Category Archives: Family

UK vacation

Tower Bridge

We’re just back from a great vacation trip to England and Scotland. This trip has been in the works for several months, and it’s nice when a much-anticipated excursion comes off even better than planned. We started with a trip to see a couple of musicals in London, as advertised in the DPAC’s programs for last fall’s performances, but then added on an extension to visit the Scottish highlands.

We left NC on May 23rd, flying to London’s Gatwick Airport from Charlotte. This was an overnight that brought us to London at about 7am on the morning of May 24th. Our driver, Alton, met us and whisked us in to downtown London (“whisk” is perhaps a bit much to describe a nearly-two-hour ride through morning traffic!). We stayed at the Chesterfield Mayfair hotel in Mayfair, which was a wonderful location. Our room wasn’t ready, so we left our luggage and walked by Buckingham Palace right at the time for changing of the guards (check!), and headed down to the Thames. We went by Westminster Abbey and Parliment, heard Big Ben strike noon, and wandered along the riverside. After lunch, we headed back to check into the hotel. Over the next 2 days we walked probably 25 miles around downtown London, and saw Warhorse and Les Miserablés. We saw the Tower Bridge, the Tower of London, Platform 9 3/4, the British Museum, Hyde Park, Regent’s Park and many other things.


On Sunday the 27th, we had a bus trip to Bath, Lacock, and culminating with an after-hours entrance to Stonehenge where we could actually walk into the circle. This was really cool!

We really enjoyed London! The city is vibrant, and we felt perfectly safe walking all around, even in the late evening after the theatre. The Theatre District after shows is incredible, with people everywhere. The weather was phenomenal, with warm temperatures, blue skies, and pleasant breezes.

On Monday the 28th, our driver Alton shuttled us to Gatwick to catch a flight to Inverness. On the approach to Inverness, we could see winter snow still on the Highlands, and as we banked into the clouds to land at Inverness, we thought the weather might not be as salubrious. Our driver, Bill, picked us up and headed across the Moray Firth and then west. As we headed west, the clouds lifted and the sky cleared. We turned south at Kinlochewe, and travelled via a single track road toward Torridon.

The Torridon Hotel

Our hotel in Torridon was the Loch Torridon Hotel, built in the late 1800’s as a hunting lodge and turned into a hotel in the 1960’s. It sits right on the shore of Loch Torridon, and provides expansive views of the rugged terrain. It’s an outstanding place to stay, both from the standpoint of amenities and things to do. We hiked, biked, kayaked, wined and dined!

I had the opportunity for an afternoon of fishing on the Coulin Estate, just a few miles from Torridon. I really enjoyed the opportunity to catch Scottish brown trout and talk with the estate gamekeeper, Neal.

Fishing on the Coulin Estate

The hiking was spectacular. The “hills” around Torridon rise almost vertically from the Loch to 3000 feet or more. The trail up one, Beinn Damph, leaves from the grounds of the hotel. It’s just under 3000 feet (2963 feet) but was a quite challenging walk with a roundtrip distance of about eight miles.

Beinn Damph summit

We stayed in Torridon for 4 days, before our driver picked us up for the return to Inverness. On the way to Inverness, we skirted Loch Ness and stopped at the Glen Ord distillery. From Inverness we flew to Gatwick overnighting in the airport hotel before heading back to NC. All in all, a wonderful trip!

Swansboro Christmas Flotilla

While Thanksgiving day was blustery, the weekend was warm and sunny, with light winds for both “Black Friday” and Saturday. The Dunns decided to head to the coast for the weekend on Thursday night. The plan was to have a family lunch at my sister Susan’s house in Swansboro on Saturday, and then head back to Chapel Hill so we could take Jeff to UNC-A. An added attraction was that Friday evening was the Swansboro Christmas Flotilla. We made plans to decorate the Sandbar Hopper to participate in the parade. We brought two holiday yard decorations, a cactus and a coyote, that have been used over the years to highlight the annual Chili Party. I mounted them on the boat, added some chili pepper lights that Susan had bought, hooked it all up to an inverter, and we were ready to go!

We assembled at the EI bridge at 4:30.

