Time moves more slowly along charming Connecticut River

CanWest News Service
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Walpole, N.H. -A weekend scamper along a stretch of the Connecticut River brings a distinct riparian landscape into focus. The river, which separates New Hampshire and Vermont, begins humbly, in a pond a few hundred metres from the Canadian border in northern New Hampshire. From there, it meanders in and out of a series of lakes, flowing more than 650 kilometres south through four states to the sea at Long Island Sound.
Flowing past palisades and pastures, through forests and floodplains, under bridges and over dams, the longest river in New England exhibits a personality in flux, from gurgle, murmur and rill to rapid, roil and waterfall.
Our lingering view of the Connecticut River starts at Walpole, N.H. Home to prolific documentary filmmaker, Ken Burns, and the summer retreat for Little Women author Louisa May Alcott, this quiet village exudes an understated elegance through its Georgian and particularly stunning Federal and Greek Revival architecture and abundant geographical appeal.
It's also the hub for a burgeoning coterie of organic, homemade and artisanal food producers.
L.A. Burdick's, on Main St., is home to an Old World chocolate and confection store (there's one in Cambridge, Mass., too) renowned for its hot chocolate and, just steps away, a brasserie-style restaurant with outdoor cafe.
A perfect perch for people watching, the cafe, like the restaurant, features a wide variety of wines, fruits, vegetables, herbs, dairy and baked goods that imbue seasonal and special menus. Brunch is especially lovely, served from 10 a.m. to 2 p.m.
No matter the weather, a Burdick's hot chocolate is a must, and selecting a stash of chocolates and confections for later fuelling is perfectly logical.
A Burdick's hostess suggests a stay at a local inn and, a few minutes later, past well-tended farmland and wild countryside, the Inn at Valley Farms appears. Situated on a 40-hectare organic farm, the inn started life as a worn, rambling 1774 homestead. In the morning, innkeeper Jacqueline Caserta serves a breakfast and tells us about the growing organic-food movement in the area.
Several rooms on the main floor offer libraries of games, books, magazines and a resident cat or two to pet. Since the inn is also a farm, the innkeeper cheerfully describes her various gardens and animals.
The immersion in all things food and fun continues across the road, where Alyson's Orchard sprawls along 200 hectares on a hilltop overlooking the river, the perfect place to really stretch legs and work off calories. Here, 21 hectares are planted with 20,000 fruit trees, including 50 varieties of apple, the main draw. You may pick your own or buy bags at the farm stand, where it's hard to pass up the local dairy's ice cream, homemade pies, turnovers and cider. The apples are joined by peaches, pears, nectarines, cherries, grapes and berries.
Old logging roads and trails invite walking (or skiing, depending on the season) and picnicking is encouraged. There's no admission fee to enter and enjoy the many amenities, such as the paddle boat in the orchard pond and bocce court. Two goliaths - a white oak and elm, both identified as champions by the state's Big Tree Program - are hard to miss; the oak dangles a swing with a stunning view of the river and the Vermont shore.
From Walpole, drive north on Route 12 and cross the bridge into Bellows Falls, Vt. Here, the Green Mountain Railroad offers a scenic two-hour ride aboard The Green Mountain Flyer to Chester Depot. In late May, a special Bonnie & Clyde train ride - one of Green Mountain Railroad's many special excursion trains - along this same route, re-enacts a train robbery.
As you continue north, take a short detour to the east to sample the wonder that is the Cornish Art Colony territory, north of old mill town Claremont. The first stop would be historic Plainfield, N.H., where resident Maxfield Parrish painted a stage backdrop at the Town Hall that still draws throngs of art lovers.
For more visuals, glimpse inside the Cornish Colony Gallery and Museum and stop by the Saint-Gaudens National Historic Site and the home of the great U.S. sculptor Augustus Saint-Gaudens, open to the public. Also on view are his studios, gardens and galleries. Summer concerts, nature trails and sculpture classes, as well as treasure hunts for children, complete with maps and clues, called Valley Quests, make for a worthwhile diversion.
Take leisurely Route 12A north to White River Junction - the river hub for scenic train excursions. The White River Flyer carries passengers on a two-hour round-trip north to Thetford. The train stops at Norwich's Montshire Museum of Science with its exhibits and hands-on experiences devoted to the physical sciences, technology and ecology.
A stone's throw across the Connecticut River from White River Junction is Lebanon with its Opera House. Also not to be missed are the Tunbridge World's Fair in early fall and a trip along Route 4 to the Quechee Gorge State Park for a look at Vermont's "grand canyon" and the mid-June Quechee Hot Air Balloon Festival.
Cross the river and head north on Route 10 to downtown Hanover, home to Dartmouth College, established in 1769. Walk the massive quadrangle on a campus noted for its medical, engineering and business schools. A stone's throw away is the Hood Museum of Art with its own collections and visiting exhibitions. Sketching pencils and stools are available for budding artists to draw inside the museum.
Family Days, on select Sundays, are geared toward children 6 to 12 and include demonstration, performance, or participation in stories, puzzles and games. May's family activities centre on the Textiles From Indonesia exhibition.
Route 10 points north to Orford, where camping accommodations are available riverside. Before settling in, walk along the charming Main St. for the front row views of Federal manses sitting on The Ridge.
Once a wealthy town, Orford is punctuated by the glimmering, fisherman-friendly Jacob's Creek at the north end of town, fetching public buildings in town, and a bridge crossing to cliff-studded Fairlee, Vt.
After the requisite trip to the Fairlee Diner for breakfast the next morning, follow the road north to the postcard perfect town of Haverhill. This community of restored homes and buildings stands on such a grand scale, that two, rather than the usual one, town greens balance the white facades of structures with an emerald splash for as far as the eye can see.

IF YOU GO:
This 120-kilometre stretch of the Connecticut River, from Walpole to Haverhill, may be enjoyed by car or by canoe or kayak as described by author Michael J. Tougias in his book, River Days: Exploring the Connecticut River from Source to Sea (On Cape Publications, 2001).
For more information on bed-and-breakfast accommodations, camping sites, historic destinations and points of interest in the upper Connecticut River valley along the border of New Hampshire and Vermont, go to the website www.uppervalleychamber.com.
For more information and schedules for the trains, go to www.rails-vt.com

Organizations: Dartmouth College, Walpole, N.H. Home, The Green Mountain Flyer Bonnie & Clyde Cornish Colony Gallery and Museum Saint-Gaudens National Historic Site Montshire Museum of Science Opera House Tunbridge World Hood Museum of Art Jacob's Cape Publications

Geographic location: Connecticut River, Vermont, New Hampshire Walpole, N.H. Long Island Sound New England Cambridge, Mass. Green Mountain Railroad White River Junction Bellows Falls, Vt. Plainfield, N.H. Orford U.S. Haverhill Thetford Norwich Lebanon Quechee Gorge State Park Quechee Hanover Indonesia

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