Simon Hill discovers an area rich in history with some familiar names to boot.
With so much wet weather in the summer, the UK was pretty certain to enjoy a colourful autumn. Sure enough, nature didn’t let us down, with trees transforming from green to hues of red and gold.
But, to truly experience the natural world’s kaleidoscope in action you need to travel further afield.
New England, situated in the north east corner of the USA, is famous for its colourful show in the Fall, but there is so much more to this region, making it a perfect year-round destination.
As Billy Bragg and the late great Kirsty MacColl once sang: “I don’t want to change the world, I’m just looking for New England”. Well I found New England on a spectacular four-state road trip – and fell in love with the region.
Arriving at Boston airport, I picked up a hire car and made my way to Emerson Inn by the Sea in Rockport, Massachusetts.
Located in Pigeon Cove, Emerson Inn By The Sea is a 36-room, five-level inn located on a rocky coast just 100 yards from the ocean. The inn has been completely renovated and restored with turn-of-the-century antiques gracing the inn’s parlor and many of the guestrooms.
Rockport itself is a charming town on the tip of Cape Ann. The town’s name is a reference to the granite industry that thrived until the early 20th Century. As one industry died, another bloomed. In 1921, the art colony was founded and named the Rockport Art Association, the first art organisation of its kind in the US. An iconic image of Rockport is a fishing shack known around the country as “Motif #1”, Curiously, it is one of the most painted structures in America.
Not far from Rockport, Gloucester is United States’ oldest seaport. It is east of Essex, an area noted for its shipbuilding legacy. Yes, with names like Gloucester and Essex it is clear to see why this region is known as New England.
Gloucester has a couple of quaint claims to fame. Firstly, it is where the foghorn was conceived, invented after boats kept crashing into each other in the fog. Secondly, it is where a certain Admiral Birdseye invented the concept of frozen food.
Making my way to Essex – even now that sounds odd – I discovered the area first home to European settlers in 1634.
Essex has, over the years, been a leading supplier of schooners for Gloucester and other Atlantic fishing communities. The Essex Shipbuilding Museum is a living testament to the wooden shipbuilding industry and the neighbouring boat yard owned by generations of the Burnham Family still constructs and launches classic wooden ships built in the Essex tradition.
Tourists are mainly drawn to Essex for its restaurants, serving its delicious local clams, but leisure activities such as excursions down the Essex River in boats or self-guided kayak trips have become increasingly popular. The antiques trade is flourishing in Essex – in fact, the town has the greatest number of antique shops per square mile than any other part of the US. It really is enough to make David Dickinson feel well-jel. Oops, wrong Essex.
Narrated cruises, along calm waters are provided by Essex River Cruises. Glide back in time, past islands, dunes and beaches formed by glaciers. See historic mansions, shipyards, saltmarsh farms, rare birds, wildlife, and stunning scenery as you relax and unwind.
And afterwards, visit Woodman’s of Essex for some unforgettable food. Established in 1914 by Chubby Woodman, “Inventor of the Fried Clam", the multi award-winning diner is known for its signature clams, chowder and tasty onion rings.
I tucked into a platter of all kinds of seafood, including Woodman’s famous fried clam and lobster. I was even given a lesson in de-shelling. I felt a bit embarrassed wearing a plastic lobster bib at first, but trust me, it saved my shirt.
Travelling north, I made my way to Hawk Inn and Resort in the equally English sounding Plymouth, Vermont.
This great hotel promised outdoor activities on-site including kayaks, canoes, surf bikes and pedal boats.
Sure enough I took a kayak out onto the still waters of the lake. It was wonderfully quiet and apparently you can sometimes hear the mating call of bears in the distance. Don’t panic, they don’t come close.
Later that day, en route to Weston from Plymouth I spotted a sign pointing the way to Ludlow. It certainly raised a smile and I briefly felt a little homesick.
Thankfully, a walking tour of Weston Village and its recreation park cured my blues.
At the village, I can recommend The Vermont Country Store. Everything Vermont related you can imagine can be bought in this store, which being the main attraction, is crowded at pretty much all times. From kitschy knicknacks to Vermont maple syrup and local cheese, you can find it here. In addition, you can sample various goodies including Vermont cookies and fudge (and it's all delicious!). It proved to be hard to leave without a few of these items in my basket.
