The Journey Through Hallowed Ground

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Loudoun–Clarke Scenic Loop

Highlights:  If you enjoy bookstores, old mills, and country drives, this is a splendid trip. It is a day-long excursion into scenic Western Loudoun, with a brief sojourn into rural Clarke County for a visit to a working gristmill. Stops include historic Middleburg, a wonderful bookstore and small museum in Berryville, sunset overlooking the Shenandoah Valley at Bears Den, and dinner in Purcellville.

Distance: 45 miles

Begin the tour from downtown Leesburg, traveling west on Loudoun Street. Just before it merges with Market Street, turn left on Dry Mill Road. Follow Dry Mill out of town as it winds its way through the countryside until it ends at Route 7 (alternately, you could follow the four-lane Route 7 to this location). Follow Business 7 west into Hamilton. Stop at Natural Mercantile as you enter Hamilton to pick up snacks for the drive. This natural food store has an extensive selection of earthy-crunchy, granola-fied goodness, along with organic chips, salsas, and juices. Stock up. If you’re ready for a stroll, Hamilton’s Main Street is just long enough to stretch your legs. Continue west on Business Route 7 through Purcellville (you’ll be back at day’s end), and turn left on 20th Street; follow this several blocks to Robey Rd. Turn left and travel past Blue Ridge Middle School, then right on Route 722, Lincoln Road, to the village of Lincoln. This picturesque little village was founded by Quakers in the 1720s and still retains an air of solitude. The many historic buildings include the Quaker meetinghouse next to the post office. Beginning at the post office, there is a 3.5 dirt road loop around town. It passes historic homes and barns, and makes for a pleasing short bike ride.

Heading south from Lincoln, stay right to remain on Route 722. Just outside town, turn right onto Route 709, Chappelle Hill Road. Go straight at the junction with Route 611, then bear left to stay on Telegraph Springs Road. Follow this a few miles to Snickersville Turnpike. Turn left and follow one of the most scenic roads of the Piedmont. The little crossroads village of Philomont, with its old country store, is just ahead. To take a short detour to the Battle of Unison site, turn right on JEB Stuart Road in Philomont. Unison was the site of a significant Civil War battle in 1862. After the Battle of Antietam, Union General McClellan gave chase into Northern Virginia. General J.E.B. Stuart put up resistance in and around Unison. Vastly outnumbered, the Confederate troops held off the Union advance for three days. This gave General Longstreet time to reinforce Richmond and be in a position to defend Fredericksburg. Back in Philomont, continue driving southeast on Snickersville Turnpike, crossing over Beaverdam Creek and Goose Creek. Just west of the village of Aldie is a wayside marker on the 1862 Battle of Aldie, a four-hour fight involving mounted assaults and close fighting. At Route 50, turn left to visit Aldie, or turn right to continue on to Middleburg.

Middleburg
It’s okay; admit it. You heard Middleburg and you thought, what? Staid, expensive, formal? Take another look. Some say it’s got the finest New York pizza southa da City, as well as a microbrew pub grilling up brats and burgers, an Irish pub with a billiard room, and a whacky rambling don’t-know-what-to-call-it store that sells everything from children’s games to fine table linens. Also, think organic ice cream served in a second-floor loft of an old bank building. Actually, come to think of it, think three scoop shops in this little town—two of them serving up homemade. Yes, you can find the finer things, plenty of them. Fashionable clothing and accessories, fine arts and prints, home décor—but even among these you can find bargains. The best place to start a Middleburg ramble is at the Pink Box visitor center. In this tiny early nineteenth-century building, you can obtain a walking-tour guide and travel information. 

From Middleburg, travel west on Route 50 through the village of Upperville and over the Blue Ridge into Clarke County. A mile after crossing the Shenandoah River, turn right onto Road 723 toward Millwood (if you miss the turn, go another half mile and
turn right onto Route 255). Merge onto Route 255 just before entering the village.

