South Carolina's hidden treasures are just off the beaten path

Growing up, my family would take day trips throughout Ohio just about every weekend. In those days, we would tool around in a 1974 Camaro, and I was the one in the family who had to sit on the hump in the back seat between my two sisters.

OK, so things weren't perfect on the open road, but it did teach me an appreciation of roads less traveled. My family was a rarity; neighbors were puzzled as to why we would go out of our way to explore state routes when the highway system could get you from one city to the next in an instant.

Today, just like then, it seems few people know how much they miss by avoiding the back roads of this country. But fortunately, I hung on to that spirit of exploration taught to me in childhood. On a recent trip to Charleston, S.C., I chose to take U.S. Highway 278 and discovered that the Palmetto State is rich with the simple life that lies just off the beaten track.

Get your kicks on Old 96

A quick dash up Interstate 85 toward western Carolina will bring you to the legendary Old 96 District. Here, you'll find five sprawling, rural counties with plenty to offer: Abbeville, Edgefield, Greenwood, Laurens and McCormick. From

hiking the Long Cane Horse Trail near Greenwood to antique shopping at John Kemp Antiques in Edgefield, you could spend weeks, perhaps months, here experiencing Old 96.

The town of Abbeville gained attention when parts of the Julia Roberts 1991 film "Sleeping With the Enemy" were filmed there. Roberts' presence here 15 years ago has attracted a flood of visitors here in search of places she once visited.

If you happen to pass through Abbeville, take some time to visit the landmarks there. The Burt-Stark Mansion, built in 1830, was the site of the final meeting of the Confederate War Council and Jefferson Davis in May 1865. Another site, the Trinity Episcopal Church, is 125 years old and features a stained glass Chancel window that was made in England and given to Trinity by a church in Greenville, S.C. Abbeville also has an informative welcome center, a beautifully restored opera house and a county museum that displays memorabilia from the district's early days.

Near Greenwood, S.C., you'll find a different kind of attraction - a fully functioning goat farm. Emerald Farm gives you a chance to get close with the goats, cows, horses, chickens and honey bees.

At the Emerald Farm's Soap Factory and Gift Shop, you can purchase goats' milk soaps, cheeses, olive oil bars and even shaving supplies. The 75-acre farm prides itself on promoting healthy lifestyles with its Natural Food Store.

Children love going to the Train and Hobby Shop. The little ones are mesmerized by the working model trains in the store's Model Railroad clubhouse.

Heading north from Greenwood brings you to the town of Clinton, where you can experience another working farm. The Bush River Farm works with alpacas, goats and sheep, and visitors can see spinning and fiber demonstrations, hear informational talks and enjoy an Irish bed and breakfast.

Owner Janet Henley said she loves seeing visitors come to the farm in the autumn.

"There is just something about being on a farm, walking a country road and standing in a pasture during a sunny fall day," she said. "And cuddling up with an alpaca blanket is not half bad, either."

Henley and her husband, Greg, whip up seasonal breakfasts at their inn. Specialties on the Henleys' breakfast table include cinnamon sauteed pears, pumpkin waffles and crepes made with sun-dried tomatoes, spinach and goat cheese.

A British flair

Old 96 is just one of 11 tourism regions in the state. Another, the Olde English District, lies between Charlotte, N.C., and Columbia, S.C. Named after the region's settlement with the English, this district includes the counties of Chester, Fairfield, Chesterfield, Kershaw, Lancaster, Union and York. Those names alone suggest that history is alive and well in the Olde English District.

"Guests enjoy our Revolutionary War history as well as the many antique shops and small-town friendliness," said Jayne Scarborough of the Old English District Tourism Commission. "In one of our towns, Cheraw, you can stop by the visitor's center and get the key to some of the attractions, such as the Old St. David's Church and the Lyceum. You just bring the key back when you're done touring."

Cheraw is also the birthplace of jazz legend Dizzy Gillespie. You can visit a park that is dedicated to his life, the church he attended and the movie theater where he worked as a child.

If you're looking for good Southern cooking, stop in at some of the local haunts, including Anna's Arbor in Chester, Beth's Country Kitchen in Pageland or the Front Porch Restaurant in Richburg.

Hollywood has also ventured into the Olde English District. Historic Brattonsville was the setting for scenes in Mel Gibson's classic film "The Patriot."