Far from crowds, close to nature

Eastern Shore: The Cape Charles area is graced by the Chesapeake Bay and by back-in-time charms

Short Hop: Virginia

July 18, 1999|By Nancy Taylor Robson | Nancy Taylor Robson,Special to the Sun

The evening sun splashes over the dunes and highlights the pine trees in gold. A pelican, looking like a well-fed pterodactyl, floats just off the shore. The only sounds are the wind sighing through the woods at our backs, the calls of shore birds and the shushing waves at our feet. This is the peaceful scene at Pickett's Harbor, a bed and breakfast at the edge of Chesapeake Bay, 5 miles from the southernmost tip of the Eastern Shore.

We had been invited to a wedding near Cape Charles, Va. I chose Pickett's Harbor from the bride's list of area lodgings because it offered a small, private wing for me and my two teen-agers. Additionally, its secluded bayside location with 27 acres of private beach would be a well-earned reward for that nearly interminable drive down the shore.

From Salisbury south, the Eastern Shore is flapjack flat. There's not a fold in the landscape anywhere. But the uninterrupted flatness forces you to notice details -- the tangles of wild sweet peas with their exquisite purple blossoms, the scent of honeysuckle, the dignified old homes set in fields of vegetables or golden grain, and the quirky gas stations that sell Virginia hams, fireworks and handmade quilts along with fuel.

Life here looks peaceful, a little retro. It's easy to imagine barefoot boys with fishing poles meandering along the country lanes. (In fact, the next day in Cape Charles we saw two kids buying tackle in Watson's, a wonderful hardware store right out of Mayberry that carries everything from tools and nutcrackers to rocking chairs and kayaks.).

By the time we turned west off Route 13 and pelted down Townsend Road to Pickett's Harbor, it was evening. The setting sun backlit the house amid a stand of long-trunked pines. Three hundred feet across the yard lay the sparkling expanse of Chesapeake Bay. In between, several lawn chairs invited guests to relax amid the iris, hydrangea and ruffled impatiens.

Our hostess, Sara Goffigon, met us at the front door of the Colonial-style home, which is filled with lovely antiques. Though the floors are ancient, honey-colored pine, rescued from old barns, the house is relatively new. It was built in 1976 for the Goffigons and their five children, now grown, though the land has been in Sara Goffigon's family for three centuries.

Sara showed us to our rooms. The "wing," which has its own entrance, is actually a private two-bedroom addition separated from the rest of the house by a door. The rooms were welcoming -- immaculate, with fresh-cut flowers on side tables and in the wing's shared bathroom by the entryway. On the bedstand lay a couple of books on local history and culture. The scents of salt water and flowers wafted in through open windows.

The downstairs bedroom holds a comfortable queen-size four-post pine bed, a sofa, a blanket chest artfully strewn with New Yorker and Coastal Living magazines, a writing desk, side tables and a chest of drawers. The dormered upstairs bedroom at the top of a narrow winding stairway has a double bed, the requisite chest and side tables. All windows overlook the bay.

Outside, following the pathway through low-growing beach rose, honeysuckle and dune grass, we emerged at the beautifully empty stretch of sand that arcs south to the sea and north into what appears to be oblivion. Fabulous. A book, a sketchpad, a chair and the occasional drink would make it a nature spa.

The rehearsal dinner was only 4 miles down the road at Sunset Beach Inn, currently undergoing restoration. The inn's cantina sits on the beach, so we ate (fed by a good local caterer) and danced on the deck while watching the sun melt into the bay. To the south lay the bridge-tunnel spangled with a thousand glittering lights. By the time we returned to Pickett's Harbor, the Goffigons had retired, but the lights were on, and in the bathroom were three glasses of ice water, a thoughtful touch.

The following morning, roused by nature's chorus, I padded out to the screened-in eating porch at 7:30. By that time, Sara, who teaches history at nearby Broadwater Academy, had been up for hours. She serves breakfast at 8:30, but offered coffee and invited me into her kitchen to chat while she rolled out sweet potato biscuits.

Eventually, the rest of the guests -- six in all -- stumbled down to the porch. Breakfast was superb, a sophisticated blend of local bounty and creativity -- juice served in silver beakers, warm, moist bran muffins and the sweet potato biscuits, homemade black raspberry and fig jams, fresh melon and strawberries, a slice of Virginia ham and a delicately flavored asparagus quiche.

After lingering over coffee, my son and I set out to explore the area. The first stop was Eastern Shore Pottery, an infant Williamsburg Pottery about three miles north on Route 13.

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