Maryland’s Eastern Shore Villages – Oxford, St Michaels, Cambridge and Tilghman Island

At last the winds died down, and we had some good views of Solomons as we travelled back down the Patuxent River from St Leonard Creek to the Chesapeake Bay.

Solomons from the Patuxent River

Solomons from the Patuxent River

Thomas Johnson Bridge, Solomons

Thomas Johnson Bridge, Solomons

St Leonard Creek-Eastern Shore Islands-Annapolis

Our arrival at Oxford was even more challenging than our arrival at Smith Island had been. Ian had phoned ahead to the Oxford Yacht Agency, and John, the owner, had confirmed he had space for us. But he was going out, to a party, so we’d have to dock unaided. This might not have presented too many difficulties, had the jetty poles not been about twelve feet high. My days of shooting netball goals are long past, and I made several futile attempts to lasso the poles, while Ian circled around three times, before some lateral thinking suggested that hoying the rope around the post, and grabbing the other end with the boat hook, might be more effective.

A short time later, we were greeted, rather apologetically, by Roger and Ann who were moored in a nearby slip. John had asked them to look out for us and give us a hand, but they hadn’t noticed us coming in. They were Great Loop veterans themselves, and gave us some useful advice about the Mississippi River – best avoided, it seems, as far as possible!

Moored up at Oxford. Note height of poles.

Moored up at Oxford. Note height of poles.

View from the mooring at Oxford - early evening sunshine

View from the mooring at Oxford – early evening sunshine

Oxford was a delight.The residents seem to take a keen interest in gardening and we saw some very pretty gardens in front of the gracious Victorian homes. The gentleman who lived next door to this house told us that his wife and her friend were actually at the Chelsea Flower Show at that very moment.

Front gardens, N. Morris St, Oxford

Front gardens, N. Morris St, Oxford

Oxford occupies a small peninsula at the confluence of the Tred Avon and Choptank Rivers. We had a leisurely bike ride round the village, passing by the small beach known as the Strand.

Overlooking the Tred Avon River at the end of the peninsula

Overlooking the Tred Avon River at the end of the peninsula

The Strand, Oxford

The Strand, Oxford

The Strand, Oxford

The Strand, Oxford

At one point we had to stop our bikes in one of the back streets, and a lady had to stop her car, to allow a small family of ducks to waddle across the road. They are just visible in the foreground of the next photo!

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House on the Strand

House on the Strand

Oxford has an annual auction of decorated picket fences, which might sound a strange concept to British ears. The picket fences are painted by local artists and displayed outside local businesses, until October, when they are auctioned and the proceeds donated to the charity chosen by the artist.

Decorated picket fence

Decorated picket fence – The Root of the Matter

Oxford was an embarkation point in the 1860s for freed slaves who were then recruited into the USCT.

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There’s a small car ferry which goes from Oxford to Belle Vue on the other side of the Tred Avon, and in the afternoon we took the bikes over and cycled through the country lanes. The area had houses dating back to the 17th Century, but nowhere to get any refreshment, so we had to wait till we were back in Oxford to try the delights of the Highland Creamery ice-cream at a small kiosk overlooking the river.

Coming back from Belle Vue on the ferry

Coming back from Belle Vue on the ferry

 

The following day we cruised to St Michaels, another village on Maryland’s Eastern shore, but with a very different vibe from Oxford. It too has grown up along a peninsula and the marinas were all on the northern side, but there was an anchorage in the sheltered San Domingo Creek just south of the village. We  moored there and took the dinghy across to the public jetty.

As we were walking up from the shore towards the village, we were passed by an elderly couple reversing their truck at speed along the narrow road. There was a loud crash as the truck drove into a stationary Toyota. The couple got out of the truck, surveyed the damage, and the woman burst into tears, wringing her hands and wailing loudly in a way that suggested it might not have been the first time her husband had perpetrated such an incident. We were spared the dilemma of whether to intervene, or offer assistance, by the appearance of the Toyota’s owner who came running down the street, and we left them to it.

In contrast to Oxford, St Michaels had lots of shops and perhaps because it was Saturday, the streets were thronged with people. The presence of a decent supermarket was something of a relief, after nearly a week of no shops except the Oxford Market, which had only the very basics.

