Five Things we’ve learned about The South

There’s a trend for lazy journalists to fill print space with ill informed and clichéd observations, and to somehow make this look respectable by putting them in a numbered list…

Hey ho, if it’s good enough for The Guardian. Here are a few thoughts formed over a cursory acquaintance of three weeks and 2,000 miles in just a fraction of this great continent.

1. PEOPLE ARE REALLY FRIENDLY
Literally everyone we’ve met has been REALLY friendly. Climbers at the crags and campgrounds have been welcoming and interested in our trip; genuinely pleased that their climbing is seeing international visitors and keen to share beta and banter. ‘Where are you from?’ ‘Manchester’ is either greeted with ‘Man U?’ or ‘wow – gritstone! That’s awesome!’
Away from the crag the following conversation at a budget supermarket checkout sums it up. ‘You a climber, huh? Where y’all from? England – gee that’s great! I sure hope folks around here are being nice to you. I can’t stand it when people don’t look after our visitors right. Y’all have a great trip!’ You don’t get that in Tesco.

2. THERE ARE LOTS OF TREES.
…and being Autumn, or should I say Fall, these are turning into various hues of green, yellow, red and brown. Our trajectory is broadly planned to follow a constant temperature / season, ie heading West and South as October runs into November, so it’s hard to know whether we’re really experiencing The Colours we’ve heard so much about, or just staying ahead of the wave. So far I’d say they’re pretty in a familiar English way but on a greater scale. I don’t think there was a gap in the trees in the 300 miles from Chattanooga to Memphis.  Nothing jaw dropping but an aesthetically pleasing backdrop. I’ll let you know if things get even more coloured.

3. IT’S EASIER TO BUY GUNS THAN BEER.
Okay, we haven’t tried to buy a gun, but we have seen plenty of shops should we wish to – and quite often struggled to track down some decent beer. Many of the counties within the Southern States are either completely dry or have restricted licensing  (no sales on Sundays and / or at Supermarkets and /or at certain times). Interestingly, many campgrounds and parks also ban alcohol  (but usually ban firearms too to be fair).
Having said that, once you do find beer it is generally excellent  (assuming you’ve weeded out the Bud / Becks etc imposters ). Hoppy, tasty, often pretty strong, and with some great labels, the  American micro brewing and craft beer movements are in the ascendancy.

4. THERE ARE A LOT OF CHURCHES… Both in terms of number of individual establishments and number of varieties, some familiar from home like Baptist and Methodist, and others less so – Congregational, Presbyterian, and many local flavours. There’s clearly a great deal of faith in these parts.
The buildings themselves range from little more than a well-kept trailer or shed, to splendid concrete and brick constructions that resemble large civic buildings. They invariably have large car parks. Each also  has a ubiquitous 6ft x 8ft white billboard, often illuminated, with slide-in black lettering indicating future events or offering a cheering homily.
There are also a lot of fast food outlets, and most of the same observations apply. Numerous exotic varieties like Arby’s, Hardee’s, Sonic and Chik-Fil-A, big car parks and signs. Occasionally there’s some confusion – “Join our Famous Fish Feast next Wednesday” was actually a sign outside a church!

5. BEARDS AND DOGS ARE IN!
Perhaps most noticeable at the crag, campground or out in the sticks, facial hair and a canine companion are de rigour. Beards come in a tremendous variety: long, silver and wizardry; huge, red and bushy; or dashing, pointy and goatee. Dogs are similarly diverse – cutest encounter being a chihuahua in a backpack (after the Lilly Pad crew, of course).
It really is difficult to feel properly dressed without on or other, or preferably both.

That’s it for now, as we cross the Mississippi and leave behind the South Atlantic States: Florida, Georgia, Maryland, North Carolina, South Carolina, Virginia,West Virginia, and Delaware…. and the East South Central States: Alabama, Kentucky, Mississippi and Tennessee.
Next stop – The West South Central States: Arkansas, Louisiana, Oklahoma, and Texas.

Listing of States courtesy of Wikipedia, and we have to confess to not making Florida or the Carolinas and only getting within a stone’s throw of Alabama and Mississippi.

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