Christmas on the Cumberland Plateau
If you’ve not yet visited the Cumberland Plateau at Pickett State Rustic Park and its historic neighbord, Rugby, during winter, you’re in for a treat.
Surrounded by 19,200 acres of Pickett State Forest, Pickett State Park is known for its botanical diversity, wildflowers and flaming fall foliage. Trails lined with mountain laurel and rhododendron leading to Indian rock houses, natural bridges and numerous caves are nature’s winter wonderland.
Rugby was a utopian community founded on the dream of visionary British novelist, statesman, philanthropist and social reformer Thomas Hughes in 1880. Although winter proved very difficult for the colonists they celebrated their first Christmas in true English fashion.
It is in this spirit that Rugby’s annual Christmas festivities begin at 4 p.m. EST when visitors are transported to 1880 as they tour beautifully preserved candle and lamp lit historic structures decorated with holly, ivy and other evergreens.
Actors in period costume portray early Rugby colonists, Victorian Santa arrives, carolers sing, classical musicians perform and hot wassail is served. Seating for a four course Victorian meal that includes clam chowder, crab stuffed mushrooms, twice-baked potatoes, vegetable medley and filet mignon begins at 5:45 p.m.at the Harrow Road Café with a second seating at 8:00 p.m. Reservations are required.
My wife and I last visited Rugby on a crisp fall day. As we walked through the historic buildings that are manifestations of the splendor men sought to create here, it was bittersweet to imagine the hope with which they looked upon this Cumberland Plateau settlement. By 1884 the colony had approximately 400 residents and about 65 buildings. Of the original buildings, 17 remain.
We certainly fell under its spell and believe you will too.
The lovely Christ Episcopal Church is built in Gothic style and has been used continually for public worship since its construction in 1887. Kingston Lisle, home of the founder, is furnished with many pieces owned by Hughes. Tours are offered daily from February through December.
We had lunch at the Harrow Road Café before driving about 30 miles to explore one of Tennessee’s most scenic and historic state parks, Pickett State Park.
Stop at the park office for information about campsites for tent and trailer camping; rustic stone cabins with fireplace, kitchen, bath and screened porch; chalets with bedroom, bath, fireplace and spiral staircase; and rustic villas with fireplace, three bedrooms and two baths.
Backcountry camping is available on the 20-mile backcountry trail. Be sure to get information about black bear activity since populations have been increasing after their reintroduction during the 1990s. Details about hunting and OHV activities that take place in the state forest are available as well.
They also have maps of more than 58 miles of hiking trails, including the 0.25-mile trail that leads to Hazard Cave where stone artifacts found in the cave indicate occupation by prehistoric Indians. A bit more recently, the cave has become known for the ranger-led glowworm tours at night during spring.
Some trails, like the popular Hidden Passage Trail makes its way past shallow caves known as rock houses, waterfalls and Thompson overlook to connect with trails in the adjacent South Fork National River and Recreation Area.
Hidden Passage Trail is also the southern terminus of the Sheltowee Trace National Recreation Trail that makes its way 278 miles through Boone National Forest and the Red River Gorge in Kentucky. It roughly follows one the trails Daniel Boone helped to create through the wilderness of Tennessee and Kentucky. Sheltowee means “big turtle,” a name Boone was given by the Shawnee.
Take your fishing gear. You may get lucky casting in Arch Lake. Fishing boats and canoes are available for rent, however, other boats are prohibited on the small 12-acre lake.
Whether you explore Rugby’s fascinating history, Pickett State Park’s miles and miles of trails or curl up in front of a fire in a historic bed and breakfast or a rustic cabin, your Christmas on the Cumberland Plateau will surely create fond memories.
For more information, contact Historic Rugby at 888-214-3400, 423-628-2441 or visit www.historicrugby.org. Pickett State Park at 877-260-0010, 931-879-5821 or visit http://tn.gov/environment/parks/Pickett/.