12 hours: Explore the outdoors in Gloucester

For a small community, Gloucester has developed a mighty reputation.

The county has seen good and bad. Its historic Main Street and Daffodil Festival are known beyond Hampton Roads. So is the tornado that ripped through it in 2011 and the ongoing legal case between a transgender boy and the county’s School Board.

Through it all there’s a deep history, one that is as old and textured as Colonial Williamsburg, only matched by the number of local restaurants that have popped up.

Gloucester is well worth anyone’s time. So find some peace, dig into some ice cream and explore the natural beauty of the county.

Brent & Becky’s Bulbs

Serenity is easy to find at Brent & Becky’s Bulbs.

Becky Heath, president/CEO of the business, recalled a visitor who would come once a week to The Bulb Shoppe and Garden, the brick-and-mortar store that is part of an online flower and garden retailer. The woman would sit on a chair, pull out her Bible and eat a peanut butter sandwich. It was the woman’s one day off from taking care of her ailing husband.

The Bulb Shoppe is a must-visit for garden lovers or just those wishing to enjoy fresh air. The ever-changing garden is divided into multiple sections. Stop in the meditation garden or observe bees from the observation hut, which has a protective barrier. There’s also a rock garden built from construction debris and a catalog garden to let visitors preview what’s to come.

A self-guided phone tour is also available via stations posted throughout the garden. Visitors can even bring their dogs. Regularly scheduled garden tours and classes also are available.

A large selection of bulbs are stored in an off-site warehouse. The best chance to check out where the bulbs are grown is during the Daffodil Festival, held the first weekend of April. Tours are by reservation.

Don’t think you’re done with nature just yet as you leave The Bulb Shoppe.

Beaverdam Park

There’s an immediate peacefulness when stepping out of the car at Beaverdam Park, as the ripples from the lake gently roll onto the shore. You can choose to soak in that sound on one of the many park benches, or you can get a little active.

By land, visitors can tackle Beaverdam’s 9.5-mile multi-use trail via foot, mountain bike or horseback. There’s a hikers-only trail that loops around for three miles and a nature trail, which is only .33 miles but contains 20 areas to study the area’s greenery.

Visitors also can take their pick of water activities. Canoes, kayaks, paddleboats and Jon boats are available to rent from the park’s ranger station. Beaverdam posts almost daily water conditions online so visitors know what to expect.

Whether you tackle the park by land, water or both, it’s important to have worked up an appetite for the next Gloucester stop.

Olivia’s in the Village

In the heart of Main Street, next to a fire station, sits Olivia’s in the Village. This quaint restaurant packs a heavy menu, serving up breakfast, lunch and dinner daily.

The lunch and dinner menus boast an impressive wide range of burgers, pasta and seafood entrees. A couple items worth noting are the quiche lorraine, made with bacon, onion and Swiss cheese, and the seafood crepe.

The crepe is stuffed with scallops, shrimp and crab meat before it is baked in a lobster cream sauce. Even though the end result is more burrito than crepe, the dish is sinfully rich. The lunch portion is the perfect size — enough to cherish without overindulging.

It’s time to walk off that meal.

Main Street, Daffodil Festival

Gloucester’s Main Street has developed a reputation for the quaint and cute. It’s much deserved.

More than 20 shops line a stretch of a little more than a half- mile. Find antiques, bargain hunt at a thrift store, splurge on your furry friend at a pet boutique, or have custom metal work done at The Village Blacksmith. There’s also a used-book store, a florist and a produce shop.

Whether you want to drop a little, a lot or no cash, walking down Main Street should provide plenty of entertainment for all ages.

Make sure to return the first weekend of April when the streets are over-run with greenery for the annual Daffodil Festival. Between 15,000 and 20,000 people visit the greater Main Street area to take in the daffodils, along with a parade, dog show and hundreds of craft and food vendors.

Now that nature and commercial indulgences are checked off the list, it’s time to take in some of Gloucester’s history.

Rosewell Ruins

The Rosewell Plantation was destroyed by a fire in 1916, leaving only a few brick towers standing. It’s a shadow of the former building, but one that still must be seen to appreciate the grandeur.

Open to the public April 1 to November, guests’ first stop should be the visitors center. There, visitors can take in the history and see artifacts uncovered from the ruins.

There are signs posted around the ruins to provide context, and there are plans to install more signage to build narratives and point out former features of the home. The Rosewell Foundation holds special events throughout the year, including oyster roasts and barbecues.

The next destination carries just as much history, and if you’re lucky, you might even catch some free entertainment.

Abingdon Episcopal Church

Pull off busy Route 17 for a piece of history. Abingdon Episcopal Church is older than this country, dating back to a parish in the mid-17th century. A brick structure was completed around the same time, and its foundation remains on the church’s property.

The grounds are expansive, covering more than 140 acres. Visitors can find a walled cemetery, labyrinth, meditation gardens and daffodil gardens. Part of the restoration is thanks to a nearly $600,000 donation in 2013 that helped restore Abingdon’s interior, according to Daily Press archives.

Despite construction, the church developed a robust music program. “Arts at Abingdon” is nearing the end of its 30th season. As the series is part of the church’s outreach program, it’s free to the public. The concerts are held nearly once a month and sometimes include a meet and greet with the artists or a wine tasting. This season’s performers have included a string quartet and the Virginia Opera.

Just in case you miss out on the church’s wine and cheese, there’s another stop that’s a must.

Short Lane Ice Cream Company

Short Lane alone is worth a trip to the Middle Peninsula. Churning out more than a dozen varieties of homemade cream, the hardest decision you’ll make is selecting one of the many rotating flavors.

There’s the standard fare with options like chocolate, strawberry, mint chocolate chip and butter pecan. But don’t be afraid to reach outside your comfort zone. Short Lane’s menu also features flavors such as tortoni — an Italian ice cream made with heavy cream, minced almonds and cherries — and the Bailey’s-style Irish Cream.

The building also has an old-timey flare. It was built in 1936 as a post office and store before undergoing renovations in 2004. Short Lane carries on that history with options like soda floats and classic sundaes. Pints, quarts and half-gallons also are available.

Short Lane is open seasonally, generally from March until December. Only cash or checks are accepted.

Gloucester Point Beach Park

Some of the best views in Gloucester are from the shoreline at Gloucester Point Beach Park.

On the way to the beach, you’ll pass through William and Mary’s Virginia Institute of Marine Science campus. It’s a neat experience to see one of the United States’ largest schools of oceanography. VIMS holds an annual Marine Science Day, open to the public, May 20.

Gloucester Point Beach Park offers spectacular scenery of the Yorktown waterfront, Coleman Bridge and York River. The park is the perfect place to munch on a snack, set up a picnic or just take in the views while enjoying some sunshine.

So sit back and find some peace on the final stretch of your Gloucester trip.

Black can be reached by phone at 757-247-4607.

Copyright © 2017, The Virginia Gazette
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