Wild Ponies

We try not to drive more than two hours from our home base unless we’re going to stay the night. We pushed our limit to get from Virgina Beach to Chincoteague, a few miles shy of the Maryland border. We wanted to see the town, visit Assateague Beach and see the famed ponies.

Lunch at Bill’s

We drove through the Chesapeake Bay Bridge Tunnel and down the road for quite a long way through farm country and tiny towns like Assawoman that have suffered badly from the lack of visitors over the past two years. There are a lot of unusual place names, but the strangest place we passed was Meat Hunk Fen. (I couldn’t find a tale explaining its name.) Arriving on the island and town of Chincoteague we were ready for a break. We stopped at Bill’s Prime Seafood and Steaks for a bite of lunch. We had delicious fried oysters and a soft shell crab BLT, especially good.

Birds in the distance across acres of tidal marsh

My vision of Chincoteague was of a cute Victorian downtown to stroll after lunch, but that was completely in my imagination. Chincoteague had few or no stores until well into the 20th century. Stores are dispersed along Main St. south of the causeway, but on a chilly weekday, there’s not much to see. It appears that many businesses don’t bother opening until Easter or even Memorial Day. Our overall impression was of a slightly down at heel seaside community, not the tourism powerhouse described in my copy of the Chincoteague Beacon. A headline read, “Assateague Island announces record shattering 2021 attendance.” (Over two million visitors).

Assateague pony

Chincoteague and Assateague Islands are known for the ponies that lived wild there for over a century. The children’s book, Misty of Chincoteague, published in 1947 and made into a movie in 1961, drew people to the islands who weren’t interested in fishing. Today, groups of ponies that make up the herd live on Assateague Island, managed by a combination of the National Park Service, the US Fish & Wildlife Service, and the Chincoteague Volunteer Fire Department. Once a year, the ponies (150) and their foals (60-70) are rounded up, herded to Chincoteague by swimming a short channel, and paraded through the streets to the sales ring. This has become the centerpiece of Chincoteague tourism, now the principal industry. There are two smaller roundups during the year, but the pony swim and parade are the biggest draw. Most foals are sold to maintain the size of the herd at 150, with proceeds supporting the animals during the year.

After lunch, as we drove toward Assateague Beach, we found cars parked along the roadside. We slowed, then stopped to watch the ponies grazing just across the fence. Children, parents, and grandparents took photos and picked out their favorites. The ponies have a good story, even if it is largely fictional. [They probably did not originally come from the wreck of a Spanish galleon, they are no longer wild, and anyone can purchase one.]

Assateague Beach

We continued on to Assateague Beach, a long stretch of sand. Getting out of the car, we noticed the air was much colder than in town, and the wind was much stronger. We added all our layers and set off for a walk. There were other walkers, picnickers, a couple using a metal detector, joggers, and people fishing. We were passed by a couple headed down the beach with their picnic. About 200 yards past us they turned, and went straight back to their car. Somewhere between invigorating and freezing, we enjoyed the walk despite the cold. Jonathan picked up a big fish hook and swivel, and there were lots of interesting shells, but none we had to keep, and no beach glass at all.

Clockwise from upper left: Willet, mergansers and snowy egret, piping plover, white-rumped sandpiper, the beach.

Birdwatching was good. We saw ospreys and vultures, gulls, willets, and the three species that nest on Assateague, piping plover, skimmer, and least sandpiper. By the time we got back to the parking area, I was happy to sit in the sun-warmed car, scout the roadside for ice cream (Island Creamery, Maddox Blvd.), and enjoy the ride home.

A Note About Blog Posts

You would never think that a house might lack paper, but in our efforts to reduce our luggage, I seem to have left all notepaper behind. I have two small books of post-its large enough for a grocery list. Our Airbnb is newly renovated, and there is not one slip of paper in it that we have not already used the back of. I wanted to take some notes during our day trip to Chincoteague and Assateague and all I found was an old NYT Sunday Fashion issue from late 2021.

As a result, my notes are written across an ad printed in a light color. Once I got going, I decided to make my writing fit the page. It worked out rather well, and I was able to decipher my script when we got home. Here’s what it looked like–I have purchased a pad of notepaper since I wrote this.


Published by winifredcreamer

I am a retired archaeologist and I like to travel, especially to places where you can walk along the shore or watch birds. My husband Jonathan and I travel for more than half the year every year, seeing all the places that we haven't gotten to yet.

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