At the High Hampton Inn in Cashiers, N.C.



I love llamas. I’m not sure why.

Maybe it’s their comically cute faces, with big Bambi eyes framed by ridiculously long eyelashes and tall fur-filled ears that curve inward, ever so slightly, like horns. Maybe it’s their squeaky, high-pitched bleats, a silly sound for such a large animal, reminiscent of air leaking out of a full balloon.

Or maybe it’s that in spite of their overwhelming cuteness, these animals have a very sassy attitude. Like their close relative the camel, llamas are known for having foul tempers and if you annoy them, they WILL spit on you.

Whatever the reason for my fascination, it has long been a bucket list wish of mine to take a trek with a llama, so when I heard that the High Hampton Inn in Cashiers, N.C., was offering llama hikes, I promptly packed the family up for a weekend getaway.

Cashiers, (pronounced cash-urs, not cash-ears) located in the lovely Blue Ridge Mountains is only three hours away from North Fulton – an easy distance and a pleasant drive with many scenic overlooks and waterfalls on the way.

We visit the area often, but had never before stayed at the High Hampton Inn and I was curious. My cousin described it as “a bit like camping for grown-ups,” which seemed at odds with inn’s strict dress code – jacket and tie for dinner, white clothing preferred for games of tennis and so on.

But it is just this combination of rustic and refined that keeps generations of families coming back year after year.

Listed on the National Register of Historic Places, the 1,400-acre property was once owned by former South Carolina Gov. and Civil War Maj. Gen. Wade Hampton III.

In 1922, it was purchased by E.L. McKee, whose great grandson Will McKee keeps the family tradition going today.

The inn itself sits high on a hill, with a commanding view of a large lake and two granite-sided mountains, all part of High Hampton’s property. Surrounding the lake and dotted about the grounds are individual cottages and guest houses – camp cabins if you will –furnished simply but stylishly with thick white duvet-covered beds and twig furniture.

It’s not the Ritz, but it is scenic and peaceful, designed to help guests relax and unplug for a while. No phones, no television, no radio – sounds good. No air conditioning –whoa, what? I needn’t have worried. Temperatures in Cashiers are a good 17 degrees below those in Hot-lanta on any given day, and it can get chilly at night, even in the height of summer. We slept with the windows open in our lakeside cottage, listening to the frogs’ serenade.

Guests are encouraged to take advantage of the inn’s natural setting, with special activities planned daily in addition to spa treatments and a wide array of games and sports. Everything is within walking distance, and it is nice to park the car and never see it again during your stay.

After our arrival, my husband and sons headed to the lake for fishing, paddle-boarding and kayaking while I explored a bit at my leisure, including a pleasant stroll through the inn’s dahlia garden. Dahlias are a High Hampton tradition, and guests are encouraged to pick a few to take back to their cottage.

A dinner bell called us together again for a buffet lunch in the dining hall, and then, finally, it was time to meet the llamas.

A variety of llama-led activities are offered during most weekends throughout the fall – you can even hire a llama caddy to carry your clubs on the 18-hole golf course. We selected the afternoon hour-long hike around the lake.

As we arrived, the llamas were just finishing their lunch on a grassy hillside. We approached them somewhat timidly, hoping their full bellies would make for pleasant-tempered, non-spitting llamas.

My youngest son chose a gentle llama with tan and white fur named “Vision,” who, true to his name, liked to be the trailblazer and lead the way for the rest of the herd. My eldest son chose a dark brown llama named “Bordeaux,” who was almost eye-to-eye with my 6-foot teenager. These are not small animals.

Soon, after learning some basic do’s and don’ts about llama handling, we each grabbed a lead and headed off into the woods.

Did I mention there were bells?  Each llama wore small, tinkling bells on his collar, adding a delightful musical note to our adventure. We traveled single file through rhododendron tunnels, up and down hills, over wooden bridges and trickling streams and finally reached the inn’s front lawn for the grand finale – the Llama Olympics.

Guests sipping afternoon tea watched from rocking chairs on the inn’s shady porch while the llamas and their human companions lined up for a top speed foot-and-hoof race across the grass, bells clanging, children laughing, adults cheering.

My bucket list llama hike wish? Granted. With a big thumbs up.

We just had time to shower and dress before the dinner bell sounded again. Even as guests traded bathing suits and golf shorts for dinner jackets and dresses, it was time for High Hampton’s own evening transformation – from rustic, outdoor playground to refined mountain lodge.

Lights from the inn glowed softly over the lake and live music drifted out across the stone patio of the Rock Mountain Tavern as guests in cocktail attire strolled across the lawn, wine glasses in hand, to catch a glimpse of the spectacular sunset.

So was my cousin right? Is the High Hampton “a bit like camping for grown-ups?” Yes, but in a charming way. It’s a place for extended families to gather and enjoy each other’s company in a beautiful, timeless setting.

These words from the inn’s historical information say it best:

“What began as the Hamptons’ retreat in the1830s continues as a haven today, over 160 years later. Guests from many different states and countries find a welcome relief from the hustle and bustle of everyday life. The cool mountain breezes continue to blow and refresh just as they did in Wade Hampton’s time. High Hampton still boasts Southern hospitality at its finest. The kitchen continues to provide traditional High Hampton fare such as famous fried chicken, fresh mountain trout and mouth-watering desserts. In these complicated times, it is refreshing to find a place where very little changes except the seasons.”

High Hampton Inn

1525 Highway 107 South, Cashiers, N.C. 28717

Llama hikes and golf games

Mark English

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