Virginia’s Eastern Shore
The bay and the barrier islands are easily accessed by boat so visitors can go fishing and explore the salt water marshes.
With a robust history of private and governmental environmental conservancy, the coastal waters, wetlands, and woodlands of the area have enjoyed careful preservation so much so, according to the state, the Eastern Shore has the "largest stretch of natural or undeveloped coast line left on the entire Eastern Seaboard."
Well-maintained bike paths take you deep into the woods or to secluded beaches. Guided boat rides and kayaking allow for the exploration of inland waterways and barrier islands.
Near the entrance to the Bridge-Tunnel, the Eastern Shore of Virginia National Wildlife Refuge is on the southern tip of the peninsula. Open all year long with no entrance fees, the refuge has many resources for the nature lover, including photography blinds placed along the hiking trails so visitors can watch migrating songbirds, butterflies and raptors. The visitors’ center has a wealth of information about the area’s history and natural bounty.
He told us how many clams were growing in Bo's part of Cherrystone Creek (each clam bed measuring 14’ by 50’ has up to 40,000 clams and Bo had a dozen or more beds), how long it takes for a clam to go from seedling to market (18 months for little necks and 24 months for top necks) and what predators are a problem (blue crabs and seagulls but the most deadly for the clams were the swarms of sting rays that arrive in the spring, sometimes in groups of thirty, flapping their wings over the clam beds to scatter the mud so they can feed on the clams).
For someone used to buying clams from a supermarket, gathering them right out of the water was an amazing experience. Burnham pulled out his knife and deftly opened half a dozen clams so we could enjoy their briny sweetness, even as we stood calf-deep in the creek. How cool was that.
Halfway between Cape Charles and Onancock, the Barrier Island Center is a must-stop, especially for families with its informative exhibits about the geology and history of the barrier islands on the seaside of the peninsula. Events at the center include arts and crafts for children, historical lectures, nature walks and presentations about nearby Eyre Hall, built in 1669 with formal gardens and listed on the National Register of Historic Places.
Winemaker Jonathan Bess at Holly Grove proudly drapes his medals over the bottles on display in his cozy wine tasting room. If he has the chance, he'll put out plates of cheese, olives and crackers so you can snack while you're tasting his crisp, French oak fermented 2008 Chardonnay, the 2010 Coastal Trio blending Chardonnay, Viognier and Petit Manseng grapes or his award winning 2008 Petit Verdot.
If you're planning to feast on raw oysters during the trip, pick up a bottle of Chatham Vineyards' steel-fermented, 2009 Church Creek Chardonnay. With its light acidity it's a good companion for the briny bivalves.
When Mills gives a tour of the vineyard, he talks passionately about the meter-spacing of his vines and how he uses the native ground cover ("vetch") to pull water out of the soil to put stress on the young vines. Walking past the neatly tended rows, he points out each root stock and varietal like a proud father introducing a guest to his children. This is family farming, up close and personal.
Ellen Hudgins will take your order and J.C., her husband, will cook it up. All the seafood is fresh and, as Ellen explained, "today everything is local except the catfish and shrimp. They're from the Carolinas." Fries, Cole slaw and hush puppies complete the plate. Everything served at Metompkin Seafood is made to order, except the packaged condiments.
Rent a surfboard and head to the beach. Go for a pony ride or jet skiing. Search out local art, including shops selling carved decoys. Johnny Hill in his garage-workshop at Island Decoys explained that decoys aren’t cheap. Depending on the amount of detail, they can cost $200 and upwards of $600. Pointing out a pair of decoys by Bob Melvin, Hill added, “He’s been dead for years,” which means the prices for his work have gone up.
At Little Bay Seafood Market, the fresh shellfish and seafood are decidedly local. In fact, in the market there is no price list on the wall. Prices depend on what the fishermen caught that day and how much of it there was. The mountain of oyster shells on the far side of the parking lot gives away that the warehouse building is the shucking house.
Finding a place to stay in Chincoteague is easy if you book early enough during the high season. There are a great many motels, B&Bs, inns and hotels. Check on line for pricing and availability. There are also rentals units in apartments and homes with kitchens.
Besides saving money, with a kitchen you can cook and take advantage of the great abundance of local seafood. Go clamming and have clams for dinner. With seafood this fresh, all you have to do is cook the clams in a hot chefs pan with a little olive oil, chopped garlic, Italian parsley, a few red pepper flakes, a pat of sweet butter and a quarter cup of water. Put on a high flame, cover, wait ten minutes and add cooked pasta. Have dinner and a glass of wine outside and watch the sun go down.