Exploring Historic Rugby, TN

A quaint town, rich with history

As I wrote a few weeks ago Ryan and I decided to make this our year of exploration. We’ve both lived in East Tennessee for at least 4 years, but have not taken advantage of the beautiful countryside that surrounds us. So I asked local blog and Twitter friends for some suggestions for places to visit that could be done in a day or weekend from Knoxville.

Our first of such trips took place last weekend while my mother-in-law, Gayle, was visiting from Alaska. After some research on the place, and a phone call to learn they were dog-friendly, we decided on Rugby, TN, about a 45 minute drive northwest of Knoxville.

Rugby is at the southern end of the Big South Fork Park, and is a tiny but historic town with a lot of pride. It’s so small we actually drove completely through it before we knew we had even arrived. We were hungry so we started our journey at the Harrow Road Cafe, the town’s restaurant. We sat at the lone outside patio table in the back with the dogs and feasted on southern goodness like biscuits and gravy, which was delectable.

We then backtracked to the Rugby Visitor Center & Theater, where we watched a 20  minute video of the history of Rugby (which could be titled: “The Rise and Fall of Rugby”). After the video our guide Carol led us on a tour of the 4 historic buildings. The most fascinating is the library, completed in 1882, which is the oldest functioning library in the U.S. It contains no books published later than 1898. Carol actually pulled out one book that was published in the late 1600’s. The library also contains one of only three complete and original sets of records of the “War of the Rebellion,” the name then given to the Civil War.

Getting outdoors

Next, the part we came for: hiking! Carol directed us down the road to the town cemetery, where the hike down to the Gentleman’s Swimming Hole starts. It’s a short hike down to the Clear Fork River, where the “gentleman” with us did go for a swim, as did the dogs. From there it’s 2 1/4 mile loop to hike back out.

That part of the hike is simply beautiful. There are giant rocks and boulders along the river that all seem to have lives of their own. They are covered with etchings and an almost unnatural wear that makes you feel like you are communing with more than just nature. Continuing on the path we reached the point where two rivers come together, and we paused to simply take in the beauty of our surroundings.

As we ascended the last leg of our hike from the riverside we paused for a moment, not 25 yards from the car. Oh how I wish we hadn’t done that. Before I go on, please know that we loved our trip to Rugby, and until the last few moments, it was a day of perfection.

It’s all fun and games until someone loses a pint of blood

Ah, but we did pause, which is when I heard Ryan blurt out some exclamation which I cannot now recall. I looked at him to see him looking at his feet and so I looked down as well to find that we were both suddenly covered… in ticks. I still shudder at the thought, even as I type this, a week removed.  My thick hiking socks were teeming with ticks. My best estimate is that I had 50 – 60 of them on me.  I never saw Ryan’s legs because my next thought was how in the world I’d get them all off the dogs.

Realizing we had to move, I yelled after the dogs and took off running towards the car. I paused long enough to swipe all that I could see off my shoes and socks, as Gayle caught up with us, trying to figure out what was going on. I guess they don’t have ticks in Alaska, because she immediately pulled out some alcohol wipes and offered them to us. Then she suggested we strip and, since I had to focus on the dogs, I complied, took one last cursory glance over my body to swipe off any more and then started working on Hayley.

Hayley is so thick with fur I knew that any ticks that made it above her legs would be very hard to find. So I started picking, pulling, grabbing, swiping, whatever it took to get them off of her. It was really a losing battle.  Quickly I realized that I had to pull a few, then drag her to a new location, because they were just crawling right back on us. So we started our battle: pull some ticks, move closer to the graveyard, pull some ticks, closer to the graveyard (it was only later I realized how ominous that was).

New hikers came up while we were in the middle of all this. I guess they didn’t find our lack of clothes odd because they pleasantly said: “how’s the hike??”  I remember hearing Gayle say: “Well, there are ticks to the right!” I never looked up. We spent at least 45 minutes de-ticking the dogs, ourselves, each other. Had we not been so focused on tick removal I would have been mortified.

We drove to the nearest gas station, where we picked up a pair of tweezers and kept picking. Ryan and Gayle both continued to pull ticks off themselves on the drive home. We spent the rest of the night picking ticks. We had a whole operation set up: Gayle and Ryan with headlamps combing through dog fur (I’m pretty sure only an Alaskan woman travels with a headlamp in her bag), each of us with tweezers, fast experts at tick-picking, and 3 bowls of alcohol for our new tick graveyards.

For the last week, we have continued to find and pull ticks off the girls. I have to think we are nearly finished. All of our clothing, shoes, backpacks, etc. went through the sanitize wash cycle and the dog bedding continues to do so. In all we estimate we removed over 500 ticks. I have never seen anything like it – a giant colony of ticks like that.

We keep having new experiences, some of which are too gross to share. A few days ago however, I was on my way out the door for an appointment when I noticed a tick on Hayley’s paw. I was bent right over the top with my tweezers and as I squeezed him that darned tick literally exploded, splattering blood across my face. Maybe that was too gross to share too.

We’ve since learned lots of natural preventions for ticks, like boiling Rosemary and Lavender, creating a spray and coating ourselves and the dogs in it. Those herbs are natural tick repellent. We won’t be venturing out on any more East TN adventures without it!

In summary, we thoroughly enjoyed Rugby, even if leaving it behind took a lot more time and effort than we had intended. In fact, Gayle already is making plans to head back up to the Big South Fork Park and do more exploring and perhaps an overnight trip. Apparently, you simply cannot scare Alaskan women, not even with several hundred Tennessee ticks!

1 thought on “Exploring Historic Rugby, TN”

  1. So…I guess this is sort of the anti-climactic version of the ending of the Brad Paisley song: “I’d Like To Check You For Ticks,” huh…not really what I think he was singing about…but alas…reality…glad everyone survived!

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