Friday, 10 June 2011

Pollywogg Holler

And so we leave Lancaster and travel 240 miles north, through Halifax, Mansfield and Liverpool. During our car journeys we've been playing Radio Roulette.  We listen to a local FM station until we begin to get out of range, and the signal starts to break up - then we press search to find the next strong frequency signal and listen to that… whatever it might be!  Well for the last couple of hours it's been Country-Rock all the way.  Tales of hard-drinkin' men whose best girls have walked out on them, but they still have their old V8.  Or soldiers, fighting the A-Rabs, because "Freedom Don't Come Free".

As we get further north, we start to see "Gentleman's Clubs" dotted along the side of the Interstate.  There's an advertisement for a bare-knuckle boxing event tied to a lamp post.  And I'm convinced I can hear the sound of banjos - duelling.

After several miles of driving past tree-lined hills with no signs of habitation at all, we turn off the Interstate onto a deserted dirt-track and drive into the forest.  Ten minutes later we see a figure moving by the side of the road.  A man with long flowing grey hair and an even longer flowing grey beard waves at us.  We stop and I wind down the window, while Justine tries to remember whether the rental car came equipped with a shotgun.  The hairy man extends his hand and welcomes us, to Pollywogg Holler.  Bill (for that is his name, and this is his place) tells us to park in the parking-lot.  The "parking lot" is a clearing, just big enough for our car (the Black Slug, as we now call it - due, mainly, to it's incredible powers of acceleration).  We park there and set off in the direction Bill had indicated, passing through a large steel dome, then back into the woods.

We hear something moving in the trees to our left and wish we'd purchased handguns in Philly.  But it's a deer which, disturbed by our arrival, bounds off to safety through a series of strange sculptures scattered in between the trees.

We finally reach a few wooden cabins.  As we stand looking at the cabins, wondering what to do next, a golf buggy whizzes into view, piloted expertly by Pat - boyfriend of Micky (son of Bill).

She invites us to hop on the back of the buggy so that she can show us round Pollywogg Holler's various lodgings.  We'd reserved a place in the Phantasy Dome, a canvas-covered geodesic structure which has a suspended, floating circular bed.  However, Pat informs us that a particularly bad hailstorm has peppered the dome with holes and that we might want to consider some of the other accommodation.  The golf buggy has the sort of acceleration that the Black Slug can only dream of and we do well to avoid being fired off the back as Pat puts the pedal to the metal.  She takes us to see the Phantasy Dome and, whilst it does look like a cool place for a party of 100 or more, we agree that the weather does seem to have taken it's toll - if it rains tonight, we'll have a wet bed (no funny comments thank-you).

So we drive on to the Sugar Shack, a cute little cabin with a fireplace (and the only place which boasts its own toilet).  Then we see a couple of "lean-to" cabins - imagine a wooden bus shelter with a double bed and a curtain across the front overlooking a frog's pond.  If you really want to feel "outdoorsy" these would be perfect.  Trouble is, I'm a bit of a wuss when it comes to flying bugs, and this looks like the place they come to hang out and chill.

Finally we settle on "The Sauna".  A beautifully carved front door reveals a wood-fired sauna room with a sleeping platform above it.  You get to the sleeping area by climbing a series of wooden planks, no more than 8 inches long which stick out of the wall, before stepping onto the last plank which is supported by a steel band and which dips and creaks loudly the moment you put your weight on to it.

Once you've conquered this mini assault course you're rewarded with a cosy little room with a double mattress on the floor and a pair of handmade doors which take you on to a small balcony.  Although lacking en-suite facilities, the balcony does feature something which even the top boutique hotels we've visited lack - underneath a rocking chair, find and lift up a small plank from the floor to reveal a "piddle spot" - perfect if you're caught short in the night and don't have the necessary ropes, crampons and sherpas to complete an expedition to the toilet cabin.

The "Piddle Spot"
Having chosen our home for the night we join Pat in the main lodge and are served cheese and crackers with some local wine.  We meet The Holler's two cats, one of which is named Margaret Thatcher, for reasons I never quite understood - something to do with her being a strong, powerful woman who destroyed the trade unions and ate mice?

Finally we meet Micky, who at first seems to have a slightly zany sense of humour, but over time you realise he has a very zany sense of humour - we warm to him.  He cooks steaks and shrimps on the grill and the four of us sit, talk, drink wine and laugh - we all have a thoroughly good time.  Then it's over to the bar area.  Near the bar is a little stage with a PA system - Pollywogg Holler hosts musical acts from near and far, while people eat pizza, drink beer and party.  As we continue sipping our wine, Micky and Pat share their musical tastes and we play "Pollyw-oke" as music drifts out of the Poll-iPod.

After a few more hours, we've had more than our fill of wine and are shown the way back to the sauna by torchlight.  Justine's greeted home by a June Bug flying up into her face - Micky snatches the flying beetle out of the air, and before Jus can tell him not to hurt it, he pops it into his mouth and crunches into it.  "Tastes like shrimp" he tells us in his Jack Black tones (if they ever make "Pollywogg Holler, The Movie", Mr Black has got to be top of the cast list).

Once we're alone we sit on our balcony and look out across the pond.  All you can hear are the frogs "hollering" (Pollywoggs are apparently tadpoles) and all you can see are fireflies sparking on and off as they hover over the water.  Maybe its just the wine but this place really does feel quite magical.

The Sauna
In the morning I'm feeling a little unwell (probably that last glass of wine) and begin to question the wisdom of sleeping at the top of a climbing wall.  Still, by the time we've had bagels and bacon and coffee and juice, I'm on the mend.  We're joined at breakfast by a family of four who arrived late last night.  Mom and Dad are in the area for a college reunion (Mom used to come to Pollywogg Holler, 20 years ago for some "wild" parties).  Their two kids keep Micky busy by insisting that he drives them around on the golf cart, or showing him the collection of slugs they've found (thankfully, Micky restrains himself and doesn't eat any).  They are also delighted to meet Mr Nuts - Micky's hand-trained squirrel who comes to the table and takes food from your hand.

We leave with hugs from Pat and a warm handshake from Micky and make our way back to the car.  As we prepare to drive off, Micky and Pat hurtle past on the golf cart, spewing dust into the air - he's probably off to find more bugs!

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