St. Marys and Cumberland Island – Where Time Stands Still

Sipping a cup of hot tea while overlooking the serene, historic district of St. Marys was one of the many highlights of our romantic retreat.  Being entertained by inquisitive squirrels and scarlet red cardinals perched in the magnolia tree was another enchanting moment.  Relaxing in a rocking chair on the veranda while chatting about the day’s events with my husband was priceless.

Southern charm and a slower pace of life filled the air inside the Goodbread House Bed and Breakfast Inn and in the neighboring shops and restaurants.  Enjoying an ice cold beverage on the porch of the Riverside Café while gazing at the St. Marys river brought more delightful moments.  Sail boats and larger fishing boats gently rocked against their moorings in the water beyond.  Everything and everyone moved at a slower pace.  No thoughts of work and depressing world news.  It was truly a retreat from our daily lives and it was refreshing.  It felt as if time stood still.

We arrived at the Goodbread Inn (built in 1870) on Thursday afternoon and went up to our suite which was decorated and named after the famous couple, Clark Gable and Carole Lombard.  When I first walked into the room, I was immediately enthralled with the light blue décor and how calming it felt.  The room was beautifully decorated and the adjoining bathroom was also impressive in size and décor.  Each of the two rooms had an original fireplace reminding us that we were staying in a historical home which added to the enjoyment of our St. Marys trip.  In the bedroom, a gorgeous bouquet of two dozen red roses was seated on a dresser in the room.  My husband had ordered these for me through the help of our lovely hostess, Mardja.  He had also arranged for sparkling wine which was chilling in our room upon our arrival.  These were lovely surprises from my sweet and thoughtful husband, Glen.

Our St. Marys trip encompassed unique experiences in different locations.  The Bed and Breakfast was its own lovely experience from the hospitality of the hostess and the friendliness of the other guests, to the delicious breakfasts Mardja prepared each morning encompassing both sweet and savory that resulted in a satisfying dining experience.  Each evening, there were complimentary wines and sodas, as well as desserts to be enjoyed in the beautifully furnished parlor or in your suite.  Coffee and hot tea stations were available in multiple locations in the home making it very convenient to enjoy your morning wake-up on the front porch or the upstairs veranda.

The St. Marys locals welcomed both of us in each place we visited.  We enjoyed a surf and turf meal at the Silver Star Steakhouse and dined at Captain Seagle’s Seafood Restaurant & Saloon where Cindy, the infamous “Queen of Mean” bartender, served us great food at great prices, along with great commentary not found in most polite societies.  She can spew a derogatory comment at anyone who walks in, and before you leave, you just want to call her a friend because of her upfront style.  I laughed often and felt like I could really be myself and just relax.  We both liked Cindy’s style so much that we went back a second time.  We also went to the “Market on the Square”, a gift shop for everyone’s tastes that includes very friendly service and chats as to our day’s activities.  Sure we were tourists, but we weren’t treated in a negative tourist-typical way.  That was refreshing!  With our straw hats, sunglasses, new walking sandals, and a backpack slung on a shoulder, “tourist” could be seen on our faces but it was alright.  We had an enjoyable time and were treated as friends the entire trip.

Another unique and memorable experience was our day trip to Cumberland Island, which is Georgia’s largest barrier island.  Our hostess arranged boxed lunches for us which we picked up from Seagle’s Restaurant on our walk to the Cumberland Island Visitors Center where we then picked up our ferry tickets.  The Goodbread Inn is located close to the waterfront so everything is in walking distance.  The only time we drove our car from arrival to departure was to go explore the nearby Crooked River State Park which is 20 miles from St. Marys.  The boxed lunches were a really great deal for $7 per person.  The restaurant was thoughtful in packing our lunches in a Coleman lunch cooler.  Their neat trick is freezing the included bottles of water which serve as ice packs.  The meal consisted of a huge sub with turkey, ham, cheese, lettuce and tomato.  They also provided plenty of packets of mayo and mustard.  The meals also included fresh apples, cheese crackers, and Oreo cookies.  The sub was so large and filling that Glen and I split one and saved the other one for our room.  The restaurant included plenty of napkins, and they placed parchment paper on top of the frozen bottles of water to keep it separated from the food items laid on top.  It was carefully packed and it’s amazing how important that becomes when you are stranded on an island of immense heat for four hours before the next ferry is scheduled to pick you up!

