The tiny village of Orkney Springs, located at the foot of the Great North Mountain, can be reached in a round-about way – literally. Situated at the end of the Rt. 263, the only state road in Virginia that loops around upon itself, the town really can’t (and shouldn’t) be missed.
The original town of Orkney Springs was a thriving tourist destination in the mid-1800’s when the waters from Orkney Spring, otherwise known as Chalybeate Spring (means tasting like iron) were reported to have curative powers. Visitors flocked to the area to rest and relax in a spa like setting. In its heyday there were numerous forms of indoor and outdoor recreational activities such as jousting tournaments, ballroom dancing, and grease pole racing.
Today, as in the 1800’s, many visitors come to Orkney Springs seeking rest, reflection and relaxation. Most of the town is now called Shrine Mont Conference Center and is owned by the Episcopal Diocese of Virginia. Visitors are welcome to walk the grounds and view the historic buildings. You may also visit Cathedral Shrine of the Transfiguration; an open-air church built in the 1920’s to provide a place of worship and reflection in a natural setting. In a unique blending of nature and history, the baptismal font used in the shrine was originally a dugout stone used by Indians to grind corn. Shrine Mont is open from March until November and is open for retreat groups, conference attendees and non-profit groups. Individuals and families are welcome on a space available basis for overnight stays and buffet style dining. It is recommended that you call ahead for availability.
There are several buildings in the area of historical significance. Orkney Springs Hotel (now called the Virginia House) is listed in the National Register of Historic Places. This four story-high wooden building is an impressive 96,000 square-foot was built in 1873. At the time of its construction, it contained the largest ballroom (50’ by 100’ with 18’ ceiling) built without any pillar supports. Another building of historical significance is Maryland House. It is the oldest building in Orkney Springs. Built in 1853, this two-story, 50-room building has been reported to have been used by Confederate soldiers during the Civil War as a place to rest and recuperate. However, this fact has never been verified.
Beginning in the 1960’s Orkney Springs became home to the Shenandoah Valley Music Festival, which is still held there every year. Visitors can listen to big band, folk, jazz and symphony music in a beautiful relaxing setting. The concerts are performed in the pavilion located on the grounds of Shrine Mont. What could be more perfect than an evening picnic under the stars listening to beautiful music? Contact for the Shenandoah Valley Music Festival for rates and performance schedules.
Whether you are seeking solitude and reflection or want to visit a little piece of history, Orkney Springs provides the perfect destination. With the beauty and serenity of the area, you may lose the stress and frustrations of your every day life but with its unique self-looping road configuration, I guarantee you can never lose your way back home. The only way out is to go back the way you came in; the road may be the same, but you may be changed from the experience.