We made our way round the harbour, and outside the Maritime Museum was a replica shallop, the sort of small craft Captain John Smith used to explore the rivers of Chesapeake Bay in 1608.

Replica shallop at St Michaels

Replica shallop at St Michaels

Then we had a beer at the Crab Claw Restaurant and watched the boats coming in and out of the busy harbour.

The Crab Claw Restaurant, St Michaels

The Crab Claw Restaurant, St Michaels

S.Talbot St, St Michaels

S.Talbot St, St Michaels

When we got back to San Domingo Creek, I stopped to photograph some fishing boats and Ian started chatting to Johnny and Benny who were sitting in their truck, surveying the view of the creek. Benny was a waterman and gave us the welcome news that as the next day was Sunday, we wouldn’t be woken at four in the morning, as it was the watermen’s day off.

Fishing boats at San Domingo Creek

Fishing boats at San Domingo Creek

Instead, we were woken at intervals by brilliant flashes of lightning, resounding thunderclaps, and heavy rain hammering on Carina’s roof.

On Sunday morning, the creek was still and misty after the storm, and we moved on to Cambridge.

Leaving St Michaels - the San Domingo Creek

Leaving St Michaels – the San Domingo Creek

The sun had come out again by the time we got to Cambridge Municipal Marina.

Boats at Cambridge Municipal Marina

Boats at Cambridge Municipal Marina

Cambridge is a town rather than a village, and although it has some pleasant streets and buildings, it has some rather run-down aspects too as we discovered when we cycled three miles in the heat to Walmart, to replenish our wifi stocks. This impression was confirmed the next day when we biked round the downtown area. There are things to see and do in Cambridge, as long as it isn’t Monday. There’s the Harriet Tubman Museum, dedicated to the life of the woman who was born near Cambridge and who helped many thousands of African Americans escape slavery in the 1860s, and there’s the LaGrange Plantation, the base of the Dorchester County Historical Society. Both of these, and the James B. Richardson Maritime Museum, are closed on Mondays.

But towards the end of Race Street, after the smart buildings had ended and the burnt-out shells and abandoned businesses started, we found Center Market. Mr Simmons, the owner, was outside, piling up the fresh fruit and vegetables on display. He told us that the market had been in his family for four generations, since 1937, and in those days, it had been an open market behind the shop premises. Inside the shop, high above the shelves holding canned goods, bottled drinks, paper towels and cleaning materials, were the old weights and cash registers used in the market. He, and the woman on the till inside, were delighted to welcome someone from Cambridge, England, to their store and impressed that Ian’s mum still lives there.

Inside Mr Simmons' store, Center Market

Inside Mr Simmons’ store, Center Market

Race St, Cambridge

Race St, Cambridge

Victorian houses near the marina, Cambridge

Victorian houses near the marina, Cambridge

Cambridge does have its good points. The young marina staff, Scott and Chris, were friendly and helpful, and we had a very good meal at the Highspot Restaurant, on High Street.

Our last stop on the Eastern Shore was Tilghman Island, so named after it was bequeathed to Matthew Tilghman in 1752. We had two nights at Tilghman on Chesapeake Marina, beautifully situated with views out over the bay.

View from the marina

View from the marina

Low tide at Tilghman on Chesapeake

Low tide at Tilghman on Chesapeake

Tilghman has the largest working fishing fleet in Chesapeake Bay, and in recent years there has been investment to improve the natural harbour at Dogwood Cove. There are still two traditional skipjacks there, which harvest oysters in the dredging season and take visitors out at other times.

Skipjacks in Dogwood Harbor, Tilghman Island

Skipjacks in Dogwood Harbor, Tilghman Island

Also of interest are the ‘W’ houses that are unique to Tilghman – twelve of them were built in the early 1900’s, but only five now remain.

W house, Tilghman Island

W house, Tilghman Island

We cycled to Black Walnut Point at the southern tip of the island, and the air was scented with the flowers of Rosa multiflora, which is now so common that, rather sadly, it is regarded as an invasive species.

Rosa multiflora

Rosa multiflora

There was honeysuckle too.