Venturing further into Vermont, I arrived at Bromley Mountain Summer Park. Billed as a ski resort in the summer without the snow, it features chairlifts, zip lines and tobogganing on its slopes.
There are many walks and trails and if you speak to the local mountain ranger they will give you maps and routes.
The effects of hurricane Irene, which hit in 2011, remain visible in places like forests where some damage is still being cleaned up. I spoke to a local and she said the media were here broadcasting the horrendous destruction and told everyone how bad it was, but no one told them it was safe to come back. Shame really, because this is a fabulous part of the world.
I spent the night at Arlington Inn, in Arlington, where hosts Elizabeth and Eric Berger served dinner under candle lit gazebo.
I departed Vermont for Berkshires with scenic photo stops along the way. En route I saw a house being transferred from its old resting place, destined for a new location. It reminded me of the animated film Up. It brings a new meaning to moving house.
Leaving my cases at the century-old Williams Inn Williamstown, Massachusetts, I explored the area.
Williamstown is endowed with spectacular natural beauty and world-renowned cultural and recreational attractions. It is the quintessential New England college town, home to Williams College, and a place where you can find four seasons of fun for all ages.
In the summer, a guided bike tour of the Ashuwillticook rail trail, is a must.
I travelled approximately 10 miles north along the rail trail, through the towns of Cheshire and Adams. Dependent on the day and time of year, mallard ducks, Canadian geese, turtles, orioles, and great blue heron can be spotted. Looking to the west, you can see the mountains as you ride alongside the Hoosic River. Along the way, marvel at the height of Mount Greylock - the highest peak in Massachusetts. The most prominent feature on the summit is the 92-foot Veterans War Memorial Tower, which allows visitors a 360 degree view of almost 80 miles on a clear day.
Over at New Haven, Connecticut I was fortunate to stay at Courtyard by Marriottt at Yale.
I also enjoyed a culinary tour with Taste of New Haven which provides walking tours with experienced tour guides leading guests on foodie adventures that show off the city's rich culture and history.
The tours include multiple food and drink stops with a carefully crafted menu that shows off some of the city's best cuisine and cultural surprises. What a fantastic and tasty way to get to know a city.
I was lucky enough to go on the day that there was a free summer festival in the town square. Headlining was a band by the name of The Carolina Chocolate Drops. A perfect way to top a great night out.
To round-off a memorable trip I decided to embark on a Segway session at the Guilford tour. Well, it was on the way back to the airport and I had always wanted a go, so where better?
It is a bit tricky when you start because you need faith in the tilt sensors – lean forward to go, lean back to stop. But following some excellent tuition – and a few laps of the carpark – we were on our way.
Gliding along the smooth sidewalk through historic Guilford, taking in its pretty marina, was great and the guide was a font of knowledge.
Then on to lunch for the last meal in America, and just over the road was a truly unusual restaurant, home to the biggest barbecue I have ever seen. Sitting under a huge canvas with a crackling wood fire, roasting clams, lobsters, sweetcorn, chicken and much more.
A real taste of America, and like the road trip itself, left me hungry for more.
- For further information on New England, visit www.discovernewengland.co.uk
- Emerson Inn by the Sea, Rockport (Massachusetts) www.emersoninnbythesea.com
- Hawk Inn Resort, Plymouth (Vermont) www.hawkresort.com
- For Arlington Inn, Arlington (Vermont) see www.arlingtoninn.com
- Williams Inn, Williamstown (Massachusetts) www.williamsinn.com
- Courtyard Marriott New Haven at Yale, New Haven (Connecticut) www.marriott.co.uk
- Seven night breaks in New England with Virgin Holidays, including scheduled flights with Virgin Atlantic from London Heathrow direct to Boston, three nights accommodation at the Williams Inn on the Green followed by four nights accommodation at the Emerson Inn by the Sea both on a room only basis with car hire included starts from £779. Prices are per person based on two adults travelling and sharing a standard room, price includes all applicable taxes and fuel surcharges which are subject to change. Virgin Holidays is a member of ABTA and is ATOL protected
- To book: www.virginholidays.co.uk , 0844 557 3859 or visit one of its 90 stores located in Debenhams and House of Fraser stores nationwide.