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Travel: Enter Walton country; Scottish Passport presenter Bryan Burnett visits Virginia, main battleground of the US Civil War and home to some of the most beautiful scenery in America as well as John-Boy and the rest of the Walton clan.

Byline: Bryan Burnett

With the exchange rate in our favour it's a great time to go to America. If you've already visited the major cities and tourist destinations, it's worth exploring some of the states which are less well known.

Virginia is halfway between New York and Florida and is part of what America calls its Capital region. This includes Maryland and Washington DC.

Boy, they love their capitals. The locals won't take long to remind you their state is home to The Trout Capital of the Eastern United States, The Last Capital of the Confederacy and Gordonsville, proud to be The Fried Chicken Capital of the World. Mind you, I'm sure Colonel Sanders would have something to say about that last claim to fame.

The whole state oozes history. Virginia was the main battleground of the Civil War. It played a major part in the slavery uprisings and the American Revolution. It was Virginians who helped draft the constitution and the first president, George Washington, was born here.

I started my tour in Richmond and was lucky enough to get booked in at the Jefferson Hotel, named after another Virginia-born president.

The staircase in the movie Gone With The Wind was modelled on the one in the hotel.

The riverfront area in Richmond has undergone some serious regeneration and the old tobacco warehouses around Shockoe Slip have been turned into restaurants, bars and upmarket stores.

An hour outside Richmond is colonial Williamsburg, which used to be the capital of Virginia. In 1926 they decided to restore Williamsburg to the way it would have looked in its heyday.

The staff are in period costume and great effort has been put in to making it feel like you have stepped back in time.

You can wander around and watch wigmakers and silversmiths at work. When you get hungry you can call in at the local tavern for some 18th-century style peanut soup.

Another place history buffs will want to visit is Jamestown, the site of the first English settlement in America.

After a few days in Richmond, I visited the famous Blue Ridge Mountains. Within a couple of hours you are out of the city and experiencing rural America at its best.

The Appalachian mountain range is the backdrop to some spectacular scenery and when you visit the Blue Ridge Mountains you'll soon see why The Waltons were so proud to call it home.

The Blue Ridge Parkway is a meandering 470mile road that links the Shenandoah and Smokey Mountain National Parks. There are wonderful views all along the route and if you are into hiking or biking, there are plenty of opportunities for both.

Everywhere you go in the Appalachian mountains you'll get to hear some great traditional music. For a country music fan like me, it was heaven driving from town to town, listening to authentic old-time music.

The town of Galax is famous for its music festivals. When it comes to stylish accessories, you can forget Prada handbags. A banjo is the thing to be seen with around here. It seems the whole town is musical. I stopped at a local instrument shop for a banjo lesson and within 15 minutes, half a dozen musicians had joined me for a big jam session.

It's worth bearing in mind that there are parts of the state that are deeply religious. Driving around on a Sunday morning you'll find a lot of places are deserted and it feels like the whole town has gone to church.

There are even dry counties parts of the state where no bars are allowed to open and where the drinking of alcohol is discouraged.

My final port of call was the historic town of Staunton. There are several B&Bs in town which have wonderfully-restored Victorian decor. But don't go expecting a Millport-style boarding house. The ones in Staunton were sophisticated and upmarket homes.

If you've been roughing it in the mountains for a few days, it's a classy way to end your trip.

WE LOVED: The music. If you like country music you will love Virginia WE HATED: Dry counties where the sale of alcohol is discouraged

CAPTION(S):

The splendid scenery of Shenandoah National Park in the Appalachian Mountains, above, and left, the historic colonial town of Jamestown; Bryan enjoys banjo lesson during visit to Galax, Virginia
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Title Annotation:Features
Publication:Sunday Mail (Glasgow, Scotland)
Date:Apr 18, 2004
Words:725
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