Copyright © 2013 by Ralph F. Couey
Virginia BywaysUS50, Snickersville Turnpike,
VA7, Blue Ridge Mtn. Rd., US17,
Virginia encases a lot of history, from the first settlements, The Revolution, War of 1812, Civil War, and on into the modern era. While many sites are well-known and well-marked, others require sojourns off the main routes onto those quaint country lanes that existed, some as Indian trails, for hundreds of years.
West of the busy ‘burbs of Fairfax and Chantilly is an enjoyable loop that has become one of my favorites, and only partly because it’s so close to home.
Heading west on US 50, the transition from city to country overtakes you. Before you realize it, the forest of newly-built homes and townhouses recedes in the rear view to be replaced by rolling hills, bucolic countryside, and the vast picturesque horse farms that have earned this part of Virginia the descriptor “Hunt Country.” The first checkpoint is the town of Aldie.
Aldie was established in 1765 when the Mercer brothers established a mill. It was a natural location, in a gap between Catoctin Mountain to the north and Bull Run Mountain to the south. It was on the main road between Winchester and Alexandria. A post office arrived in 1811 and seven years later the Snickersville Turnpike was opened. In the run-up to the Battle of Gettysburg, a series of skirmishes were fought here between Union cavalry and Mosby’s Rangers, screening the move of Rebel forces into Maryland and eventually Pennsylvania.
Snickersville Turnpike, despite its quaint nom de guerre was an important road in its day. In 1810, the Virginia General Assembly caused to be established toll gates on this stretch running from Aldie up to Snicker’s Gap where the road intersects with modern VA7. The turnpike would continue operation until 1915. Today, the road is a paved, if narrow roadway that bobs and weaves through forest and farms. At about the halfway point is Hibbs Bridge, a stone double-arch span that has stood for as long as the road has been there. Locals have campaigned hard to maintain the natural beauty of the area, including resistance to replacing the bridge. In 2007, VDOT closed the bridge and rebuilt the bridge, using the existing stonework while putting in new mortar. The bridge is still in use, with an oft-ignored 6-ton weight limit, a tribute to those computer-less engineers who built it so long ago.
It’s about 21 miles from Aldie to Bluemont (which used to be known as Snickersville), a pleasant ride through beautiful country. After reaching Bluemont, there is a necessary deviation to be made. At the north end, there is a road (Clayton Hall Road) that will take you straight north to VA7. Take that road. Continuing on the pike will take you to a dangerous hairpin turn. The hazard is in how the turn is laid out, with the entire curve sloping back to a mess of broken asphalt where the northbound rider must lean in. Slowing down to make the 180-degree turn puts you at the mercy of gravity. Many riders (this one included) have ended up lying ignominiously in the culvert at the bend’s apex. There is room to swing wider, but that puts you squarely in the gun sights of traffic coming down from VA7. Take my advice, and take the earlier turnoff.
Turn left onto VA 7 (carefully, for this is a slightly blind curve for westbound traffic) and go just about 50 yards, then turn left on Blue Ridge Mountain Road. Look sharp because this one will sneak past you. This road heads back to the southwest through beautiful forest land up and over Mount Weather. Yes, that Mount Weather. You’ll pass the facility, bordered by high-security fences, security patrols – and lots of surveillance cameras. The FEMA complex covers over 400 acres on the surface and about 600,000 square feet below ground.
When you reach US50, turn left (again, carefully) and head back east. You’re in Ashby Gap now, a wind gap in the Blue Ridge Mountains. It was a vital transportation point during the Civil War as both Union and Confederate armies tramped through on their way to and from the Shenandoah Valley. A few miles down, and you enter the village of Middleburg. This quaint settlement has been around since 1787, although it was important long before as the midpoint of the journey between Alexandria and Winchester. The Red Fox Inn opened its doors in 17287 and is billed as the oldest continuously operated mill in the U.S. The Red Horse Inn bookends the historic district, which includes many wonderful little shops and a number of fine eateries. It’s well worth stopping for a while, as the presence of numerous parked motorcycles on the weekends attests.
Locate Route 626 and head south towards The Plains. This route takes you through more beautiful countryside and the occasional mountain vista to the west. At The Plains, another town that has been around since about 1727, look for Hopewell Road, which you’ll reach at the edge of town. Take that road east. Once on it, you’ll swear you’ve made a wrong turn, but stay with it. It’s a beautiful ride, following a meandering path among fields and farms, lined and defined by those marvelous hand-built stone fencelines. The road changes names to Waterfall as you pass Jackson Hollow Road. Once you cross the wide intersection of US15, the road becomes Route 234, Sudley Road. From here it’s just a few miles until you enter the Manassas Battlefield National Park. Another worthy stop, as two major battles were fought here in the Civil War. Your journey, in fact, ends at the visitor’s center just south of the US 29 intersection.
"There stands Jackson like a Stone Wall!
Rally behind the Virginians!"
This should take you about 2 hours riding time. But if you’re smart, you’ll make plenty of stops and turn this into an afternoon delight.