Cool, Fresh, Frizzin Treats in Hillsborough
By Amy and Peter Freeman
Where to go that has a neat street scene and meets our criteria — food, drink, cycling and design — with a little something extra? Amy and I recently headed east with the sun to Hillsborough, the Orange County town that is as cool and as refreshing as any twin-pop, a regular frizzin treat.
The Orange County seat since 1754, Hillsborough sits just a little northwest of Durham and Chapel Hill at the intersection of what was once the Great Indian Trading path and the picturesque Eno River. Its rich history has turned the town into a destination of sorts. Littered with architectural edifices dating to the Colonial period, the burg is a veritable vitrine for preservation buffs and lovers of place, possessing a permanence; it is at ease with time. Top of the list of must-sees for this architecture nerd: Ayr Mount, the Federal-style plantation house circa 1815.
But don’t get the impression that Hillsborough is fusty and musty. Far from it. An undercurrent of artists, writers and musicians breathes life into the old surroundings. Co-operative is the operative word for the dozen or so art galleries within the central business district. Local artists have come together to form collaborative exhibit and retail space and the result is astounding — and economically sustainable, with each artist biting off a small share of the responsibility for upkeep, allowing for a smorgasbord of artistic media. Each stop offers its own unique mix of painting, sculpture, ceramics, jewelry, textiles, photographs and film. Amy and I had been on the lookout for handmade coffee mugs, and as soon as we wandered through the Hillsborough
Gallery of Arts, the Skylight Gallery and the Eno Gallery, our only dilemma was choosing which, among several striking options we liked best. Four ceramic beauties fashioned by potter Evelyn Ward won our hearts and now have a place of pride in our kitchen.
Hillsborough is also flush with nibbles and nips. Cup A Joe on West King served up a lovely coffee for Amy while I had a refreshing raspberry-Amaretto Italian soda. To fuel the rest of our day, we ducked into Radius Pizza & Pub, a cycling-inspired neighborhood hangout offering gluten-free eclectic pizzas, before having a gander at the variety of foodstuffs and drinkstuffs at Weaver Street Market and the
Hillsborough Wine Company.
All of these haunts and more are close to Riverwalk, a 2-mile-ish urban greenway that overlays the N.C. Mountains-to-Sea Trail and River Park along the Eno through the middle of Hillsborough. The juxtaposition of outdoor recreation — such as walking trails winding through the Occoneechee Mountain State Natural Area and the Historic Occoneechee/Orange Speedway (yep, in addition to its Colonial cred, Hillsborough’s NASCAR roots run deep) — and downtown urban space distinguishes Hillsborough from similar towns.
With our bikes in tow, as always, we were looking for some two-wheeled fun that would get the adrenaline going. We found it at the Brumley Nature Preserve, a 613-acre preserve named in honor of the George and Julia Brumley family and their commitment to conservation. The Triangle Land Conservancy purchased the property in 2010 and has since developed a haven for outdoor enthusiasts. Over eight miles of sweet single-track trails jolted our excitement and tested our endurance. With a ride behind us, we went in search of a place to chill and a chilled beverage as refreshing as any frozen pop and found it at Volume Records & Beer on Churton Street. As the name suggests, you can sip while spinning vinyl, and we discovered another frizzin treat, Southern Range Brewing Co.’s Ice (Cube’s A Pimp) IPA, which like Amy, is sweeter than you might think. I, meanwhile, fingered through and found a copy of REM’s Green album, and asked the clerk to play the most popular song on it. What better twin-pop? I got my stein, I got my “Orange Crush.”
Amy and Peter Freeman include among their pastimes, mindless wandering. Amy, a photographer and Peter, an architect, are perpetually in search of new gigs, fresh digs and fun swigs.