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Friday, January 10, 2014

Berkeley Springs: New Age Mecca

Written by  Marla Seymour

When I first moved to West Virginia’s Eastern Panhandle and began to explore the small towns within an hour of my home, I didn’t know what to expect. If you’ve been reading my offerings, you’re aware that each of these towns has its own character. From Charles Town’s seedy historic atmosphere to the national-park smoothness of Harpers Ferry’s history to Shepherdstown’s college student / music-’n’-craft ambiance, I ‘ve shared my impressions with you. But the real gem remains to be revealed.

A hundred miles from Baltimore lies Berkeley Springs, West Virginia – also known as Bath, West Virginia. It defines the western edge of our state’s Eastern Panhandle. And it is the most compact, happily alternative-reality-conscious small town within which I have ever set foot.

When I first heard of Berkeley Springs, it was during one of those whispered, gossipy conversations wherein one doesn’t know whether or not to actually give credit to the whisperer for factual information. Something about the town being built on a magnetic field at or near the earth’s surface that promotes the use of magick and the powers associated with New Age crystal-healing. Of course, this piqued my interest. I imagined a multitude of Pagans in residence and a place where humanity was measured in covens. What I found was more variety packed into a very few small blocks of “downtown” than I ever imagined possible.

But let’s speak for a moment of how very strange and yet how very basic is this community. You really cannot get more basic than water, can you? Well, folks, this town has an International Water Tasting Competition. This event will be held February 20-23, 2014. There are competitions for best tap water, bottled still and bottled sparkling waters, and a new event this year – best purified water. Find more information on this event at Berkeleysprings.com/water/about.htm.

This month, the town “event” is Spa Feast January. There are is a virtual menu of local spas and the treatments that they offer at Berkeleysprings.com/newtbs/spa-feast. A different facility is featured each week of this month, including the “spa” that is also a state park.

In addition to these two events, other annual festivals include the Festival of Light, Psychic Fair and Healing Expo during the third weekend after Labor Day, the Apple Butter Festival on Columbus Day Weekend, the Berkeley Springs Birding Festival during the third weekend after Labor Day, and the Uniquely West Virginia Wine and Food Festival and Redbud Weekend, which will occur on April 20. There are concerts in the park all summer long, and regular monthly, small events at various venues.

This town has the smallest state park in the U.S. – and one of the most interesting, anywhere. The area of a small town block, Berkeley Springs State Park contains hot spring baths, a building dedicated to massages and souvenirs, several streams that emerge from the springs, a swimming pool (opened only during the summer months), and several picnic tables. The last that I checked, a dip in the hot mineral baths cost about $25. But you can dangle bare legs into any of the streams free-of-charge during the summer months.

Then there is the town itself. Its maze of shops, restaurants, spas, theatres, music venues, and historic buildings is certain to delight. All businesses are small, and some are interconnected. The row of shops that actually faces the park contains a gem shop, a collection of antique shops in a large space, a spa, an herbal shop, and ice cream shop, a wind chime and mobile shop, and wonder of wonders – a shop specializing in Tibetan goods. From singing bowls of various sizes to woven textiles to jewelry, when one walks through the door of Portals, one truly is “not in West Virginia anymore.” There are tobacco shops, outdoor shops, any number of craft shops and art galleries.

And there are excellent restaurants. A favorite of mine is Tari’s Café. Located in close proximity to the park, on the main street, Tari’s offers the best of modern American cuisine, almost all of which (including the potato chips) is made in-house. Although I haven’t yet sampled other restaurants, I look forward to dining at many other establishments. This town’s main industry is its tourism.

For a day-trip or a weekend, this town will keep a person interested. B&B’s and hotels pepper the area, and the area itself is so quirky that no proprietor would dare to point fingers. I know that there is a large, if quiet, lesbian community in this town. All of the women who live in this town swear by its inclusive nature. Berkeley Springs will charm your socks off!

Find out more at Berkeleyspringschamber.com.

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