It was too hot in the summer to go anywhere but the beach or the mountains. Winter will be here in a few months and most of us, if we're not skiing, will want to stay inside. But fall is the best time to pack up the car, get out of town and experience some of the bounty that autumn in this area promises.
All around are autumn celebrations: harvest festivals, foliage tours, railroad trips. As the air cools and the landscape's colors broaden to reds, yellows and oranges, one thinks of food -- the fruits and ciders and seafood and pumpkins and all the other good things that signal the change in the season. Since this area is defined by the waters surrounding it, ocean and bay towns offer appreciations of their own, celebrating oysters and fish and the seafaring way of life.
Not all activities are related to the harvest. Fall is a prime time for horse racing, especially steeplechases run over rolling hills. Maryland and Virginia will feature jousting competitions this fall, and there will be a number of Civil War encampments and Revolutionary War observances.
So before the frosty nights turn into the first early snows, make plans for a fall outing or two. Here are some options.
The Mid-Atlantic region is a rich farming area, and this is most apparent in the fall. It seems that almost every town and county in Maryland, Virginia, Delaware, Pennsylvania and West Virginia are host to harvest festivals. Some are general in nature: the Harrisburg (Pa.) Fall Festival Oct. 11-12, and the Fall Harvest Festival Oct. 19-20 at the Delaware Agricultural Museum in Dover.
Some are more specific. Pumpkins are a favorite autumn vegetable, as evidenced by the number of pumpkin festivals available, such as the West Virginia Pumpkin Festival in Milton Oct. 4-6 and Great Pumpkin Festival in Old Bedford Village, Pa., Oct. 26-27. As for the preferred fall fruit, what else but the apple? Arendtsville, Pa., is host to the Apple Harvest Festival Oct. 5-6 and Oct. 12-13, and for a variation of the fruit there's the Apple Dumpling Festival Oct. 12 in Ephrata, Pa., and the Apple Butter Festival Oct. 26 in the Beehive Complex at Fair Hill in Cecil County. Harvest Days, at Cider Mill Farm in Elkridge Sept. 28-29, promises apple cider pressings and apple butter making.
Eating seafood is a year-round activity in the region, but fall seems to offer an especially large number of opportunities. Autumn is prime fishing weather on the beach, before the cold weather forces the fish to warmer waters in the south. For the competitive fishermen, Ocean City is host to the Mid-Atlantic Surf Anglers Surf Fishing Tournament Oct. 3-5; and the 12th annual Surf Fishing Tournament is held the following weekend, Oct. 12-13, at Delaware Seashore State Park in Bethany Beach.
A number of places are home to oyster festivals. The best known, of course, is the 25th annual St. Mary's County Oyster Festival Oct. 19-20, which features oysters cooked in a variety of ways and oyster-shucking competitions. Across the Chesapeake Bay, in Crisfield, will be the J. Millard Tawes Historical Museum Oyster and Bull Roast Oct. 19.
A week earlier, on Oct. 12, will be the Chincoteague (Va.) Oyster Festival, which promises "oysters cooked every possible way." If those two festivals aren't enough, try the Sign of the Plough Oyster Festival at Gates House and Plough Tavern in York, Pa., Oct. 20 and the fifth annual Waterfront Fall Oyster Roast in Norfolk, Va., Nov. 16.
Not only bountiful seafood but a celebration of a way of life is promised in the Chesapeake Appreciation Days, Oct. 26-27 at Sandy Point State Park. The skipjack races are a particular favorite. Tilghman Island Day on Oct. 19 features both skipjack and work-boat races, and life on the bay is celebrated in St. Mary's City in Maritime Heritage festivals Sept. 21-22 and Oct. 14-15. The Waterfowl Festival in Easton, held this year Nov. 8-10, usually has on display exquisite duck decoys and other wood carvings. And in Virginia Beach, the 18th annual Neptune Festival celebrates such beach-time activities as sailing, surfing and sand-castle building. It begins today and will continue until Sept. 29.
Civil War encampments and battle re-enactments have become increasingly popular in recent years, and that interest was only increased since the popular "Civil War" series that ran on PBS last fall. Both North and South are represented in this area. In Pennsylvania, an encampment in Nazareth Sept. 28-29 will portray the lives of the 96th Infantry. The 9th Infantry of the Pennsylvania Reserve Volunteer Corp. will set up at Tara Inn, in Clark, Oct. 4-5 and Oct. 18-19.
Civil War Day in Waterford, Va., on Oct. 19 will feature tours of Confederate and Union encampments and a re-enactment battle. Living History Weekend, in New Market, Va., Nov. 16-17, promises drills, musket demonstrations and cannon firing.