Queueing up at the bridge

This was a small flotilla, as I found out at the Captain’s Breakfast on Friday…only about 15 boats, and the Chamber of Commerce was enthusiastic for any and all participants. We followed the Coast Guard as they headed west on the ICW towards Swansboro, as dusk came on.

On the move toward Swansboro

We soon realized that we’d taken the “newbie” position, next to the “swan” which had a massive array of lights on a swan frame, charged by a generator, and a sound system blasting Elvis and “Blue Christmas.” Next year, we’ll lag behind a few positions 😉 . It was really a great time. There were many people on the docks as we passed through Cedar Point, and huge numbers on the bridges, docks and shore in downtown Swansboro. We made three turns through the darkened harbor before heading back to Island Harbor.

Boats in Swansboro harbor

What great fun…until we got back to the marina and my Yukon wouldn’t start 🙁 . We used Susan’s RAV to pull the boat out and back to the house. The Yukon visited the Swansboro Chevy dealer via a tow truck. We pick it up tomorrow, the diagnosis being a failure of the “neutral safety switch.” Oh well!

Tryin’ to reason with hurricane season…

In North Carolina, each late summer/fall brings the threat of Altantic hurricanes. For those with interests on the coast and in the coastal plain, each tropical wave coming off Africa generates interest…where is it going? Early season, into the Caribbean. This time of year, though, storms tend to curve north and catch NC where it sticks out into the ocean. Two weeks ago, I was on vacation at our family’s house on Emerald Isle. Tonight, we’re back in Chapel Hill, watching Irene creep north-north-east toward Bogue banks. It seems to be turning a bit more to the east, and may miss landfall in Carteret county. Earlier today, it had been projected to come ashore within 20 miles of Emerald Isle. It now looks like it could stay mostly offshore, but there’s still likely to be a lot of wind and rain. Right now, per the Weather Channel, the wind is ~30mph at Emerald Isle and is out of the northeast with heavy rain. Irene had been projected to carry 120mph wind onto shore, but it looks like it may be more like 95-100. Currently, it’s projected to be ~75mph at Emerald Isle. The fact that the eye is likely to pass east means that the worst winds will be from the north to northeast, and will flatten out the surf. It is likely to exacerbate sound-side flooding, as with Isabelle in 2003, but may prevent ocean overwash on Bogue Banks. Time will tell. The eye should pass Cape Lookout early tomorrow morning.

Sharp Rock Vineyards


    Jan and I just spent a wonderful weekend at Sharp Rock Vineyards at the edge of the Shenandoah National Park. We stayed in the cottage, which is the original farmhouse on the farm. The host, Jimm, was gracious, the winery dogs and cats were fun, and the wine, especially the dry Rose, was wonderful. We hiked the Old Rag circuit on Sunday. I fished a bit on Saturday and Monday in the Hughes River, and we enjoyed a weekend unplugged (no cell phone coverage and no towers in Rappahannock County, VA. If you appreciate a rustic B&B experience and like good wine, it’s a hard combination to beat. Good hiking (Old Rag, White Oak Canyon, and others). You can make wine the focus of your trip, sampling not only Sharp Rock vintages, but several other wineries in the Rappahannock/Madison county area. This is one of the most scenic areas of Virginia, in my humble opinion, and we’ve already planned to go back next summer.

White Christmas

Well, it’s the first white Christmas in the RTP area of NC since 1947, but it’s a mixed blessing. It’s fun to see the snow, but with family members trying to travel hither and yon, it’s added a bit of stress to the equation. We’ve had a day of watching the forecasts, snowfall accumulation potential, an intensifying coastal low pressure area, but have finally reached acceptable solutions. We’ll be sending parts of the extended clan west over the mountains and east to the coastal plain. Hoping for safe travels for all…but that snow on Christmas sure is exciting!

A break from the heat!

What a hot June it’s been here in central NC. Most days over 90F, and one officially 101F at the RDU airport. That makes the break so nice. Low 80’s, low humidity, blue sky…after a meeting this afternoon, I left one campus building and just sat on a wall outside, pulled out the iPad and scored some campus wifi for email. Much better than my office!

Tonight, we’re sitting on the patio enjoying a wonderful evening. Even have a small fire burning in the fire pit, and a nice Cotes du Rhone red! Tonight’s lows should be in the upper 50’s. Doesn’t get much better here in the summer.

