As weekend treks go, Middle Tennessee has more than enough sites to see and things to do to keep visitors happily rambling for months. We begin our weekend adventure by taking Highway 64 past Sewanee, down the scenic back side of Monteagle Mountain and on to the quaint town of Winchester.We are looking for the Tim's Ford Recreation area, where lakefront activity draws campers and boaters converging throughout the spring, summer and fall months. Although popular for bass fishing, and as scenic as it is, Tim's Ford Lake retains its tranquil persona and is a favorite for campers and fishermen who prefer a quieter setting.
The day is bright and the water is blue as we take in the lodge at Fanning Bend, a second-home community adjacent to the park. The new lakeside community offers privacy and simplicity as it attempts to respect environmen tal guidelines that specify natural shorelines to remain intact along Tim's Ford Lake, a reservoir that is fed by the Elk River. Great blue herons fish for frogs and small perch in the shallows along on the lakeshore.
Our next stop is the world famous Jack Daniels Distillery in Lynchburg. Visitors spend time looking through a miniature museum of Tennessee memora bilia while waiting for their tour guide. The free tour begins at the back of the site where hickory wood is slowly fired to make the charcoal that filters the brew. The guide, a bearded old-timer, traces the process and history of the famous brand and the man it is named for, from its earliest begin nings. Our group includes a siz able contingent of German tourists, as well as guests from around the country.
The highlight of the tour is the cool, pure spring of water flowing from a natural limestone bluff, pur ported to be the key to the success of the beverage. And of course, the refreshment room, where a cup of coffee, or a glass of tea or lemonade and other treats are waiting. A helpful staffer even provides the recipe for the Jack Daniels praline I'm enjoying. Thousands of people visit the distillery each year. After browsing through the shops on the square in Lynchburg, where a vari ety of antiques and Jack Daniels' souvenirs are sold, we're on the road again.
A quick loop around to Interstate-24 south brings us back to the quiet mountain town of Monteagle, home of the Monteagle Assembly and neighbor to the nationally ranked University of the South at Sewanee. It is a world unto itself. Monteagle was founded by descendants of Swiss colonists and later by Scot-Irish settlers. At 2,200 feet above sea level, it is the highest point between Chicago and Miami.
Our accommodations are at The Monteagle Inn, a fine exam ple of what can happen when an experienced marketer turns his attention to the hospitality industry, especially in a small mountain community. Like the Whites at the Black Walnut Inn, Jim Harmon had well-honed skills to build on. As a vice presi dent of marketing for a large national firm, he spent years con ducting sales retreats and creating events for his sales force at loca tions throughout the country. He has taken a 1940s family home, moved it back off the main street two hundred feet and surrounded it with gardens and lush land scaping. The renovation created a 13-suite bed & breakfast inn and retreat center on the beautiful Cumberland Plateau. Its broad veranda offers cushioned swings where guests often curl up with a book in summer or beside a cheerful fire in the large and lav ishly decorated drawing room in winter. The pleasant room, which can accommodate a sizeable group opens onto an interior courtyard, facing a 700-squarefoot conference building equipped for professional meet ings and lectures. The Europeanstyle atmosphere carries over into the rooms where freshly cut flowers, including the New Dawn roses grown on the property, are placed each weekend—spring through fall. Extensive herb and vegetable gardens add to the beauty of the retreat.
"Midweek, we often have meetings affiliated with the university and we have a group of artists that come up annually for a work shop," says Harmon. The Inn serves as a comfortable home base from which to enjoy all types of recreation. Monteagle's annual activities include the Sewanee Artists Guild's Arts & Crafts Weekends, and the University sponsors events, such as the Lessons and Carols of Sewanee and the month-long Sewanee Summer Music Festival, drawing an international crowd. At Christmas, local residents from the valleys drive up for concerts put on by the University, with its gothic campus modeled after Oxford University in England.
For outdoor recreation the area is wild and scenic, but easily accessible. The South Cumberland State Park offers some of the finest and most beau tiful year-round hiking opportu nities in the region and provides good maps of hiking trails. Before our concert on the cam pus of the University of the South, we have dinner at the popular Pearl's Foggy Mountain Cafe, known for its fresh gourmet cui sine and casual dining atmos phere. Reservations are recom mended.
The international musicians performing at the chamber concert highlight the day and a late evening brass ensemble in the University's All-Saints Cathedral tingles the spine with renditions of Richard Strauss's Sprach Zarathustra and other grand clas sical compositions. The cultural diversity in Middle Tennessee can only be described as overwhelm ing. After a good night's sleep, the finale of our weekend is a delight ful Sunday breakfast at the Monteagle Inn, regaled by church bells and sunshine.