Japanese honeysuckle

Japanese honeysuckle

And lots of black locust trees.

Robinia pseudoacacia

Robinia pseudoacacia

Near Black Walnut Point

Near Black Walnut Point

We were intrigued by the name of the Two If By the Sea Restaurant on the main road. Henry, the chef and owner, had been a head chef with Marriott Hotels and decided to escape to the country. The restaurant premises used to be a grocery and hardware store and the interior looks like a cross between an English tea room, with paintings, bric a brac and fine china on display, and an American bar. We sat at the table with a view of the kitchen garden where Henry’s partner aims to grow all their own produce.

The restaurant is only open for dinner on Friday and Saturday nights, so we went for breakfast and Henry cooked us the best omelette I’ve ever tasted – with asparagus, crab and cheese. The menu said served with ‘fries’. This turned out to be an unassumingly modest description – the potato cubes were lightly sauteed with a mixture of herbs and oil, and were the perfect accompaniment to the omelette.

Tilghman Island is separated from the mainland by a narrow stretch of water known as Knapps Narrows.

Looking north, Knapps Narrows

Looking north, Knapps Narrows

Knapps Narrows

Knapps Narrows

To get back to the Western Shore and our next destination, Annapolis, the quick way was via the Narrows.

But all the advice was against it. The amount of silting would virtually guarantee running aground. So we took the long way round, south of the island, adding another eight miles to the journey round Black Walnut Point. It was windy, and choppy, but we’re getting used to that sort of thing.

Carina in the evening sunshine, Tilghman Island

Carina in the evening sunshine, Tilghman Island

 

 

 

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Smith Island, Solomons and St Leonards Creek

Tangier Island - Solomons -St Leonards Creek (2)

Ewell Town, Smith Island, MD, looked quite inviting as we approached, with the houses among the trees looking out over the water. But after the friendly and welcoming atmosphere on Tangier Island, Smith Island was almost spookily quiet, and something of a disappointment. I was glad we’d gone to Tangier first.

Approaching Ewell, Smith Island

Approaching Ewell, Smith Island

We got a good view of Martin National Wildlife Reserve, just before arriving at Ewell.

Martin National Wildlife Refuge, Smith Island

Martin National Wildlife Refuge, Smith Island

We stopped at the marina at Ewell, on the north shore of the island, but hadn’t been able to contact the dockmaster before we got there.  So there was no-one to greet us, or more importantly, help us to dock the boat.

It fell to me, as crew, to lasso one of the large vertical poles at the side of the jetty, and secure the boat. I was a little nervous.

The Captain’s orders were to get everything ready for a starboard tie. I managed to get two fenders in place, and the mooring rope on the starboard side ready to ensnare the post.

We glided smoothly into the dock.

‘Midline on port!’ came the order from above.

‘You said starboard!’

‘I changed my mind!’

I dashed round to the port side, quickly released the port mid-line and, miraculously, managed to throw the rope over the pole and  pull Carina in. Only the Captain heard me swear.

The Guidebook promised two restaurants, a grocery and deli, and the Smith Island Cake Company, the prospect of which had Ian quite excited. Smith Island Cake is Maryland’s State Cake (allegedly) and is a confection of ten layers of sponge cake, sandwiched together with frosting.

But none of these establishments were open, so our plans to eat out had to be shelved. Eating in wasn’t an inviting prospect, either. Carina’s cupboards were relatively bare, but a lady we met in our search for the grocery/deli told us that there was a small store attached to the fuel dock. This turned out to stock a variety of tinned and packaged goods, but nothing fresh. Apparently the locals survive by taking the ferry to Crisfield, 10 miles away, and  do their shopping there.  We bought a can of Bush’s Authentic Baked Beans, and dinner was a humble affair of a plain omelette, Anna potatoes and baked beans, followed by our last remaining orange for dessert.

Exploring Ewell

Exploring Ewell

Fortunately, the next day the weather was favourable enough to cross the bay back to the Western Shore, where we had arranged to meet the family at Solomons. Solomons is a great boating centre and weekend get-away destination for people from Baltimore, Annapolis and DC, so there were plenty of marinas to choose from. We stayed at Solomons Harbor Marina, next to the Holiday Inn, where Ted, Danielle, Sophie and Ewan were due to arrive the next day.

