The Outer Banks of North Carolina (800-446-6262; www.outerbanks.org) run a mere175 miles south from the state's northern border. A thin line of low, flat barrierislands, they're not exactly a significant land mass. Nor are they very easy to get to fromany major US airports. It's a 90-mile drive from the Norfolk, Va, airport, but the islands'remoteness is part of their charm. When you finally arrive, have a sense of achievement,
SHIFTING TIDES AND TIMES
The first town to greet youwhen you roll in from the west isManteo on Roanoke Island. It'snot only a perfect springboard forany tours of the area, but a destinationin itself. "This is a great littletown—where not much happens,"says Steve Brumfield, manager ofManteo Booksellers for 18 years."It's old-fashioned, but that's whatmakes it so nice."
He's kidding, of course. A lot hashappened, and continues to happen,in Manteo. On his shelves,Brumfield has more than 250 booksthat deal with his island's history.He has great reading on lighthouses,shipwrecks, and pirates. Hisbooks cover Carolina history fromthe famous Lost Colony of 1587, tothe Wright Brothers' discovery offlight in 1903, to the incredible1999 move of the beleaguered CapeHatteras lighthouse to a safer site2900 feet inland, completed justbefore Hurricane Dennis struck thecoast. If that's not enough, he hasregional books on nature trails,seafood recipes, and local legends.
Local folklore includes ghosts,one of a former postmaster in anupstairs storage room in theRoanoke Island Inn in Manteo andanother, the lighthouse keeper'sdaughter in the North Room of theold 1874 Currituck lighthouse inCorolla, one of the most northerntowns on the islands. Then ofcourse, there's the old story ofBlackbeard, who died in a fierceskirmish with the Royal Navy atnearby Ocracoke Inlet in 1718.There were further naval battles atRoanoke Island and Hatteras Inletduring the Civil War.
The sea figures prominently inthe Outer Banks' history, although,at other times, local folk art takesover, a big show being the annualquilt extravaganza organized by thelocal Teacup Quilters. Quilts fromthe days of the Civil War to the contemporary100-years' celebration offlight are proudly displayed.
That apart, the sea tends todominate the islands' culture. Thestory of how the town Nags Headgot its name is a favorite story: Landpirates tied lanterns around thenecks of the shore's wild ponies tolure ships onto the rocks. Anotheroften repeated tale is that of thearrival of the first English expeditionin 1584.
INHABITANTS OF HISTORY
At the Roanoke Island FestivalPark that celebrates local history,James Charles has long played therole of Thomas Constable, one ofthe wealthy wool merchants whofinanced expeditions. When he'sasked how long he's resided inManteo, he answers, "417 years, 6of them here." He points out thatcolonists didn't come until thethird, ill-fated expedition of 1587,known by schoolchildren as theLost Colony. The 2 earlier expeditionswere essentially governmentmilitary missions to resupply theRoyal Navy in the area and helpthem deal with privateers.
A Treatise of the Scurvy
At the water's edge bobs , a replica of the ship that broughtthe second colony to Roanoke. HereJohn Harris, in costume as RichardPait, the ship's boatswain's mate,explains details of the 110-day voyageto visitors.The food left much tobe desired on those long sea voyages.James Lind's would not be published until 1753.
Today, however, the restaurantstend to be full on Manteo, andfavorites of locals include RV'sRestaurant, run by a third-generationManteo family, and the popular 1587House at the Tranquil House Inn(252-473-1404; www.1587.com).The Inn, with its location on thewaterfront, its big, comfortablerooms, and its complimentary continentalbreakfast, appeals toguests as the perfect resting placewhile visiting England's first stopin the New World.