Just after Paducah, we had the choice of turning south on the Tennessee River, or continuing on the Ohio for a while longer, and then following the Cumberland River. Both rivers lead to the Kentucky Lakes, the Tennessee forming Kentucky Lake and the Cumberland forming Barkley Lake. However, the Tennessee River carries most of the tows and barges and there is usually a long wait to get into the lock which leads to the lake, so we decided on the Cumberland River, and 3 nights at the famed Green Turtle Bay Resort and marina on Barkley Lake for a bit of a rest and to catch up with the laundry and shopping.
Mile 9 near Bissel Landing
The cool mornings and autumnal feel appeared to have been a temporary blip, and it was very hot. We were a little disappointed to find the pool at Green Turtle Bay was closed for the season, but it was a very short walk to a little beach and we swam in the lake there instead.
The resort is in a narrow piece of land between the two lakes, next to the small town of Grand Rivers. The marina operates a shuttle service to anywhere anyone wants to go, so we decided to try the Thirsty Turtle, the marina’s Bar/Restaurant for dinner, about half a mile away in the woods.
The Thirsty Turtle was housed in a low, dark wooden building and we weren’t sure whether it was an old building which had been renovated, or a new one made to look old. But it was quite atmospheric, full of other Loopers, including Carol and Tom, and Patrick whom we’d met at Kaskaskia.
I’m still puzzled on occasion by American menus. I totally get that biscuits are scones, and cookies are biscuits. And blueberry muffins are little cakes with blueberries in them, not the sort of spongy, rubbery-textured things that are English muffins. I understand that fries are chips, and chips are crisps. But if the menu says ‘Fish and Chips’, I imagine that the fish will be accompanied by chips. Or fries.
At the Thirsty Turtle, you could choose a side to go with your fish and chips, so I asked for coleslaw. So I was a little nonplussed when the coleslaw came with a more than adequate amount of fish, but no chips. Or fries.
I looked questioningly at the waiter, who was a little harassed because he was single-handedly waiting on the entire bar. He indicated that fish and chips actually only meant fish. We didn’t say anything. We just ordered an extra side of fries. In the event, because Ian had ordered fries to go with his basket of chicken, there were so many fries that we had to take most of them back to the boat with us in a box and reheat them for dinner the next day.
We had a treat in store. It was an open mic night. A gentleman in a kilt played a few airs on his bagpipes and got a polite reception.
Then a young man with a guitar came on. He looked about 17, his name was Clint and his mum and dad had come with him. But he was very good and didn’t just sing and play his guitar, he engaged with his audience of elderly boaters and entertained us as well. He explained that a song only qualified as country music if it contained references to women, trains, a pickup truck, alcohol and prison. It then transpired that he had got married the previous Friday and that his new British wife was already on her way back to England, where he was going to join her when he had sorted his visa out. Then he hoped to play country music in pubs and clubs in Britain.
At the end of the evening we went over and bought one of his CDs (recorded in Nashville, no less) and introduced ourselves, and said we hoped to see him playing somewhere when we were home.
We stocked up at the village store in Grand Rivers. Village stores are as variable in the US as they are in Britain, but this one was good, with good fresh meat and vegetables and we got everything we needed, except for wine.
We mentioned this to Elwood, who had driven us down in the shuttle. He indicated the liquor store next door, which we hadn’t noticed because of its very discreet appearance. While Ian went in to replenish our stocks of Pinot Noir, Elwood explained to me that the liquor store had only opened 17 months ago. Despite Kentucky’s economy being based mainly on the production of Bourbon, large parts of the state are dry, meaning that although possession and consumption of alcohol are allowed, it can’t be sold in shops or served in restaurants. Until recently, counties could hold referenda to decide whether alcohol could be sold or not. 17 months ago, the law changed so that communities, rather than counties, could have their own referenda. And Grand Rivers defied the rest of Livingston County, by deciding that selling alcohol was ok. This enabled the liquor store to open, and Green Turtle Bay Resort to open the Thirsty Turtle. Even to someone who generally disapproves of referenda as part of a decision-making process, this seemed like a result.
The Captain kept disappearing off to see someone called Miss Wendy, who apparently operated the chandlery at Green Turtle Bay. It seemed we needed all sorts of things that we never even knew existed. During one of these absences, while I was getting lunch ready, something in the boat emitted an alarming noise. I grabbed all the phones in turn, but none of them usually made that sort of noise. Could it be the smoke alarm? Surely not. Then I remembered that that there was some sort of alarm that indicated the bilges were filling and that Carina was in imminent danger of sinking. Panicking slightly, I tried to assess whether Carina was listing more than normally, and whether I should make a swift exit.
