Mead. In our world, beer and wine are more popular by far. However, if you consider the preferences of every human being who ever enjoyed a drink, mead might come out at the top. Mead is probably the world’s oldest alcoholic beverage. It was a staple in ancient cultures all over the world, and continued to be popular through medieval times. Today, mead is making a comeback after centuries of neglect. Want to know where you can try some? Check out a one of Front Royal’s recently opened meaderies!
What is Mead?
If you’ve read any ancient or medieval literature, you’ve probably come across at least a passing reference to mead. The word might conjure up images of fearsome warriors, or ancient banquet halls lit by candles and giant roaring fires. But what exactly were our ancestors drinking? A simple way to explain mead is to say that it’s “honey wine.” To make any kind of alcoholic beverage, you need some type of sugar to feed the yeast and produce alcohol. In wine, this sugar comes from grapes. In mead, it comes from honey.
The simplest form of mead is honey dissolved in water and fermented. In fact, mead is so simple, that it is believed to have originated by accident. According to Chinese tradition, mead was first discovered when rainwater fell into a pot of honey, allowing the fermentation process to begin. A lot has changed since these simple beginnings. Today, mead is available in a variety of styles and flavors. Like wine, it comes in dry, sweet, and even carbonated forms. Many meaderies also offer mead that has been flavored with herbs, spices, or fruit.
Mead’s two primary ingredients, honey and water, were widely available in the ancient and medieval world. This ease of access contributed to mead’s wild popularity. Wherever there was honey, there was mead. Ancient Chinese, Indians, Greeks, and Romans all drank mead. Celts and Saxons enjoyed it. The consumption of mead was deeply embedded in Viking culture, fortifying these fierce tribesmen for their warlike existence. And in medieval times, kings and commoners alike enjoyed the drink. It’s even mentioned in Chaucer’s Canterbury Tales.
Mead’s popularity decreased in the 17th century. As sugar from the West Indies arrived on the scene, the pursuit of beekeeping saw a decline. Meanwhile, as agriculture improved, the ingredients for beer and wine became more readily available. Mead gradually dropped out of common use. Before its recent surge in popularity, the drink was most commonly found at Renaissance festivals. Now, this favorite drink of the ancients is returning to modern menus.
Mead as a Health Drink
The jury of modern science is still out on the health benefits of mead. But our ancient ancestors certainly believed that mead had healing properties. The ancient Greeks even referred to mead as the “drink of the gods,” because they associated it so strongly with immortality. The origin of the term “honeymoon” comes from mead, too. In many cultures, a newly-married couple received a month’s (one “moon’s”) supply of mead to begin their married life. It was believed that drinking the mead would increase fertility.
The idea the mead might be healthy isn’t just a superstitious tradition. Raw honey has antibacterial properties and other health benefits. The process of fermenting mead can add probiotic properties as well. When the ancients made medicinal mead, they also added healing herbs, which increased the benefits of the drink even further. Of course, depending on the methods used, modern, commercially brewed mead may not retain all these health benefits. But it’s still delicious.
Meaderies in Front Royal
If you’re coming to the Front Royal area, and you’re curious to find out if you like mead as much as your ancestors did, there’s good news. Mead’s return has already reached Front Royal. Since 2018, three meaderies have opened up in the Front Royal area. And as of July 2020, two of those meaderies have brand new tasting rooms right in the town of Front Royal.
Honey and Hops Brew Works opened for tasting in 2020. It’s a small business, co-owned by three brothers who hail from Alaska.
SAGA Meadery began brewing meads in 2015, but also opened its first tasting room in Front Royal in July 2020. The business was inspired by the owner’s love of reading. As Kevin Poplaski read, he became curious to discover the drink that his favorite characters enjoyed. The result: SAGA Meadery.
It’s Time to Give Mead Another Chance
In recent years, mead drinking in the United States has seen incredible growth. More and more people are discovering a new love for an ancient drink. Want to see what’s behind all the buzz about this honey-based beverage? Now’s a great time at least to give mead a chance! Plan a tasting at one of Front Royal’s meaderies. You might discover a new taste that you share in common with your ancient ancestors!
