What’s one of the best ways to experience the magnificent Piedmont Valley? Take a hike on an unpaved country road in Loudoun County, where over 300 miles of gravel tracks wind past old farms, stone fences, grazing horses, and vineyards.
As a happy resident of Western Loudoun, I’ve spent many hours traversing the labyrinth of roads that sprawl across the county, either on horseback or on foot. I still find it amazing that just a few short minutes from the busy sprawl and congestion of Eastern Loudoun, one can still find places where time seems to have stopped, where Mosby’s Rangers and Civil War soldiers would likely still recognize the farmhouses and lay of the land. There are numerous roads around Philomont, North Fork, Middleburg, and Waterford, where a clever person with a map can find short loop tracks, long loop tracks, or simple out and backs through some of the prettiest scenery God ever created. One of my all-time favorites is a loop hike around the village of Unison, VA and I’ve done it many times when the fields are too muddy to ride or walk or when I just want to re-enter a quieter, slower time.
Unison is a charming little place off St. Louis Road not far from Middleburg and Purcellville. I park the car off quiet Unison Road in the middle of the hamlet and typically do the Furr Road, Poor House Lane, Woodtrail Road, Unison Road loop that rolls over hill and dale for five miles. If I’m lucky, I’ll see people riding horses and sometimes even the foxhunt gallop through since this is prime hunting territory. Once in a while I’ll run into other walkers with dogs on leashes, but mostly I have the place entirely to myself.
This trek is stunning in any season. Even when it’s raining, the Piedmont is beautiful, with mist on the fields and the Blue Ridge a lazy lilac in the distance. There are several hills that give a nice solid workout, but I’m typically so busy looking at the scenery that I barely notice. On this loop, I particularly admire the numerous horse farms and the Poor House B&B that was build in 1814 and still likely looks much the same as it did then. There’s also a wonderful old Cemetery along the way that’s fun to explore.
If you choose to explore Loudoun’s gravel roads, do it on foot. You’ll see so much more, enjoy the scenery the way it was meant to be enjoyed, and show respect for landowners who are there for the privacy and lack of traffic. And after your trek, consider stopping at one of the wonderful old-time stores that still have creaky wooden floors and smell of coffee and harness leather. Two of my favorites are Bluemont Store and Philomont Store where I’m always greeted with smiles and conversations about the weather.