Galley Wench Tales

Exploring the world through the people we meet
and the food they eat.


Wild horses at Georgia’s Cumberland Island

As the crow flies, Georgia’s Cumberland Island and St. Marys practically touches North Florida’s Fernandina Beach, which is nearly a beachy burb of Jacksonville (JAX) Florida. But somewhere between JAX and St. Marys you enter an alternative universe—the lowlands ecosystem. 

Cumberland Island Salt Marsh boardwalk.

There’s an ethereal, magical quality to the low country light  . . . the South’s marshland. In the fall, it’s at its most majestic, though less so mid-day (when we were there).

There are some advantages to the calm, mid-day light.
At the water’s edge of the Sea Islands of Georgia, Cumberland Island, GA.

Somewhere in the past, I recall seeing images of horses galloping in the mist—the wild horses of Cumberland Island. Technically, the ponies there today may be wild, in the same way a manatee (and Wayne saw one in the salt marsh), “the sea cows” are wild, as they calmly focus on getting their grub and chewing their cud.

This Cumberland Island pony’s expression cracked me up.

This cattle egret hangs out unafraid at the heels of one horse and the head of another.
It’s waiting to see what bugs get unearthed as the horses graze.

Once inhabited by American Indians, the rich biodiversity of Cumberland provided a steady supply of food for them and the European settlers who followed. Locally available materials like oyster shells were used to make tabby. a type of concrete, used for stucco walls.

Tabby wall in St. Marys, Georgia, across the river from Cumberland Island.

Thomas Carnegie, brother of steel magnate Andrew Carnegie purchased a large tract of property on Cumberland in the late 1800s as a winter retreat

A fire destroyed the Carnegies’ Cumberland Island mansion; its ruins remain.

Thomas began building a massive mansion there. His wife Lucy oversaw its completion after Thomas died, while she raised their nine children.

Domesticated trees like magnolias and massive native oak trees draped in Spanish moss continue 
to thrive on Cumberland Island.

Our original intent was to camp on the wilder side of Cumberland Island’s National Seashore, but the campsites were already full. We opted for a day trip instead, catching the early ferry from St. Marys.

We took the Cumberland ferry from St. Marys to Cumberland Island and back.
Cost: $60+tax for two, round-trip. The ferry makes the trip thrice daily.

The small outdoor amphitheater at Cumberland Island National Seashore’s Sea Camp.

The “wild horses” were our first sight upon debarking. After meandering down the Spanish moss-draped trails, past the Dungeness mansion ruins, along the salt marsh boardwalk, we headed into the dunes.

Dunes at Cumberland Island Seashore, south Georgia.

Cumberland is part of a chain of barrier islands that help protect Georgia’s mainland from ocean storms. The dunes protect the island itself.

Empty horseshoe crab shell on the Cumberland Island shore.

Along the seashore, it seemed we couldn’t walk more than fifteen feet without seeing a horseshoe crab shell. They were all empty. Our best guess is it was horseshoe crab molting season. Many of the shells were over a foot across.

Tern on channel marker near St. Marys.

After a warm walk in the sunshine, we caught the mid-afternoon ferry back, our appetite whetted to plan further ahead next time, far enough out to secure a camping site. We may also splurge for the Land and Legacy Tour there, as the folks who took it raved about it.

Odd and incongruous memento left at the cemetery in St. Marys, Georgia.

St. Marys, rich in local history, is also worth more time than we allotted this trip. We wish the motels near the ferry weren’t three times the price of the charmless chain we opted for in nearby Kingsland. Ideally, we’d like to camp, anyway. We’ll definitely be back.

Location Location

We are car-tripping from September 27th to November 1st, starting and ending in Fort Pierce, Florida, with Niagara Falls as our furthest possible destination this trip.

We are currently in Asheville, North Carolina, and plan to head north next, rather than through the Great Smokey Mountains due to rain.

More soon, including photos of Tallulah Gorge, one of Georgia’s most beautiful state parks.