Every Monday at 4 p.m., a group of Loudoun County teachers boards a bus at Loudoun County High School in Leesburg. Its destination: somewhere in time.

It could be the Civil War battlefields between Aldie and Upperville, where Union and Confederate forces battled for four days in 1863. Or the attic of an 18th-century Leesburg tavern, where the walls are etched with drawings of patrons from the past. Or a onetime Quaker Meeting House, where the earliest settlers of Waterford went to worship.

The four-hour excursions are part of a history course for teachers that involves no grades or paperwork or sitting behind a desk. Instead, local historian Eugene Scheel, considered by many to be the country's top expert on Loudoun's past, takes the group to where it all happened.

"The course basically gives us a description of what has happened in our county since the Indians inhabited this area," said Judith McKay, a dean at Blue Ridge Middle School and one of Scheel's students. "It really brings the history to life . . . plus, it's great exercise."

Indeed. Scheel's course is not for couch potatoes. Teachers wear jeans, windbreakers and sweats -- clothes that permit lots of movement. And most important, sturdy shoes.

Three weeks ago, for example, the bus let the group off on one side of Mount Gilead, and drove away. The teachers walked over the mountain to North Fork, a distance of several miles, with quite a bit of it uphill. On the way, they crossed a swinging bridge and stopped at an old factory site.

Two weeks ago, it was the trip from Aldie to Upperville along Route 50. Every few miles, the bus stopped so Scheel could lead the teachers to the site of a Civil War skirmish. Last week, the class toured Lincoln, a village near Purcellville, to visit churches and cemeteries.

Though she grew up in Lincoln, McKay said, Scheel managed to find spots she never knew existed.

"Little did I know that I was aware of only a little part of what went on here in the past," McKay said.

Meanwhile, teachers from the urban eastern end of the county are learning firsthand how rural some parts of the west are. Some teachers were astonished when, on one trip, the bus crossed a creek by going through it because there was no bridge.

Scheel has led the course, which runs from late August through mid-November, for 17 years. He has room for 20 to 25 teachers, who sign up well in advance to experience living history and get credit toward recertification. The fee is $45.

"They always have a waiting list," said Jamie Hetzell, a counselor at Leesburg Elementary. Hetzell, who is from New Jersey and lives in Maryland, is taking advantage of the opportunity to get to know Loudoun County as well as or better than the natives.

"There are a lot of places he has taken us that you couldn't go to on your own," Hetzell said.

Such places include the 18th-century tavern, now a real estate office. Scheel obtained permission to take his group into the attic, where drawings were discovered after a coat of whitewash was removed. Scheel has also taken the group into private homes, including that of Asa Moore Janney, a Quaker who was born in Loudoun County 81 years ago. Janney told the teachers about his family's lifestyle.

The teachers agree that part of the reason the course content is fascinating is because of Scheel, a New York native who now lives in Waterford.

"He has enough of the local gossip and anecdotes {about history} to keep you interested," said Judy Clister, a counselor at Rolling Ridge Elementary in Sterling.

Scheel has researched and written volumes about the county's history, and has made historical maps of the county. When county officials began a project to rename county roads to reflect the history of the area they serve, they consulted Scheel.

For his part, the historian says he enjoys showing teachers something that they can pass along to their students.

"You can't get this experience in a book," he said.