Whether you prefer an organized event or an excursion that you can take at your own pace, Front Royal, Virginia has you covered all year long. If you’re looking to get out and enjoy nature, Warren County offers hiking and biking trails, and about a hundred different ways to experience the stunning beauty of the Shenandoah Valley. And a calendar filled with quintessential small town festivals means you won’t get bored. Spring, summer, autumn, and winter, there’s always something happening in Front Royal. Here’s our guide to a year of fun and festivity.
**Due to Covid-19 and the restrictions put in place, many of our scheduled events have been cancelled. However, not forever and have been rescheduled for 2021.**
Spring in Front Royal: The Shenandoah Valley Awakens
Eight miles south of Front Royal, the village of Browntown kicks off the season’s festivals with its annual Redbud Festival. Every April, the redbuds bloom, and the Browntown community comes out to celebrate. You can enjoy delicious home cooked food, live music, and craft sales. A highlight of the day is the Gooney Creek Duck Race, a fun event for all the family.
Front Royal’s own historic Main Street hosts the first of many annual events in April as well. At Taste of the Town, Front Royal’s independent restaurants come out on Main Street with the best of their tempting cuisine. Buy a tasting ticket and stroll Warren County’s quaintest street as you sample delicious food in a festive atmosphere. Or sit down to enjoy and meet some new friends.
Main Street becomes the scene of two more festivals every May. Family Fun Day happens towards the beginning of May. Come out for a parade, an antique car show, games and face-painting for kids, and the trademark Louisiana Crawfish.
Later in May, Main Street transforms into for the annual Wine and Craft Festival. You won’t want to miss this day of fun for the whole family. Adults can taste wine from a selection of Virginia wineries. Meanwhile, festival has plenty to offer for the rest of the family. Delicious food, live music, and games for kids keep everyone happy. In between games and wine tastings, peruse the offerings from an array of talented artists. Craft sales include fine jewelry, clothing, pottery, and original paintings.
For a more relaxed way to enjoy the Shenandoah Valley in the spring, try a drive on one of the scenic roads around Warren County. The famous Skyline Drive starts right in Front Royal. It’s an obvious choice. The long drive down the crest of the Blue Ridge Mountains features many overlooks where you can pull off and enjoy the view. But you don’t need to be on top of the mountain to enjoy it. For nature-lovers, other less well-known byways also offer stunning vistas in the spring. If you leave Front Royal going south on 340, you’ll be treated to a drive down the valley with the Blue Ridge Mountains on your left, and the Massanutten Mountain on the right. Alternatively, you can head north on 624 for views of farm fields and tree-lined roads. If you get as far as Boyce, finish your drive at the State Arboretum of Virginia, a fantastic spot for a spring picnic or a relaxing walk.
Summer in Front Royal: The Perfect Place to Enjoy Nature
America’s ultimate summer party happens on the Fourth of July. With events taking place up and down the Shenandoah Valley, Front Royal won’t be left out. The Northern Virginia 4-H Center hosts Front Royal’s Fourth of July celebration, with live music, games, food trucks and, of course, fireworks.
For a low-key summer evening in the Shenandoah Valley, try out Gazebo Gatherings, a free weekly concert series at Front Royal’s downtown Gazebo. Bring your own lawn chair and enjoy music and the community of Warren County.
Nature is easy to enjoy on an idyllic summer day in the Shenandoah Valley. Ideally situated on the iconic Shenandoah River, Front Royal offers many opportunities for outdoor recreation. Eastham Park is conveniently located only a mile from Front Royal’s historic downtown. The park features a generous stretch of riverfront, with a scenic walking trail, and access for swimming, boating, and fishing. Other popular public access points to the river include the Riverton Boat Ramp, and the Morgan Ford Boat Landing. Spend a day swimming and fishing at one of these points, or bring your own kayak or tube and float from one to the next.
Getting out on the river is a great recipe for summer fun, but it does carry some risks. Make sure to follow appropriate safety precautions, including wearing a life-preserver. If you need more guidance, or if you need to rent boating equipment, check out one of Front Royal’s own outfitters. If you’re fishing, be sure to purchase the appropriate license.
