Autumn in Virginia’s Shenandoah Valley

“We headed west into the Virginia countryside with no set plan but to enjoy the fall weather and all that the Old Dominion had to offer!”

I was supposed to run the Army Ten Miler, an annual fall race that begins at the Pentagon.  I trained diligently over the summer getting to where I was running 6 miles twice a week.  I also raised money–with help from many of you–for the charity Operation Homefront.  My goal had been $1,000 and I raised over $1600.

Then in late August I injured my Achilles Tendon and had to wear an orthopedic boot for several weeks.  A muddy music festival and a week of business travel led to my coming out of the boot too soon and I just was not able to run at race time.

Rather than sit around and feel sorry for myself, my wife and I headed west into the Virginia countryside with no set plan but to enjoy the fall weather and all that the Old Dominion had to offer!  We headed out Friday afternoon and and barely made it outside the beltway before the first stop.

The Old Ox Brewery in Ashburn, VA is a comfortable laid back place with great staff and excellent beer

The Old Ox Brewery in Ashburn, VA is a comfortable laid back place with great staff and excellent beer

The Old Ox Brewery in Ashburn, VA was the first stop and was a fantastic kickoff to the weekend.  Old Ox is in an industrial office park.  Behind the bar, through the windows is the brewing operation, and there’s a great outdoor deck right on the W&OD Bike Trail at mile marker 25.5.

I did a tasting of two IPA’s, and two versions of their Rye Porter.  The Black Ox Rye Porter is reported to be the recipe used by George Washington!  It is a pleasant dark brew with a roasted flavor and mellow, yet pronounced hops.  They also offer the Bourbon Barrel Black Ox which is the Rye Porter aged in bourbon barrels!  This tasted like a boiler maker, as if someone had poured a shot of bourbon into my beer.  I could see getting used to the flavor, but I’m not a huge bourbon fan.

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My tasting consisted of their signature session IPA, the Alpha Ox. They really got it right on this one and I could drink this for the rest of my life. Also very interesting however, was the Oxplorer, a more assertive IPA, and the Black Ox, a Rye Porter. I tasted it by itself, and another that had been aged in Bourbon barrels for a very healthy dose of Bourbon flavor.

The IPA’s were more my style and delicious.  In fact, we left with a quantity of their Alpha Ox IPA and I have since discovered it in neighborhood grocery stores.

Alice graces the entrance to our next stop, the Doukenie Winery

Alice graces the entrance to our next stop, the Doukénie Winery

We were so charmed with our tasting that we decided a winery should be next on the list.  There was one in particular that we had passed many times over the years and never had the time to stop.

The Doukénie Winery is a charming vineyard in the Shenandoah foothills.  It is one of those venues that would be a perfect place for a wedding or a private party.  The tasting room was low-key and populated with locals who had come to kick off their weekends as well.

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From the winery we headed to the town of Purcellville.  It is known to me as the far end of the Washington & Old Dominion Bike Trail (W&OD), but also a charming small town with shops and restaurants.  We headed there for dinner but when we arrived, there was no power throughout the downtown area.  All restaurants were closed!  It was early so we continued on our way enjoying the fact that we had no set plan.

We drove west on Route 7 through the towns of Round Hill and Berryville, across the Shenandoah River and saw a sign for the West Virginia town of Charles Town, 20 minutes to the north.  We looked at each other and said, sure, why not?!?

The “Charles Town Races & Slots” is now the Hollywood Casino is a fully blown Vegas style casino.

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We headed up Rt 340 and made it there quickly.  It was a Friday night and beginning to fill up.  We made our way to a sushi bar and had an excellent meal, a bottle of sake and headed for the ponies!

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The racetrack at Charles Town is very pretty and you can get right up to the rail.

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We went on to gamble a bit, Alice playing slots, as I played Roulette and 3 Card Poker.  We both went up a bit, gave it back and left more or less even.  This place is not everyone’s cup of tea, but since we had no plan, and the lights were out in Purcellville, it was a nice diversion.

I will say this, however.  It is a rare place these days that allows smoking indoors but this is one of them.  I am not particularly sensitive to people smoking around me but in parts of this casino you could barely breathe.  I see employee lawsuits over second-hand smoke in their future!  They did have a small section of slot machines that were non-smoking but that was about it.  Then again, it’s a place for gamblers and who’s a bigger gambler than smokers, right?

