Side trip to Virginia – an iconic house and beautiful countryside

I had long wanted to visit Fallingwater, the house in rural south-west Pennsylvania which Frank Lloyd Wright designed for Mr and Mrs Edgar J. Kaufmann in 1935. Our decision to drive from Michigan to Virginia, rather than fly, provided the perfect opportunity.

The house is built into the rocks overlooking Bear Run and overhangs two waterfalls. It embodies Wright’s philosophy that buildings should be in harmony with their natural surroundings and his belief in nature’s power to renew the human spirit.

Terraces extend from the living areas to provide areas for relaxing outside


The house attracts many visitors and was certainly very busy the day we went there, so that something of a feat of imagination was needed to experience quite the calming effect that Wright intended.

Steps lead down from the terrace to the swimming pool

Wright adopted a dictatorial attitude to both his clients and his contractors. The colours used had to conform to his preferred palette, based on Cherokee Red for the window frames and ochre for the concrete cantilevers. The furniture was all designed by Wright, and Mrs Kaufmann’s soft furnishings had to be chosen from a limited range authorised by him. She did rebel in one small way, though. The Kaufmans owned a large department store in Pittsburgh, and Liliane would travel to Europe to buy stock. Our guide pointed out the dining chairs in a slightly disapproving manner. Liliane had bought them in Italy and installed them in her home, contrary to Wright’s wishes. While I didn’t really like the chairs, and could see that they weren’t in keeping with the rest of the house, I couldn’t help feeling sympathetic to Liliane and admiring her stab at independence.

But I did like the kitchen.  I could hardly think that the streamlined, muted pale green units had been there for over 80 years.

Being an engineer, Ian could not help remarking that architecture was all very well, but somewhere there would have been a structural engineer doing all the calculations and making sure the house didn’t fall down. The stories of how FLW dismissed advice, and how the contractors secretly doubled the amount of concrete reinforcement, make interesting reading. The estimated cost of the house, $40K, turned into an actual cost of $155K.

Fallingwater is in the Laurel Highlands area of the Allegheny Mountains, and we stayed at Stepping Stones Farm B&B near Confluence. Kim and Jeff  have a working farm, rearing horses and goats and also rescue cats and dogs.

Our room was prettily furnished and breakfast delicious, though rather daunting in quantity, but Kim reassured us that if we didn’t eat it, the pigs would, so there was no need to feel bad if we didn’t leave clean plates.

Our room at Stepping Stones

The barn




Extra-friendly goat

Ancient tree

IMG_0035Stepping Stones Farm

The farmhouse

IMG_0041Porch on the old shed

Porch on the old shed

The highlight of our visit to Virginia was Ted’s 40th birthday party.


Happy Birthday Ted!

We took the scenic route through Michigan on the way back and stayed with Barb and Bill Courtwright at their B&B, the Sweetfern Inn near Clare. Barb’s family had lived in the area for generations and they had bought their land from Barb’s uncle. The house was full of antique furniture and the beautiful quilts on the beds had been made  by local Amish women. Bill is a professional photographer and Barb a craftswoman and they run courses at their B&B in various subjects.

They recommended the bar of the Doherty Hotel for dinner – somewhere that wouldn’t have immediately appealed to us, but which turned out to have a great atmosphere and good food. Clare’s Irish heritage was evident everywhere.

IMG_0016Main st Clare

North McEwan St, Clare MI

IMG_0017Doherty Hotel

Doherty Hotel

IMG_0020Doherty Hotel

The bar, Doherty Hotel


When we got back to Sweetfern, we had a long chat with Barb and Bill about the dire states of our respective governments, and they mentioned that the frieze in the bar of the Doherty Hotel, depicting leprechauns going about their business, had been painted as part of FDR’s  Public Works Administration in the 1930’s.

Breakfast the next day was memorable. Oatmeal with fresh fruit and nuts for me, and freshly-made waffles with maple syrup and bacon for Ian.

IMG_0022Back garden, Sweetfern Inn

Back garden, Sweetfern Inn



Sweetfern Inn

Sweetfern Inn

IMG_0026Barb and Bill

Ian with Barb and Bill

Back in Northport, it turned out that the boatyard were none the wiser about the cause of the knocking noise Carina was making, and could only suggest dismantling the whole prop shaft. As this would be expensive and take some time, we decided to soldier on, given the reassurances that there was nothing potentially catastrophic going on.

