Up for a picnic on the town green this weekend? A promenade along the strand, tea at an inn? Or biking to an old cemetery, riding a ferry, browsing in antique and craft shops and watching a brilliant sunset as sails slip by on the breeze?
Then head across the Chesapeake Bay Bridge to Oxford, a little 17th-century port (pop. 800), sleeping on a jagged finger of land crooked into the gentle Tred Avon River. Oxford offers visitors a dollop of just about everything, and luckily, not too much progress has elbowed its way into town.
The past is rich enough: Oxford bustled as an international port before Baltimore was born, when Annapolis was little more than a jetty. Pirates like "Blackbeard" Ed Teach (whose skull was fashioned into a silver-sided punchbowl) and Stede Bonnet used nearby Skillington's Shipyard and swaggered down the streets masquerading as Quakers.
And one famous son of Oxford, Lt. Col. Tench Tilghman, a friend of George Washington and his aide-de-camp, rode from Yorktown to Philadelphia to inform the Continental Congress of the British surrender.
Tilghman died as a result of that ride and now rests in Oxford's cemetery. Across the cove behind the cemetery sits his widow's home, Plimhimmon.
"Around sunset," laughs a shopkeeper, "geese go back to that cove and stand shoulder to shoulder, eyeball to eyeball . . . 'cause they know hunters can't go back there."
Other interesting old homes to glimpse from the outside include Byeberry, built before 1695, the 1770s Barnaby House and the 1848 Academy House, former quarters for officers of the Maryland Military Academy. Academy directors included Franklin Buchanan, later an admiral and founder of the U.S. Naval Academy in Annapolis.
For a little adventure, hop on the six-car ferry for a 10- minute ride across to Bellevue. The ferry began service in 1683, making it the oldest cable-free ferry in the U.S., historians say. It offers a scenic look at Oxford from the water and a quick way over to St. Michaels. Visitors to Oxford often rent bikes, ride the ferry across and peddle up to St. Michaels for lunch and shopping. It's about an hour trip one-way.
Down by the ferry, don't miss a stroll along The Strand. The gently bowed stretch of road, sandwiched between the water and charming old houses, is a breath of romance and a photographer's delight.
The shops of Oxford offer a little bit of everything -- Americana, antiques, works by Eastern Shore craftsmen, a clutter-in-the-attic country store and a bike shop with a sign that winks saucily, "Loose women tightened here."
The most popular dining (and sleeping) spot in town is the 1710 Robert Morris Inn. Overlooking the Tred Avon River and the ferry, it offers a sun-sprayed patio and porch, a lounge, tavern, taproom and a tempting dining room -- all part of a package held together by handmade nails, paneling, pegs, beams and even fireplace bricks made in England and used as ballast.
Like the inns of old, it boasts no telephones or televisions in rooms, no room service or porter service and allows no pets. Here and there you'll find rooms with a bath down the hall or to share. Even so, the inn has become so popular that reservations are a must. (It began taking reservations for all of 1983 on January 10).
If you're not part of the inn crowd, you can picnic on the Town Green, which offers a shady green lap for blankets, a few tables and benches, climbing bars and swings for the kids, a narrow strip of sandy beach, and a gorgeous view of the Tred Avon River.
Or you can head for the Town Creek Restaurant, where a lonesome piano sits shoved against the wall. "Will you have music later?" a waitress was asked recently. She replied, "Oh well, we had a busboy who could really play. But he was older and after a while he shipped out on one of the boats. So now it's just for anyone who wants to come in and tinker around."
And that's Oxford. ON A BRITISH IDYLL From the Beltway, head east on U.S. 50 (John Hanson Highway); continue over the Chesapeake Bay Bridge on U.S. 50 east; just north of Easton bear right on Route 322, then right on Route 333 to Oxford..