Last week, I wrote about my recent experience at West Point on the Eno.
In addition to exploring West Point Mill, I did a bit of hiking along the Eno River and Warren Creek in search of Sennett Hole, another nearby mill site. In the process, I found some of the most bucolic views I’ve seen in quite a while, despite the suburban surroundings and occasional lack of maintenance.
So, without further ado, I’ll pick up where I left off last week.
After standing at the edge of the mill dam and surveying the opposite bank of the Eno, I backtracked over the millrace footbridge and past the parking area and made my way to Laurel Cliffs Nature Trail. Since Sennett Hole is only about three-quarters of a mile upstream, I decided to check it out. Seeing that the time was already 4:30 PM — which left me an hour of good sunlight — I hurried over Meadow Branch Creek and started my hike.
Quickly I crested a ridge and came to a fork in the trail. Taking a right, I headed west toward the banks of the Eno River. Approaching the Eno, I arrived at another fork in the trail and took a left onto South River Trail, where a grove of majestic pine trees filtered the late afternoon sunlight.
Glancing through the underbrush as I hiked, I looked for good views. But because of the elevation of the ridge — it was about fifty feet above river level — the steepness of the bank, and the intervening foliage, I wasn’t able to find any at first.
Then, after about a tenth of a mile, the trail started descending rapidly, and I soon came to a valley where a small creek crossed my path. To my right, I noticed a clearing where I could see the Eno River winding into the distance. Walking to the edge of the river, I looked west and tried to ignore the accumulation of debris on the bank.
After a couple minutes admiring the view, I resumed my hike and climbed another ridge.
Still on South River Trail, I continued toward the west. On the way, I passed through grove after grove of mountain laurel (Kalmia latifolia), a bushy evergreen up to eight feet tall with gnarled low-hanging branches and wide leaves that seemed intent on groping me at every available opportunity.
After about a tenth of a mile, I came to the juncture of the Eno River and Warren Creek. Following Warren Creek, I veered away from the Eno River and soon found myself on a stretch of notoriously faint trail, which occasionally disappeared into the surrounding forest.
Then I noticed the trail once again descending rapidly. Before long, I found myself in another valley, where I got my first good look at Warren Creek.
Ahead of me, the valley stretched and twisted for a few hundred feet, hugging the river bank. Despite the poor light in the area, it was quite charming. Even so, I needed to get going if I was to have any chance of reaching Sennett Hole with enough time to take decent photos. So, after orienting myself with the aid of my digital park map, I resumed my hike.
As I mentioned before, this stretch of South River Trail is notoriously faint, often disappearing into the surrounding forest before reappearing out of nowhere. So, as I went along, I was constantly stopping to make sure I was in the right place, meanwhile looking for the Warren Creek crossing — which, on the digital park map, looked like a footbridge.
But with no data plan to enable me to check Google Maps, I had no way of knowing for sure. Meanwhile the mountain laurel groves that kept popping up out of nowhere were often so dense as to force a redirection in the trail itself, disorienting me further. Coming out of one particularly labyrinthine grove, I began to wonder if I was even on the trail.
But when I looked back in the direction I came from, I momentarily forgot about that as I marveled at the beauty of Warren Creek.
Noticing the time rapidly approaching 5:00, I decided to redouble my efforts to find Sennett Hole.
Winding in and out of mountain laurel groves, up and down steep banks, and over and around sizable logs, I persisted. But by now I was wondering if I hadn’t missed some crucial detail on the digital park map. After all, it didn’t make sense that there would be no footbridge over Warren Creek — which is a solid twelve feet across and three feet deep in some parts — nor any clear indication of a trail on the opposite bank.
After passing a fallen tree spanning Warren Creek, I honestly began to think the tree itself was the footbridge. Inspecting it for signs of being used for the purpose, I got the definite impression that, while it could be, it most certainly hadn’t been yet. So, once again, I just kept going.
Not more than a hundred feet further down the trail, I happened to look back and caught a glimpse of the fallen tree I had just passed. Stopping in my tracks, I was struck by how well it suited the the view.
Resuming my hike, I once again looked at my phone and found the time almost 5:15. Now I was starting to get frustrated. With the diminishing light, I only had about fifteen minutes before the setting sun got the better of me.
Consulting my digital park map, I considered turning back and retracing my steps. But I had already come so far, and turning back just felt like defeat. So, despite a mounting sense that I had taken a wrong turn at some point, I just kept going.
Rounding a bend in Warren Creek, I noticed another tree leaning precipitously over the water, framing the view in a way that was almost painterly.
As I looked, I got the feeling it was the kind of scene that must have inspired Bob Ross to become a landscape painter.
With an increasing sense that I had taken a wrong turn, I looked at my phone and found it was nearly 5:30. Sighing heavily, I realized that whatever chance I had of taking decent photos at Sennett Hole had passed. So, at long last, I decided to turn around.
Retracing my steps with one eye constantly glued to my digital park map, I kept searching and searching for where I may have gone wrong. Then, after about a quarter of a mile, I came to the juncture of South River Trail and Buffalo Trail. Stopping in my tracks, I looked left and right. Then I consulted my digital park map. Then I looked left and right again, shaking my head.
If there was anywhere there should have been a footbridge, it was here. Yet, even after walking to the edge of Warren Creek, I saw no footbridge of any kind.
Then I looked a little closer. And that was when it hit me. The Warren Creek crossing wasn’t a footbridge but a ford — a rocky place in the streambed where the water was shallow enough to wade through. But because of all the rain we’ve had lately, the ford was almost completely submerged. And that was why I hadn’t seen it.
So, turning back, I resumed my hike and headed for my car. But as I went, I made a promise to myself to return another day in search of Sennett Hole.
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