Natural wonders, enduring traditions
By Hope S. Philbrick
Hampshire County, which celebrates its 263rd anniversary this year, is the oldest county in the state of West Virginia. Billed as a “natural, two-lane paradise,” the County borders Virginia and serves as a gateway to the Potomac Highlands.
Spend any time in Hampshire County and you will meet locals: they’re friendly, with a common habit of approaching newcomers with warm handshakes and ready conversations. Some of these folks have lived in the area for generations; others came to visit and simply couldn’t bring themselves to leave.
Rich with natural wonders and enduring traditions, Hampshire County is a place worthy of lingering. Among our favorite discoveries…
The Trough is a narrow valley on the South Branch of the Potomac River that’s home to bald eagles. The best way to tour the picturesque area is to ride on the Potomac Eagle Excursion Train, a trip that’s billed as “one of America’s most beautiful train rides.” In addition to the Trough, each three-hour tour rolls past historic farms, hardwood forests, wildflower fields and authentic West Virginia country roads and countryside. A ride aboard the historic train is relaxing as it gently sways and bobs down the track; a narrator points out key sites and makes sure you don’t miss an eagle sighting. Book a dining car ticket to enjoy a full-service three-course lunch; alternatively, you can buy casual fare a la carte in the concessions car. When the conductor announces the 45-minute opportunity to do so, be sure to head to the open-air car for the best photo ops.
Trains run each weekend during the summer and every day in October.
Ice Mountain Preserve, which is owned by the Nature Conservancy, was named a national natural landmark in 2013. The mountain is home to a collection of boreal plants that are usually found much farther north in the arctic, thanks to cold air that flows from about 60 holes and small caves (a.k.a., “ice vents”). The 149-acre preserve harbors twinflower, dwarf dogwood, Canada mayflower, bristly rose and other blooming- and non-blooming plants and is also home to neotropical birds including warblers, vireos and thrushes. There are two trails, one through the forest to the rare plant area and the other to sandstone cliffs and the “Ravens Rock” lookout.
Guided tours can be arranged most of the year; please call 304-496-7359 to make a reservation at least three weeks in advance.
Downtown Romney, West Virginia’s oldest town, is quaint, walkable and packed with boutique shops. Among them, Anderson’s Corner Fine Jewelry is a 35-year-old small business offering a mix of fine antique and new jewelry, plus local gifts and wines. Hampshire County Co-Op & Heritage Marketplace offers a wide range of items produced by local artists, crafters and farmers, including wooden spoons and bowls, pottering, paintings, wool products, baked goods and EH Chocolates confections made by Chef Eric Hott, a local who worked as a chef in Europe for several years before returning home.
The River House in Capon Bridge is the area’s newest cultural arts center and its owners run the place from their hearts. Billed as a “participatory, community-based arts and music venue,” it’s located in a historic building overlooking the Cacapon River and has a warm, welcoming ambiance. Programs include live performances, art classes, community gatherings, and open work space; many of the scheduled happenings are free. Local artists’ works are available for sale, and, depending on when you stop by, you might catch an artist in studio working on a project or hosting a demonstration. The front door opens to a colorful open space; the tiny kitchen at the back serves home-made dishes, pastries and drinks—made using local ingredients as much as possible, in a range of options from spicy chicken stew to raw vegan pizza—to encourage lingering and mingling.
Mountain Top Truck Stop is a gas station and diner. Family-owned and operated, the place has a nostalgic vibe from its simple setting to its menu of classic American favorites. Breakfast is especially popular among locals and, as a tourist, you’ll feel like you’ve stumbled upon what might be the best dining bargain in the state if not the nation. At first glance the prices seem astonishingly low, even moreso once you see the generous portions.
Located at 22700 Northwestern Pike in Romney, 304.822.5918. The restaurant is open Sundays 7 a.m. to 9 p.m.; Mondays through Saturdays 5:30 a.m. to 9 p.m.
Two overnight accommodation options in Hampshire County meet current travelers’ needs while harkening back to a simpler time and place.
Family owned and operated for 85 years, Capon Springs & Farms is simply fantastic, thanks to some mystical alchemy that proves irresistible. As one owner says, “It’s run like a camp and cared for like a B&B.” Read more about it.
Family owned and operated for 70 years, the Koolwink Motel is a retro roadside motel that’s been updated. The décor is Mid-Century but the Wi-Fi, microwaves and other amenities are up-to-date.
– Photos © HSP Media LLC
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