A Magical Place Called Orkney
If you travel to Mt. Jackson, VA, which provides much of the setting for IN THE VALLEY OF HOPE, then hang a left (if traveling north) onto Highway 263, you will ultimately arrive in the community of Orkney Springs. Just keep driving until the road runs out. Takes just 20 minutes and, I promise, you’re in for quite a surprise.
As you drive along 263, you’ll see a lot of farmland, and cows, and hay. You get the picture. But then, right there in the middle of what you have decided is nowhere…there stands this impressive grand hotel. Then you wonder, “How the heck did that get there?”
The Grand Hotel at Orkney is said to be Virginia’s largest wooden structure. Couldn’t prove it by me but there is definitely a lot of wood. Been around since 1873 and was, once upon a time, a very popular resort, where society’s elite gathered to take advantage of the alleged healing powers of the springs.
I first discovered it in 1964, thanks to my high school band director, who thought it an excellent place for me to advance my musical education. It was the second year for the Shenandoah Music Festival.
Back then, some of the world’s finest classically trained musicians came to Orkney for a workshop and whatever else happens when musicians get together.
Again in 1965, I returned for lessons from a trombonist with the National Symphony out of DC. An exciting time, for sure.
I recall sitting in the lobby of the Grand Hotel while watching one of the musicians compose a symphonic piece. Later, at the annual concert, his stunning work debuted.
Across the road from the Grand Hotel stands a gazebo by a pond, where a French Horn quartet gathered to play in the afternoon. No audience…they were just there for themselves, but that magnificent sound filled the countryside.
The symphony rehearsed in the upstairs ballroom. I stood on the wraparound porch, peered through the open windows, and observed professionals at work. It was an eye opening experience for a kid from a small town, enough to inspire me to pursue a musical career.
In the winter of 1966 I was accepted into the Navy Band. 4 years later, I left the band to pursue a career in radio.
Upon coming home I met a beautiful girl named Janet and we started dating. On a chilly and gray day in the Fall of 1970, I took her to Orkney, and once again there was music, but of a different kind. No musicians. Just the sound of a gentle breeze rustling through colorful autumn leaves and the hearts of two people beating as one. In that awesomely romantic setting, Janet and I realized that we were falling in love. That was 45 years ago, we’re still together, and the music is still playing.
In 1979, the Episcopal Diocese of Virginia purchased the old resort to be used as a retreat. I’m happy to see that the music festival is still alive and well, an annual event, that has featured some pretty impressive talent over the years.
Folks used to believe that there were healing powers in the springs of Orkney. Can’t tell you for sure if that is true or not. But it will always have a special place in my heart.