|Courtesy of Maryland |
Department of Natural Resources
The itinerary for this day trip -- and it was a full day-long day trip -- was bike riding the NCR trail in Parkton. My friend, Barb, and I figured we'd ride down to Monkton, a ride of just over 5 miles, (the trail headed north was covered with snow, ice, and slush), plus the stretch between Parkton and Monkton offers some of the loveliest views of the river that runs alongside. Afterward we'd head to Woodhall Winecellars for lunch at Patricia Stella's "casual fine dining" restaurant and a wine tasting, in Parkton. We'd round out the day with a wine tasting at Royal Rabbit Vineyards, also in Parkton. We arrived at the trail around 9:30 a.m. and with the biking, lunch, and two wineries, ended up back in Ellicott City around 4 p.m. It was a full day indeed!
Bike riding in March is problematic after a winter like the one we've experienced this year. The snow and ice have been slow to go -- has there been enough warm days to melt it? In some places, no! We found only few patches of ice -- there was mostly slush and mud, and lots of downed limbs and trees, which made the going tough (especially for me, since I apparently have much to gain by way of fitness!).
The North Central Railroad, built in 1832, ran between Baltimore and Sunbury, PA, and was one of the oldest rail lines in the country. The railway serviced the growing Baltimore, York, and Harrisburg industries, had 46 stops, 22 in Maryland, and operated for 140 years. It carried passengers, people vacationing at Bentley Springs, and freight between Baltimore and York or Harrisburg, Pennsylvania. As with many things in Maryland, the railroad played a pivotal role in the Civil War, serving as a major transportation route for supplies, food, clothing, and material, as well as troops heading to the South from Camp Curtin and other Northern military training stations. It served the area for another century, eventually ceasing operations in 1972 after Hurricane Agnes (raise your hand if you remember this hurricane!) battered its bridges. The old bed, which was converted to a rail-trail just 12 years later, can still be seen today, mostly apparent in the bridges, which clearly are old railroad bridges.
|An abandoned old dwelling in ruin along the NCR Trail.|
The stretch of the trail heading south from Parkton is beautiful, even in early spring, although it goes without needing to say it that I want to return after the leaves have come out. The trail follows Gunpowder Falls River, Little Falls, and then Bee Tree Run up to Pennsylvania. I am guessing that the stretch between Parkton and Monkton follows Little Falls, but I am not certain, and I couldn't find a definitive name for it. Whatever its name, it is lovely as it winds through groves of trees and between rock outcroppings. Throughout the trail, you can see occasionally interesting old ruins and lovely Victorian-era farm houses.
At Monkton the original train station now serves the trail in warmer weather, providing water fountains, information, rest rooms, and other welcome amenities for trail users. There is some limited parking in Monkton as well.
|A house that can be seen from the NCR Trail.|
|A Dream of Chocolate owner Mark |
Coulbourne suggests trying a little
of all the flavors in the
They seemed surprised that we'd wanted lunch, although to be fair, we hadn't called ahead or made reservations or anything like that, and it was technically still the winter season, when not as many folks venture out to the wineries. We were offered a single choice: chicken breast with sun-dried tomato goat cheese spread, lettuce, tomato, onion and a touch of balsamic vinegar served on ciabatta bread. It was tasty, and luckily, exactly what we were looking for, since there were no other choices, except to go hungry. We were served our lunches in the wine tasting room.
The sampler offers a mix of white chocolate, such as the scrumptous Summertime Bar, with white chocolate, toasted coconut and citris, and the Pistachio Bar, with white chocolate blended with pistachios; dark chocolate, such as the Orange Love Bar, with 74% dark chocolate and natural orange, and the Buzz Bar, with dark chocolate and expresso beans; and milk chocolate, such as the Almond Bar, with milk chocolate blended with almonds, and the Pretzel Bar, with milk chocolate blended with pretzels. Yum!! They were all good, we decided! Mark also offers spicy chocolate, such as his Hellfire Bar with 74% dark chocolate, toasted pumpkin seeds, and ghost pepper -- which I'm glad I tried but have decided it's not my favorite. The sampler, aside from the Hellfire, was so good that I purchased another to share with my family at home.
Mark noted that he and Chris have worked together to pair a number of Mark's chocolates with their wines. "Our dark chocolates pair up well with Woodhall's Cabernet Sauvignon and Chambourcin," he said.
Mark's story is interesting. Like many of us would LIKE To be, he's a man who's followed his dreams. After too many years of working in a cube farm in the software industry, and being laid off twice, he went to culinary school, and emerged committed to chocolate. "I chose chocolate for a number of reasons,"he said. "It was the one aspect of food service I was most passionate about."
He's worked with chocolate for nearly 10 years and after working in restaurants and bakeries, he struck out on his own. His company, A Dream of Chocolate, produces its chocolates by hand in a commercial kitchen nearby. "Making the transition from working in an office to working in a kitchen hasn't been the easiest process, but I've learned and adapted since we opened up 3 years ago," he said.
The tasting room was well lit and invitingly decorated. For the usual fee of $5, the winery offered a tasting of nine wines, including two straight out of the tanks (they kindly allowed us to join in while we were at the winery). The wine tasting room is in the basement of the owner's house, but is cheery, bright, new, and invitingly decorated. The servers, although swamped with visitors, poured their wines knowledgeably, discussing each one in depth and asking questions about our preferences and thoughts about the wines as we sampled.
Royal Rabbit also had a table filled with what looked like homemade chocolatey goodness on it. Unfortunately, I didn't get a chance to chat with the candy-maker. Next time I definitely will!
Tip: If you avoid purchasing wine or chocolates and pack your own picnic, this is a budget-friendly day trip!
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Have you daytripped somewhere interesting? I'd love to hear what you're doing! Email [email protected] if you're interested in being a guest-blogger!