You don’t have to go far outside the DC area for an un-urban experience. But you will not escape the traffic trying to get there. So brace yourself until you’re past Fredericksburg and can break free of I-95. J and I, and our senior-dog-resigned-to-her-fate, spent a summer weekend in Virginia’s Northern Neck. It’s an area dotted with tiny towns; of low-lying farms and fields of corn and soybeans where the Rappahannock and Potomac rivers flow into the Chesapeake Bay. J and I were there to kayak and eat what we could manage of Rappahannock oysters. We stayed in a small house in Irvington down the street from the Steamboat Era Museum and the grassy commons set up for the Irvington Crab Festival, at the town’s main commercial intersection. There was a Methodist church on one corner, Baptist on the other.
We passed by both on our unhurried morning walks to The Local, the local coffee shop, where we sat on the street-front patio behind the white picket fence and watched grandparents and grandkids leisurely cycle by on pastel bikes. A few doors down we ate dinner at The Dredge (named for the fishing dredge used to harvest oysters), which was nicely full of year-long residents and regular summer visitors. Lily Pulitzer was on full display. And then sipped port at the softly lit The Vine (wine shop and wine bar) comfortably situated next to the Baptist church.
Down the road in Weems we stopped by one of the best-preserved colonial era churches, set off in a tree-shaded grassy enclave. An Anglican parish church built in the 1730s and funded by wealthy landowner Robert “King” Carter, we read the inscriptions on the tombs outside Historic Christ Church of King Carter himself and his first and second wives. Both wives died in their 30s…after birthing a combined 15 children (Carter died in his 60s).
Although surrounded by water on the map, we had to deliberately seek it out. From Weems we followed a quiet road ending miles away at the beach and marina of Windmill Point, jutting out where the Rappahannock River falls into the Chesapeake Bay.
We rented kayaks and paddled out on a quiet creek at Menokin, the house and plantation of Francis Lightfoot Lee, who was a signer of the Declaration of Independence. The house, now in ruins, is coming back under a preservation plan that will re-build the lost remains of the outer structure in glass. It’s set off in a field and had terraced gardens in the back that in its day preserved a view of the creek beyond.
Driving back to Irvington, we stopped for sandwiches at the civil war finds cum all-day-breakfast diner at the alliterative Callao Coffee Café in Callao, with signs for casino parking in back (although we didn’t see a casino). We browsed what was for sale while waiting for our paninis. Continuing east before turning south I found homemade ice cream (peanut butter Oreo) at T & Js Dairy Barn in Burgess.
Eventually we found a deck with water views by heading straight down historic Urbanna‘s Virginia Street and taking a gravel road to the seafood market and dockside restaurant of Urbanna Seafood and Raw Bar. At stools lining the small covered outdoor bar we looked out at Robinson Creek while diners ordered baskets of oysters and crabs and calamari at multi-colored benches and picnic tables on the shaded deck. Passing through White Stone on our way back from Urbanna (over the Norris Bridge across the Rappahannock) we stopped for dinner at the lovely unassuming Adrift, which shares the block with the town post office. Sitting at the small bar we hung out eating oysters delicately fried and flavorful over a spinach salad, and baked and ramp-buttered in a hot dish with toast.
Our last chance at oysters was back over the Norris Bridge and an immediate left (at Hummel Field airfield) to the shore of the Rappahannock for brunch at Merroir, the birthplace of the Rappahannock Oyster Company. We arrived not long after opening time, which got us an umbrella shaded table on the dog friendly patio of softly crushed bleached-white oyster shells. BBQ bourbon chipotle grilled oysters, accompanied by a jumbo lump crab cake and a glass of rosé, enhanced a sprawling river view. It felt quiet and there was a slight breeze. And we lingered.