The sun shone brilliantly on Jekyll Island at the culmination of our journey down the east coast of the USA. And that meant one thing. Sunbeds.
After more than a week of walking, walking and walking around gorgeous cities, it was great to know that we could settle by the pool in the hotel grounds and relax. It being the end of the summer season, it wasn’t crowded either.
Other than having lunch at the hotel’s Courtyard at Crane, seemingly doubling the numbers in the process, we settled into a routine of reading, cooling off in the water and drinking beers and cocktails in the pool-side bar.
Love bugs filled the air, drifting in on the breeze, locked in an embrace that was only broken when I buzzed them away. They kept landing on the pages of my book and, while they didn’t bite, they were persistently annoying.
Elsewhere, coach-loads of clucking pensioners arrived, lunched and visited the historic district surrounding the hotel before departing and leaving us in peace.
In fact, apart from a couple of young-ish families, the hotel was pretty much a refuge for seniors, most of them from the south, most in various states of decrepitude but invariably friendly. In the heat and humidity, they walked slowly, panting noticeably, doubtless wondering why two men would be holidaying together. And two Brits too, because we were told that Europeans weren’t that common on Jekyll.
A brief, mild storm rolled in towards the end of one day but delivered little in the way of rain.
In the evening, at the bar, we met a retired couple from Texas who told us about their two-month jaunt around the eastern states of the US of A, and I pondered how marvellous it would be to take so much time over travel.
We adjourned to the Grand Dining Room. Neither of us had the jacket stipulated by the dress code but they let us in anyway and I guessed they were just happy for the custom. I couldn’t believe that hotel restaurants still existed that expected people to carry the bloody things around with them on holiday. However, the staff were friendly, the wine was good and my liver and onions were OK.
A pianist played in the background and at one point, bizarrely, launched into some Doctor Who incidental music. It turned out on talking to him that he was a big fan of the show.
We ended up in the hotel’s Lobby Bar, with three leathery but fun pensioners who were watching the final of America’s Got Talent of all things. Otherwise the place was dead so Theresa the barmaid chatted about her big passion for Britain.
I slept badly, thanks no doubt to a toxic mixture of wine and vodka, but the weather was again good for our last full day on Jekyll.
We had a small breakfast in the hotel cafe and drove out in the sweltering heat to the famous Driftwood Beach, hoping to see it in all its glory with the tide out. The beach has been created by erosion but the ancient and bleached pines and oaks remain, preserved by the salty water.
The beach stretches round the northern tip of the island and we found the best driftwood about a 10-minute walk beyond the car park. The effect was almost primeval – the combination of the dead, grey trunks, some knocked flat, others still standing tall, along with the lush growth, palms and marshes at the back of the beach. A mosquito patrol trundled past, stopped and disappeared into the greenery to search for their quarry.
We took photos and watched the beam trawlers at work out at sea, scooping up zillions of shrimp in the waters between us and the neighbouring island of St Simon’s.
Later, we returned to the pool for another lazy day, dipping in and out of the water, me reading Bill Bryson. We bumped into Arlene and Mark, the couple who’d been tracking us throughout our stay. She was as friendly as ever, if a little too keen on the booze, rather repetitive in her choice of conversation, determined to visit London and look us up (god forbid). Her charming husband turned out to be ex-military and spent most of his time trying to crowbar her away from us.
For our last night we ate at the Crane again and ended up back in the hotel’s pub, which was busier than normal. But then that came as no surprise as the hotel was gearing up for the annual Shrimp and Grits festival, the grounds gradually filling with stalls, vehicles, marquees and other paraphernalia.
We met more charming people, including a lady who’d just ordered $50 of Baileys for a nightcap, filling a large plastic cup to the brim with the stuff. She was already plastered so I feared for the state of her head in the morning. Insisting that we should cancel our flight and stay for the festival, she looked terribly disappointed when we politely turned down her offer to stay in two of the spare beds she had in her room.
We’d had a great few days on Jekyll and now it was all over. The hotel had been welcoming and the grounds magical, a marvellous combination of green lawns, majestic oaks, verdant magnolias and glorious architecture.
In the morning, we drove out through the grounds, the historic heart of the island, and headed south to Jacksonville in Florida and our domestic flight to Atlanta. Arriving early thanks to our gas-guzzling but spunky Mustang, we found ourselves in the city itself. Which was a mistake. Downtown at least was a mess of flyovers and bridges, highways and freeways, ugly tower blocks and rail lines. The wide river seemed overwhelmed by it all, another American city given over to the car.
And that was it. We flew an aged and packed Delta 757 to Atlanta then settled in to the lounge to await our BA 777-300 flight back to Heathrow. And to work…