Now our plan for our few days in Gatlinburg had been to visit the theme park dedicated and built by the patron saint of Tennessee, Dolly Parton, on Tuesday. However as we drove down Dollywood Boulevard we soon noticed a complete absence of any country fans, who clearly were in the know.
So we went to plan B and headed into Gatlinburg, what is in essence a slightly swankier Great Yarnmouth, with an Applachian backdrop, minus the beach and fish ‘n’ chips. Instead of rock sticks you can by ‘saltwater taffy’ from an unusually faux-German style building and enjoy a round of mini-golf at the David Crockett themed course (a surprise highlight of our day).
Certainly the best part of the day was our brunch at Pancake Pantry, an old timey, whimsical kind a place which served a stack of buttermilk pancakes, ladled with blueberries and oozing maple syrup from every air pocket. It’s the sort of culinary life-changing experience which means pancakes will never be the same again!
Gatlinburg is also home to the state’s first legal moonshine distillery (bit of an oxymoron), Old Smokey Moonshine. Just as Pocahontas says to John Smith in the classic (paraphrasing here…) the only gold round here is what we grow, referring to abundant corn fields. Early settlers soon heeded the advice of Native Americans understanding that corn was much easier to grow in this harsh climate than other cereals, such as barley. Corn became a diet staple and was perfect for distilling, producing moonshine, a high-alcohol content, paint stripper like liquid.
We finally made it to Dollywood, built by Dolly Parton to improve the economic fortunes of her home town, Pigeon Forge. With over 3,000 people on the payroll across the Dollywood resort (the largest employer in the county) what struck me was that employees spanned the aged brackets – certainly an equal opportunities employer with most in their golden years. Late this year the park’s economic impact continues as Dolly plans to open the DreamMore resort.
One expects the park to be a kitsch shrine to Dolly and although, you can head round the ‘Chasing Rainbows’ museum to check out some of her snazziest costumes, the park itself follows the Applachian style. Favourite rides included Thunderhead, a wooden roller coaster which whizzes over the heads of queuing passengers and the Mystery Mine with its flame throwers was quite impressive. If you do go, you should definitely sink your teeth into a sugary, cinnamon bread sold by a lovely little old dear in mop cap.
We move on from this bluegrass, hillbilly area to Nashville.