Autumn in Front Royal: Spectacular Hiking and Fall Fun
If you thought spring and summer in Front Royal good, just wait for autumn! Warren County becomes a sought-after tourist destination in the fall. As the tree-lined Shenandoah Valley lights up in vibrant shades of red, orange, and yellow, Skyline Drive become a destination for many seeking nature’s beauty. The park sees more visitors in October than in any other month of the year.
Front Royal’s festivals continue through the autumn too. On Labor Day Weekend, the Skyline Ranch Resort becomes the home of the three day Appaloosa Music Festival. Sponsored by Washington D.C. band Scythian, this family friendly festival features folk music, camping, a free kids area, and food and drink from local providers.
Also in September is the River Valley Festival at VFW Post 1860 in Front Royal. This festival features a menu of pit roasted meats, along with juggling, live music, and craft beer and wine.
In October, Front Royal celebrates nature’s work of art with the Festival of Leaves on Main Street. Along with the usual crafts and live music, this festival has a historic flair, with historical re-enactors and tours of Warren County’s historic buildings: the Belle Boyd Cottage and the Balthis House. The festival also coincides with the annual Leaf Peepers races. Choose your distance: half-marathon, 10k, or 5k, and run in the all the fall glory of the Shenandoah Valley.
Driving or hiking at Skyline Drive will give you stunning views of the fall. Check here for updates on fall foliage in the park. If you want to avoid the crowds, there are other places to enjoy that are less crowded but still offer glorious nature in the fall. Try a picnic at an overlook in the Shenandoah River State Park. Buzzard Rock is another local favorite for hiking.
If you’re looking for a fun and seasonal family outing, there are plenty of opportunities for apple picking. Later in the fall, visit a local pumpkin patch.
Winter in Front Royal: Cozy Pancakes, Christmas Lights, and Winter Sports
Winter isn’t the busiest season of the year in Front Royal, but there’s still seasonal fun to be had. In early December, the Kiwanis Club of Front Royal holds an annual pancake day. Proceeds from this fun (and delicious) fundraiser go to support the work of the club.
The annual Christmas Festival and Parade is a special event that you won’t want to miss. This last festival of the year takes place at the beginning of December. The festival includes a parade down Main Street and ends with a lighting ceremony of Main Street’s Christmas lights. Even if you can’t make it to the parade, make sure you check out the lights at some point during the Christmas season.
Warren County is conveniently located for outdoor winter fun. For day ski trips, or snow tubing, check out Bryce Resort in the Allegheny Mountains, and Massanutten Resort. Both resorts are only about an hour’s drive from Front Royal. It’s a comfortable (and memorable!) day trip.
There are many advantages to traveling by car. You’re in charge of the schedule, and the entertainment. You can stop and get out whenever you find something that interests you. In a COVID-19 world, a road trip is a great option for a vacation or day trip. You’ll limit contact with strangers, and you’ll avoid the extra inconvenience of using mass-transit with additional COVID-19 regulations. And if you’re not crossing state lines, you’re unlikely to have your plans disrupted.
The Shenandoah Valley and the Front Royal area are great destinations for a road trip. If you already live in Front Royal, a Shenandoah Valley road trip is a chance to enjoy the area in a new way. If you’re in Northern Virginia, or the D.C. area, just an hour or so’s driving can put you in a different world: the scenic haven of the Shenandoah Valley.
Pack up some yummy road trip snacks, get in your car, and enjoy an adventure on the road with your family. Here are some ideas for road trips around Front Royal and the Shenandoah Valley.
Shenandoah Valley Scenic Day Trip
This road trip takes you down Fort Valley, over the Massanutten Mountain, and back up the valley on the other side to return to Front Royal. The road trip passes right by several tourist attractions and some great spots for hiking, fishing, swimming, and picnicking. Plan out your stops for a day for fun for the whole family.
To take this trip, head north on 340/522 away from Front Royal and towards Riverton. Make a left onto Strasburg Road/VA 55. After about 5 miles on Strasburg Road, you’ll take a left on State Route 678/Fort Valley Rd. Fort Valley Road takes you down the “valley within a valley.” At this point, the Massanutten Mountain divides the Shenandoah Valley in two. You’ll have the Massanutten on your left, and the Alleghenies on the right.
