Colorado has its Rockies. Maine has its craggy coast. California its Big Sur. New York its Adirondacks. And Virginia has the Northern Neck. Just a couple of hours south of Alexandria lies some of the most beautiful, bucolic, paradisiacal country in the world.
Bordered by the Potomac to the north, the Rappahannock to the south and the Chesapeake to the east, the Northern Neck is dotted with picturesque small towns: Irvington, Kilmarnock, Heathsville, Lewisetta and Reedville, to name a few. There are fields of corn and wheat – and water. Hundreds of rivers and creeks cut through rural farmland with spectacular views of the biggest water in Virginia. The Potomac at its mouth is 10 miles wide over to Maryland, and the Bay is at its widest – 25 miles across to the eastern shore.
Crabbers in their sleek-lined dead rises still ply their trade, rain or shine. Oysters have made a huge comeback, and the rock fishing yields some of the tastiest meals anywhere.
When I was 30 years old, I came into a modest inheritance. When I say modest, I’m talking under $10,000, but it was enough for a down payment on a river house. I literally studied a Texaco road map for areas that seemed like good bets. I contacted a realtor on the Neck and my wife and I agreed to meet him one cold February Saturday.
Mr. Reamy was an old gent in his 80s, decked out in a tweed suit and a houndstooth fedora. With a twinkle in his eye, he gave us the history of the area, having lived his entire life there. Driving his giant land yacht 25 miles per hour on the highways, which is what locals do there, he showed us a series of broken-down tenements and trailers. Returning on a dirt road from one especially depressing viewing, I spied out of the corner of my eye a house on a bluff overlooking the Potomac and out to the Bay.
“That’s the kind of place we’re looking for!” I exclaimed. Mr. Reamy informed me that it was for sale but that it was out of our price range. We looked at it anyway.
Realizing that we needed help financially, I decided to call my brother Joe to see if he was interested. Here is, word-for-word, how that conversation went:
Me: “Joe, you want to go in on a river house?”
He didn’t ask where or how much. Just “yes.” He is an agreeable fellow.
After we’d parachuted into the property, we discovered, to our great good fortune, that the three adjacent houses were occupied by college or family friends. That was a major coincidence, as we’d never been to the Neck and had barely even heard of it before.
Fast forward several decades and we find ourselves still enjoying the area, which has barely changed in the intervening years. No high rises, no big cities and relatively few people. The Neck is not on anybody’s list as fast-growing or full of change. The rivers and creeks keep flowing; the ospreys return each spring while the eagles may be the only population that shows any significant growth.
I mentioned to some friends in the area that I was going to write this column, and to a person they begged me not to share the secret. So, if you do read this, don’t tell anyone.
Rob Whittle is CEO of Williams Whittle Advertising and is the author of two historical novels, “Pointer’s War” and “Pointer and the Russian.”