Slip away to Northern Neck and discover secrets of the good life

Sue Bland

There is a supurb view of the Potomac River from atop Horsehead Cliffs at Westmoreland State Park.

There’s nothing more traditionally Virginian than spending a weekend on Virginia’s Northern Neck peninsula. This wide strip of river-bound land is a sophisticated rural paradise just a little more than an hour away from Washington, D.C. It’s best known for historic places such as George Washington’s Birthplace National Monument and the magnificent neighboring Stratford Hall and estate, the ancestral home of the Lee family.

Rice’s Hotel and Hughlett’s Tavern host regular colonial craft demonstrations and a farmers market.
Rice’s Hotel and Hughlett’s Tavern host regular colonial craft demonstrations and a farmers market.

When it comes to Virginia’s Northern Neck, cultivated means more than tasty foodstuffs. Today, a new generation has fallen in love again with the hand arts — in craft, architecture, and agricultural and seafood products. Two new trails make it easy to discover do-it-yourself fun, including tonging for oysters and learning from artisans at work.

Lisa Hull, who promotes the area, is excited about the resurgence of the oyster culture. “The importance of the oyster as a protein and economic source to Virginia residents is as old as the earliest settlements here,” she says. “We’re now reclaiming the productivity of our waterways and the amazing Chesapeake Bay and engaging visitors in our heritage at the same time. Some of our most interesting heritage places are key stops along the Oyster Trail and the Artisan Trail.”

Terrific events are coming up in April on Virginia’s Northern Neck. All are held at choice heritage sites, including the 18th-century architectural ruins at Menokin, the massive Stratford Hall and estate, the rare Jacobean-style Christ Church, and the vernacular Rice’s Hotel/Hughlett’s Tavern in Heathsville near the Chesapeake Bay. The spirit of George Washington’s mother, Mary Ball, is alive in April with the Lancaster Court Day History Festival on the Court House Green and the Mary Ball Washington Museum grounds.

Menokin, one of early Virginia’s most sophisticated manor homes, is a national treasure and its ruin is being saved in a unique way, with glass walls allowing visitors to see the work as it is being done. The estate now allows river access daily, 9:00am–5:00pm, thanks to a federal grant.

On April 9, during the Mary Ball Washington Museum & Library’s Lancaster Court Day History Festival, Colonial and Revolutionary history comes to life. There will be living history performances, storytelling, artisan demonstrations, a soldiers’ encampment, period costumes and games, and hands-on activities for all ages. See a quilt exhibit in Lancaster House, tour the Old Jail and Clerk’s Office, and stop by the genealogy library open house. It’s a fun and educational day for the whole family. General admission at the gate is $5, and children 18 and younger are free.

There is a supurb view of the Potomac River from atop Horsehead Cliffs at Westmoreland State Park.
There is a supurb view of the Potomac River from atop Horsehead Cliffs at Westmoreland State Park.

On April 16, visit Rice’s Hotel/Hughlett’s Tavern for the opening of the Heathsville Farmers Market and much more. It all takes place at the last surviving 18th-century structure of its kind in the Northern Neck.

The Heathsville Farmers Market kicks off the season and artisan guilds invite visitors to watch blacksmithing, woodworking, spinning, weaving, and quilting. Inside Hughlett’s Tavern is the Heritage Arts Center, which features working artists’ studios, a gallery, and expanded shop focused on locally-made artisan wares. The event also will feature an Earth Day celebra-tion, live music, a 5K road race, and the Northern Neck Wine Fest.

The Spring Oyster Crawl along the Chesapeake Bay Wine Trail happens April 24. One afternoon each spring, the trail’s 10 wineries highlight special wine and oyster pairings. It’s guaranteed to tickle your palate one way or the other.

Stratford Hall, the Lee family plantation, hosts its Traditional Trades Fair, 9:00am–5:00pm on May 28. Carpenters and joiners from Colonial Williamsburg will demonstrate their crafts and there will be displays, as well as children’s activity tents with costumes, Colonial games, and plenty more to do.

On June 11, take to a kayak off of Stratford Hall for a sunset trip on the Potomac, 3:00–9:00pm. It’s offers a whole new perspective on the historic property and a lot of fun, too.

Finding a place to stay

The Tides Inn is a classic Chesapeake Bay resort, with beautiful rooms and grounds to complement the marina, golf, food, and views. Kick off spring at the Taste of Spring event on April 16, 11:00am–5:00pm. Enjoy a band while you sample 10 craft beers, wines, and artisan food. Visit with local artists and even take in a boat show at the marina.

The Inn at Stratford Hall incorporates the historic ambiance of Stratford Hall Plantation with recreational amenities such as a private beach, bicycles to rent, and free Wi-Fi. The restaurant serves guests as well as visitors touring the Great House, where two signers of the Declaration of Independence, a Revolutionary War hero, and Civil War Gen. Robert E. Lee lived.

The inn is also near Westmore-land State Park and local wineries.

For more information

Northern Neck Tourism: northernneck.org

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