The guy at the marina told us that alligators are usually scared of people, so we probably didn’t have much to worry about after the kayaks were in the river. But the Waccamaw flows with what’s called black water–water turned dark by tannins leeched from cypress trees along the banks–making it all but impossible to see beneath the surface. If there were gators about, we’d only know it once it was too late. The sleepy town of Conway, South Carolina was proving to be much more exciting than I’d expected.
A few miles outside Myrtle Beach, Conway is a historic Lowcountry village founded in 1732 that moves about as fast as the slow drain of the Waccamaw. I found it because my friend Rob has family there: They run The Cypress Inn, a Southern Victorian waterfront bed and breakfast that we planned to enjoy for a night. It’s right on the river, with rocking chairs on the porch and an appropriately enormous (and delicious) breakfast.
Conway, a port by virtue of its river connections to the sea, has developed its waterfront into a tourist-friendly walkway, with boardwalks over the Waccamaw, playgrounds and benches, where couples sit to pass the quiet evenings. Live oaks weighed down with Spanish moss lend the town a mysterious air–and some grow in the middle of the road. One guide to the town I picked up at the Inn warns:
Some of our streets split around live oaks and some bend and wind. Drivers should proceed slowly and watch for oncoming traffic, always remembering that when the street narrows to a single lane, the law of Southern courtesy prevails!
The gentility extends to the waterways, many of which are now marked as “blueways,” narrow channels designated for recreation that extend all the way to the North Carolina border. Rob and I took to kayaks–leaky kayaks as it turned out–to paddle the rivers. We got turned around in the forks and bends, but with nothing to do except avoid getting eaten by alligators and water moccasins, our outing was a success. At $30 for the half-day rental, it was one of the best deals of the trip so far.
The area, a farming region since Antebellum times, continues to capitalize on the rural relaxation that’s increasingly popular worldwide. An AgriTourism Passport put together by Clemson University Extension promotes a variety of activities available in the area, including roadside produce stands, you-pick fruit farms, historic landmark plantations, farmers markets, vineyards and museums.
But if you spend the whole trip on eating biscuits and gravy at The Cypress Inn, you’ll have a wonderful time, too. Just remember to paddle off the calories in the Waccamaw.