C and O Towpath- Day 3 – Hancock to Williamsport

After a great breakfast of baked southwestern eggs, fruit and muffins, we said our goodbyes to Bill and Darlene. Although our first 10 miles would be on the Western Maryland Trail, there was a C&O Park sign that I wanted. So Bill snapped a quick picture.

Shortly after getting underway, we passed this classic rock overpass. I thought it made a nice photo frame of Bill.

As I mentioned, the first 10 miles were on the paved WMRT. At mile 0 of that trail there was sign about the National Road. This was a term I had not heard before, so took a picture to remind me to do some research. Those that live, or have lived in the east, may be familiar with the National Road, but I was not.

The history buff in me had to find out more. Apparently the idea originated with George Washington, but it was left to future administrations to build it.

Once leaving the Western Maryland trail, we chose a short detour to Ft. Frederick State Park, rather than getting back on the C&O immediately. Ft. Frederick, built by Maryland Colony in 1756-57 and named after Cecil Frederick, 6th Earl of Baltimore, was used in the French and Indian war as a refuge for nearby settlers. During the Revolutionary War, it was a POW camp, particularly after the battles at Saratoga (1777) and Yorktown (1781), housing up to 1,000 British and German prisoners. Later, during the Civil War, it was used to protect the nearby C&O Canal and B&O Railroad. The only battle it played a role in was on Christmas Day, when Confederate raiders attacked the garrison. By 1862, the war had moved south and the military usefulness of the fort had ended. It was allowed to deteriorate until the State of Maryland acquired it in 1922, established their first state park and restored the fort, using original plans.

Back on the C&O, we headed toward Williamsport. One the way, a curious thing happened at one of the locks, the path switched sides. We had been on the right side of the canal since Cumberland. At that moment we didn’t know why, but were soon to find out.

Now, with the canal on our right, we rode only a short distance and the canal dropped away and the Potomac River was on our right. Apparently, the cliffs on the left were to close to the river on the right, so the canal empties into a dammed section of the river. This was only for a couple of miles, then the canal reappeared on our right, with lock 45 in place to control canal water levels relative to the river.

Just before reaching Williamsport, we passed an important Mile Marker.

Only 100 Miles to Georgetown

As we arrived into Williamsport, there is an area of the canal that has boat rides. It can only be a mile or so, but for this short distance, it is a working canal again.

Our B&B in Williamsport is a bit off the canal and our hosts suggested that we use their shuttle rather than negotiate a bike unfriendly road. So, just before our pickup point, we rode past the aqueduct over the Conococheague Creek. (no idea how to pronounce that)

The idea of the aqueducts was to separate canal waters from rivers and creeks, which could be raging waters filled with debris during heavy rains. The idea was sound, but the aqueducts, structurally unable to withstand those raging waters and debris, were subject to damage and could and did collapse entirely. I guess the builders should have studied the Roman aqueducts for ideas. They are still around after 2 millennia.

We were picked up by our hosts and driven to our stop for the night, Elmwood Farms Bed and Breakfast. Until 6 years ago, the farm had been a working dairy, in the same family for 5 generations. But, like many family owned diaries, the economics no longer made sense to continue. So, the family sold much of the acreage to developers, converted the farm house to a bed and breakfast and one of the barns to an event center. The only livestock now are the two dogs, a couple of barn cats and 16 llamas. But, it sure is picturesque.

And my favorite part of the farm is the Tavern, a two room bar like space in the basement, complete with fully stocked bar and pool table.

Today we have a long ride ahead of us, 40 miles on the C&O. That is entirely different mater than 40 miles on a paved trail. We expect a ride of over 5 hours, and with rest stops along the way, it will late afternoon before we pull into Harper’s Ferry. Until then!

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