First, you’ll pass through the George Washington National Forest. Passage Creek follows beside the road for some distance here. It’s a stocked trout stream, so purchase a fishing license ahead of time and stop here for a morning of fishing. Elizabeth Furnace Recreation Area is another great spot for a stop in the forest. After passing through the forest, you’ll come out into more open valley. Enjoy driving among beautiful farms with mountains in the distance. Consider a diversion to the Woodstock Fire Tower for a memorable hike.
After about 20 miles on Fort Valley Road, make a left onto State Rte 675. This mountain road takes you over the Massanutten Mountain. At the top, you can take a break to enjoy the Kennedy Peak hike, an easy, family friendly hike that ends at a viewing platform with stunning 360° views. It’s a great spot for a picnic lunch. When you get back in the car, you’ll be heading down the other side of the mountain into the town of Luray. Luray is a great place to grab lunch if you didn’t pack a picnic. The town also boasts its own attractions. Luray Caverns are definitely worth a visit. Another option would be a stop at Lake Arrowhead in Luray.
From Luray, get on 340 north, and it’ll take you all the way back to Front Royal. When you get to Bentonville, you’ll find the Shenandoah River State Park. The park boasts a long stretch of river access, so you can cool off from your day in the car. A little further along 340, you’ll run into Skyline Caverns. End the day with a delicious dinner at one of Front Royal’s own eateries.
Civil War History Road Trip
A road trip through the Shenandoah Valley has plenty to offer Civil War enthusiasts. The Shenandoah Valley was a key strategic area during the Civil War. Today, the Valley is a treasure trove of battlefields, museums, and memorial markers that bring Civil War history to life. The Civil War sites of the Shenandoah Valley are idea road trip stops. You can follow self-guided driving tours of several of the battlefields (including Front Royal). Other battlefields offer hiking trails, allowing you to take a break from the car and stretch your legs.
If you’re starting in Front Royal, check out the Battle of Front Royal Driving Tour and the Belle Boyd Cottage Then continue to Winchester (visit Berryville on the way if you want a longer trip). In Winchester, you can join I-81 south and travel as far as Staunton and Waynesboro, finding Civil War sites of interest all the way.
The Civil War history of the Shenandoah Valley is rich. If you have time, take several days exploring the valley. For a day trip, or even a weekend, you’ll need to pick and choose where you want to visit. Look here for great information and help planning your trip.
Skyline Drive Road Trip
A post on road trips in Front Royal and the Shenandoah Valley wouldn’t be complete without mention of Skyline Drive. The central byway of the Shenandoah National Park, Skyline Drive begins right in Front Royal.
It takes about three hours to drive the full 105 miles of Skyline Drive without stops. Of course you’ll want to stop to enjoy the views from some of the park’s 75 scenic overlooks. If you’re an outdoors enthusiast, there are plenty of spots to stop for a hike, and you’ll a range of hikes of varying difficulties. You’ll find yourself deep in nature without walking far from the road.
For a really relaxed trip, look into lodging inside the park. From cozy cabins and hotel rooms, to back country camping, there are options at all levels of ruggedness!
If you’re planning a road trip this summer, consider driving in the Shenandoah Valley. You’ll find natural beauty, fascinating history, and plenty of fun.
Rock climbing is a fun and exciting way to get into great shape while enjoying nature. It’s that feeling of elation that comes with completing a difficult move and conquering a new ledge. It’s the mental toughness that grows as you keep on going upwards when your whole body is begging for a break (or you’re scared out of your mind!). It’s the sheer fun of playing in Mother Nature’s playground. This is the stuff that keeps rock climbers coming back again and again to take on the challenge of a bare rock face.
Whether you’re already addicted to rock climbing, or simply want to try it out, the Shenandoah Valley has plenty of opportunities. Climbs of varying difficulty await you in one of the most beautiful places on earth. The town of Front Royal even boasts a convenient gym where you can practice rock climbing indoors. Here are some tips for starting out rock climbing, and our list of the best places for outdoor climbing in the Front Royal area.
