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By the River's Edge

Glide Past Old Cypress Trees, Bald Eagles, and Great Blue Herons in a
Maryland Nature Preserve

By Mary Burnham

This is roughing it, I thought, relaxing in a wicker porch chair, a glass of red wine in hand. A frog croaked from a water garden.

The screen door flew open and Rosie, a four-month-old strawberry-blonde poodle, bounded out. We'd made friends an hour earlier, when my husband and I glided in our kayaks onto the back lawn of the River House Inn, on the shores of Pocomoke River.

Paddling the Nassawango Creek

We had come to the town of Snow Hill on Maryland's Eastern Shore to paddle Nassawango Creek Preserve, a tributary of the Pocomoke. The two of us often end our outdoor forays in a tent. This time, we had opted for a whirlpool bath and a soft bed.

The Nassawango is one of the northernmost bald-cypress swamps in the country. In our years of paddling the Chesapeake Bay region, we hadn't seen anything like it this far north. The preserve of centuries-old trees is more typical of the Carolinas, though it's just three hours' drive from Washington (Bay Bridge traffic willing).

Our daylong paddle took us through a panorama of wildflowers, cypress trees, and water plants. More than once, a great blue heron's cry broke the silence as it launched from an unseen perch. A bald eagle perched on a dead tree limb while turkey vultures and osprey soared overhead. Spring brings incredible bird activity to the swamp, along with blooming dogwoods and redbud, and pink and white water lilies.

Ducking under Branches

We have our own kayaks, but the Pocomoke River Canoe Company, next to River House, can provide boats and route suggestions. The Nassawango's flow was barely perceptible and its width a scant 30 feet where we put in the first day, a bridge on Red House Road west of Snow Hill. Fallen trees forced us to duck as we passed under the branches. Gradually the stream widens until, at its confluence with the Pocomoke, it measures several hundred feet across, much of it a lush carpet of floating foliage.

We turned left on the canal-like Pocomoke for the short but strenuous trip to Snow Hill. Even this far inland, the Pocomoke is a tidal-influenced river. Heading against the wind, we were glad we'd heeded advice to time our trip with the incoming tide. We nodded at other paddlers and carefully rode the waves created by motorboats.

River House sits atop a wide lawn leading from naturalized gardens to the river's edge. Guests in the cottage suites enjoy amenities like fireplaces, whirlpool tubs, kitchens, and porches with views to the river. We stayed in the main house, a restored 1860 Gothic Victorian with an air of casual elegance. The furniture and lamps in one sitting room would be at home in Snow Hill's antique shops.

Around 5 PM, owners Larry and Susanne Knudsen serve wine and cheese on a screened back porch. They chatted up their adopted town, a rural county seat with a handful of shops catering to tourists who pass through en route to busier beach communities. Each harvest season still opens with a Blessing of the Combines, when farmers bring their giant machines down the main street for a clerical nod.

An easy walk that evening led us to a local restaurant where we sampled seafood chowder and rack of lamb with ratatouille. Next morning, we grabbed the newspaper left at our door and enjoyed coffee on a second-story porch looking out onto the crowns of walnut trees. A formal breakfast in the dining room featured the inn's signature dish, eggs served with cream and fresh herbs. It did not disappoint.

Shad Landing

We had several options for that day's adventure. Paddling north on the Pocomoke the river narrows, its course more winding and overhung with cypress. South leads to Pocomoke River State Park, where we could picnic at Shad Landing. In either direction, Pocomoke River Canoe Company could provide shuttles, and our trip would end at the inn.

Map of Maryland's Eastern Shore.

If we'd had more time, we could have taken Larry up on his offer to arrange an "inn tour" package and sample paddling on other bodies of water, like Assateague Bay, as well as the lodging and four-course dinners at three other inns. We vowed to come back.

The View From Under the Bridge

Just 20 miles north of Virginia Beach, the tip of Virginia's Eastern Shore seems a world apart. Kayaking the wide-open bay, paddlers must be mindful of tides and wind directions, but the rewards are many. Bald eagles perch in tall loblolly pines, sharp-billed osprey dive for fish, pelicans fly low, and the lucky paddler may even see a pod of dolphins swim past.

A vigorous paddle south following the shoreline brings you under the spectacular Chesapeake Bay Bridge-Tunnel and around the tip of the peninsula. Here the Eastern Shore of Virginia National Wildlife Refuge protects migrating birds and uninhabited barrier islands.

Just south of Cape Charles, two gorgeous B&Bs with wide beaches fronting the bay welcome paddlers:

Paddling Past History

Three hours south of Washington and 90 minutes east of Richmond, the rivers and tributaries off the Chesapeake Bay create a paddler's paradise in Mathews, Virginia.

Within three miles of each other on the East River in Mathews County are two waterfront B&Bs: Inn at Tabb's Creek Landing and Ravenswood Inn. We passed them both on a leisurely paddle from quiet Williams Wharf, once a busy Colonial port.

Loons called, and a bald eagle nested in a tall tree near an old tide mill. Purported to have ground cornmeal for George Washington's army, the mill was burned during the Civil War, rebuilt, and then nearly served as John Lennon's recording studio when he and Yoko owned the estate in the 1970s. It's the only tide mill remaining of nearly two dozen that once dotted the bay, their water wheels powered by the rising and falling tides.

Where to Stay

Inn at Tabb's Creek Landing in Port Haywood is an 1820s sea captain's home where guests can borrow a canoe or launch a kayak from the beach. It's at 804-725-5136, $99-169.00. It's now a certified VA Green Inn. www.innattabbscreek.com

Bay Trails Outfitters in Mathews provides boats, gear, and guided trips; 888-725-7225, baytrails.com .

River House Inn, Snow Hill; 410-632-2722, riverhouseinn.com , $150 to $250.

Chanceford Hall is another Snow Hill inn catering to paddlers, just a block and a half from the river. The 1759 Greek Revival manor house is filled with antiques and surrounded by gardens. It's at 410-632-2900, chancefordhall.com . Rates: $130 to $150.

Pocomoke River Canoe Company is at 410-632-3971, 800-258-0905,
website

Town of Snow Hill, 410-632-2080,
snowhillmd.com
.

The Snow Hill Inn serves lunch and dinner and is right across the street from the River House. 104 Market St., Snow Hill, 410-632-2102.Southern Shores

At Nottingham Ridge Bed & Breakfast, you can watch sunsets over the bay. Contact 757-331-1010, nottinghamridge.com . $110 to $130.

At Pickett's Harbor Bed & Breakfast, the antique-filled guest rooms and the dining room overlook the bay. Call 757-331-2212 or see
Rates: $110 to $150.

Southeast Expeditions is within minutes of both inns, just north of the Bay Bridge-Tunnel on Route 13. They provide gear, guides, and shuttle service; 757-331-2660.

Mary Burnham, has coauthored three travel books with her husband, Bill. To read more about their outdoor adventures, visit www.burnhamink.com . This article originally appeared in the Washingtonian.com.

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