The entire focus of our trip was a visit to Assateague Island – everything else we had done as we travelled south along the coast was just grist to the mill. Assateague is a barrier island that is split between Maryland and Virginia. We were visiting the National Seashore (this bagging another National Park property) which is wholly within Maryland’s border. We began our trip, as we tend to do, with a stop by into the NPS Visitor Centre. We have been to many NPS Visitor Centres but the one at Assateague was among the best. The information regarding the flora, fauna, and history of the island was presented in easily digested gobbets, amply illustrated with images and objects. My boys particularly enjoyed a tortoise shell and a horse skeleton. Best of all, however, there were live whelks and horseshoe crabs in a touch pool tank. They spent ages guddling around in the water. I think they may want a pet horseshoe crab now.
We began our actual exploration of the island with a circular trail through sand dunes. This afforded the boys ample opportunities to climb things, whether trees or large pieces of driftwood. There was also a crumbling raised asphalt road dating from the interwar years that appeared at various points on the trail. That was a weird juxtaposition among the sand dunes and trees. Mr Pict thought the NPS should have made an effort to completely demolish and remove it but to my mind I think that it forms part of the history of the island and I rather like the idea that it sends a message about humans trying to develop the island but being repelled by nature.
The next stop was the ocean. Yes. The ocean. In late November. My kids were adamant that they were not visiting the beach without going in the water. I had absolutely forbidden it the previous day, when we were on the Delaware Coast, because the wind chill was bitter. There was much wailing and whining and protesting, chief among the arguments being that we used to let them go into the sea in Scotland on chilly days, albeit chilly summer days. I was not persuaded. On Assateague, however, I relented but advised that they just paddle at first while they determined whether they could actually cope with the cold. They donned their swimming kit, bounded across the sand, and were in the water in no time at all. I meanwhile wore their beach towels like shawls as I watched them. They did abide by my ruling and paddled for a short while before they decided to jump around in the waves and inevitably get soaked. No swimming but plenty of jumping and dunking.
Of course, what Assateague is most famed for is its population of feral horses. We had seen one, through some bushes, as we drove onto the island but we were obviously keen to see more. Once everyone was dried and dressed, therefore, we headed back along the road and had several horse encounters. We found a safe place to pull over and park up so that the two younger boys and I could hop out of the car and see the horses up close – though not too close, of course, and within the rules. Nobody really knows how it was that domesticated horses became feral horses occupying the island. There is, of course, the usual story about them having been survivors of a shipwreck but they are probably just the descendants of the horses pastured there by 17th Century farmers. Whatever their origins, we were delighted to see them as closely as we did. My 10 year old loves horses so he was over the moon. It also meant we had achieved the main goal of our entire overnight trip and we got to end our Thanksgiving travels with a highlight.