The "Peaks of Otter"


The Peaks of Otter


Thomas A. Markham

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"She'll Be Coming Around the Mountain"

There is a Biblical Text that has a very special meaning and appeal for those who live in Bedford County or hail from there and still call it home:

"I will lift up my eyes unto the hills from whence commeth my strength"

They know it means the rampart of the Blue Ridge, which shelters the county on the northwest, and especially the twin “Peaks of Otter”.

No one who has ever seen the Peaks will easily forget their majestic outlines or their varied hues of blue, fading with the weather changes from deep tones to light blue-gray. For more than two centuries they have been the symbol of home for generations of Bedford-Folk ever since the white man found them and settled in their shelter. The departing Bedfordite looks back at them with a sigh of regret; the returning traveler greets the first glimpse of their serene, blue majesty with a leap of the heart.  It is difficult for the Bedford native to describe just what the graceful silhouette of The Peaks means to him.   To me it means ancestral home, and family and native soil;  the memories of loved ones departed, the veneration of forefathers who established our family  in these beautiful valleys and on these wooded slopes and gave us this magnificent picture to behold all their days.    It is inspiration,   the strength of spirit and faith that comes from the comforting knowledge of things and values that do not change.  As a child, to me it meant "Gods Country", and as I have grown older this meaning has never left.

The white man has known The Peaks for perhaps two and a half centuries, longer than the 250 years of the County's official history. Although there are higher summits in the Blue Ridge, none catches the eye like these twin mountains. Flat Top, gentle and graceful, is nevertheless the higher of the two, just a foot over 4,000 feet above sea level. Sharp Top, bold and challenging, is only 3,875 feet. Sharp Top appears the loftier, but this is an optical illusion.  The fact remains, however, that it is Sharp Top, with its awe-inspiring panoramas, which draws the visitors and enjoys the greater fame. It was from its pinnacle, for instance, that the stone which formed Virginia's Contribution to The Washington  Monument was taken over Two Hundred  years ago.

How the Peaks of Otter got their picturesque name has long been a matter of research and learned controversy. One thing appears definitely established: Neither they nor the streams that rise in their foothills and  are called Big Otter and Little Otter were so named because of any swarms of the little animals of that name. Not in historical times have any otters been found in the streams of this area.  The most generally accepted explanation is this:

Two brothers, Charles and Robert Ewing, came to the colonies from Scotland and settled at the foot of the Blue Ridge about 1700. They are believed to have named the hills and streams in their new home for others fondly remembered in their native land. There are scores of "Otter" place names in Scotland and England. Charles Ewing and members of his family are buried at the southwestern foot of Sharp Top and his will was probated in the office of the Bedford County Clerk in 1761.

Another Scotsman, Andrew Donald, and his son Benjamin are believed to have brought more "Otter" names from Scotland, and Benjamin built his home, "Otterburn" standing to this day, near Little Otter River. Hence the many "Otter" names in Bedford County; for The Peaks, the streams, the stately homes, the churches, the crossroads hamlets.

It is little wonder then that the "Peaks of Otter" have been chosen as the symbol of Bedford County.   Strength of soul and comfort have flowed from this vision to scores of thousands of Bedford folk for more than two centuries.  Beauty in nature always finds its response in the human spirit.  Bedford Hearts respond to the picture of serene permanence and majesty that brings peace of mind.  And so the Rolling Biblical Phrase has for them a special local meaning:

"I will lift up mine eyes unto the Hills, from whence cometh my strength."

(Click Picture to Enlarge)

Peaks_of_Otter_at_Sunrise.jpg (37326 bytes)

Peaks of Otter at Sunrise