Knotts Island is hard to reach and there’s not much to it. And that’s why should go there.
Story and Photos by Michelle Wagner
As the ferry pulls away from the Currituck mainland toward Knotts Island, time slows down. Sea gulls gracefully chaperone the small and nearly empty ferry across the water, and loons congregate on channel markers along the 5-mile crossing.
Less than an hour later, as I drive off the ferry onto Route 615 at the southernmost end of the island, it doesn’t take long to realize that Knotts Island operates at a different pace than the rest of the world.
Winding roads meander past old country homes, abandoned road-front stands, open fields and gravel driveways, revealing an Outer Banks community where life revolves around nature, family, farming, fishing and crabbing.
Knotts Island is actually a peninsula nestled between Virginia Beach, Currituck Sound, North Landing River, Back Bay and Knotts Island Bay. It is not what most would expect of a tourist destination, but it is one nonetheless. It is the perfect place to while away the hours on a crisp fall afternoon.
“There is absolutely nothing down here, and that’s part of the charm of the place,” says Paul McCoy, owner of the only restaurant and bar on the island, Pearl’s Bay Villa.
There are a few things visitors should know before taking a day trip to Knotts Island. The first is that Pearl’s Bay is open only on the weekends in the off-season, and the restaurant portion is closed. The bar serves a light menu, so depending on the timing of your visit to Knotts Island, packing a picnic lunch may be a good idea.
And there’s only one store on the island, Knotts Island Market. It’s called simply “the store” by the locals.
The Marsh Causeway is the only road to Knotts Island from the Virginia border. Otherwise, visitors arrive by ferry from the Currituck mainland or boat. McCoy says many of Pearl’s customers boat over to the marina from Carova.
“You don’t just stumble on Knotts Island,” he says. “You have to make up your mind to come here. We are at a dead end.”
While visiting, Martin Vineyards is a must. The grounds lure visitors year round with their pick-your-own peaches apples, vegetables and grapes. Through November, visitors can come pick sweet Muscadine grapes and stop by the wine shop to pick out a bottle of wine to take home. The vineyard’s picnic area along Knotts Island Bay makes the perfect spot to relax, take in the view, taste some wine and enjoy your packed lunch.
Owner David Martin can usually be found out in the vineyards at this time of year with his faithful companion, Bailey, his Golden Labrador-Weimaraner mix who considers the sweet Muscadine grapes a gourmet treat.
“We should have plenty of grapes through November,” Martin says, as he prunes and digs through the vines, revealing bunches of scuppernongs that sell for $1.50 a pound.
Martin says weekends at this time of year are busiest, but visitors still trickle in during the weekdays and someone’s always around on the vineyard to point visitors in the right direction.
Martin also operates a large vegetable garden, where visitors can pick whatever is ripe and hasn’t been already picked for farm markets and restaurants in Virginia Beach.
Collards and broccoli should be coming in soon, he says. Bright red peppers still hang off the vines on this particular September afternoon.
Travel further down Route 615 and you’ll come to “the store.”
Established in 1877, the Knotts Island Market was moved to its current location in the 1920s. It has all the makings of an old country store; its deli is popular among locals and is the only spot for visitors looking to grab a lunch during the weekdays. It also sells gas.
“I had a woman who came in the store the other day looking for the town,” says Heather Johnson, manager of the Knotts Island Market. “I told her, ‘You’re here. This is grand central.’”
Johnson grew up on Knotts Island riding her horse to the elementary school and then taking the ferry to middle and high school on the Currituck mainland. She says that more than a few people come into the store saying, “I got lost. Where in the hell am I?”
Half of the island is made up of the Mackay Island National Wildlife, a destination for nature lovers, birders and sportsmen. At this time of year in the refuge, goldenrod and aster are in full bloom and visitors will be treated to fall colors of the maples and swamp tupelo. The refuge is a stopover and wintering ground for a variety of birds, and hunting is poplar. The refuge is open to hiking and driving in areas open to the public, and visitors can call or stop in the visitors center for more information.
On October 8 to 10, the refuge will hold Open Roads Days, when roads normally closed on the refuge will be open from 7 a.m. until sunset for wildlife viewing and fishing.
Whatever brings visitors to Knotts Island, whether it is to pick some grapes at Martins Vineyard, go birding, hunting or to simply enjoy the rural community and beautiful scenery, they will discover a peaceful place and friendly people.
Want to go?
The state-operated Knotts Island-Currituck Ferry is free of charge and takes 45 mintues.
Monday – Friday
Currituck Knotts Island
6 a.m. 6:50 a.m.
9a.m. 10 a.m.
11 a.m. Noon
1 p.m. 2 p.m.
3:30 p.m. 4:30 p.m.
5:30p.m. 6:20 p.m.
Currituck Knotts Island
6 a.m. 7 a.m.
9 a.m. 10 a.m.
11 a.m. Noon
2 p.m. 3 p.m.
4 p.m. 5 p.m.
Martin Vineyards – 213 Martin Farm Ln., Knotts Island. 252-429-3542; martinvineyards.com
Pearl’s Bay Villa, 112 Bay Villa Ln., Knotts Island. 252-429-3559; Facebook: Pearl’s Bay Villa Marina