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North Carolina: A natural beauty

North Carolina is the home of powered flight and the place where notorious pirate Blackbeard met his end, yet this wallflower state, in America’s southeast, is unfairly overlooked in favour of its southern sister. Explore its coastline and you’ll be rewarded with a rich mix of history and nature.

Four numbered markers in the ground at Kill Devil Hills, Kitty Hawk, plot the world’s first runway, at what is now the Wright Brothers National Memorial. Nearby, a group of statues recreates the classic 1903 photograph that captured Orville becoming airborne on the first manned powered flight. In the visitor centre, set behind the windy sand dunes that attracted these Ohio bicycle shop owners, it’s poignant to see a piece of their pioneering glider that later accompanied Neil Armstrong to the moon.

Back in the 18th century it was not the windy dunes but the treacherous shallow waters and barrier islands that drew British pirate Blackbeard, who terrorised the area until being caught and killed by the Royal Navy. His flagship the Queen Anne’s Revenge ran aground at Beaufort where the North Carolina Maritime Museum now displays its salvaged timbers and cannon balls.

Nowadays famous names on North Carolina’s coast tend to be the likes of Cher and Tom Cruise who have properties at Duck -  a classy yet low-key resort on the string of low lying islands known as Outer Banks. Further south, the somewhat boho town of Wilmington is also a star - this is where Dawson’s Creek was filmed. Cape Fear of the Martin Scorsese movie is nearby, though thankfully named for the risk of shipwreck rather than murderous residents.

The natural beauty of the North Carolina coast makes it a great place to explore on a fly-drive holiday, particularly if you’ve toured the headline states already. The romantically named Crystal Coast has a series of low lying national park islands where you may see pelicans, ospreys, and wild horses whose ancestors swam ashore from Spanish shipwrecks. There is also a string of pretty lighthouses overlooking beaches where you can pick up huge seashells.

Long beaches and piers - often topped with restaurants and bars, are very much a feature of the coast. The food is a real highlight - southern cooking with an emphasis on fresh seafood. The melt-in-the-mouth crab cakes are a must-try. Jambalaya, chowder and moreish cornmeal dippers called hush puppies are other menu staples.

Activity-lovers are drawn to the state. Kayaking and cycling are popular pursuits, while divers can explore the wrecks of pirate ships and a German U-boat. You can even try those Kitty Hawk winds out for yourself with a spot of beginners’ hang-gliding in the sand dunes.

*American Airlines flies non-stop from Heathrow to Raleigh/Durham. Delta flies directly to Charlotte.
A wide spectrum of accommodation includes river and beachside houses to rent. If you have time for a longer holiday, consider twinning North Carolina with South Carolina or Virginia.