Volume XI, Issue 14 ~ April 3-9, 2003

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Burton on the Bay

Home for the Holidays

To travel hopefully is a better thing
than to arrive.
— Robert Louis Stevenson: Travels with a Donkey, 1878

Methinks, RLS, that in the turn-asunder world of today, it’s the other way around, if one is to travel in an airliner. Priority is on arriving safely and with as little inconvenience as possible. It’s obvious many citizens are spooked by the thought of flying, especially outside the good old U.S.-of-A.

As well as safety, there are also the concerns of inconvenience, maybe even hassle, what with all the security precautions. It ain’t easy and simple anymore, which somewhat contradicts something else Stevenson wrote in Travels with a Donkey:

For my part, I travel not to go anywhere, but to go. I travel for travel’s sake. The great affair is to move.

From that, I guess you might say it all depends on where one intends to go — and, equally important, how. Show me a human being in these times who will travel by air for travel’s sake, and I’ll show you a masochist.

Travel by public transportation isn’t easy these days. Buses are slow, many bus stations aren’t in the safest parts of town and, not infrequently, they could be a bit more tidy. Trains are faster, and one can walk around and dine, but security-mandated inconveniences in boarding are becoming more airport-like. Nor is train service available in many places which one would like to leave or visit.

We all have experience or have heard of the lines, the waiting, the check-ins, the extensive scrutiny, the parking and such at airports.

What’s left? The family jalopy. But after filling up at the gas pump, what’s left in the pockets to see the sights, dine in fine restaurants, stay in recommended motels/hotels or do anything else that tourists do?

When it can cost me $25 to fill the 15.5-gallon tank of my ancient four-wheel-drive Subaru station wagon, the only satisfaction I get these days is that someone piloting the big lumbering SUV in the next lane sees the meter climb to $40 or more.

But I see by the financial section of The Sun that for growing numbers of Marylanders the family vehicle is the way to go. Quite a few of them are choosing weekend and vacation destinations within Maryland. It’s a situation where many don’t want to go too far from home.

Maryland’s Bay and Ocean Shores
This should please those down Ocean City way, but that resort city already is pretty much filled to capacity during the warmer months — though methinks it’s a better choice off season when walks on the beach are uncrowded, as is about everything else. I go to Ocean City from spring through fall only because it is the hub of offshore fishing for marlin and tuna, or sometimes for flounder, sea trout and rockfish in the back bays.

Me, I prefer Assateague Island and its natural setting to watch the shorebirds and the wild ponies, scout for artifacts in the sand, enjoy a long stretch of solitary beach close to both a state and a federal campground and fish the surf.

Incidentally, the first of the rockfish have already been taken in the Assateague surf, where the season is a year-round affair. But not too far away is the warmer weather that will bring kingfish, blues, sea trout, flounder, drum, sand and other smaller sharks, more rockfish, some spot and hardheads — all within casting distance of the beach.

Tourists come from great distances to visit Assateague National Seashore, but many Marylanders have never seen its white sands. They go where the action is, Ocean City, and they’ll never appreciate what they’re missing. If you’re one of those who want to vacation or weekend close to home, look it over, maybe even stay in Salisbury, 45 minutes away and more reasonable in price.

Perhaps a visit to Cambridge on Maryland’s Eastern Shore would be your cup of tea. There they have the new Hyatt Regency Chesapeake Bay Resort with some 400 rooms and all kinds of amenities. A short drive south takes you on a day trip to Blackwater National Wildlife Refuge with waterfowl to observe along its trails, also whitetail deer and sometimes the diminutive sika deer, which in the wild are seldom seen other than on the lower Eastern Shore.

Then there’s Harrison’s Chesapeake House at Tilghman Island for seafood and fishing, and nearby is St. Michael’s and its countless shops and its Maritime Museum.

From Ocean to Mountains
Over the years, I have found there is so much in Maryland and nearby Virginia, Delaware and West Virginia for the short-trip buffs who prefer to drive.

In Virginia, there’s Chincoteague, a charming town with traditional seafood restaurants. It’s the home of the wild ponies, has its own national park, surf fishing, shore birds, boating and an offshore fishing fleet. Here, too, live more than a few wildfowl carvers whose works are sold in quaint little shops. A bit farther to the south, there’s Wachapreague, where the old hotel serves clam fritters, and fishing inshore and offshore is great.

Both Chincoteague and Wachapreague are an easy day’s drive with much time left to look around. Chincoteague is more of a family destination; Wachapreague is more for those who prioritize angling.

Delaware’s beaches can match those of Ocean City but are less crowded. The surf fishing is better, and flounder are in the back bays. Lewes is a traditional mariner’s center. Indian River inlet has great fishing for rockfish, blues and sea trout on the long jetty, and a beach stroll takes one past the old World War II observation silos. The towns have great shops, antiques and food.

Don’t miss Fenwick and Rehobeth. And less than an hour’s drive from the beaches is Dover Downs and its casino complete with slot machines galore. Slaughter Beach on Delaware Bay has one of the most fabulous migrations of horseshoe crabs in spring and early summer that you will ever see anywhere.

Going west, in nearby West Virginia, about a two-hour drive is Berkeley Springs with all its mineral water spas and small restaurants with great food. But my choice thereabouts is Coolfont up the mountain from the town and with nature and hiking trails, its own lake for fishing, canoeing, paddleboating and swimming, a beach and fishing, all a short walk from the chalets and other lodging. There’s much birdlife to observe, deer are in the fields, meals are buffet style and excellent, the weather is mountain-cool — and, get this, no televisions in the chalets or rooms. For your favorite sitcom, you bring your own portable or watch the ‘community’ set in the main building’s lounge.

In Western Maryland, there’s Deep Creek Lake. Here you’ll find great fishing, a sailboating center and nearby state parks with many trails, one leading to picturesque Muddy Creek Falls, the highest in the state. Deer are everywhere, and you’ve a chance to see a black bear. It’s worth the trip to see the mansions being built on the lake if you like pretension, but at the same time, all those fancy houses are but a reminder of how people of today endanger natural surroundings as they chop away the mountain forests for development. Don’t wait. Before too long, the once-forested mountains will be paved with domiciles out of Better Homes & Gardens.

At Hancock in Western Maryland, don’t miss Weaver’s Restaurant, with generous portions of country food and the best homemade pies you’ll find anywhere (their peanut butter is my favorite). In Thurmont in Frederick County there’s the Country Kitchen, with the greatest down-country eating anywhere: generous portions at affordable prices, and don’t overlook the country ham or the thick homemade milkshakes of fresh strawberries; better still try those flavored with blackberries.

You don’t have to fly off for that weekend vacation. There’s so much to enjoy all within a day’s drive. Gas up and go.



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Last updated April 3, 2003 @ 1:57am