The weekend weather is supposed to be equally spectacular. We’re heading to the beach for the long weekend.

Cheers, y’all!

Spring = Daffodils…

Each year in the spring, the daffodils put on a show at my parent’s house in Pitt County. My great-aunt Lottie (born 1895) planted the first ones at the homeplace in the 1930’s. This year, WRAL’s Tarheel Traveler visited during the peak bloom and interviewed my mom and dad. They didn’t give their names nor the exact location, as they get plenty of traffic there anyway. It’s a neat piece. We’ve got many pictures of our own kids in the flowers…hope you enjoy the video!

And we thought it was going to rain all day…

Awoke this morning to pouring rain and low expectations of seeing the beach. Drove to get the paper, and got drenched getting one from the box. However, during the 2nd latte this morning, I looked out and saw sunshine and blue skies! Dropped the paper, chugged the coffee, and hit the beach for a three-mile walk. As soon at the old dog is settled, I think we’ll head out again. There’s a chance of rain again later today, but much better weather than expected!

Those oysters at Jordan’s last night were excellent; we’ll head back for a another peck this evening!

Winter at the NC coast…

This year, the weather over the MLK holiday weekend is more salubrious than last year, though it is supposed to rain all day Sunday. Last year, the highs were in the 30’s on the beach. Today, we had beautiful sunshine this morning, and though the sun is filtered through some thin clouds now, it’s a pleasant 60F on the deck. A walk of about 2 miles this morning to get the paper, breakfast with 3 lattes, then a 5 mile walk. Crackers, brie, and pepper jelly for a snack before oysters at Jordan’s this evening. This is the kind of day that makes you glad you live below the Mason-Dixon line ;-). The last 10 days have been pretty chilly for NC, with lows well down in the teens and highs most days in the 30’s. Ice on the ponds, and my backyard goldfish pool still had an inch of ice on the corners though Friday’s temps were into the 50’s. We’d debated all week about whether to come, waiting on Thursday’s forecast. Hopefully the rain will pull out Sunday night and give us nice weather to get out on Monday morning before we come home. Jan and I both have Monday off, and she has Tuesday off. We’d stay late Monday, but I have a scout committee meeting in the evening.

We talked to some friends right down the street here at EI, and they told us that Swansboro has a new Performing Arts Series, and there’s a folk acoustic trio playing at 2PM Sunday. A possibility for tomorrow.

Oh well, the clouds are beginning to thicken and it’s getting cooler as the afternoon progresses. Time to head inside…

Annual Christmas trip to the country…

Over Christmas break, I usually try to take advantage of the fact that my folks live on an eastern NC farm, and that means it’s politically correct to shoot clay birds in the back yard, and to walk to the woods with a gun in your hand. We had a box of 90 clay birds, and a quick trip to Walmart procured a box of 100 shotshells. My dad, my sister, my son Jason and I went to the field behind the house and set up the trap. I started by missing about 5 birds in a row, but dialed it in after that, and hit about 80% of the remaining birds. Good fun!

The next day, Jan, Jason and Jeff headed back to Chapel Hill. That afternoon, I picked up my over/under and a variety of shotshells and walked to the back of the “Coot Field,” across the road from the house. I had a few bird shells, a few squirrel shells, and a few buckshot…just to cover all the bases. I walked by old marl holes, past the rifle range, and down the path through the pine plantation. Jumped over the water running from the swamp and headed for the small patch of swamp hardwoods. Walked around a bit, admired a cyprus tree, and sat on a log for about 30 minutes. Watched a couple of Pileated woodpeckers fly in for some “grub” 😉 . The last one flew close and spotted me, so I thought I’d move a bit where any squirrels or deer might not see me as well. I sat beneath a large oak, and watched the sun slowly set. A racoon ambled by, about 25 yards away, oblivious to my presence. A squirrel danced across the leaves and up a tree. I looked at him and said “bang,” deciding that I really didn’t want to shoot any squirrels that day. Other squirrels hopped around in the growing darkness. I decided it was time to head back. At the edge of the field, I saw my dad, who’d decided to drive to the back of the field and wait for me. However, he’d gotten the truck stuck, and we both had to walk back 😉 Came back the next morning with the FourRunner and a chain, and pulled the truck out.