If you’re looking for outdoor rock climbing classes near the Front Royal area, Shenandoah Mountain Guides are a great option. They regularly offer day-long rock climbing trips located right in Shenandoah National Park. Wild Guyde Adventures, based in Harrisonburg, also offers guided climbs in the Blue Ridge Mountains and the Shenandoah Valley.
If you don’t have your own climbing gear yet, don’t worry. Both companies provide gear to get you started. A guided trip is a great way to try out rock climbing in a safe environment, without investing in expensive gear.
Indoor Rock Climbing in Front Royal
Indoor rock climbing is another great way to hone your skills, and has the advantage of being convenient and accessible all year long – no matter the weather! Downtown Front Royal’s indoor rock climbing happens at BattleGrounds Fitness. The gym offers a bouldering wall – that means a rock wall designed for a type of climbing done at low levels with a crash-pad. Bouldering does not require ropes or harnesses. It’s a great way to practice because you can do it on your own time, without needing to find a belay partner. You won’t experience the adrenaline rush of conquering a high rock face, but you’ll develop your skills, get stronger, AND enjoy the fun of rock climbing, all in a convenient and safe environment.
BattleGrounds Fitness offers both memberships and day-passes. If you want to become a regular, you can save money with a membership. But you can still access the wall if you’re visiting Front Royal, or just want to try it out without committing to a membership. If you’re looking for a fun way to introduce kids to rock climbing, consider scheduling a Fit & Fun Birthday Party at BattleGrounds Fitness.
Safety Precautions and Equipment for Outdoor Rock Climbing
We already mentioned that rock climbing, particularly outdoor rock climbing, can be a dangerous sport. If you’re inexperienced, the best safety precaution is to go with a guide and follow their directions and advice. They’ll be able to help you decide when you’re ready to venture out more independently. They can also advise you on purchasing your own equipment.
When you’re ready to purchase rock climbing equipment in the Front Royal area, Mountain Trails is a good place to start. This outdoor store has a great range of rock climbing gear for sale. Mountain Trails has one store in Winchester, and a new branch right on Front Royal’s Main Street. Mountain Trails also offers local rock climbing classes, so if you’re a new climber looking for some expert training, it’s a good idea to give them a call.
Experienced climbers who are heading out without a guide should use appropriate safety gear, including helmets. It’s wise to inspect your climbing equipment before each use. It is much safer to climb with a buddy – in fact, most climbing techniques require a belay partner. Even if you’re bouldering, don’t be tempted to go on an outdoor trip by yourself. You’re much safer with a spotter to guide you onto your crash-pad when you fall. An injury while climbing alone in a remote location could lead to serious consequences.
Once you’re trained and geared up for safety, check out one of these favorite climbing spots in the Shenandoah Valley.
Outdoor Rock Climbing Spots near Front Royal
Elizabeth Furnace climbing region in the George Washington National Forest, is the home of two of the Shenandoah Valley’s most popular climbing spots. Talking Headwall is conveniently located right off Fort Valley Road. It’s an attractive option if you’re not interested in hiking before and after your climb. There are a variety of intermediate level climbs. Alternatively you can drive to the Buzzard Rock trailhead and take a two mile hike for the more secluded Buzzard Rocks climbing experience. Both locations offer mostly traditional and sport climbing routes, as well as a few top roping options.
The Shenandoah National Park is another area near Front Royal with popular opportunities for rock climbing. Old Rag Mountain is the favorite climbing spot in the park. Little Stony Man Cliffs, is another popular (and potentially less crowded) location. Consult a local guide, or check out this climbing website to find other good places to climb in the park. It’s worth noting that while in the park, you’ll need to observe the Shenandoah National Park’s rock climbing guidelines. The park has permanently closed some popular climbing areas due to the environmental impacts of climbing. Other rock climbing areas are closed seasonally due to peregrine nesting. When planning your trip, check ahead with the park for updated closure information.
The Shenandoah Valley is a great place to rock climb. Stay safe and have fun!
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