Middleton Place, an 18th century rice plantation overlooking the Ashley River, draws thousands of visitors each year to its beautifully manicured gardens and classic terraced lawn. But the 110-acre National Historic Landmark, located 14 miles from downtown Charleston off scenic Highway 61, is just a small part of the 7,000-acre estate that once belonged to Arthur Middleton.
Next door to the house museum and plantation stableyards is the Middleton Place Equestrian Center, offering boarding, lessons and trail rides through 135 acres of stunning Lowcountry landscape.
The one-hour guided and narrated tours take visitors along rice fields, through dense forests and open terrain with far-off views of the Ashley River and the adjacent gardens of Middleton Place. It's a great way to get a true feeling for the Lowcountry and learn about the history of the plantation.
After mounting your horse with the help of a trail guide, you'll begin your tour along a bridle path thick with pines and hardwoods. The first section of the trail borders Middleton Place, offering views of the main house, springhouse and chapel and famed butterfly lakes.
Before long, you'll reach the rice mill pond, a favorite hangout for coots, marsh hens, heron, ibis - and alligators. Lots and lots of alligators. The prehistoric-looking reptiles often can be spotted sunning themselves on the muddy pond banks or sleeping comfortably in nests of dried marsh grass. Look carefully in the water and you may see the eyes of an alligator peering above the surface.
On any given day, there can be a dozen or more gators around the pond. Even in the winter, they enjoy vacating their burrows to soak up the warm rays of the sun. It's an annual phenomenon reminiscent of the College of Charleston co-eds who spread out on blankets all over Marion Square as soon as the temperature hits 65 degrees.
The Middleton Equestrian Center offers horseback riding excursions daily at 10 a.m., noon and 2 p.m., and sometimes in the late afternoons on Fridays, Saturdays and Sundays. No experience is necessary but you must be at least 8 years old to ride.
Reservations are required. To book a tour, click here or call (843) 735-0709. You might not find anyone in the stable office when you call, so leave a message and they'll get back to you.