blending an assortment of thoughts and experiences for my friends, relations and kindred spirit

blending an assortment of thoughts and experiences for my friends, relations and kindred spirit
By Alison Hobbs, blending a mixture of thoughts and experiences for friends, relations and kindred spirits.

Wednesday, May 21, 2014

We went to Winchester

Over Charleston Lake, Ontario, April 16th
This was the city of Winchester in Virginia, where an Apple Blossom Festival takes place, not the one in Hampshire, England. We flew there on April 16th by Hobbs Air, aka Canadian Foxtrot Papa Tango November, our Cessna 172. John and Jill accompanied us in their Piper Comanche, C-FOIB. On the way, we landed at Syracuse to clear customs and to eat a substantial lunch at Zebbs, down the road, getting there in the crew car lent to us by the FBO (Landmark Aviation). Although we'd seen ice beneath us from the Ottawa River to the St. Lawrence river and had flown through a snow shower on the Syracuse approach, the landscape gradually became less wintery as we flew south over the hills and steep sided valleys of Pennsylvania and onwards. As we passed State College, we remembered the time we'd visited George and his colleagues there, in 2005 if I remember rightly; we'd flown in PTN on that occasion too.

Winchester lies in the Shenandoah Valley, whence the song comes ...

Banks of the Shenandoah River
We saw the Shenandoah River from overhead as we flew in on Wednesday, and stood by its banks on Thursday, Chris and John having managed to hire a Kia Soul to drive us around in.

Winchester, the principal town of Frederick County, was captured and recaptured 70 times in the 1860s, during America's Civil War. It was hard to imagine the hundreds of traumatised, wounded men and the dead bodies on the lawn in front of its court house, now a peaceful museum in the pedestrian zone, but the building had served as a barracks, as a prison and a hospital in those days. One of the soldiers had scribbled on the wall in a fury, cursing the Confederate leader,  Jefferson Davis: "... May he be put in the northwest corner with a southeast wind blowing ashes in his eyes to all ETERNITY." Winchester's residents considered themselves to be on the Confederate side, and maybe still do, because when the interesting and knowledgeable lady in the library shop told Jill and me about the civil war history, she said, "We lost!" and added, "Losers never forget."

We'd spotted the library the night before while walking round the town by lamplight after supper, marvelling at the white blossom on the trees and the quality of the architecture. The Handley Library was so imposing that we had to find out what it was. With its great dome, seen from down Piccadilly Street it looked like a cathedral. An Irish philanthropist, Judge John Handley, left money in his will to have it built as a gift to the town; it had first opened in 1913 and has recently been restored to its first glory.

Judge Handley's picture in the Library
Inside, the library's appearance is both spectacular and welcoming, especially the children's library upstairs. A couple of street people were having a comfortable rest in the periodicals room. A gentleman at the reception desk noticed that Jill and I were visitors from elsewhere and politely made us acquainted with the history of the place.

Walking round the town was a pleasant experience; trees and shopfronts were decorated, there were fountains playing outside the public conveniences (Chris and John came out very amused after being instructed by a Mystery Voice in English and Spanish on how to make use of them!) and no lack of restaurants. In its early days, Winchester had boasted two bars and nine brothels, so we learned later in the Museum of the Shenandoah Valley. It was the first town built by European settlers west of the Blue Ridge Mountains. James Wood, its founding father, came from Winchester in England, and some of the early settlers were British Quakers--I stumbled upon their preserved graveyard later, in a grove of trees hidden behind a stone wall behind the Hertz rental office and a factory fence. In the civil war battles decoy canons made of wood were put in prominent places on the battle field; they were nicknamed "Quaker guns".

Monument to the soldiers of the Civil War
In the civil war the Confederate side imported British weapons, British medicine, British cloth for their uniforms. 600,000 men were killed in the civil war, the equivalent of 15 million of today's population of the USA. The first time a soldier went into battle, he called it "seeing the elephant." The most common operation was an amputation, the only way to save lives in those days.

A woman called Kate McVicar lived here in the 19th century. As a girl she tended the war wounded in her family house that had become a hospital and she became a compulsive writer, telling her stories under the pen name of "Nemo". Another woman who came from Winchester was the famous singer, Patsy Cline. Here is Jill, who says she should have worn one of the flounced dresses in the exhibition about Patsy, in order to look the part for this picture:

Jill posing as Patsy Cline

Old mansion in the grounds of the Museum of the Shenandoah Valley
The hotel we stayed at was the George Washington Hotel. There were many reminders of George Washington in this town as he'd worked here in his youth, as a surveyor. Later he'd commanded the Virginia Regiment and represented Frederick County in the House of Burgesses.

The local trees are the cherry, the oak, the walnut and the maple. We went for a walk in a nearby arboretum on the Friday and walked down an avenue of flowering dogwood trees. I used to love them in North Carolina, when we lived in Chapel Hill. Birds were singing and I spotted a bluebird there. In the sloping fields round about, big, stately houses stood, surrounded by picket fences; their owners kept horses and you could imagine the ladies speaking in their southern drawl and wearing bonnets and long dresses.

On Friday, after breakfast at the cafe called "Just Like Grandma's" we visited the national Air and Space Museum next to Dulles airport on the edge of Washington. It houses more aircraft and spacecraft than its sister Smithsonian museum in downtown Washington, including the Space Shuttle Discovery, a Concord, a Junkers 52, the extraordinary Lockheed SR-71 Blackbird, and the GlobalFlyer which, with a single jet engine, flew nonstop round the world in under three days. On the way, John had to ask "a lady in pyjamas" for directions when we were uncertain of our position on the highways and byways of Virginia. We chose a more direct but slower way back to Winchester, going through some pretty, very obviously prosperous little towns.

Returning to Ottawa on Easter Saturday, we had a strong wind against us, but were still lucky with the sunny day. I identified Harpers Ferry on the Pot-OH-mac (Potomac) River in the distance and once again we crossed the glaciated ridges of Pennsylvania. We stopped at Binghamton (a terribly bumpy approach––Chris loved it, laughing out loud when a gust blew us sideways) to refuel and stretch our legs and see the old Link Trainer displayed in the terminal building, then took the preferred route skirting the MOAs (Military Operations Areas) near Wilkes Barre home to Canada, crossing the border at Ogdensburg and landing as Canpass holders at Rockcliffe. The journey north had taken us six hours.

The Quaker graveyard on the edge ofWinchester
Pennsylvania's fields, from above

Our GPS display showing us about to cross the Canadian border

The Interstate Bridge at Ogdensburg

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