Friday, July 8, 2016

The Beauty of Brawner in the Battlefields

Sunday was hot and humid but not wanting to stay indoors I decided to hike in the Manassas Battlefields. I've covered much of these grounds on previous trips but today I was hiking a new area for me known as Brawner Farm, a lesser traversed trail, and especially being a holiday weekend, I didn't want to be in crowds.
I passed this unusual garden setting and had to turn back for a photo. A chandelier? Only in America, how quirky! I reached the parking lot, and dousing myself thoroughly in bug spray, I set off, a pungent cloud in my wake.
Almost immediately a farmhouse loomed in front, not looking very old, but I did discover later that a lot of restoration work had gone into it. Some great images are here.
Even though the doors were open, inside was deliciously cool, and it was incredibly tempting to stay for as long as possible. There were battle photos and descriptions adorning the walls downstairs along with a model of the battleground that lit up as a voice described the fighting. The bench to watch and listen to this was jam packed, 7 people crammed into the tight seat, and looking pretty determined that they were staying put and not venturing out into the hot humidity. Or maybe they were stuck, I don't know, but I knew if I didn't start hiking, I'd be begging to join them.
The farmhouse from the back. A quick photo snap and then I turned my back, determined to get in some exercise.
There were plenty of grassy fields all around, similar to much of the terrain here at the battlefields...
...and some cannons stood in a line overlooking the ghostly scene. I came across many boards as I walked, with quotes from the bloody scenes that took part on that night. A description of the Second Manassas Battle fought on this land is here. As I stopped to read, I tried to imagine how these men must have fought. With little training, wearing heavy uniforms, they fought on an August evening, likely in a similar wet, clammy atmosphere as I was hiking in today. They carried heavy guns, pulled and pushed armory or supplies and fought physical fights. And here I was, and those people back in the house, wearing flimsy clothing, with nothing more than a light backpack, and walking slowly over prepared grounds. We wouldn't have lasted 30 seconds...
Those soldiers were constantly in my thoughts as I walked the trails, and whenever I stopped, I'd look about, studying the terrain, and wondering how different it would have been back then.
The landscape soon changed from the fields of waving grass and became more scrubby. I loved this scenery. There were so many different plants growing that I was unable to identify many of them but the most prolific were blackberry brambles climbing across the ground , loaded with new fruit, which I frequently stopped to munch on, enjoying the sweet and tart freshness.
There were also many boardwalks along the trails, it was very interesting scenery. I had started on the Brawner loop trail and then detoured off on to the Deep Edge trail, and it seemed I had the place completely to myself.I actually only saw two other couples on the trails, I guess the others were still sitting in the farmhouse.
I loved walking along this path with the dark grass in the middle, it seemed it was guiding me to a mystery land.
The air was filled with birdsong and so many butterflies, black, pale blue, yellow and brown. They flitted and fluttered around me and over, not keeping still for barely a second so that it was nigh impossible to take a photo. I did manage a quick shot of the ones above. I saw many of the Eastern-Tailed Blues and the Common Wood Nymphs but was unable to identify others, I'd never seen them before. Mockingbirds, jays and crows flew back and forth and I even spotted a dove as she flapped across to a tree with a beak full of twigs, making another nest before the summer finished.
 I came across what's referred to as an unfinished railroad grade, with the trail following it. I climbed up, immediately feeling a cool breeze as I looked over the shrubs and blackberries. There were also benches thoughtfully placed here but they weren't tempting me.
There were many wildflowers here too, so many plants grew in these fields, I particularly loved the way the petals of the vine weeds were tightly screwed up as though protecting themselves from the storm that was threatening. The weather was being very indecisive, sun one minute and dull the next, both with a constant oppressive dampness which was hard to ignore. The sky hung low as though pushing the air downwards, heavy grey clouds were being mostly successful in blocking the sun's rays.
I later came across this memorial on top of a hill, the Groveton Monument, built by the soldier after the battle to commemorate those they'd lost. There's a great little article about it here, with more photos. The Henry Hill Monument that they refer to is over near the visitor's center.
I eventually managed to find my way back to the farmhouse. I could have gone over into the more popular areas of the battlefields but I preferred to stay in the beautiful scrubby landscape that was filled with so many varied plants and wildlife. By the time I got back to the car, I'd likely hiked about 6-7 miles. I was hot, sticky with the humidity and feeling a few bites on my legs that were starting to itch, but I'd loved this afternoon, and this gorgeous part of the park is now a firm favorite on my local hikes list.

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