The Captain came back. A few minutes later, the noise went off again, and this time it was definitely coming from our American phone.
It was a Presidential Alert. A text appeared. ‘THIS IS A TEST of the National Wireless Emergency Alert System. No action is needed.’
Just as well, really, as I wouldn’t have had the faintest idea what to do.
On our last afternoon, we went to the beach and watched as a flotilla of 12 Looper boats came into the dock, one following the other through the narrow channel, in an elegant procession. Docktails was quite lively that evening.
We left Green Turtle Bay to head south down Kentucky Lake, formed by the Tennessee River, via the short Barkley canal which links the two lakes. As we came out of the marina, there was another trawler coming in through the narrow entrance. Between us, there was a small power boat sitting in the middle of the channel, with two men in it, fishing. This is most definitely not the thing. We stopped, and the other trawler stopped. Eventually the fishing boat moved out of the way sufficiently to allow us to get through. As we passed, the men waved. Then I distinctly heard the word ‘motherf*****s’. The Captain heard it too. In my British way, I assumed that they couldn’t possibly be addressing me, so I waved majestically back.
The long finger of land between Barkley Lake and Kentucky Lake is known as the Land between the Lakes. It’s a National Recreation Area, a wildlife reserve with trails and camping grounds. Parts of the forest have been removed and prairie grasses sown, and bison introduced. But it has not been without controversy. When the two rivers were dammed to allow water flow in the rivers to be controlled, and the Kentucky Lakes were formed, a large area was flooded and many people lost their homes.
But the lakes are beautiful. There are numerous sheltered inlets along the lake shores that are good for anchoring. We stopped in Pisgah Bay, 12 miles south of Green Turtle Bay.
We had the anchorage to ourselves. There was a little beach and we took the dinghy over and had a swim. Another couple had arrived by kayak, but there was plenty of space for us all. They were from Indiana and the Captain was impressed to hear that they were camping in a tent.
Later, back on the boat, we could see fish leaping out of the lake, and on the opposite shore, two deer appeared for a while.
Did I say it was unseasonably hot? We had planned this trip partly to avoid the humidity and heat of the summer months. Now we were sweltering. The weather man on the radio said it was 20 degrees above the average for early October. That’s degrees Fahrenheit of course, because we’re in America, but even so. We decided to chill for another day at Pisgah Bay, though ‘chill’ is perhaps not an apt word to use. Ian had a desultory look at the map to see if there were any walking trails we could explore. There were, but we decided we couldn’t face walking in the heat. The little beach was the only place which had any shade, and this time we took chairs, cushions, Kindles and beer with us. Meanwhile, Carina baked in full sun.
In the evening, we put the generator on so we could run the air conditioning, and it managed to reduce the cabin temperature from 87 to 78 by the time we went to bed. A battery-operated fan is now on the shopping list.
We cruised down to another anchorage at Ginger Bay. Again we were the only people there apart from a few small fishing boats and a family we could see in the distance on the shore.
The next day day we stopped at Paris Landing, where we’re leaving the boat for 10 days while we take a road trip to Nashville and on through Kentucky to Virginia to see the family.
We arrived in Nashville just in time for lunch and got an Uber from the hotel to the downtown, a couple of miles away. The driver recommended the Cajun pasta at the Rock Bottom Bar on Broadway. The pasta came with chicken, andouille sausage and shrimps in a creamy, spicy tomato sauce and it was delicious. We sat in the patio looking out at the crowds in a haze of sounds.
After lunch, we wandered up and down Broadway and along First and Second Avenue. Almost every building was either a bar or a boot store, and the honky-tonk music poured out of every door. The boots were very tempting, but I resisted.
We were intrigued by the sight of what appeared to be small charabancs, powered entirely by the passengers pedalling furiously and without anyone obviously responsible for steering the vehicle. This was Nashville Pedal Tavern. For $39 you can pedal yourself round Nashville, in the company of other crazy people, stopping off at carefully selected pubs and bars.
I didn’t have to wait long for my birthday treat. In the evening, we went back and had dinner at the Pinewood Social. This establishment consisted of a bar/restaurant in a large warehouse building, with a bowling alley at the back.
The food was superb and when we get home I have to try to recreate the salmon with pistachio dish that we both had, and the cherry bourbon tart, served with homemade vanilla ice cream, that Ian had for dessert.
We went on to Layla’s, a bar in Broadway that was famous for Bluegrass. The Grass-a-holics were on and they were great.
We had only a brief taste of Nashville, but it was intoxicating.