Approaching Solomons

Approaching Solomons

View from our mooring at  Solomons Harbor Marina

View from our mooring at Solomons Harbor Marina

After the rather spare meal of the previous evening, we felt we deserved a treat, so we got the bikes out and pedalled off to Solomons Island, separated from the mainland by a short bridge over a little creek. But before we got there, we came upon the CD Cafe, somewhat surprisingly situated in a modern building which also housed a dentist’s office, a lawyer and a medical therapist.

We’d read favourable reviews of the CD Cafe and had had enough pedalling, so decided to go in. The restaurant was packed and had a great atmosphere, but we got a table and the food was so good that we went back again three nights later, to round off our visit to Solomons in style.

Our visitors arrived promptly the next day and the two smaller ones quickly discovered what fun it was to go out of the starboard cabin door, run round the foredeck, and re-enter the cabin via the port door. Alternatively, you could exit the port door, run round the rear deck, and come back in via the starboard door. And then there were those little flights of stairs leading down to the bedrooms, and up to the top deck, where you were really high up, and  Grandad had his special instruments. It was great to have you on board, little guys!

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(And you, Ted and Danielle!)

It was quite choppy in the Patuxent River so we cruised round the calmer waters  of Mill Creek to anchor and have lunch. Although the area is quite developed, the houses are mainly hidden in the dense woodland and so it seems quite unspoiled.

Mill Creek, Patuxent River

Mill Creek, Patuxent River

After dinner at Ruddy Duck’s, which has its own micro-brewery, we went back down to the island for an ice-cream at Coney’s. Lots of other people had the same idea, and the queue was quite long at the kiosk on the promenade next to the little beach. The atmosphere was almost like an English sea-side town, with lots of children playing on the swings and helter-skelter.

 

We’ve been much more hampered by the weather on this trip than we were on the Intra-coastal Waterway. Because the bay is so vast, wind speed and wave height have to be closely monitored and any small craft warnings duly heeded. So it wasn’t till Tuesday that we left Solomons, and even then the conditions weren’t suitable for crossing the bay or even going north up the western shore. So we contented ourselves with a side trip up the lovely Patuxent River,  then turning north into St Leonard Creek. We passed Vera’s Beach Bar, where until she died at the age of 92 in 2007, Vera  had apparently entertained her clientele by appearing in a variety of Polynesian costumes.

Vera's Beach Bar, St Leonard Creek

Vera’s Beach Bar, St Leonard Creek

The rest of the creek was quiet and deserted, and as the high winds persisted, we had another day there.

View from the mooring at St Leonard Creek

View from the mooring at St Leonard Creek

We ventured down to the mouth of the creek in the RIB to see if we could land at the Jefferson Patterson Park which we had seen on the way in and which had several walking trails. I’d phoned the Park Ranger and she had said there were no jettties we could use, but we thought we might be able to land on one of the small beaches.

The sight of the waves and the white horses on the Patuxent, where the creek flows into the river, confirmed our decision to stay another night up in the creek. We found a delapidated landing stage and tied the dinghy to a post, and waded through the warm, shallow water to the beach. We could see two parked cars a short distance away, so there was obviously a trail nearby. But the beach was separated from it by  fifteen yards of long grass and shrubs, and bearing in mind the dire warnings we’ve had about ticks and other ‘critters’, and the snake we saw in the dock at Solomons, we didn’t risk fighting our way through.

And anyway, the little beach was a lovely place to stand and stare.

Beach at Jefferson Patterson Park

Beach at Jefferson Patterson Park

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Carina moored at St Leonard Creek, Maryland

Carina moored at St Leonard Creek, Maryland

The next day we went back down the Patuxent and crossed the bay again, to Oxford, one of Mayland’s Eastern Shore villages.

 

 

 

Things that go Bump……..Yorktown to Tangier Island

Our arrival at Gloucester Point, just across the river from Yorktown, was slightly delayed when, embarrassingly, we ran aground within sight of the York River Yacht Haven, having just advised them that we were about to moor up. Fortunately, it was only half an hour to low tide, so not long after lunch we were afloat again. Lisa, the dockmaster, assured us that ‘everyone’ runs aground not once, but several times, during the course of their boating adventures on the Chesapeake Bay, and how right she was.

