"Can I run?" my 7-year-old daughter asked.
"I suppose so," I said as we climbed the stone steps to the top of the Battery in Charleston. "It looks like most people are doing just that."
With a whinny and a snort, she took off galloping full speed down the dark gray slates.
"Time how long it takes me to run all the way to the end," my 9-year-old son yelled as he took off after her, running at full speed.
My husband and I strolled along slowly. Blue water shone in the sunshine to our left and harbor islands and cargo ships dotted the horizon. Massive, dignified antebellum mansions, with double-decker side porches as wide as some houses, rose up to our right.
The Battery is the stone seawall at the tip of the peninsula on which Charleston sits, where the Ashley and Cooper rivers empty into the harbor. Built during the late 18th century, it's topped by a promenade paved with massive slates. That afternoon, it seemed that the entire city was there to walk (or run, or canter like a unicorn) down the length of it.
Across East Battery Street from the promenade, the mansions continued one after another. They were built between 1800 and the Civil War by the prominent white families of Charleston at the time, such as the Ravenels and Coffins. Some of the houses, such as the Edmondston-Alston House are now open to the public. I wanted to go in just to get a glimpse of another world behind the massive oak doors and towering windows.
One of the challenges of traveling with kids is finding a way to balance things that you're interested in seeing and doing with things that children can not only do while remaining well behaved but actually have fun with, too. For my children, historic house tours do not fall into that category. As much as I really wanted to go into one of the many house museums in Charleston, it wasn't in the cards this trip. Next time.
But strolling slowly by them while the kids cavorted in the sunshine was an excellent balance. While it's hard to say which is more beautiful, the water on one side or the architecture on the other, surely the loveliest place of all along the Battery is White Point Garden (sometimes colloquially known as Battery Park). If you just keep walking along the promenade, you'll end up there, on the very tip of the peninsula, surrounded by water on three sides and among the live oaks and deeply shaded lawns.
There's no playground in this gorgeous six-acre public park, but the kids didn't seem to notice. They made a beeline for the gazebo in the middle, where one belted out songs while the other performed some sort of interpretive dance. They climbed the trees and swung from branches and played tag and hide-and-seek.
Then, they noticed the cannons.
The Battery was once heavily fortified against any variety of attack, from pirates to the British Army to the US Army during the Civil War. In fact, Fort Sumter, the place where the Civil War began, is one of the islands visible from the park. Several different kinds of cannons are still stationed along the Battery, pointing out toward the water as though waiting for an attack that will hopefully never come again. As fascinating as the cannons were, even better for the children were the piles of cannonballs stacked up next to them.
If you look a little closer at the park's monuments, you'll discover the area also has a bit of a darker history. A monument to gentleman pirate Stede Bonnet stands in the northeast corner, near the spot where Bonnet, his crew and other pirates were publicly hanged in the early 1700s.
When it was time to find something to eat, we rounded up the kids and promised them we could come back. As we walked up East Bay Street back toward the middle of town, I reminded them that they hoped to discover Charleston's famous "Rainbow Row," a stretch of houses in rainbow colors. The two children kept their eyes peeled, intent on discovering it. Any fear of not recognizing it faded as we came across the pastel row houses. It's a bit like falling in love - you know when it happens. It turns out you can interest children in architecture, if you turn it into a rainbow-themed scavenger hunt.
White Point Garden is located at the tip of the Charleston peninsula at 2 Murray Blvd. For more information, check out Battery Point and White Point Garden.