Tag Archives: roadtrip

May Roadtrip: The Eastern Shore

At this point in the road trip we had planned to do something like my birthday roadtrip in reverse. Travelling from the historic triangle area we drive down to Newport News and took the amazing bridges to gain the Eastern shore. This peninsula, east of the Chesapeake, is split between Virginia, Maryland and Delaware, which meant we drove through three states in just a few hours. The Eastern Shore is the main holiday destination for people living in DC and the surrounding area, and lots of people have holiday homes there; apparently in high season there are queues hours long on the bridge from Annapolis. Though we had visited Ocean City before, we had visited in the winter, and we were now keen to experience this area in the summer.

Unfortunately, May in 2016 was not very warm, and the bad weather we had experienced in Shenandoah continued as we drove up to Chincoteague island… We stopped here briefly for a snack of oysters, but then drove straight through to our destination – Bethany Beach – as it really wasn’t the weather for sightseeing.

Happily the next morning dawned bright and sunny, and a sighting of dolphins made for an exciting first day at the beach. Though none too warm, it was certainly a day for windy walks on the beach and playing in the waves. We relaxed in Bethany that day, enjoying our beach-side hotel, the short but sweet boardwalk and the holiday-feel of the place. We drove up to Rehoboth, just to see what we might be missing, but on balance decided we preferred Bethany – and we definitely preferred both to the rather soulless strip that is Ocean City.

As with all my nature photos – you really have to zoom in!


Our full day of relaxing by the sea, the sea-air and an excellent meal of seafood combined to make sure we woke the next morning refreshed and rested, ready for the (relatively) short drive home.

Related post: Birthday Road Trip: Dogfish Head and Ocean City


May Roadtrip: The Historic Triangle (again)

Shenandoah turned out to be a washout this time. The weather closed in and by morning there had been a power outage and the kitchen was getting by on what seemed to be a temperamental generator. Happy at least to have seen a bear(!), we returned to the road and headed for the Virginia historic triangle (Williamsburg, Jamestown and Yorktown).

This was a repeat trip for us (we visited in 2014) and for R’s mum too, who had visited back in the early 1990s when R was young. We all enjoyed the canon demonstration at Yorktown, and the audience participation at Colonial Williamsburg; R and I were drafted into a militia and marched down the main street to be inspected by a General. We were due to march on Yorktown at dawn the next morning, but I’m ashamed to say we deserted at that point as we had already been to Yorktown and wanted to visit Jamestown Settlement.


When we had visited in the autumn of 2014 we had visited Historic Jamestowne – the actual site of the colony and the museum of the archaeological findings. However, the archaeology of Jamestown was only really uncovered in the late 1990s, and before this the place to visit was the Jamestown Settlement, which is a mock-up of what they believed the colony might have looked like, built in 1957 for tourists. It includes a mocked up Powhatan Indian town, and historic ships. This time, we visited the mock up, but were pleased to see that you can just make out the real site of Jamestown across the river.


If you ever want to visit the historic triangle a useful place to stay is the (Marriot) Courtyard Williamsburg Busch Gardens Area. There’s also a surprisingly good restaurant, The Whaling Company, in walking distance. However, if I ever return here with kids I’m definitely going to be looking at staying in Colonial Williamsburg itself.

Related posts:

Birthday Road Trip: Shenandoah

Before we headed home we went for a quick hike in Shenandoah. It was also my first chance to drive part of Skyline Drive, as it was the first time we’d been here since I’d learned to drive.

We had had pretty bad weather for the whole of our trip, and sadly this day was not much better. As we hiked up to a small summit, we walked into the cloud, and so there were no views to be had!

The Summit?

Back on the road down again we emerged from the cloud and we had some nice views to end our trip. Despite the weather it had been a great few days, full of good sights and good beer – a fitting way to end 2015.


Birthday Road Trip: Sperryville

We had heard that the countryside around Shenandoah, in Rappahannock county was full of nice B&Bs and good restaurants as well as the wineries that we had already explored. We couldn’t get into the Inn at Little Washington, which is by all accounts one of the best, so we headed for the nearby town of Sperryville instead, where our internet research had located a nice looking, yet still affordable B&B and what turned out to be a pretty nice restaurant: the Thornton River Grille.

Even better, Sperryville had another craft brewery(!) and, what’s more, a distillery – Wasamund’s. This was pretty interesting as, rather than making American-style whisky, they specialise in making Scottish-style whisky, and were inspired by a trip to Islay. They’re a family business and the whole place was warm, cosy and friendly – apart from the distillery cat, who apparently bites!

Wasamund’s (complete with distillery cat).

The tour introduced us to their methods of smoking the barley, and of using old bourbon barrels as they do in Scotland. Amazingly, there were no health and safety concerns preventing us from getting up close to the distilling equipment. It was just like visiting a craft brewery.