Yorktown to Tangier Island

Yorktown was founded in 1691 as a port to enable the export of tobacco from Virginia, although the area was explored by Captain John Smith in his exploration of Virginia in 1608. It was also the site, in 1781, of the defeat of the British under Lord Cornwallis by the combined forces of George Washington and the French, led by the Comte de Rochambeau, the final siege and battle of the Revolutionary Wars.  As we approached the village from the York River, the Victory Monument and the schooner Alliance set the scene.

Approaching Yorktown

Approaching Yorktown

The sShooner Alliance

The Schooner Alliance

Disinclinitis quickly sets in when it rains continuously for two days, but the York River Yacht Haven had a courtesy car, so we were able to go grocery shopping in comfort, visit a hardware store (Ian is never short of an excuse) and drive over the Coleman Bridge to Yorktown itself, to visit the Watermen’s Museum. Although tobacco was Yorktown’s first industry, eventually the soil became depleted and fishing and crabbing took over as the main source of income. The term ‘watermen’ to describe the families whose generations made a living on the waters of the Chesapeake Bay is taken from the Watermen of the Thames barges.

On Saturday the weather was bright and sunny, so we crossed the river to Yorktown itself and moored at the town dock, got the bikes out and rode along the waterfront past Cornwallis Cove, and the caves in the bluff where Lord Cornwallis hid out in the last days of the Siege of Yorktown, and up the hill to the Victory Monument.

Cornwallis Cove, Yorktown

Cornwallis Cove, Yorktown

The Waterfront, Yorktown

The Waterfront, Yorktown

Caves under the bluff

Caves under the bluff

Tobacco Road - where the tobacco was transported down to the docks

Tobacco Road – where the tobacco was transported down to the docks

The Victory Monument

The Victory Monument

'One Country One Constitution'

‘One Country One Constitution’

View of the Bay from the Victory Monument

View of the Bay from the Victory Monument

Yorktown is unspoiled and has many old houses and a lovely village atmosphere.

Hornsby House

Hornsby House

Smith House

Smith House

In the afternoon, there was a BBQ and Blues Festival on the waterfront, and we took that in too. $30  a head admission seemed a bit steep, until we realised that the price included  a half-pint glass, with a 2 fl oz marker on the side. You could go to any of the many craft beer tents and get a free 2 fl oz sample of their beers.

The music was good too, and we particularly liked Bobby ‘Blackhat’ Walters’ style.

At the Blues Festival, Yorktown

At the Blues Festival, Yorktown

Bobby 'Blackhat' Walters and the band

Bobby ‘Blackhat’ Walters and the band

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Coleman Bridge at nightfall

Coleman Bridge at nightfall

Bridge engineers: it’s a double swing bridge.

The town certainly works hard at attracting visitors and enticing them to spend money. After the Blues festival ended at 6pm, the stalls and gazebos were quickly dismantled. Next morning, they were being re-erected for an Arts and Crafts Fair.

We went to have a look round and Ian’s attention was drawn to Steven Rodrig’s stall. He uses printed circuit boards to make sculptures and we both liked a glistening, blue-green pineapple – we now have the problem of transporting it safely back to England. I had liked it for itself, but also because the pineapple is the symbol of welcome and hospitality in Virginia. And creating works of art out of things that would otherwise go to landfill seems a good idea too.

Unlike  Florida, on Sundays in Chesapeake Bay the waters are quiet and we saw very few other boats as we made our way north towards Deltaville. Or perhaps it’s simply that the season here hasn’t really started yet – at most places we’ve been the only visitors in the marina.

We’d entered the Piankatank River and were just turning into Jackson Creek where we intended to drop anchor, when Carina gave a now-familiar thud. After ten  minutes of reversing and wiggling, the Captain gave up and phoned TowBoat US. After all, we do have Gold Membership and he wears the BoatUS cap. Clearly, we now have the T-shirt too.

