Scouts of Amelia Courthouse

We spend at least twenty minutes every evening hunched over Google Maps looking over the next day’s route.  Usually, there’s a trade-off to be made between a direct route (say, 15 miles) that runs alongside a busy highway and a more scenic route (say, 18 miles) that passes through rural back-roads.  Whenever we can, like today, we take the back-roads, and we’ve rarely been sorry we did.

This was a day to lift the spirits – a sunny Saturday spring morning in small-town America.  We walked through Amelia Courthouse, a pretty little town built around a grassy square and the eponymous building.  Families from nearby farms waved to us as they trundled past us in their pick-ups, parked outside the local diner and filed in for breakfast.  A troop of Girl Scouts were selling cookies in front of the town’s butcher’s shop – a sure sign of spring in America.  We stopped for a chat, and felt cheap for not buying any, though we had the excuse that our bags are already so over-stuffed that we have trouble finding room for our toothbrushes.  At the edge of town, a children’s softball game was in full swing, with dozens of parents watching and cheering from the stands.  It was the most pleasant small town we’d yet seen in America, and its mere existence put us in a good mood all day.

Walking along country roads has the merit of letting you see some very different neighbourhoods.  We spent most of today in horse farm country, with large Victorian farmhouses looking over white-fenced paddocks roughly the size of Hyde Park, then for the last couple of hours walked through deep woods dotted with dilapidated bungalows and trailer homes.  Even these poorer homes have at least two, and often three or four cars in the yard outside, and there were several places where the total value of the vehicles in the drive must have exceeded the price of the property.  It’s not unusual, either, to pass by houses, large and small, with family graveyards – headstones and all – at the edge of the garden.

Although the people we pass are equally friendly whether in a mansion or a trailer, their dogs aren’t, and there has been a clear correlation between type of dog and type of property.  We’ve been well-placed to gauge this, because we must get barked at a good twenty times a day.  The larger, middle-class houses and farmhouses favour beagles, spaniels and Labradors, usually fenced inside a generously-sized pen in the garden.  The trailer yards, by contrast, are populated with pit-bulls, boxers, Jack Russells and psychotic mongrels, sometimes chained to a rusting engine block, but as often as not, free to launch themselves at us as we pass by.  Normally, at some point, the owner will materialise from their trailer and call the dog off (“He’s only funnin’ with ya – lucky y’all ain’t raccoons!”).  Our closest call to date came when first three, then four, then six Jack Russells issued from a back yard and came skittering down the road after us, snapping at our ankles for a good quarter-mile like those tiny dinosaurs in Jurassic Park, until I swung my hiking poles at them, screamed like a girl, and sent them packing.

After twenty miles on these back-roads we popped out onto Route 460 again and spent the night just outside Burkeville in a dirt-cheap motel, ignoring the advice of one online review that began, “if there was something less than one star I would put it here”.  Even a ‘country/ rock open mike’ night at the next-door bar couldn’t stop us from getting nine hours of the dreamless.

Sally on the back-roads

Sally strikes out on the back-roads

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