On Saturday I started the drive down to Heathsville, VA, where I was visiting a friend, Tim, who had started up an oyster venture down there. My friend Bill was also coming down but we weren't meeting Tim until 6pm when his oyster farming class would be finished. We were traveling down separately as we wanted to visit different places. Bill was heading to the birthplace of George Washington in the Northern Neck of Virginia, and I was driving to a little known gem a few miles down the road from him called Stratford Hall, the birthplace of Robert E. Lee.
I pulled into the parking lot and immediately noticed that the place was almost empty, only two other vehicles were parked. The air was heavy and hot outside and I was reluctant to leave the icy AC of the visitor center after showing my ticket. But as soon as I stepped outside the first thing that caught my attention was a little silver grey lizard with a turquoise tail peering up at me, and the humidity was forgotten. I walked over towards the stables, delighting in the melodic sound of many song birds. It was the only sound and it was beautiful, but then a raucous clucking chimed in. Looking through a door I spotted a sign, "Please do not annoy the chickens", and a little red hen scrabbled beneath me in the hay, no doubt looking for a soft spot to lay an egg. I walked to the back of the stall, spying the heavy wooden hay mangers, brick floors and thick wood partitions. It reminded me of the stables at Hever Castle, where I'd worked a few seasons, and been fortunate to explore areas not usually seen by the public. Even the smell was the same, musty and old. Barn swallows chirruped as they flitted in and out, swooping to their nests under the eaves, and it seemed each stable I went in and out of, others flew either in or out with me.
Stepping around the building to the lawns, i couldn't believe there were no other visitors here. I leisurely walked the gardens, loving the 'Englishness' of the layout, paths following flowerbeds filled with perennials and roses. These were very well manicured grounds.
We were led inside the house but not allowed to take photos. It was much bigger than I'd assumed and beautifully restored. Robert E. Lee was prominent in a portrait in the huge middle room upstairs, which the door, at the top of the steps in the above photo, leads into. Apparently he always red, a sign of wealth. The floorboards in this vast room are all original, some of them 30ft long. Robert left the house between the ages of 3-4 years old and on departing, bid farewell to two angels in the nursery fireplace, which can only be seen if you bend down. Also downstairs near the housemaid's room is a collection of spinning equipment, one of them called a weasel. The nursery rhyme incorporating this unusual piece is explained here.
The website for this beautiful home is here.
The house tour lasted an hour, which for me, passed really quickly, and too soon, we were left to fend for ourselves outside again in that thick humidity. I walked through the grass and wild strawberries back to my car, deciding to drive down to the private beach. There is also a grist mill at the bottom of the hill, but I was more interested in a fresh, and hopefully cool, sea breeze, additionally lured by the prospect of finding sharks' teeth.
Smith Point Sea Rescue team, of which Tim is also a member. We afterwards followed Skip to the dock where Rescue III is berthed.
Jerry soon appeared as requested with a cooler in the bed of his truck filled with ice and cold tins and bottles. I think this is the norm on Northern Neck. Many truck beds that I peered into over the course of the weekend held similar provisions. Obviously the weather accounted for this needy action to be taken.
Once thirsts were slaked it was off onto the waves again and heading back to Heathsville.
We arrived back at the dock and said fond farewells to Skip, then headed to Reedsville for a late lunch.
We finished the afternoon back at Tim's just relaxing and then it was time to start the journey home. I had wanted to learn more on how the oyster industry worked but time and events had just flown past, so another trip down to Northern Neck will be imminent. And maybe I should rent a truck with a cooler in the bed just for the weekend...