The TowBoatUS chaps were kind, professional and completely non-judgemental, commiserating on the trickiness of finding the channels in the creeks and expressing interest in our trip. After half an hour we were free, and a short time later safely anchored for the night.

Jacksons Creek, Piankatank River

Jacksons Creek, Piankatank River

TowBoatUS disappearing back to Deltaville

TowBoatUS disappearing back to Deltaville

Evening at Jacksons Creek

Evening at Jacksons Creek

Full Moon on the Piankatank River

Full Moon on the Piankatank River

The next day the Captain proceeded with extreme caution through the channel, but even so, at one point there was a suspicious-sounding bump, just before the depth sounder peeped. This time though, he was in time to avert disaster and after a quick gear change into reverse and some hasty manipulation of the steering wheel, we were safely on our way to Tangier Island, thirty miles to the east of us across the bay.

Morning sunshine on Jackson Creek

Morning sunshine on Jackson Creek

I’m still finding it hard to appreciate the size and scale of the Chesapeake Bay. On a map of North America, it looks like a moderate-sized inlet. The reality is that it’s 170 miles long, and you can’t see from the Western shore to the Eastern one. From Deltaville, crossing to Tangier Island was further than crossing the English Channel from Dover to Calais.

But it was worth the effort. We passed Stingray Point, where Captain John Smith was injured by the eponymous fish and had to interrupt his voyage round Chesapeake Bay in 1608. Although he landed at Tangier Island, it wasn’t settled until 1670.

Tangier was used by the British as a base during the war of 1812, when they unsuccessfully attacked Baltimore and Fort McHenry,  which inspired Francis Scott Key to write the Star-Spangled Banner,  after he witnessed the bombardment there.

The island was also a refuge for escaped slaves, who as free men were relocated to Nova Scotia, Bermuda or Trinidad.

 

There are 3 main families on the island, the Crocketts, the Pruitts and the Parks, and they speak a dialect that is said to be related to Elizabethan English. At least to my untrained ear, they sounded more like inhabitants of Norfolk, England, than Norfolk, Virginia.

Arriving at Tangier Island

Arriving at Tangier Island

View from the marina

View from the marina

Watermen's sheds, Tangier Island

Watermen’s sheds, Tangier Island

Mr Milton Parks, the owner of Parks Marina, met us and helped us dock. He told us he was 84, but emended this to 83, as he will actually be 84 in July. We were his first visitors this season, and were given a warm welcome. Sadly, of the several restaurants on the island, only one, Lorraine’s Seafood Restaurant, was open, but the crabcakes were delicious so it didn’t really matter that  everywhere else was shut.

The population of the island is declining, although both the Federal Government and the Commonwealth of Virginia are supporting measures to encourage and preserve the island way of life. There’s a school, an airstrip and a new Health Centre. We met a couple of people who had chosen to retire to the island – Joe, a shoe-repairer from upstate New York, and Linda from Florida, who had boated in Chesapeake Bay for years with her husband before coming to live there permanently.

Ian and Linda had a conversation about hurricanes.

‘Florida people don’t mind hurricanes,’ Linda said. ‘They keep those damn Yankees away.’

There are no cars on Tangier – people get round on buggies and motorbikes, so our bikes proved very suitable for going through the little town and across the marshes to the beach.

Ice-cream shop, Tangier Island

Ice-cream shop, Tangier Island

Main Street, Tangier

Main Street, Tangier

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The history of the island is beautifully summarised on the Welcome Board which you pass on the way from the dock to the Main Street.

In many ways, Tangier Island is hallowed ground. Here lie the remains of some of the native Americans who were banished here or used Tangier as hunting grounds. Here lie many of the sons and daughters of Tangier who so bravely served their country in the Armed Forces. Here rest the remains of British soldiers and sailors who dutifully served their country during the war of 1812. Here is what remains of the soil upon which those African Americans first walked as free people.

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As we returned to the boat from the beach, we saw the Tangier Island Fire Truck, blue lights flashing, making its way slowly down the narrow lane. A young woman was in labour. We knew this from another woman in her front yard, hollering to her friend a few doors down. A helicopter of the Maryland State Troopers was waiting on the airstrip, to take the young woman to the mainland.

