Ready to discover another world right here in Mathews?
Paddle to Gwynn’s Island at the mouth of the Piankatank River on the western shore of the Chesapeake Bay. It’s roughly three miles long and three-quarters of a mile wide with a population estimated at 600. Or more specifically, 602.
Choose where you want to launch by using the Blueways Guide or you can drive to Gwynn’s Island, accessible by a lone swing bridge that opens to marine traffic several times a day. There’s a public dock on Edwards Landing Road with limited parking.
If you’re paddling to Gwynn’s Island, be prepared for wind. Ideally, paddle north toward Rigby Island; parts of it might be submerged depending on the tides, but once you’re past it, beautiful, historical Gwynn’s Island isn’t far.
Other than the public dock on the island, your kayak is welcome at Hole in the Wall Waterfront Grill.
In fact, if you want to be trendy, check out how to plan your own Paddle and Pub Crawl. Don’t go on a Wednesday (they’re closed), but lunch and dinner are served daily starting at 11:3O a.m. You can dock and dine inside the recently renovated dining room or call and have food delivered right to your boat.
Whether you’re indoors or out, your view is water and the yummy fare on the menu will fill you up. Some of the goodies are a fried oyster basket, crabcakes multiple ways, surf and turf chimichangas, shrimp tacos and seafood gumbo.
Unless you’re on the island during the annual Gwynn’s Island Festival, scheduled for June 24 in 2022, you won’t find hustle and bustle here. Almost all of the bungalow-style homes have their own private beaches, but unless you know someone, there’s no public access. A day trip here is to essentially enjoy an unspoiled island that is its own history lesson.
Colonial Hugh Gwynn was said to be exploring the Chesapeake Bay when the cries of an Indian girl whose canoe tipped caught his ear. He dove into the Piankatank River to save her; she was Pocahontas. In gratitude, Gwynn was gifted the island.
It’s worthwhile to visit the Gwynn’s Island Museum, open April through October on Friday, Saturday and Sunday afternoons. The building is a relic itself, more than 100 years old, and its exhibits pay homage to island history and veterans.
Museum Director Tom Edwards is particularly partial to the Cinmar Blade exhibit, the oldest manmade tool found in America. The stone blade dates back 22,000 years and was dredged up by a Mathews County waterman. Pictures and replicas of the blade made by the Smithsonian are on display; the actual blade is privately owned.
“It’s a piece of history no other museum has,” Edwards said.
Pottery, artifacts and a 1776 Gwynn’s Island map believed to be drawn by Thomas Jefferson are on display, too.
A day on Gwynn’s Island is a respite. You’ll hear ample songbirds and ospreys, an eagle if you’re lucky. It’s a place to see bottleneck dolphins at play and watch other marine life in their natural habitat. No gas stations. No convenience stores.
“A different way of life,” is what Edwards calls it. And certainly one worth exploring on a seasonable day.