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Trip Report Mini-Trip to Ashland VA ("Center of the Universe”!)

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Hotel: Henry Clay Inn, $208 total for 2 nights, http://www.henryclayinn.com/
Dinners: Iron Horse Restaurant: $50.33 before tip. http://www.ironhorserestaurant.com/
Trackside Grill: $28.77 before tip. http://www.tracksidegrill.org/

My late husband and I usually got away on Thanksgiving. Until we got a little older and less adventurous, we didn’t even make reservations! Although I did pack turkey sandwiches just in case. I now make reservations and have adjusted where I stay as a single woman.

The destination this year is Ashland, VA. I spied the college from the Amtrak train once and thought it looked charming. Now that I’m here, I ponder the efficacy of a railroad track running down the middle of the main street!

On the Tuesday before Turkey day, I left my Annapolis-area home at 11 to drive to this town about 15 miles north of Richmond. It takes about 2.5 hours via the main Route 95, about 3 hours via the old main Route 301. I took the older route and was only slowed down by local traffic in Waldorf and La Plata. Otherwise, traffic was very light. At about 20 miles before Richmond, GPS (“Keith”) guided me onto route 54 and Ashland. A right onto Railroad and voila, the Henry Clay Inn. It is on the west side of tracks which run down the main street and is located directly behind the Amtrak station (also the Ashland welcome center).

The Henry Clay Inn was first called the Ashland Hotel when it was built in 1858. Two fires later (1905 and 1946) it was re-built as Henry Clay Inn in 1991 by the present owners.

Parking is in back and there is a ramp to the entrance making this a good place for handicapped. There are also first floor handicapped-accessible rooms. This is unusual in an old inn but this inn isn’t really old. The original 1868 building has burned to the ground twice and was re-built as an in in the 1990’s.

Check-in was smooth (I’d reserved ahead by phone). The entry area is nicely-decorated in antique-y looking furniture and a nice Oriental rug. From a rather puny-looking desk area, one spies a meeting room, gift shop and breakfast room. Holiday decorations in the process of going up. Innkeeper, Susan, carried my suitcase up the stairs to my room on the second floor rear. I requested this location to avoid hearing the trains.

My room (213-a classic not premier room) has a queen bed, wing back chair, desk and armoire with ample room for storage, TV and iron/ironing board. Furniture appears to be reproductions. Private bath has typical hair dryer, ample floor space but no extra space on the sink. All of the rooms along the back of the inn have French doors to a porch spanning the back of the inn. I’d give mine a B/B+.

By 2:30, I stow my case and head out to explore. There is a second floor lounge with nice couch, lovely secretary (how old?) and French doors to a porch. Very nice.

It took 1 minute or less to get to the Amtrak station/welcome center. I picked up a brochure and map of the town and headed for Ashland Coffee and Tea. This looked like a funky coffee/beer shop with cast-off furniture. It is also a music venue and there’s a large room with tables for that. Sandwiches, snacks also served. Good coffee break and I read the brochure and plotted my activities.

The town in which I grew up, Chestertown Md., is similar to Ashland. An old college, colonial history are the same. The major highway (Route 95) near Ashland make it more a bedroom community than my town seems though.

I walked along the west wide of the tracks and found a consignment shop for horse things called Changing Reigns (front door sign reads “Trot on in!”—very cute.) New antique shop not open but Iron Horse Inn is so I stopped and made a reservation for 6 p.m.

Crossed the tracks and visited a little grocery store still run by the same family and then strolled back to the inn and unpacked and checked email. Wifi works wonderfully here.

Iron Horse was a department store. Resto is on the left and a nice-sized bar is on the right of the entry way.

Here’s dinner:
Roasted beet beignets with goat cheese-dill crème fraiche
Rainbow trout lightly stuffed with spinach, arugula, shitakes and Taggiasca olives. Served with sweet potato hash with garlic-fennel vinaigrette.
Glass of merlot
Panna cotta for dessert.

It was very good except the beignets were shaped more like hushpuppies and were crusty on the outside and a little gooey inside. The trout was perfect and butchered so it looked like a boat of a fish with the stuffing where the bones had been removed. Panna cotta was fine—dark cookie crumbs and 3 dots of raspberry sauce were cute.

I chatted a fair amount with the waitperson and she told me there are 52 scheduled trains per day. She also invited me to have Thanksgiving dinner at her house. Wasn’t that sweet?

Back to the inn to crash.

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