The next day, the Captain made a faultless exit from Parks Marina, and  we travelled 24 miles north, to Smith Island, Maryland.

 

 

 

Taking the Rough with the Smooth

British Airways is still My Favourite Airline, having delivered a hassle-free and comfortable trip from Newcastle. We’ve taken to arriving in the States via Philadelphia, as the flight is shorter than to DC and the US Customs and Immigration procedures take on average about two hours less. Then we stay in a hotel, have a little look round Philly and lunch in Reading Terminal Market, and take the train to DC, at least partially recovered from the flight.

We’ve been to Philadelphia before and done the must-sees, so this time we just took a pleasant stroll where the fancy took us, taking in a short lesson in 20th century economics at the Federal Reserve Bank of Philadelphia which had an exhibition on. Outside, a young man in an Uncle Sam outfit holding a placard wished us a Happy Tax Day. Perhaps unwisely, we told him we weren’t US taxpayers, and he asked us  what we thought of Michael Bloomberg running for the Mayor of London. Ian suggested he could simply swap with Boris.

Blossom trees lining Franklin Square, Philadelphia

Blossom trees lining Franklin Square, Philadelphia

The Carousel in Franklin Square, Philadelphia

The Carousel in Franklin Square, Philadelphia

The fountain, Franklin Square

The fountain, Franklin Square

Cityscape, Philadelphia

Cityscape, Philadelphia

We had a super few days doing family stuff in Centreville.

At Fountainhead Regional Park

At Fountainhead Regional Park

Serious conversation among the tall trees

Serious conversation among the tall trees

Spring flowers in the forest

Spring flowers in the forest

A week after arriving, we drove down to Great Bridge near Norfolk, where Carina had been in storage since November. I hadn’t wanted to leave the garden at home and miss the English spring, but Virginia was lovely too, with the bright green leaves bursting out, the dogwood and the other flowering trees and shrubs making a beautiful display.

We’d hoped to see the famous cherry trees in  blossom in DC, which we’d missed three years ago. That year, spring had come very early, followed by strong winds which destroyed the blossom before we arrived. This year, we were on target (the best dates are forecast on the internet), but when Ted drove us through the Tidal Basin after picking us up from the station, it was obvious that heavy rain the night before had ruined most of the blossom, and the heavy grey skies didn’t enhance what little remained.

Carina had spent the winter in a big workshed at Atlantic Yacht Basin, Chesapeake. We had 3 nights in a hotel while we cleaned, scrubbed, unpacked, bought provisions and generally made the boat fit to be lived in again, and managed a return visit to a favourite haunt, Tautog’s Bar and Restaurant at Virginia Beach, where the food is excellent and the atmosphere small and friendly.

All this time, although the temperature was cool, the sun shone continuously. Our departure on Saturday morning was marked by grey skies and steadily increasing rain.

The shed at AYB where Carina stayed over the winter

The shed at AYB where Carina stayed over the winter

Leaving Atlantic Yacht Basin

Leaving Atlantic Yacht Basin

We decided to by-pass Norfolk this time and head straight for Hampton, impatient to explore Chesapeake Bay with its many rivers and inlets, and colonial history.

Chesapeake to Yorktown

Chesapeake to Yorktown

Despite the rain, it was a relief to get the boat out of the shed and into the fresh air. As an economy measure after three nights’ extravagance, we spent the first night moored out in a sheltered inlet near Hampton. The following morning we covered the short distance to Sunset Boatyard, about half a mile from downtown Hampton.

We’re still finding plenty of things to spend money on, and there’s a certain amount of negotiation involved. As in, well, you had those new widgets to make the internet connection better, so maybe I could have new a worktop in the galley. Our latest acquisitions are two folding bikes from Walmart, plus accoutrements, and we tried them out in Hampton, cycling through the wide shady streets lined with flowering trees and elegant houses.

Assembling the bikes

Assembling the bikes

 

At the end of the main street we came to St John’s Anglican Church, the oldest permanent Anglican Church in America, founded in 1610, three years after the first settlement at Jamestown.

