lighthouse at Cape Lookout, N.C., so tall when
viewed up close, becomes rather small when seen in
this file aerial view of Core Banks. Although a
little unconventional, winter at the coast can offer
a lot of pretty and interesting places to visit
Frye moved to Wilmington, N.C., in 2002 to attend grad
school — and never left. As a freelance writer, he has
visited and written about the 301-mile coastline and the
mainland behind it.
second North Carolina guidebook for Moon/Avalon —
"Moon North Carolina Coast (including the Outer
Banks)" — pulls together what he’s seen, done and
recommends to travelers, from the Great Dismal Swamp on
the Virginia line to the fabled fish restaurants in
Calabash, just upwind from Myrtle Beach. There are stops
along the way for flora, fauna, folklore, beer and more.
an interview, Frye shared highlights of what that area has
feel real isolated on the Shackleford Banks, specifically
the very old ghost town of Portsmouth, on Cape Lookout
National Seashore. It’s ferry-access-only to reach that
former whaling station. There’s just a church and a few
buildings standing; there’s also a little National Park
Service information desk.
like Ocracoke might have been 190 years ago — but a
little eerie because the homes there have been maintained
by the Park Service. It looks like someone just left and
will be back ... but they won’t."
might be the importance of African-Americans to the U.S.
Life Saving Service, the precursor to the Coast Guard, on
the Outer Banks. Richard Ethridge was the only
African-American captain of the service: He was raised as
a slave in Manteo, on Roanoke Island, and grew up to be a
waterman. After serving in the Civil War in the 36th U.S.
Colored Troops — later the famous ‘Buffalo Soldiers’
— he became keeper of the station on Pea Island and
commanded an all-black crew.
Pea Island, there’s a little memorial to him, and they
re-created a life-saving station there. His grave and an
account of his story are at the N.C. Aquarium at Roanoke,
which they’re getting ready to redo. The place where
Ethridge grew up — Island Farm — is a living history
site with three or four original buildings from his family’s
holdings on Roanoke Island."
Hammocks Beach State Park, on the Crystal Coast, near
Jacksonville, in Onslow County. It’s on Bear Island, is
one of the less-visited state parks and is just a crazy
little place. There’s a ferry service to reach it and
only one road on the island. You can camp there or just go
over for the day.
has eight or 10 miles of absolutely pristine beach.
Sometimes you can spot bears there, and there are
alligators on the inland marsh side of the park."
like Bald Head Island. The island is only two miles off
the coast, but a 20-minute ferry ride. And there’s
something about that ride that really pulls the plug for
you: You feel like you’re really going far away, though
you can still see the island from the mainland.
Head Island has isolated beaches to walk on and miles of
kayaking through marsh creeks that can get you to some
secluded spots. You get around on golf carts or bikes. The
lighthouse on Bald Head is beautiful."
partial to Calabash seafood, so I would go with Ella’s
style originated in the town of Calabash when Lucy High
Coleman started cooking in a little lean-to, frying food
for fishermen on their way home. The method is simple:
Clean and fillet the fish, dredge it in a little
evaporated milk; add corn flour and salt and pepper; then
think descendants of Coleman own three restaurants in
Calabash; Ella’s is one of them. There’s something a
little gritty and down-home abut Ella’s."
EATERY WORTH CHECKING OUT
are a couple places on the Inner Banks that deal with
these odd, old-fashioned fish fries — you have to go in
winter, when they have herring and things like that
those places, The Cypress Grill, in Jamesville (Martin
County), is the best known and the one that’s
consistently open January or early February through April.
It’s an odd little fishing shack that doesn’t look
like much from the outside. I think it seats 30.
scale the fish, clean it, score it and fry it."
HERE BEFORE IT GOES AWAY
is not physically going away, but more people discover it
and start to look at the North Carolina coast as a place
to live. The danger is that people can build McMansions
and gaudy beach mansions — something that looks good in
a magazine — rather than something that’s functional
a spot where the aesthetic could shift quite
CHANGED LOCALE WORTH VISITING
first experience traveling to North Carolina was going to
the Outer Banks beaches in the late ‘80s and early ‘90s.
There were a lot of restaurants and houses to rent. Even
then it was built up; my aunt and uncle who took us there
said it had changed since the 1960s.
I returned after a five- or six-year hiatus, I was
surprised to see how much more it had built up.
the Outer Banks manages to retain a small-town vibe and
the Banks thing: Going to Jockey’s Ridge and Jennette’s
Pier never gets old. And you have the lighthouses there,
which make our coast special. There are three you can
climb that are within easy striking distance of anywhere
on the Outer Banks."
Hanover County gets that honor. We’re one of the
smallest counties in the state, but with the number of
beaches and proximity to the Brunswick County beaches, and
with UNC Wilmington here, traffic can get a little hairy
at times. That’s especially true when rental beach
houses are changing tenants, like Saturdays between 10:30
a.m. and 4:30 p.m. That’s when locals avoid all the
arterials we can."