Tuesday, October 30, 2007

The Highway to Hell Hole

We pulled into Jamestown, SC, three weeks ago and four months too late to make the Hell Hole Swamp Festival. We are parked in front of the festival headquarters, a little building donated by Seaboard Coast Line Railroad. We seem to have missed quite a bit.

In early May the festival was held to observe it's 36th anniversary. The shindig included the Miss, Mrs. ( no Ms it seems ) and Mr. Hell Hole Beauty Pageants, a Bar-B-Que Cook-Off, Whiskey Still display,10K Gator Run, parade, a talent show, a Tobacco Spitting Contest, Horseshoe Pitching Contest and the Moonshine Ball. We don't know whether the festival has an official car, but we're not in the running.

Running is a feature of this festival. The Hell Hole Gator Trot is the oldest 10 Kilometer race in the state. You must always stipulate that it is a people race rather than a NASCAR sanctioned event in these parts. Only the first and last mile is paved. The rest is run on crushed-rock logging roads that, depending on rainfall the days before the race, can range anywhere between hard and dusty to shoe-swallowing mush. May is springtime in many places, but it's pretty close to summer here. It's no Alpine retreat, but it draws runners from far and wide.

Everyone in South Carolina knows the name of this place, but few know the origin of that name. During the Revolutionary War in a letter to King George, General Cornwallis called the swamp—from which Francis Marion and his band of guerrillas mounted their attacks upon the British troops and then vanished—"one hell of a hole of a swamp." So it is the derision of the British Empire rather than the Chamber of Commerce which hatched the name.

Not everyone knows where the festival is held nor do they know how to get to Jamestown. You just get on the Ocean Highway, US 17 North, out of Charleston to McClellanville. There take a left on Hwy 45 which intersects with Hwy 41 at Jamestown. It's the highway to Hell Hole.


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