Then it was on to the tasting. Unfortunately, I think they’ve got some way to go before they’re producing anything as good as Islay malts. They’re very proud of how they can produce characterful malts without the need to mature for long periods. We thought that a bit more maturing probably wouldn’t hurt…

We moved on to Pen Druid Brewing Company. I’d had high hopes of this brewery, hoping it would have the Welsh background its name suggested (Pen means head in Welsh and is common in place names, plus Wales is known for druids). Sadly, the brothers who run the brewery knew of no Welsh connection, and had just named the brewery after their old family farm – they thought Pen probably referred to the female swan, which has inspired their logo, and didn’t think their family had any Welsh roots.

Nevertheless, the beer was very good, and the place had a great local atmosphere, another open fire, and friendly, bearded bartenders.


The nice-looking B&B – the Inn at Mount Vernon Farm – turned out to be rather strange… It was the home of John Clifford the 3rd (or 4th? I’m not sure!). Because he was actually at home, it made it all rather awkward – we didn’t feel we could really use the common areas, or help ourselves to wine as we had been told to by the housekeepers. The housekeepers in fact did a better job of hosting us and trying to make us feel comfortable. The old cook had clearly been in the family a long time – her ways made me think of an old retainer in novels. The breakfast she provided us with was really excellent – an egg casserole, great bacon and homemade blackberry pancakes. It was a strange place though…


Still, it was a nice experience to be staying in the countryside.

Even nicer, we were able to walk to the distillery, brewery and restaurant by crossing the river on a little swing bridge by the light of our phones!

Read on for the final post in this series

Birthday Road Trip: Charlottesville

This was our first time in Charlottesville. (I wrote about our second time there, and one of its really great restaurants, here).

We arrived in Charlottesville late afternoon, just in time to have a wander around the University of Virginia campus as the sun set. The university was designed by Thomas Jefferson, who believed strongly that America should have a public system of higher education and – radically – that this education should not be linked to religion. Rather than being centred around a church or chapel, UVA was designed around a rotunda, which housed the library.

The university campus is very open to the public, and we enjoyed walking in the cloisters, and peeking into the little rooms where presumably students used to live and work, and some where it looked like they still do.


I wasn’t sure what Jefferson would make of the Greek life aspects of UVA. We walked around the streets that house the large fraternity houses, wondering if Jefferson had intended to create such a patrician class within the new republic. It’s an aspect of US higher education that’s completely foreign to me, and I tend to regard it with the suspicion with which I regard secret societies. They certainly looked rather creepy as dusk fell…

A positive result of Charlottesville being a university town, is that it has a good town centre – plenty of restaurants along the main road, a nice old cinema, a theatre in a complex near the station, and a downtown mall – or as we in the UK would call it, a pedestrianised shopping street. We loved the atmosphere here, and wished we hadn’t overindulged so much over Christmas and on our way. Interestingly, as the mainstreets in Charlottesville are thriving, it’s the out of town shopping malls that are declining. We went to one the next morning, in search of breakfast on the road, and found it almost deserted, despite it being prime sales season.

We were on the road because we were on our way to see Jefferson’s Monticello – one of the prime objects of this trip. Unfortunately it wasn’t great weather, and we walked up the hill from the carpark through a dripping mist, and on reaching the top could barely see the house at the other end of the lawn. Apparently there are amazing views of the surrounding mountains normally, but we didn’t see any of that on the day we visited…


However the house was fascinating, and we thoroughly enjoyed our tour. Jefferson was a great experimenter – and inventor – as well as a thorough bibliophile. There were so many little touches in the house that interested me, that I’m not sure I can do it justice.

For example, there was the clock, that worked with a system of weights and for which the lobby wasn’t quite tall enough – so Jefferson cut holes in the floor for the weights to descend into the basement.

There were the French style beds, either snugly fitted into the walls of the bedrooms, or between two rooms as in Jefferson’s suite. We were told that every morning Jefferson put his feet into a bowl of cold water, to ward off colds (apparently this was successful). Next to the bed you could see where splashed water had worn away at the floor boards.

And there was the French-style dining room, designed to hide the slaves as much as possible, as they went about producing dishes for the guests.

Because it was out of season, we weren’t able to go on the special tour of the slave quarters, and Mulberry Row (the principal plantation street), but we were able to walk around ourselves and read the information provided about them. The guides were rather coy about discussing Jefferson’s liaison with his slave Sally Hemings, with whom he is believed to have fathered six children. In fact, the guides seemed incredibly uncomfortable to be talking about this in Jefferson’s house. I couldn’t help but think that if Monticello was run by the National Parks Service we would have had a far better discussion of this. Instead, it’s run by the Thomas Jefferson Foundation, a nonprofit corporation.

I was interested to learn about Jefferson’s relationship with his daughters, though. Although they were destined to become plantation wives – like their mother, who gave birth to six children in ten years – Jefferson was intent that they should have a solid education. This was because he recognised that they would be largely responsible for the education of their children – not because he thought women should do anything else with their lives. I was also struck by the fact that he took it upon himself to name a number of his grandchildren; his daughter Martha had twelve children, including ‘Thomas Jefferson Randolph’, ‘James Madison Randolph’, ‘Benjamin Franklin Randolph’, and ‘Meriwether Lewis Randolph’!

So it was with a lot to think about and discuss that we left Monticello and headed up to Sperryville.

Read on