Later on Ian helped Jim put the mast on his Etchells, and the next day he came out with us on Carina, and concurred with the original diagnosis which we had had at Drummond Island, of a worn cutlass bearing.


Stormy weather at Northport

023Taking the Etchells back

Ian and Jim taking the Etchells back to the mooring

The night we arrived back there was quite a storm and we had to stay put another day. But it did give us the opportunity for a last night out with Jim and Laura before leaving Northport and heading south down Lake Michigan’s eastern shore.


Grand Traverse Bay and Northport 

Charlevoix to Traverse City and Northport

Charlevoix to Traverse City and Northport

Grand Traverse Bay is a 30-mile inlet on the north-west coast of Michigan’s Lower Peninsula, enclosed on the west side by the Leelanau Peninsula, and containing several other small bays.

We had taken the opportunity offered by a short spell of fine weather to travel from Charlevoix to Northport, on the west side of Grand Traverse Bay, where we had arranged for Carina’s noise problem to be further investigated at Northport Boatyard, while we headed to Virginia for 10 days to visit the family.

IMG_0069Charlevoix Bridge

Charlevoix Bridge

IMG_0071Leaving Charlevoix

Leaving Charlevoix

We had a few days in hand, so after anchoring at Northport overnight, cruised up the bay to Traverse City.

IMG_0078Morning sun at Northport

Morning Sun at Northport

IMG_0080on the way to Traverse City

svManitou near Traverse City

Traverse City was bustling. On the park behind the marina, people were busy clearing up after the Pride Festival and the main street was full of shoppers at its upmarket shops. Unlike Britain, America’s towns don’t seem to have been taken over by ubiquitous chains and every high street has its own specialties to offer. We ventured into Cherry Republic, a large emporium devoted to everything that could be possibly made from cherries, which grow in abundance in this part of Michigan. There was a bar where you could taste the various cherry wines and we now have a bottle of  Cherry Republic Balaton in the cupboard, waiting for a suitable occasion to be consumed.

We had two nights in Traverse City, but didn’t really use our time well. We could have gone to a historic house, or the Botanic Gardens, or Jenny’s restaurant where Michigan’s version of Cornish pasties are sold. Michigan was one of the places where Cornish miners immigrated when tin mining ended in Cornwall, and they brought their recipes with them.

But we decided instead to go for a bike ride, following the TART trail eastward out of the town. Unfortunately, once again we misinterpreted the word ‘trail’ and failed to read the small print in the information , which was that the TART Trail is a ‘paved urban transportation and recreation corridor’ and not, as we had fondly imagined, a route through leafy glades into unspoiled countryside. Traverse City, like any large town, has its less scenic parts and after passing through some pleasant suburbs, we found ourselves sandwiched between a four-lane highway and a railroad. Then we passed through industrial estates and an empire of car dealerships and auto repair shops. There wasn’t a coffee shop in sight.
Eventually we reached the shore and got some lunch at RedMesa, so the mood improved. We decided to head back towards the city and take the Boardman Lake trail instead, at which point a suggestion was made  that we could cut a corner by taking the airport road instead of following the TART trail back to where it joined the Boardman Lake trail.  Unfortunately the cycle track along the highway petered out after a few hundred yards and we ended up pushing the bikes a couple of miles along a dusty, busy road before finally reaching Boardman Lake.

Peace at last – Boardman Lake

The next day was brilliantly sunny and before we left I was allowed out to take some pictures.

Warehouse quarter, Traverse City

Carina in the slips at Traverse City

Boats at Traverse City Marina

Preparing for the Cherry Festival

West Bay Traverse City

Ducklings by the water

West Bay Traverse City


As we left, I earned some crew’s points. I had put the lines away tidily, and turned my attention to the fenders, only to notice that one of the big ball fenders had detached itself from its rope and was floating away some yards behind us. Ian turned Carina around and I then retrieved the ball fender with the boat hook at the first attempt. For someone of my general boating ability, this was impressive.

This part of Lake Michigan is very shallow near the sandy shoreline, then drops suddenly in depth. This produces a sharp contrast between the pale turquoise water of the shallows and the dark azure of the deeper waters.

Grand Traverse Bay near Suttons Bay

We had an overnight mooring near Suttons Bay, and took the dinghy to the shopping dock at the marina there, to have a look round the shops and satisfy Ian’s curiosity as to whether the local Moomer’s ice-cream lived up to its reputation (it did).

