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Manteo Is More 

Little fishing village has a lot to offer

Manteo is reminiscent of a little fishing village, the kind where you'd expect to see Murder She Wrote's Jessica Fletcher riding her bike. (Don't worry, though -- murder is practically nonexistent on Roanoke Island.) Perhaps that's why no one lives on Manteo today who doesn't want to be there. Locals are either descendants, or they've come to the island on vacation and will do anything to stay.

Whistling zephyr breezes rustle a thick maritime forest that nudges the inlet's shore; a shore now known as a surfer's surf. But Roanoke Island didn't always test positive for visitors. Back in 1585 when Captain Thomas Cavendish sailed his three-masted Elizabeth II to Roanoke Island, his crew and potential colonists were not smitten with North Carolina. Instead of gold, they found a mosquito-infested land with problems. After a period of trying to work out multiple hardships, they opted for the three-month return to England.

Today, Roanoke is a tranquil island that delivers both educational and daredevil fun. At Roanoke Island's Festival Park, a reconstructed replica of Elizabeth II anchors in Shallowbag Bay. When you board the vessel you'll see why it was nearly impossible for more than 10 people to live here comfortably.

In the settlement area, you can watch costumed interpreters give a muzzle-loading rifle demonstration. You'll learn that it took a trained solder 30 seconds to get off each shot. (That made for a tedious battle, especially if you were aimed at 15 seconds into your reload.) It's not all pre-modern, though. On a 21st century note, the Park has designed a game that's like a shooting gallery. You crawl into the bottom of a duck blind boat and "hunt" ducks with modern lasers.

At the Park's Roanoke Adventure Museum you can watch a film of colonial life, then squirm into breath-constricting Elizabethan clothing, as well as join in 16th century games such as nine pin.

Visit The Waterside Theater, America's oldest outdoor theater. Paul Green's mysterious play The Lost Colony gives insight into the "on again, off again" relationships that the second group of colonists had with Hatteras Indians. This group never got the straight skinny from the first colonists, which is why they bought Sir Walter Raleigh's "promised land" spiel.

Governor of the colony, John White, who came with the latter group, named the colony Virginia after Queen Elizabeth, who was known as the Virgin Queen. White's first project was the building of a fort on Roanoke Island in 1587. The fort was finished in time to baptize its most important convert -- the Indian Chief, Manteo. Coincidentally, this occurred a week before the birth of Virginia Dare, the first child of English parents born in the New World.

During Governor John White's first year, he painted landscapes of the riches to be gained from Roanoke Island's abundant wildlife and hard working native Indians. He believed his paintings would impress and persuade Queen Elizabeth to send aid that would insure her toe-hold in the New World. The Queen was convinced, but war between Spain and England delayed her communications with Roanoke Island. It would be three years, after the conclusion of the war with Spain, before she could send supply ships to America. When the ships finally arrived, no colonists were found.

The only clue to what happened or where they were was a skeleton beside the cryptic word "Croatan" carved into the bark of a tree.

Before going to see The Lost Colony, allow 30 to 45 minutes for a self-guided tour of the adjacent Elizabethan Gardens. They form a re-created formal 16th century garden complete with statues, some of which are more than 400 years old. The gardens are well designed, and a meandering one-mile network of pathways will take you past plants, shrubs, flowers, trees and herbs, most of which are indigenous to the state. In early summer you can pick up the scent of Confederate Jasmine a full 10 seconds before you see this delicate vine climbing up trees that look as if they were already old when settlers arrived.

At Roanoke Island Inn, each of the antique-filled rooms and bungalow suite has a private entrance and a TV (in addition to a big private bathroom and surprise touches of whimsy like lamps made from old coffee percolators). Room 1 has a kingsize crocheted canopy that performed as a tablecloth in another life. Look out the window, beyond the bicycles kept for guests' use, past the pink roses curling around the white picket fence and you'll see Nags Head lying just across the bay. Then walk out onto the rocker-filled second floor breezeway facing the sound. You'll forget about watching TV because the medium can't compete with nature.

The inn's comfortable sitting room/breakfast area looks out upon a garden of flowers. This room's trompe l'oeil ceiling would be considered formal were it not for hidden messages of whimsy. The artist's ceiling subtly coordinates remnants of the Elizabethan era in one section and native American memorabilia in the other.

The 1860s family home that John Wilson transformed into an inn was built by Wilson's great grandmother, Martha Ann Creef Jones, for her nine children. Wilson's craftsmanship in the restoration of his home and family's antiques is evident, but the architect's genius lies in how he has converted certain pieces into uses alien to their original intent. Each generation has added onto the home and Wilson says that no one ever threw anything away. He's restored this dignified three-story, white wooden home by emptying the attic and barn of handsome antique chests and tables, which now reside in eight handsomely appointed rooms.

The Outer Banks is a place to do what you would not do at home: like bicycling around town instead of driving, walking along some of the 130 miles of beaches, or sluicing through the surf. Don't forget to schedule a trip to at least one of the three famous lighthouses. If you haven't been here since the 208-foot black and white striped Hatteras Lighthouse was moved, you might want to climb its 268 steps to the top to get the bird's view of the Cape Hatteras National Seashore. But if you want to feel like a flying bird, then take a day or two to learn how to hang glide over the country's highest dunes. You can sign up for a lesson from Kitty Hawk Kites located at Jockey's Ridge State Park, near the Wright Brothers National Memorial.

Even if you've visited the Wright Brothers National Memorial before, you'll want to go back. You'll have a better appreciation for their years of problems, which they fought with unwavering belief and perseverance. That was the stuff that spurred Orville and Wilbur Wright to successfully fly in 1903. To test fly their original 17-foot glider, the brothers needed a good source of wind and forgiving soil.

For folks who want something different, something that could lead to a better life, take a trip and find out if this is where you were meant to be. It could be for a few weeks or forever.

* * *

The Roanoke Island Inn is located in Manteo at 305 Fernando Street. Open from Easter 'til We're Tired! (spring -- fall). For reservations, call (919) 473-5511.

Poor Richard's Sandwich Shop is located on Queen Elizabeth Avenue. Hours: Breakfast: 7:30am -- ; Lunch: 11:30am -- 3:30. Call (252) 473-3335.

The Lost Colony is performed at Waterside Theater, located off US Highway 64 on Roanoke Island adjacent to Fort Raleigh National Historic Site. Open from June 5 - August 28. Admission: Adults, $16; children 11 and under, $8; Seniors $15. For phone orders, call (252) 473-3414 or 1-800-488-5012.

The Elizabethan Gardens are located beside Fort Raleigh National Historic Site. Open year-round from 9am- 5pm. Admission: Adults: $3; children from 12-17, $1; free under 11. For more information, call (252)473-3234.

Kitty Hawk Kites is located at Jockey's Ridge State Park on Carolista Drive at milepost 12 on Highway 158 Bypass in Nags Head Open 8am-9pm daily, summer and fall. For reservations, call (800) 334-4777.

Elizabeth II at Festival Park in Manteo (across the bridge from Manteo waterfront). Open daily from 10am-6pm. Admission: Adults, $4; students with ID $2. Call (252) 473-1144. *

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