May 11, 201101:38 PMResident Tourist
Bonny Kilmarnock, Virginia
As a wrap-up to spring, some old college friends hosted a reunion of sorority sisters at their Northern Neck cottages for a weekend of reminiscing. I grew up in Virginia, and for family road trips, we generally headed to the Shenandoah Valley, winding past farm-dotted hills and signs advertising tours of stalactite-filled caverns. When I got my driver’s license, I kept my wanderings to the Manassas Pizza Hut or battlefield parks. On occasion, I’d take a drive to see the big city lights of Fairfax, Va. Somehow, during all of those years, I never made it to my home state’s scalloped watery edge, only 75 miles from Washington, D.C.
Like Maryland’s Eastern Shore, the Northern Neck has hundreds of miles of shoreline. The landscape, forested and engraved with creeks, made me think of Pilgrim and Indian scenes (the fake, happy ones with the sharing of tobacco and dried corn). Staring at the marshy, undulating coastline, I had one of those history class fantasies: Chief Powhatan might paddle past out of the fog or a caribou could make its way to the water’s edge for a drink. The filmstrip narrator in my head reminded me that Native Americans were here tens of thousands of years before John Smith showed up in 1607 acting like he owned the place.
My friends' Northern Neck cottages were in Kilmarnock, a town that owes its name to Scottish settlers who were drawn to the tobacco economy and good farmland. A kilt-wearing bagpiper adorns the water tower and tartans grace the lightpost banners on Main Street. (The only sign of the Indians was a wooden one, decorating a shop doorway.)
Kilmarnock is a wee, charming town with a handful of restaurants and shops for fashion and antiques. I found a sky-blue princess phone on sale at Twice As Nice on Main Street. (I dreamed of owning one of those phones during my teenage years while waiting in line to use the single 10-pound monster that conveyed my countless hours of flirting and sighing through its heavy black mouthpiece in the 1970s.)
Nearby is Christ Church, a pristine example of 1735 colonial architecture, which holds a service once a year in May called the “Kirking of the Tartan.” The town’s bagpipe band plays and tartan-sporting congregants gather to commemorate Scottish resistance to attempts by the English to break the clan system.
You can stay in the Kilmarnock Inn, where the guesthouses are named for the eight presidents from Virginia. Breakfast includes fresh local food like blue crab Benedict and Virginia ham and eggs, and you’ll be just around the corner from cute shops. Though the biggest draw to the area isn’t the food or shopping, but frolicking on the river. Or my favorite coastal activity—daydreaming on the dock.