With so much to see and do in the Upper Cumberland region of Tennessee, the small town of Rugby is an ideal Tennessee destination to explore a lot of what the area has to offer. A Victorian English village tucked away in the woods, the town of Rugby has tours of historic buildings, boutique and craftsman shops and delicious dining. And just outside of the town limits are incredible outdoors adventures, hikes and waterfalls through mountain wilderness.
Around here, folks know Miss Linda as “the best cook on the Plateau.” Grey Gables Bed and Breakfast Inn, located on the outskirts of Rugby, has 10 unique bedrooms to accommodate you during any trip to the area. Miss Linda and her family have been serving warm meals and keeping cozy beds available for Rugby’s locals and visitors alike for generations, making Grey Gables the first choice spot for lodging. And here’s a bonus: it isn’t just breakfast that’s served at the table at Grey Gables. Miss Linda is also serving dinner, so come hungry each night.
Hike - Gentleman’s Swimming Hole & Meeting of the Waters
Morgan County is the only county in the state of Tennessee to have access to two National Parks. One is the Obed Wild & Scenic River to the south, the other Rugby has its own backyard access to: Big South Fork National River and Recreation Area. From Rugby, you can descend into the Clear River gorge to the Gentleman’s Swimming Hole, a quick quarter-mile trip down to a spot where Rugby’s earliest inhabitants went to picnic and swim. A slightly longer, but flatter trail leads to the Meeting of the Waters, the spot where the Clear Fork River and White Oak Creek meet. Incredible rock formations and beautiful hardwood forests make this hike a must for any Rugby visit.
Eat - Harrow Road Cafe
The recently remodeled cafe on the main street through Rugby is a great spot to stop and have lunch in between hiking the trails and touring historic Rugby. The menu is lined with both American and English staples, including what is perhaps their signature dish: Shepherd’s pie. Tender roast topped with mashed potatoes, this hearty meal will fuel the remainder of the day’s adventures.
Tour - Historic Rugby
Upon first glance, Rugby seems out of a fairy tale. The Victorian buildings lining the roadway do not look like anything else on the Cumberland Plateau. For an explanation on how this British country village came to the Tennessee mountains, visitors need look no further than the guided walking tour at the Rugby Visitor Centre & Theatre. Starting with a film, The Power of a Dream, and ending with a tour through several of Rugby’s most important historic buildings including the church, library and founder’s home, you’ll begin to see Rugby’s amazing story of conception come alive.
Stroll - Rugby State Natural Area & Massengale Homeplace
After the guided walking tour, a stroll through the Massengale Homeplace at the Rugby State Natural Area, will enhance your historic experience. Located right behind the visitors center, this 667-acre woodland shows another side of this area’s history. Before the Rugby village was built, a more traditional grouping of Appalachian homesteaders, including the Massengale family, forged a life in these hills. A short and fairly easy half-mile trail leads to the homeplace site on the Allerton Ridge hilltop. Although only a remnant of the chimney remains on the original site, it is nevertheless an immersive experience to walk around this former homeplace here in the wilderness.
Shop - Downtown
The quaint shops of downtown offer an array of art, crafts and other goods. Start with the Commissary and Museum Store. Appalachian artisans handcraft everything from dolls to quilts, while other goods on the shelves come from the British Isles. Or the quirky little Please Be Seated, a store dedicated entirely to rockers and chairs. It may well be the most comfortable store in the state. And then the amazing - and brand new - Spirit of Red Hill store. The owners literally recreated one of Rugby’s previously long-gone historic buildings to house a store filled with unique and eccentric items.
Visit - R. M. Brooks Country Store
Another must-visit shop sits just outside of Rugby. Serving the Rugby community since before 1920, stepping in through the screen door at the R. M. Brooks Country Store is like stepping back in time. Filled with antiques, this store serves as part museum, part lunch counter. You’ll want to give yourself plenty of time to look at all the things on the shelves, small things from a simpler time that will surprise you. And then, if you’ve got the room, make sure to ask for some fried pies - but be sure to go in before the afternoon hours tick too far by. They go quick!
What trip to a small Appalachian town would be complete without a waterfall hike? A short drive east of downtown Rugby sits Colditz Cove, a beautiful 165-acre natural area featuring beautiful Northrup Falls. Water from Big Branch Creek cascades more than 60 feet into a magnificent pool below, where you can hike beneath the rock outcropping and feel the water misting over you. The hike itself is relatively short, but features a steep grade to reach the foot of the falls.
The most famous American soldier to come out of World War I is none other than Tennessee native-son, Alvin C. York. This state historic park, located in Pall Mall where he lived before and after the war, is dedicated to telling the incredible story of his life, and preserving his memory. York received the Congressional Medal of Honor, as well as the French Croix de Guerre, for an outstanding military action in the Argonne Forest in 1918 when he led a small group of men in the face of overwhelming odds and managed to capture 132 German prisoners. But, it is his humble beginnings and life after the war, when he became an influential progressive leader and humanitarian that makes his story even more amazing. A trip to the state park that bears his name is, without a doubt, a moving experience.
The stories of Tennessee's rural communities can be found along The Appalachian Quilt Trail.