There are so many places in Virginia I have yet to explore, even though I have lived here for over 12 years now. I have a casual mental list of these places, but I should write everything down rather than just saying, “Oh, yeah, that’s a place I want to go,” whenever I hear the name mentioned. I’ll work on that.
In the meantime, let me tell you about one place I did get the chance to visit recently: the Natural Bridge, one of the seven natural wonders of the world.
As I was getting ready for a day trip to the western part of Virginia, I did some research online first, of course. In the process I learned that Natural Bridge is not only the name of a landmark but also the name of the town where the landmark is located. And the Natural Bridge isn’t the only thing to see or do in Natural Bridge, Virginia. And, on top of all that, the Natural Bridge and other landmarks in western Virginia (caverns, etc.) are not all clustered together but spread out, sometimes far from each other. Who knew?
(Geography. I’m learning it.)
In the end I decided to go to the Natural Bridge and the Natural Bridge Caverns. There’s a package deal where you can get tickets for both, so I figured, why not? I’d heard the Natural Bridge was pretty cool and I like caverns. Anyway it would be a pretty drive and something new to see. So that’s what I did.
I don’t really know what I expected to see when I got to the Natural Bridge. I’ve always enjoyed the mountains of Virginia. They are beautiful. But they don’t overwhelm me with awe like they do some people because I’ve been to New Hampshire and seen the mountains there (and they do fill me with awe). I guess I expected something like that to happen with my Natural Bridge experience, too. But the Natural Bridge was something else entirely.
The Natural Bridge was breathtaking.
It’s so much bigger than I expected! It’s all rock that’s multicolored and weathered. It’s 215 feet high and spans 90 feet. There is a road that goes over the top of it! There are doves that nest in the rock. There’s a little creek that meanders through the area, under the bridge, away from the mountain where it forms the Lace Waterfalls.
The path that has been built there starts at the visitor center, descends several (many) steps, and winds around a bend where suddenly the Natural Bridge comes into view and steals your breath away. You follow the path to the Bridge and under it, tilting your head back as far as it will go to see as much of the Bridge as you can. The path moves on from there, following the creek upstream. A mock Indian village is nestled next to the path. You can see the “Lost River” – where men working in the saltpeter mine blasted the side of the mountain to find water they could hear, and still no one knows where it originates. The path ends with a view of the Lace Waterfalls. The water spreads out over the boulders as it falls so it looks like lace flowing down the mountainside. That whole area is beautiful.
The caverns were awesome, too. Apparently the Natural Bridge Caverns are among the deepest (if not the deepest) and most difficult (if not the most difficult) caverns on the East Coast. The tour only consists of a small portion of the caverns because of how hard they are to access and explore. I learned some things about caves, too. For example, if you are in a cave and need water, do not drink water that’s standing still because it has all the minerals in it from the rocks and that’s bad for you; find flowing water. And if you are in complete cave darkness for 24 hours, you will go blind!
On the way back, I had some time left and stopped at the Natural Bridge Zoo. It looks like a little place from the outside so I wasn’t sure what it would be like, but I was impressed by the animals that were there – giraffes, tigers, monkeys, zebras, an elephant, a talking bird, snakes, camels, flamingoes…
It was a day full of admiring God’s creation – from the tall Natural Bridge, to the caverns under the ground, to some of the creatures who inhabit the earth – and I thoroughly enjoyed it. I would recommend anyone take a trip to the Natural Bridge. Apparently there is a lot more to do there, too (a drive-through “safari” zoo, a wax museum, and more??), so maybe I will be going back at some point.
Each year for the past several years I have attended the Highland Games and Celtic Festival. The first year I went they were known as the “Meadow” Highland Games and Celtic Festival, but since then the event has changed locations and so has changed names. I always enjoy my time at the festival. So many of my friends also go that it’s almost like a big reunion. We don’t make plans to go together, we just all end up there and meet up with each other at random times throughout the day, parting ways only to run into each other again later.
I admit I’ve never watched much of the games. I have seen enough of them to know what goes on (a lot of throwing things) and I know the last couple of years there has been a rugby match. But the games aren’t the reason I go. I go for the atmosphere of the place. There’s nothing like walking up to the gate and hearing the bagpipes playing, sometimes a couple of different groups of them playing different tunes to warm up. I love to see the crowds of people dressed in their tartans or in costumes of various sorts. The beat of drums follows everyone all day. There’s authentic Celtic food (along with the regular fair-type of foods like funnel cakes and chicken tenders) and more to buy than you could ever hope to have money for on any one weekend. There is a whole section dedicated to clan tents; each registered clan can set up their own tent to show off their tartan and their clan history, and they parade through the field and give their war cry on Sunday.
My family is, of course, very proud to be American. But I am also proud of my Irish and Scottish ancestry, and the Celtic festival is my chance to immerse myself in that culture as much as I can on this side of the Atlantic Ocean.
There was one big disappointment for me this year, however. The music on the main stage was not what I would call “Celtic.” It was more like rock music with a fiddle and the occasional bagpipe thrown in. One band was better than the others, but still leaned too close to the rock genre for my taste. While I did enjoy the rest of the festival, the music hangs over it like a cloud. You can hear this wherever you go at the festival and it’s what sets the mood. So when it isn’t Celtic, the mood isn’t quite right, either. I was so disappointed, I’m considering only going for one day next year rather than two. But, who knows, I could change my mind by then.
And if Albannach comes back I will be there any time they are on stage.
Overall it was an enjoyable weekend, but this is the first time I’ve found myself looking back and wondering if it was worth the money. BUT I did get to dress up in my costume I wear as a member of the Virginia Renaissance Faire, and that is always a major plus!