Life in the Slow Lane


There was a time when Sunday afternoons were reserved for driving around the countryside at a leisurely pace, taking in the view, maybe stopping for a picnic lunch or to see a local attraction.

Maybe modern life is too goal-oriented to allow people to wander aimlessly. But in these hectic times, a Sunday drive down some rural lane -- and a little gazing at the autumn foliage -- doesn't sound like a bad idea.

Fortunately, Maryland has no shortage of scenic byways that feature everything from waterfront villages to mountain views, Civil War battlefields, and rows of quaint antiques shops. All are within a two-hour drive.

"When you fly, it's just about getting there. But the Sunday drive, that's just as important as the being there," says Lynn Selden, author of Country Roads of Maryland and Delaware (McGraw Hill, $12.95).

State officials have put together 31 scenic drives (a map is available by calling 410-545-8637; or to get more information, visit the state's tourism Web site: Here are five within easy reach of Baltimore.

Steeplechase Country

Release the hounds -- or at least one can imagine a little fox-hunting while driving through the rolling countryside of northern Baltimore and Harford counties.

For families, Oregon Ridge Park is a terrific starting point -- stop and try out the recently expanded playground. Ano-ther pleasant sidetrack is Glyndon, the attractive village that started its existence as an 18th century Methodist meeting ground.

While on Belmont Road, be sure to look for Sagamore Farm, the noted thoroughbred farm and birthplace of Native Dancer. Another pleasant stop is Gunpowder Falls State Park for its lengthy system of hiking trails. And don't forget to check out Monkton and the former railroad station that is now headquarters for the Northern Central Railroad Trail.

Getting started: Couldn't be easier -- just drive I-83 north five miles beyond the Baltimore Beltway to westbound Shawan Road.

Don't miss: Ladew Topiary Gardens. You may not encounter any steeplechase riders on your trip but you can see a bush shaped like one -- and others shaped like hounds and a fox to boot at this Jarrettsville Pike attraction. Sunday hours are 10:30 a.m. to 5 p.m. through Oct. 31 (410-557-9466).

Eastern Shore

Admittedly, this excursion requires an investment of time -- more like a day trip than a Sunday afternoon -- but few destinations could equal this trip's stunning scenery or tasty dining opportunities.

Start by heading across the Chesapeake Bay Bridge and go to Easton, the Shore's colonial capital where you can cruise past the graceful Tidewater Inn. From there, head to beautiful Oxford on the Tred Avon River, the quaintest town around. Take the Oxford ferry to Bellevue and on to St. Michaels, the bustling waterfront village with its maritime museum and array of gift shops, restaurants and antiques stores.

Those who don't mind a little extra driving should continue on to Tilghman Island, particularly on a fall afternoon when watermen are bringing in their daily catch of oysters. Stop in an island restaurant, eat a few dozen, and live like a king.

Getting started: Take I-97 south to U.S. 50 east about 90 minutes from Baltimore.

Don't miss: Renting or bringing bicycles. There's no better way to see the Oxford-St. Michaels loop than on a two-wheeler.

National Pike

This one should be high on anyone's list -- a trip down Maryland's most history-filled highway, the Historic National Pike west from Baltimore to Frederick.

Dating to the early 19th century, the scenic attractions on this one-time toll road include downtown Ellicott City, the Patapsco River Gorge in Patapsco Valley State Park, the antiques shops of quaint New Market and Civil War battlefields within easy reach of Frederick.

The city of Frederick is an absolute must-stop. Start at the city's visitor center at 19 E. Church St. and pick up a guided walking tour through the historic district. Be sure to see the Barbara Fritchie House, home of the woman who famously stood up to Confed- erate General Thomas J. "Stonewall" Jackson.

Getting started: How about Union Square, where the legendary newspaperman H.L. Mencken lived at 1524 Hollins St.?

Don't miss: A great lunch at Mealey's Restaurant in New Market (301-865-5488).

C&O; Canal

Montgomery County has more than big-box stores and endless miles of subdivisions -- it has one of the best picnic spots in the entire state.

That, of course, would be Great Falls National Park, just an hour or so from Baltimore. Park here and you can see waterfalls on the Potomac River as well as a restored canal boat. Often, there are living history interpreters talking about 19th century life on the working waterway.

Farther west there is no shortage of jaw-dropping estate homes as well as more natural scenery. When Great Falls is busy, an alternate stop can be the Seneca Creek State Park, or Sugarloaf Mountain Park, where the stunning views of suburban Washington are worth the somewhat steep hike to the summit.

Getting started: Take I-95 south to the Capital Beltway west to the River Road exit and head toward Potomac. Turn left on Falls Road and right on MacArthur Boulevard to enter Great Falls National Park.

Don't miss: Renting a canoe, kayak or paddleboat at Lock 21 at the end of Swains Lock Road in Potomac (301-299-9006) to cruise the canal.

Lower Susquehanna River

What this drive lacks in length, it makes up in scenery -- a pleasant one-hour trip around the Susquehanna River through Harford and Cecil counties.

With its quaint shops and waterfront view, Havre de Grace is a natural beginning point -- and a pretty good place to take a walk, too. Check out the town's Millard E. Tydings Memorial Park on the Chesapeake Bay or visit the Susquehanna Museum and Lock House.

From there, you'll drive north to Darlington and across the river on the Conowingo Dam. Be sure to stop at the nearby overlook for a gorgeous view of the river. The bargain hunters in the car will want to check out the outlet stores in Perryville.

Getting started: Take I-95 north about 25 miles beyond the Baltimore Beltway to Havre de Grace.

Don't miss: The 2.2-mile Heritage Greenway Trail along the river in Susque- hanna State Park. Even non-hikers will enjoy it.

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