Woodstock, VA: The Heart of Shenandoah Valley
This month’s road trip really worked to our advantage. With the leaves beginning to turn yellow we drove at the beginning of the fall season to Woodstock, Virginia to hear our friends “The Eastport Oyster Boys” play their music at the Woodstock Café. Our tag line on the cover has always been “From the Bay to the Blue Ridge” and after almost thirty years it all came together…our friends from the “Bay” entertained our new friends in the “Blue Ridge”.
Our buddy Kevin Brooks and founder of the EOB’s happened to stop in the Woodstock Café while visiting the Blue Ridge last spring. He met Coe Sherrard, the owner, and eventually conversation turned to Kevin’s band and their music. Coe invited Kevin to bring the band back in the fall and that was the beginning of “Bay Days” in the Blue Ridge. On the last weekend in September the Woodstock Café was alive with music and a wonderful Bay style dinner including oysters on the half shell, Chesapeake clam chowder, crab cakes and Seafood Boil. It was great!
Kevin mentioned his friends who own the Old Town Crier and that they may want to write about the event…thus became our November road trip. After we contacted Jenna French with Shenandoah County tourism our schedule was set. We would be the guest of the Café for dinner Friday night at the Oyster Boys first of two performances…but first we had to get there.
Getting to Woodstock is pretty straight- forward…west on I-66 to I-81 then south to Woodstock. However, as we found out on our way back, the direct route is not the scenic route. Having said that, it is still wise to take I-66 partway in order to miss the congestion of Arlington, Manassas, etc. There are some routes through this area but too difficult to define in this limited space. Your best bet is taking I-66 to Route 29 at Gainesville and pickup Route 55 west. All of a sudden your heart rate will begin to drop.
Route 55 was the main route west before I-66 and is a two-lane road that winds through small towns and the countryside past wineries and farms. You will pass through small towns like Haymarket and Broad Run where 55 dips under I-66 ad continues to The Plains and Marshall before crossing back under I-66 to Markham and Linden. There are many wineries along this route as well as small shops to indulge your shopping urge.
The first big town you will pass through is Front Royal on your way to Strasburg. If you are hungry by now, take a short detour down Main Street and stop in on our friend Shannon Koprivich and her new Happy Creek Eatery. Tell her the Old Town Crier sent you!
Picking up Route 55 again you will continue west and will begin to encounter the mountains. By this time of year the leaves may be at their peak and the scenery will be gorgeous. After crossing the Shenandoah River you will turn left towards Strasburg where Route 55 will turn off to the right but you will remain straight on to Route 11 toward Woodstock. Although our destination is the Woodstock Café, a stop at Posey Thisisit Llama Farm in Toms Brook is a must and you can meet the ladies that grace this month’s cover. Here you will find about 30 Llamas on a 27-acre farm located in the beautiful Northern Shenandoah Valley between Massanutten and Little North Mountains. The farm is bordered on the east by Blue Ridge Berry Farm and Orchard and on the west by North Mountain Vineyard. The owner is Joyce Hall and is one of the most entertaining and real persons I have yet to meet. To get near a llama is a unique and exotic experience. Although pretty docile in nature, they have a presence that gives one pause.
About a mile from the Llama farm is North Mountain Winery situated in the middle of the Shenandoah Valley with exceptional mountain vistas. Sample their wines and see if wine maker John Jackson is on property. John lives in Old Town Alexandria and produces some award winning wines at North Mountain.
Retrace your steps back to Route 11 and proceed to Woodstock and the Woodstock Café. Coe and his wife Jean run a friendly, easy going café that also has a fabulous wine section in addition to other interesting items. If you are there on a weekend you are likely to also find some live entertainment. This is where the rest of your adventure begins.
Once you have completed this road trip I would recommend that you spend the night and explore for another day before you return home. You might want to check out the Edinburg Renaissance B&B in the neighboring town of Edinburg. This is where we stayed and it could not have been better. In fact, it was like going home. Proprietors Bill and Donna Smith are from Alexandria and fell in love with the Shenandoah Valley over 40 years ago. When Bill retired they moved here and bought this 1850 Victorian home. As it turns out, Bill retired from Mount Vernon Real Estate in Alexandria. I had started the Old Town Crier before he left Alexandria and he was aware of the publication. The conversations and reminiscing of those times were priceless.
Now that you have arrived at your destination, I will run down some brief history and recommend a few places to visit. Valley Pike or Valley Turnpike is the traditional name given for the Indian trail and roadway which now approximates as U.S. Route 11 in the Shenandoah Valley. Route 11 runs down the middle of the valley with the Appalachian Mountains to the west and the Blue Ridge Mountains to the east. On this stretch of Route 11 there are five small towns, all within about 5/6 miles of each other. You would have already driven through Strasburg, which was the first settlement in the Shenandoah Valley and where you can find the paranormal Hotel Strasburg. Strasburg is also a destination for antique shoppers as are all of the towns.
Around the corner from the Woodstock Café is the Woodstock Brewhouse, featuring a wide selection of hand-crafted beers brewed on site in a restored former Casey Jones denim factory. If you are looking for something a little stronger, try the Spring House Tavern on Route 11 in Woodstock, which I believe is the only place you can by an adult beverage after 10 pm.
A short drive to the Woodstock Tower is a must outstanding views of the “Seven Bends” of the Shenandoah River and the Blue Ridge and Allegheny Mountains. The drive up the mountain is a narrow gravel road with 160-degree switchbacks. As you ascend the mountain the road becomes narrower and there are no guard rails. This is not for the faint of heart. I met one car on the way back down and we had to jockey to get by one another. Once at the top it is a short walk (1/3 mile roundtrip) to the tower and the views are spectacular.
Edinburg exemplifies the quaint, small town atmosphere of the Shenandoah Valley. Here you can find the Shenandoah Valley Cultural Heritage Museum at the Edinburg Mill. This historic 1848 Mill, one of the few mills to survive the burning during the Civil War, has been tastefully and creatively adapted to house an area devoted to transportation in the County through the years on the Great Valley Pike, the Shenandoah River and the nearby railroad. There are also places to shop and dine in Edinburg.
Another five miles or so down the road you will come to Mt. Jackson, a town spread out more than Edinburg but with a lot going on, it even has its own airport. Traveling south on Route 11 you will cross over the North Fork of the Shenandoah River. The next right turn after crossing the river will take you to the Weems Bottom Covered Bridge, at 204 feet, is the longest covered bridge in Virginia. When we were there at the end of September the bridge was closed for repairs. A little down Route 11 you will find the Route 11 Potato Chip plant. This is open to the public and you can watch them making their nationally renowned variety of potato chips.
I have mentioned a lot to do but probably all you want to do is look at the fall leaves. They have a great wine and spirits trail in Shenandoah County that might interest you. Check out Cave Ridge Vineyard and Winery. It is a beautiful place and the drive will take you through the countryside. Be sure to introduce yourself to Randy Phillips – the owner and wine maker – and, you guessed it, tell him the Old Town Crier sent you.
An option for your return trip home would be to pick up Ford Road then Edinburg Gap road toward the Shenandoah River. The scenery is beautiful and the road less traveled. After crossing the river you can pick up Route 211 and cross over the mountain at Thornton Gap and ease on down the other side to Sperryville and Rappahannock County. You can reference the Road Trip column in the July issue. Enjoy your drive and take your time.