Main Street, Suttons Bay

Where to buy garden stuff in Suttons Bay

The beach at Suttons Bay

From the mooring at Suttons Bay

Suttons Bay had a lovely shop called Enerdyne which sold educational and scientific toys for children, and camera stuff for grown-ups, so I took the opportunity to get a tripod for use on the boat. It’s vastly superior to the one I have at home so I’m hoping to have enough baggage allowance to do a swap.

We had a contact in Northport. We had met Jim’s daughter Jessie in Newcastle, and anyone who has ever wondered what it’s like to cross the Atlantic via the northern route in a 32′ sailboat, getting up close and personal with whales and icebergs, might like to look at  Jessie’s blog which contains amazing writing and photographs.

We had a great time in Northport. After we docked at the marina, Ian rang Jim and he said he would come to the boat in 10 minutes to say hello and discuss where we would go for dinner. Dismissing my plan for the afternoon to do my laundry in the marina, he took us to his house to use Jessie’s washing machine, look at his projects in his workshop, and then we had a guided tour of the Leelanau peninsula, including a house perched precariously on top of the dunes overlooking Lake Michigan, and a drive round an exclusive gated community, where our bona fides were checked by a neatly dressed, severe-looking older lady with coiffured hair who emerged from her sentry box and clearly entertained some doubts about Jim and his fellow-travellers. In the evening, we met Jim’s girlfriend Laura, his brother John and sister-in-law Kim who very generously took us out for a very good meal at the Bluebird Restaurant in Leland.

Mill St Northport

In America, junk shops are called consignment stores, or, if they’re a little more upscale, consignment boutiques. Less euphemistically, Northport tells it like it is.

Consignment store, Northport

Waukazoo St, Northport

Carina at Northport Marina

The next day we took the boat half a mile across Northport Bay from the marina to the Boatyard, where we hoped to have Carina’s knocking noise definitively diagnosed. Carina was lifted out of the water at this point and supported in a cradle and for the next 3 nights, before we left for Virginia, getting on and off the boat involved a precarious ascent or descent of a 15′ ladder.

In the evening, we cycled back up to Northport village for the first of their summer concerts in the park area behind the marina. The artistes on this occasion were Igor and the Red Elvises. Igor was a large man with a commanding presence and a guttural accent, and the music a fusion of rock with Eastern European rhythms and cadences. Their lyrics too reflected the group’s dual heritage – ‘she worked for KGB, I worked at Taco Bell………’

Igor and the Red Elvises

On the Saturday we travelled back to Traverse City for the first day of the National Cherry Festival. Laura had kindly offered to take us in her car, but we went on the bus which runs twice a day up and down the peninsula. Laura and Jim obviously thought this a manifestation of British oddness, but we do actually like using public transport and in any case didn’t want to trouble her.

There was a big fair on the waterfront, live music, a large area selling food, and an air display.



IMG_0012Flying elephants

The flying elephants



IMG_0027Cherry stall

The cherry stall 

IMG_0029Dining area

Dining area

IMG_0030Lunch stall

Sausage stall

There was a wide variety of food on offer, but Cherry Brats appealed the most.



IMG_0037Waiting for the air show

Waiting for the Air Show

IMG_0038Cool dude

Orange man


Nike man

The Air Show was delayed because of the low cloud, but eventually the sky cleared.



In the evening we took Laura and Jim out for dinner, and to round off the evening we drove a few miles south to a beach where Jim had an Etchells yacht which he had been working on, and which required launching. This appeared to be a complicated, manly operation involving multiple reversings of Jim’s truck, to which the Etchells was attached, but fortunately there were several other people around who assisted, while Laura and I merely photographed the proceedings. Eventually the boat was safely on the  water and tied up on the dock.


Preparing to launch the Etchells

IMG_0051Evening at Omena

Evening near Omena

The following evening John and Kim invited us to their lakeside cottage for a barbecue dinner with the  younger members of their family who had all gathered for the July 4 celebrations.

Jim, Laura, John and Kim – if you’ve read this far  – thank you so much for your generous hospitality and making us feel so welcome. Meeting you all has been the highlight of this trip.

The next morning Laura took us to Traverse City to pick up our rental car to start our journey through Michigan, Ohio, Pennsylvania and West Virginia to see our family in Virginia.

IMG_0004Morning at Northport Boatyard

Early morning from Northport Boatyard