In addition to the lunch cooler, I carried a backpack containing extra bottles of water.  I had four in my bag and we had the two frozen ones in the lunch cooler.  We needed every bit of it.  With the extreme mid-90 degree heat and walking miles on an island, you sweat profusely and can become dehydrated.  Toward the end of our island excursion, we ended up at Sea Camp, a designated camp site for overnight island enthusiasts.  Sea Camp is quite beautiful with its untouched maritime forests.  It was here that we were able to fill up our empty bottles with treated water provided from a spout for the campers on site.  Other helpful items that we brought along with us were sunglasses, straw hats, band-aids, digital camera, video camera, tripod (so that we could be in a photo together if there was no one nearby to take our picture), hand towels which were used as “sweat rags” as we call it here in the south, trash bag (you carry out what you carry in), sunscreen, bug spray, extra batteries for the camera (we took a lot of pictures), and wet naps to clean your hands and face.  My husband and I divided and conquered all of the items using a travel bag and a backpack.  When you are walking miles in extreme heat, you do start to question if you brought along too many items.  I did a couple of times while sweat was pouring down my face but looking back we needed all of the items except for the throw blanket.  I thought we needed the blanket for our lunches or to just sit down on the ground for a break.  I didn’t realize that handy picnic tables were located throughout the island.  If we went in a milder season such as late Fall, the need for all of the water and other summer time aids would have been a little different I guess.

Cumberland Island is absolutely beautiful and has interesting sites to visit.  We first visited the Dungeness Mansion ruins.  To get there from the ferry dock, we walked along a shaded road which was a breath of fresh air from the blistering sun.  The road was lined by carefully planted trees from ages past.  Along the road, we saw wild turkeys resting under a tree.  Even they knew to go where it was cooler in the shade.  After a somewhat brief walk, we confronted the towering remains of the Dungeness Mansion.  Thomas and Lucy Carnegie began building the mansion in 1884 as a winter retreat.  Thomas did not live long enough to see its completion but Lucy and her nine children continued to live on the island.  Lucy had other elaborate homes built on the island for her children as well.  The mansion was destroyed by fire in 1959.  Apparently, a disgruntled poacher set the fire over a dispute with a caretaker.  We were not able to walk inside the ruins because of the unstable nature of the remaining mansion walls and diamondback rattlesnakes which have claimed the mansion as their home.  But even viewing it from a distance was remarkable.  I learned a new term – a construction material called “tabby”.  The Carnegies designed their home’s façade and decorative walls with a form of cement which utilized what the island offered: lime, sand, water, and oyster shells.

While at the mansion, we encountered horses freely grazing.  There are currently 140 horses that reign on the island with over 36,000 acres to explore at their will.  We were told by the park ranger that if a herd of horses were walking on a road or path we were to get out of their way.  They are wild and aren’t intimidated by visitors.  In fact, they are used to daily visits from people but that doesn’t mean you can get close to them because they will bite and kick.  I found them inspiring and majestic and they were a treat to look at from a distance.

At Sea Camp, near the end of our island adventure, we found the beach located on the south side of the island.  There was a long, winding board walk surrounded by pristine, white sand dunes on each side.  In the sand, you could see tracks made by whitetail deer that inhabit the island.  And at the end of the hot, labor some walk down the board walk, you are rewarded with a stunning view of the ocean and the endless horizon.  As you stand there looking into the sea, you are reminded that you are on a stretch of beach with only a few other souls taking in the same view.  We saw three other people relaxing under a portable canopy they had erected and then there was no one else.  An empty, quiet beach.  There were no screaming children, no drunken overly-tan beach goers.  Just quiet serenity surrounded only by the sounds of the waves and the wind blowing through your hair.  It was an amazing experience.  I read in some literature on Cumberland Island that the National Park Service restricts access to its public areas to only 300 people at any given time.  This is to allow for the ongoing preservation of the island and to secure the environments of the animals that reside there.  Even with knowing 300 people were rambling about the island, my husband and I got to explore the south side areas with only seeing an average of five other people at a time.

The north end of the island is for the true naturalist and hiker at heart.  The entire island is over 17 miles long and to get to the primitive wilderness campgrounds and other beach areas on the north end of the island you could hike between 5 and 10 miles depending on where you want to go.  The south end offers plenty for those who are less inclined to trek that far into nature and ruggedness.  Plus, if you are taking a day trip on the ferry, there is not enough time to explore that far from the ferry docks.  The south end is where you should safely stay so that you do not miss your ferry.  We were told if we were late for the ferry’s departure to expect to pay $100 per person to have a boat come pick us up. We took the ferry from St. Marys at 11:45 am and had a scheduled 4:45 pm island departure and it worked out perfectly.  The ferry ride each way takes 45 minutes but it becomes a part of the adventure as you try to spot a dolphin trailing behind the ferry’s wake.  A fellow passenger yelled out that he spotted one so I spent the trip home, camera in hand, looking for the elusive dolphin.  I never saw one but it was fun anyway looking at the water and enjoying the breeze as we made our way back to St. Marys.

This was a memorable and relaxing trip mixed with different experiences, all special in their unique ways.  From a first time experience at a historic bed and breakfast, to dining on the best shrimp and grits I have ever tasted, to the adventurous ferry ride carrying us to an amazing, pristine island, I shall not forget this romantic getaway with the one I love.  I had a wonderful time in a beautiful location with wonderful people.  Thank you St. Marys and Cumberland Island for the trip of a lifetime!

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