St John's Hampton, with the statue of the Confederate Soldier

St John’s Hampton, with the statue of the Confederate Soldier

Inside, there is a stained glass window depicting the baptism of Pocahontas.

The Baptism of Pocahontas

The Baptism of Pocahontas

There was a notice pinned to the door advertising ‘Spring Promises’, a concert by Bellissima, a Women’s Choir which is based in the area. It was due to start at 4 o’clock, so after some discussion it was agreed we could go. The programme varied from Schumann, Vaughan Williams and the Song of Solomon, to  ‘Perhaps They are Not Stars’, a traditional Inuit text set to music, sung in memory of one of the choir members.

Perhaps they are not stars, but rather openings to Heaven, Where the love of our lost ones pours through and shines down on us to let us know that they are happy.They are not stars, but Love.

Waiting for the concert to start

Waiting for the concert to start

There is another window in the church, with the inscription inpartibus transmarinus sigillum societatis de promovendo evangelico – the seal of the Society for the Propagation of the Gospel in Foreign Parts. Still in existence today as the United Society for the Propagation of the Gospel, it was founded in 1701 to promote the Anglican Church in North America, in the face of competition from the Congregationalists, Baptists and Methodists, and Dissenters. Thanks to Jeni, Jill and Karen for your help with that one!

Window in St John's Church bearing the Seal of the Society for the Propagation of the Gospel in Foreign Parts

Window in St John’s Church bearing the Seal of the Society for the Propagation of the Gospel in Foreign Parts

We’d been recommended by the boatyard staff to try the Taphouse on the Main Street, so after the concert we went there to sample a couple of the 157 different varieties of ale on offer. Trying the beer seems to be a rather more interesting activity than trying the wine, we find.

Ian enjoying the Dirty Bastard ale in the Taphouse, Hampton

Ian enjoying the Dirty Bastard ale in the Taphouse, Hampton

We stayed for dinner, and perhaps emboldened by the beer, I decided to try blackened tuna with garlic green beans and smoked tomato sauce, on bacon and blue cheese grits. Good call!

Our perfect afternoon was marred slightly on the way home. As I was crossing the road at a controlled junction to go to a 7-11 store to get some cash, a car swerved round the corner at speed and stopped about a foot from me and my bike. Ian yelled something at the driver.

In front of the store was a gas station (please note use of appropriate terminology) and the driver pulled onto the forecourt and came over as we were propping the bikes up.

‘Wouldn’t leave those bikes there.’

‘You wouldn’t?’

‘Nah – not safe.’

I stayed outside with the bikes while Ian went in to get the cash, followed by the driver who emerged a minute later.

‘Where you guys from?’

I allowed a pause of several seconds before answering.

‘England.’

‘Y’all got a weapons permit?’

Another studied pause.

‘No.’

‘Well, youse might like to think about gettin’ one. This is a weapons state.’

For the first time in America, I felt slightly uncomfortable. But not so intimidated as the time when some teenage boys threw stones at our narrowboat on the Grand Union Canal near Leicester, or some teenage girls hurled abuse as we passed under a long bridge on the Ashton Canal at Stalybridge. Or the time when, hitch-hiking through France in 1970, we had to smartly jump out of  a Spanish lorry driver’s cab when he started brandishing a knife.

 

We had to decide the next day whether to stay in Hampton, or move up to Yorktown. The weather was complicated and if we didn’t go early, the strengthening winds would mean we couldn’t go at all for the next two days.

We went.

After half an hour of pitching up and down I began to feel queasy, remembering at this point that I had forgotten to bring from home the First Aid Box, containing the stugeron and all the other over-the-counter meds that we never have need of.

I spent the next two hours lying horizontal, covering my eyes and groaning theatrically from time to time.

The Captain decided to abort the journey and instead of going all the way to Yorktown, diverted into a sheltered inlet at Poquoson where we anchored. Unusually solicitous, he made me tea and toast, but it was some hours before I started to recover.

We discovered later that the weather forecast had been amended the morning we left Hampton, and a small craft warning had  been in place since late morning.  We spent Tuesday on the mooring, glad that we weren’t out in the Bay.

But there was a lovely sunset.

Sunset near Poquoson

Sunset near Poquoson