The previous post entitled “How Green is My Valley” contained photos of the Shenandoah Valley north of Staunton en route to one of my favorite area treasures: Orkney Springs/Shrine Mont. While it’s hardly new to me, it has been nearly 30 years since I visited (not counting a couple of drive-bys a few years back). A repeat visit was long overdue.
When I was a junior in college, I worked at Shrine Mont as a camp counselor/art teacher/music teacher. I don’t remember much of that job, except that it was both the worst and best experiences of my life. Worst, in that I was given no guidance, had no idea what I was doing there and felt entirely out-of-place. Best, as it is beautiful, serene and peaceful – just what this strung-out college junior needed at that time. The enduring take-away of that summer is befriending two of the coolest, most “real” neo-hippies I’d ever encountered: Biff and Muffy (I kid you not). We didn’t hang out a lot, but if you believe people are cosmically delivered to you for a greater purpose, Muffy was that person. Her laid-back, earthy approach to life made an indelible impression on me. Thinking back now, I was as lost that summer as I have been the last few years. I wouldn’t mind having a Muffy in my life now.
Orkney Springs was at one time an unincorporated village resort but has since been acquired by the Episcopal Church and absorbed into the Shrine Mont Retreat. I am sure it is the care and maintenance of the church that enabled these old wooden structures – some dating back to the early 19th century – to survive. The old hotel (now called the Virginia House) is on the National Register of Historic Places and is, so I’ve read, the largest wooden structure in Virginia. Whatever its history, I can tell you that it is both grand and simplistic, and entirely inviting. I had half a mind to just pull up a chair on the front porch and join the retreaters for a cup of coffee and a newspaper. Not a peep of noise from the outside world, only the far away cheers of young campers. Being of the non-religious kind myself, simply being on the premises is as close to a spiritual experience as I have ever had.
[Note: plaque over the spring reads: The Orkney Spring, 1783, Praise God from whom All Blessings Flow, In Memory of Georgia Moore, 1861-1931]
The rest of the retreat is an eclectic mix of cabins, traditional homes, gardens, trails and the shrine, formally known as the Cathedral Shrine of the Transfiguration. It is was built of local stones in the 1920s and is as charming and peaceful a place as you’ll ever visit. Sadly (for me) the shrine was occupied by campers while I was there, so I had to snag the picture below from the Shrine Mont website. I would have loved to get a closer look. Reason enough for future visit.