Labor Day weekend in the Northern Neck

We had already been looking forward to playing at the Irvington Farmers Market on the Saturday before Labor Day, but we didn’t have any plans beyond that. Then on Friday, out of the blue, we got a call from Cathy, the owner at Ditchley Cider Works in Kilmarnock, asking if we could play either Saturday afternoon or Sunday brunch. Hell yeah! Not feeling up to playing 6 hours in one day (although we have been known to do that a few times in the past), we opted for Sunday. We didn’t want to drive back and forth between Richmond and the Northern Neck, so we looked into booking a place to stay Saturday night. Pretty much everything reasonable was booked. We could have stayed at a generic hotel in Gloucester, but that was not ideal. Thankfully Cathy offered us a place to stay on-site, in exchange for a lower fee for playing. We were very happy to accept! A fun weekend fell into place.  

Friday night, I set two alarms to make sure I wouldn’t oversleep. The first one went off at 5 on Saturday morning. Still dark out. My cuddly cats did not make it easy to extract myself from bed. I hadn’t had to do this in a while! But I managed to get up, shower, and eat a bite for breakfast before John got to my house a little after 6:30. We loaded up the van and attached my bike on the rack next to his, and off we went a little after 7.  

We had to deal with a tire that was low on air, which set us back a bit, but we still made it to Irvington in time to load out our gear and get the van off the market field before 9. It was perfect weather for the market. Bright and sunny, but not too hot. We played three sets, and wandered around the market checking things out during our breaks. I think “artisans market” might be a better term than “farmers market”. There were a few stands with produce and meats, but many more stands with artwork, furniture, jewelry, etc. In any case, it is an enjoyable place to spend some time on a Saturday morning. 

By the time we finished playing and loading up all our gear, we were STARVING. We had lunch nearby, out on the deck at The Office Bistro, so named because it used to be a dental office. The columns on the front porch are shaped like toothbrushes. We shared a pizza and a large salad, and wolfed down just about every crumb. Then we went for a stroll on our bikes, exploring various quiet streets around town. Just about every street seems to dead-end at a property with private water access. We did manage to find one public boat ramp. 

By the time we got back to the van, it was about 4 o’clock, and so we headed on to Ditchley Cider Works. Before we entered the gate to the property, we stopped to say hello to the cows across the road. They were black with a broad white stripe in the middle, and unusually fuzzy and cute, especially the calves. We took the turn through the gate, drove down a ways, and parked in the gravel lot. Right next to the lot, there were several large pigs and a bunch of piglets, rooting around in a muddy patch in the woods!  

We crossed over to the expansive lawn, where several tables were widely spaced out with more than ample social distancing. A man came over to greet us, who turned out to be Paul, the co-owner. He had seen us play at the Irvington market the year before, and had come up to talk with us at that time, and taken a business card. We had to confess we did not remember that, but he didn’t seem to take it personally. He went to get his wife, Cathy, who had booked us. She gave us a tour of the house we would be staying in, which was originally built in 1752 and which they had restored. She was like a walking history book, rattling off all sorts of interesting stories. After she showed us where we’d be staying, in the  “Chesapeake Room”, we went out and had a cider tasting, served by her sister-in-law, Pam. John preferred the “Rivah”, whereas I preferred the “G8”. 

After the tasting, we brought our bags in, changed into swimsuits, and biked down the dirt road to the little private beach on an inlet to the Chesapeake Bay. We didn’t swim, but we waded extensively in the warm water. We saw a number of crabs zip through the water, and one small one on the sand. There was some drift wood stacked up as if ready to make a little bonfire, but there was no one else around.  

As the sun got low in the sky, we biked back to the house and parked our bikes around back. Behind the house there was a pasture with more cows, who came running toward us like old friends, so of course we had to commune with them for a few minutes. We went upstairs to change, then headed into town for dinner after a quick hello to the pigs.

We got burgers at NN Burger, seated at one of the few tables outside on the sidewalk. The irony of eating burgers after hanging out with cows is not lost on us. I hope the burgers there are sourced from cows who live as happy a life as they seem to at Ditchley. 

Sunday morning, I woke up to the sunrise which was so beautiful I felt compelled to wake John so he could see it too. We didn’t get up, just laid there and admired the scene and drifted off again. A little later, I made a run into town to grab us what breakfast I could from the local grocery store: bananas, yogurt, donuts. We got coffee from the Keurig machine downstairs. 

By 10 AM, we were setting up for the gig so we’d be ready to play at 11. Everything seemed to be going smoothly until we tested the mics and little to nothing was coming out. We scrambled around, un-attaching and re-attaching various connections. I still can’t explain what happened or why, but we did get it working, thank God! We only started a few minutes late. Of course, now I was flustered instead of calm, which caused some... err... interesting variations on the first song. But then I got it together. 

We played an hour set, took a break, and intended to play two more sets. But somehow it didn’t seem right to take another break, and we ended up playing almost two hours solid without stopping. I didn’t even know we still had that in us! There were a number of cute little kids there, and some came and sat down right in front of us, transfixed by the music.  

We ended the set with “Wash Your Hands” -- our pandemic version of the song. In this area, people actually know the song because it plays on constant loop in the bathrooms of NN Burger restaurants. So the kids had fun singing along. Cathy brought us each a glass of cider to enjoy as we packed up our gear. And then she also gave us some house-made sausages to take home with us. Can’t wait to try them!  

After loading up the van and saying our goodbyes to our wonderful hosts, we took another bike ride down to the beach. This time, there were two cars there. Our hearts sank a little. We had loved having the beach to ourselves the day before, and hoped for it again. But as it turned out, the company was great! It was a group of young people who had rented the other house on site for the weekend. They were immediately welcoming, and when they realized we were the musicians who had entertained them earlier, they were generous with compliments. They offered us beers, which we gladly accepted, and encouraged us to try paddle boarding, which we did for the first time. It was fun! We swam, floated on big inflatables, paddled, and chatted about this and that. Sad to say, we have no photo evidence of the short but very pleasant time we spent there hanging out with "kids" half our age. We never even exchanged names, but I’ll remember them fondly.