An former pumping station, converted to a private hunting lodge, is currently being renovated for public use.

At Lake Mattamuskeet, a former pumping station, converted to a private hunting lodge, is currently being renovated for public use.

I sat down to write a blog today and realized it has been more than three weeks since the last one — not a good record if you want to keep an audience. It’s been a hairy time of the year, with Thanksgiving travels followed by books to proofread, lengthy student papers coming in, final exams, Bible studies to write, and the like. A weekend getaway for Susan and me to celebrate our second anniversary couldn’t come quickly enough.

So here, as a public service, I offer a recipe for a lovely weekend that you might not have considered before. First, look toward eastern North Carolina and book a room at a nice B&B like Haughton Hall, a comfortable bed and breakfast in Williamston made especially delightful by innkeeper Lucia Peel, who’s also an attorney and a volunteer member of eight different public service type boards, chairing five of them.

CahieRiverFrom Williamston it’s an easy drive to Windsor, where you can rent and launch a canoe or kayak, or ride a pontoon boat from the Roanoke/Cashie River Center. At 55 miles, stretching from the western swamps to the Albemarle Sound, the Cashie is the longest river in the country to begin and end in one county. After getting a taste of the river, taste some local color and classic eastern style barbecue at Bunn’s Barbecue, located in the cramped quarters of an old service station, with a cashier’s counter up front and a cardboard sign over a small door reading “Order Back Here.” The “small plate,” with chopped barbecue, vinegar-based cole slaw, and a slab of cornbread, should be enough for anybody.

MattamuskeetSwansAnother hour’s ride will take you to Lake Matamuskeet, where thousands of tundra swans, snow geese, and a variety of migratory ducks stop to spend all or part of the winter. A helpful visitor’s center and a “wildlife drive” around a large impoundment make it easy to see the birds (though binoculars are still helpful) and to hear the cacophony of avian music as the graceful swans chatter away.

MattamuskeetTurtlesOther trails are designed for walking, so there’s no lack of exercise if you want it, and plenty of other wildlife, from foxes and deer to turtles and birds that stay year round. MattamuskeetHeronPlan it right, and at the end of the day you can drive to the middle of NC 94, which bisects the lake, and take in an amazing sunset. You should be hungry by then. Head back west on Highway 264 to Belhaven and you can find several nice restaurants, including Spoon River Artworks and Market, a “farm to fork” eatery where both the decor and the menu changes with the seasons, and the food is excellent.

MattamuskeetSunstStay on 264 to Washington, and you can enjoy an evening stroll along the waterfront before rolling back to your starting place, getting a good night’s sleep, and planning the next day, which could include a day trip to Manteo (often skipped when folks visit the Outer Banks) or an encounter with an amazing array of birds at the Sylvan Heights Bird Park in Scotland Neck, a breeding center attempting to help save endangered birds from all over the globe.

North Carolina is filled with hidden charms that are often overlooked, but well worth a visit.

And that’s my public service announcement for the month: check out some of the remarkable treasures near you, and you’ll feel richer than ever.

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