Millwood

Situated on a quiet country road, Millwood is a tiny settlement that was once adjacent to the 5,500-acre plantation owned by Nathanial Burwell. Grandson of Robert “King” Carter, the patriarch of a Virginia founding family, Burwell commanded a militia in Washington’s army at Yorktown. This plantation in the Shenandoah Valley was part of his inheritance. He and his local partner, Daniel Morgan, established the mill here in 1782. In the 1790s, Burwell constructed Carter Hall, one of the grandest manor homes in Virginia. The village consists of the mill, post office, a dozen houses, and a few commercial buildings. The centerpiece of the town is Locke Store, which has been operating as a store since 1836. Its latest rendition is as a gourmet country store offering a rotating menu of sandwiches, salads, specialty foods, and deli dishes—all with an emphasis on local ingredients. Each evening there are one or two take-out entrees until 1989. There are six antique dealers exhibiting furnishing, prints, household items, and art in the ten-room shop.
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Continuing north on Route 255, at the junction with Route 340 is Old Chapel, which predates Christ Church and is part of the same parish, founded in 1738. Old Chapel was built in 1790 with financial support from Nathaniel Burwell, who is buried here in the church cemetery. Governor Edmund Radford also is buried here. Lord Fairfax worshipped here, while living in nearby White Post. Turn right onto Route 340 and continue three miles into Berryville. Berryville. Berryville was chartered in 1798 at the site of a crossroads inn, on the broad Shenandoah Valley west of the Blue Ridge. The names on the area’s early land patents reflect those of the Tidewater and Piedmont, names such Washington and Carter. Berryville is the county seat and the big town of Clarke County, containing a couple of blocks of handsome brick offices, the courthouse, and impressive residences set back from the street. The old courthouse on North Church Street illustrates the Jefferson influence on public buildings that by 1838 was taking hold throughout the region. South Church Street is a quiet avenue of dignified residences inviting a leisurely afternoon stroll. In the lovely Rose Hill Park on East Main Street, there are free concerts each Friday in the warm months. Across from the park is the Clarke County Historical Society and Museum, which contains a small collection of artifacts offering tall tales. One involves a clock, formerly on a plantation nearby. It seems a repairman offered to service all the clocks on the premises in exchange for room and board. He was ordered from the premises for urging the enslaved servants to flee. The repairman was John Brown. Next to the museum is Gold Leaf, a gift store established in the old Coiner Store, which operated for a hundred years beginning in 1896. The pulley-system cash carrier is still there. Using wood cups and a network of metal wires strung from the ceiling, clerks zipped cash payments from any location in the store to the cashier in the loft. Change was returned in the same cup. Ask for a demonstration. Stop in the Berryville Old Book Shop for some browse time. It’s a classic case of a booklover whose collection has outgrown his home—big enough to lose yourself but small enough that the proprietor can pinpoint the object of your search and name a half dozen related titles. Among the notable collections are those on Virginia history, U.S. politics and government, drama and
performing arts, and natural history. The children’s room is a winner. Berryville Newsstand, one of the oldest businesses in town, has morphed into the Daily Grind, a coffee shop with a newsstand attached—it’s a snug place to examine your take from the bookshop. If you arrive in the morning, go for the pastries at Bon Matin bakery; head to Jane’s for lunch. Also on Main Street
are a tavern, a Mexican cantina, and a pizza place. A few blocks away on West Main is the Battletown Inn. Built in 1809, this Federal-style structure is among the oldest in town. The historic Inn, which underwent extensive restoration in 2005, offers lodging and dining.
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Drive east on Route 7 toward the Blue Ridge. Cross the Shenandoah River and climb the mountain. For extraordinary views of the Shenandoah Valley, stop at Bears Den at the top of the ridge. There are two ways to access the rocks with the great views, one involves a fifteen-minute hike on the Appalachian Trail; it departs from the commuter lot at the crest on Route 7. The other way up is to turn right on Blueridge Mountain Road and drive a half mile. Turn right into Bears Den Trail Center, a hikers’ hostel set in a beautiful stone cottage. Drive up the gravel lane to the trailhead. From the trailhead, the rocks are only a five-minute hike away. Whenever you see a magazine cover shot of the Northern Shenandoah Valley, chances are it was taken here. If the Bears Den store is open, you can stop in for trail snacks.
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Back at Route 7, turn right to descend the mountain. On the descent, pass the north end of Snickersville Turnpike, which leads downhill to the village of Bluemont. Down on the Piedmont is Round Hill, a historic village where the Round Hill Arts Center hosts bluegrass and arts classes. To visit Purcellville for dinner, turn right onto Business Route 7.

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