Dear beach, I will see you again soon

Mar. 06, 2014 @ 05:01 AM

With the recent snow, ice and chilly weather, I have found myself yearning to feel those warm rays of sunshine on my skin and the soft sands of the beach between my toes again.

I was very fortunate getting to grow up near the beaches of South Carolina, and have therefore spent most of my summers by a beach. When I was a little girl, going to the beach meant spending all day in the sun, building sandcastles, collecting seashells, jumping over waves and getting a tiny bit sunburnt.

The beach has come to represent those wonderful memories spent with friends and family, and today it is a source of everlasting peace and tranquility. I love going to the beach for sunbathing, beachcombing, stargazing or a simple stroll along the shore.

And whether the beaches be in England, Europe, the Bahamas or the good ol’ South, they are all full of treasured memories.

Some of my favorite beaches to frequent are located in the Outer Banks, a long string of narrow barrier islands off the coast of North Carolina and a small portion of Virginia. The islands cover most of the North Carolina coastline and continue to be a major tourist destination known for their temperate climate and wide expanse of open beachfront.

For many visitors and locals alike, the Outer Banks is often referred to as the land of beginnings. It is where England first attempted to colonize the Americas, where the Wright Brothers defied gravity from a sandy dune not far from the beach and where the government set aside the majority of the islands as the country’s first National Seashore.

The most northern group of towns in the Outer Banks is on the Currituck Banks peninsula. This includes the communities of Sandbridge, Carova Beach and Corolla. Sandbridge is actually located in Virginia, and I had the pleasure of visiting the town on a summer trip with a college friend and her family. The trip was full of lazy days on a private beach, sunset strolls through the beach town and plates piled high with fresh seafood.

During a two-week trip I took to the Outer Banks, I did not visit Carova Beach or Corolla because I started in the next group of towns on Bodie Island. Communities on Bodie Island include Duck, Southern Shores, Kitty Hawk, Kill Devil Hills and Nags Head.

I visited the site of the Wright Brothers National Monument and the First Flight Airport and spent time in Nags Head admiring the hammock shops and the picturesque Bodie Island lighthouse.

Continuing south along the Outer Banks, Roanoke Island rests along the main string of islands and includes the communities of Manteo and Wanchese. Since I was traveling down the Outer Banks on Route 12 — the only main road through the islands — I did not visit Roanoke Island, but instead arrived on Hatteras Island.

Hatteras Island is home to several towns and communities including Rodanthe, Waves, Salvo, Avon, Buxton, Frisco and Hatteras. I explored each small town and took in many beautiful sites including the now famous house from “Nights in Rodanthe” and the iconic red-and-white-striped Cape Hatteras Lighthouse. I also spent time enjoying the quiet, serene Hatteras seashore.

The area in the Outer Banks known as Cape Hatteras National Seashore has a long and rich heritage. The islands that make up the seashore are ever-changing — shaped by forces of water, wind and storms. Cape Hatteras is home to fishermen and farmers, surfers and lighthouse keepers and many others who continuously shape the heritage of the seashore.

Once I reached the end of Hatteras Island, I took a large ferry over to Ocracoke Island. The quaint village of Ocracoke is only accessible by a ferry, private boat or small private plane.

I immediately fell in love with the quintessential beach town, complete with its unspoiled beaches, crashing waves and gliding seagulls. I explored Ocracoke by walking and bicycling through back roads lined with beautiful homes along the water.

I learned that history abounds in the town with sites like the Ocracoke Preservation Museum, British Cemetery and Teach’s Hole, once home to the notorious pirate Blackbeard. I also discovered the town’s historic 1823 lighthouse, the oldest operating lighthouse on the East Coast.

One of my favorite parts of Ocracoke (and really the entire Outer Banks) is the food. The town prides itself in having the freshest seafood in its restaurants and markets, and I must admit it has some of the best seafood I have ever tasted. When I was not stuffing myself with seafood, I took to the beach and water to participate in a variety of activities. From kite boarding and wind surfing to jet skiing and kayaking on the ocean, Ocracoke has it all.

Before hopping back on the ferry to head toward the mainland, I poked my head into many gourmet shops, clothing boutiques and galleries with local art and gifts, where I purchased several unique knick-knacks to remember my trip by.

Although I ended my trip after Ocracoke, the area of the Outer Banks to the south of Ocracoke Island continues with the Cape Lookout National Seashore. It includes Portsmouth Island, Core Banks and Shackleford Banks, all of which are uninhabited and home to various wildlife.

I not only love beaches because they remind me of my childhood, but also because as a whole they give off a laid-back, relaxed attitude where life seems to be a little simpler and much slower paced. It amazes me how much history is contained in beach towns like those in the Outer Banks.

Attractions and activities are connected to the roots of each island’s history, from destructive hurricanes, hundreds of shipwrecks, lighthouses guiding sailors and treacherous tales of pirates. And although some of the actual history has been lost over time, the culture present in the people, places and stories will always live on.

Whether walking along the beach of my second hometown in South Carolina, kayaking on the Ocracoke sound or climbing the stairs of the Cape Hatteras Lighthouse, I will always enjoy the sound of the crashing waves, feeling the sand between my toes and basking in those warm rays of sunlight.

Dear beach, I will see you again soon.