“…the next morning awoke to a gorgeous crisp fall day.”

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We headed to our hotel in Winchester and the next morning awoke to a gorgeous crisp fall day.  We grabbed breakfast at the hotel and started to make our way back east.  The first stop was a farm in Berryville.  This place offered lots of excitement for kids such as hay rides, a corn maze, and fun activities.  We only stopped at the pumpkin patch but it was a really good one!

We were handed a small orange wheel barrow and set of clippers and before us was a couple acres of pumpkins and gourds in more varieties than I have ever scene, all still growing!  We picked up a white pumpkin, and one that was almost red.  We got a couple for making pies later, and some gourds that are some of mother nature’s more impressive work!

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The woman at the pumpkin patch struck up a conversation, asking where we were from and where we were headed.  She seemed so pleased to hear that we were just wandering around the countryside.  She told us to cross the Shenandoah River, eastbound, and at the top of the mountain take a sharp right where we would find Bluemont, VA and a fantastic array of wineries, breweries and more.

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We did that, turning off the highway onto a small switchback and a quaint little town nestled into the side of the mountain.  The town had once been called Snickersville, and was changed to Bluemont to attract tourists from Washington, DC.  I find it hard to believe that a town named “Bluemont” would attract more people than a town called “Snickersville”!

IMG_1787The first place we encountered was Wild Hare Micro-Cidery.  I’m not a huge fan of hard cider because most of the big commercial brands are so sweet that I find the hangover begins before you finish the bottle.  I have tried in the past to simply ferment sweet cider in my own refrigerator and very quickly it becomes a funky inconsistent brew that borders on moonshine.

This, however, was delightful!  Like a champagne with a hint of apples.  The woman in the shop took us through a tasting of three different ciders, including one that they had hopped!  The apples were all from Virginia and the ciders were all highly suitable to be served with a meal or as a refreshing cocktail.  The place was small but very interesting.  We saw where they ferment the apples over the winter, where they bottle them, etc.

We left with a couple bottles of their Windrush cider and I highly recommend you check out their website as I found this place really interesting.

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The next stop was the Dirt Hill Farm Brewery.  This is a small fabulous place that grows their own hops and grain on a family farm and placed the tasting room atop a mountain overlooking all of Loudon County and the Shenandoah Valley.  They don’t even bottle their beers so if you want to enjoy them you have to come to the brewery; and, if you like, leave with a growler–which we did.

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The view from the tasting room at the Dirt Hill Farm Brewery

The view at the very top of this post is from the Dirt Hill Farm Brewery.  The combination of really delicious creative beers, perfect weather, a genuinely perfect spot, and a highly friendly family-run establishment makes this place the absolute winner of the weekend.  This is a place to which we shall return with friends!

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Purcellville’s Magnolia’s at the Mill

“We stopped in for lunch and I had a really memorable meal!”

While we could have stayed all afternoon, we would have needed a very costly cab ride home so after our tasting and some pictures we headed in the direction of home.  Purcellville had power again and so we stopped at what was supposed to be the dinner location the night before.  Magnolia’s at the Mill is right at the terminus of the W&OD Bike Trail and appeared to be the spot to eat in Purcellville.

We stopped in for lunch and I had a really memorable meal!  Smokey pork belly had been fried with onions, sun-dried tomatoes and shaved broccolini and then made into a broth in which they steamed VA clams.  The clams came out and in went orzo pasta and it was finished with a white wine cream sauce.  What a fantastic end to the trip!

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Pork belly and clams with orzo in a white wine cream sauce at Magnolia’s at the Mill

We wandered around Purcellville a bit, visiting the Catoctin Creek Distilling Company.  This place was lively, filled with people of all ages trying VA-distilled spirits from gin to whiskey, to white lightning.  By this point, a liquor tasting was more than we needed so we will save that for another day.

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Home was less than an hour away, but it seemed like a different world.  We cruised back into the city with various VA brews, ciders, and wine.

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The tasting room at Catoctin Creek Distilling Company in downtown Purcellville

It was hard to believe that we’d been away for only 24 hours.  It seemed like we packed a week’s worth of activities into it but what a great time!  I think the picture below says it all about your ability to find yourself in a really good spot in Virginia’s Shenandoah Valley!

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  1. Unfortunately east of the blue ridge mountains is not considered the Shenandoah valley. The view from dirt farm overlooks the Loudoun valley.