I have hiked or traveled in so many states throughout New England and loved them all, yet in all the years I’ve been traveling, for some reason I had not made it to Maine – big mistake. So, when a group hike along the coast of Maine in the autumn of 2002 popped up, I knew I couldn’t miss it. Beautiful coastal walks, farm country rambles, and a day trip to historic Monhegan Island, with homebases in Boothbay Harbor and Camden – joy! I could hardly wait!
I landed in Portland the night before joining the group, and connected with Susan – a hiking friend I’d met in Scotland some years back (great thing about hiking in groups: the friends you make). Wandering around Portland in the rapidly fading light, we felt the nip in the air, and stopped for dinner at a lobster house. I had what was apparently the last of the day’s lobsters, fresh out of the bay….in Houston, lobsters are cleaned up with not an unappetizing morsel to be seen. In Maine, you get the entire lobster, with something green and black attached to it…urgle! (And now I cannot eat a lobster at all.)
The next morning, ready to go, we joined the rest of our group from Country Walkers and vanned to Boothbay Harbor, where we were to stay at a charming New England inn.
Rooming with Susan, we settled into one of the small cottages surrounding the main house – captivating.
Boothbay Harbor is an appealing small town (2,000+ population) that developed as a fishing center, and now offers everything from boat tours to whale watching (we saw no whales).
Hiking and walking through the surrounding countryside and town, the weather continued to be just about perfect, and the scenery the same.
We meandered around an imposing mansion whose gardens were a swirling picture awash in color and scent: roses, lupines, marsh marigolds, black eyed susans, geraniums, asters and more I couldn’t recognize. Really beautiful, and certainly a gardener’s delight!
And the food was delish too…particularly when we ate at scenic outlooks, where picnic tables were set up. Love that!
Part of our hiking trip included the hour-long (more or less) ferry from Boothbay Harbor which deposited us on Monhegan Island on a day that was intermittently sunny, but turned misty and damp.
We began our ramble around a fairly benign landscape, through lanes in woods laced with delicate greenery, over granite and boulders, and around some of the ubiquitous shingled homes and inns that dotted the landscape.
The island, an artist colony with about 12 miles of hiking trails, is situated 10 miles from the mainland. You can only get there by boat, and no cars are allowed. Nice! This was not a particularly grueling hike, but there is something to be said for a hike that allows you to inhale the fresh air, look at the beauty surrounding you, take photographs and just enjoy the sea breezes and intermittent sun.
Too soon, it was time to board the ferry for the return journey, and once we were on it, the fog descended in earnest. Good thing these people knew what they were doing, was my main thought as we moved through the dense mist.
Suddenly, from nowhere, an earsplitting blast … then the fog parted and we saw the side of an immense ship moving slowly not yards from our boat. Told to stay extremely still, we sat without stirring and as the ship moved through the fog and away from us, sigh of relief was palpable…yet, once safety reigned again, we were all slightly exhilarated by the adventure!
After which it was back on the road again…to Camden.
Camden was an absolute joy to visit. The quintessential New England town, its narrow streets, delightful shops, galleries, inns and houses were very akin to those on Martha’s Vineyard, another favorite getaway of mine. Planting our luggage at the Camden Harbor Inn, we took off on a ramble around the town.
It’s situated right on the coast, at the base of the mountains, so you can sit on the dock of the bay and look to the sailboats gliding gently across the deep blue water. The village green, designed by Frederick Law Olsted, Jr., one of America’s most prominent landscape architects, is a simple green swathe of lawn, trees, gardens and shrubs…just a beautiful place to sit and let your mind drift.
A walk outside Camden took us through farm country, where Belted Galloway cattle grazed in green fields, black cattle with a wide white stripe circling their middle…cows I had never seen before (called by kids in Maine “Oreo Cookie Cows”).
The farmland was picturesque, like a picture come to life, with the fall trees in full color, and with the quiet of the countryside blanketing the landscape, and an occasional “moo” puncturing the stillness. But some of our hikes were more challenging.
On a fairly overcast day, several of us opted to hike up Mt. Battie, a 1.5 mile moderate trail that was peaceful and serene.
The hike itself was quite laid back, as the trail ambled at a leisurely ascent around the mountain.
Atop the mountain we came to a large white cross, which can be seen from the valley below. The vista from the peak was fabulous: a panoramic view of Camden Harbor and Penobscot Bay, laid out like a fairy tale below our feet. Loved this little hike!
On the final chilly night in Camden, we all partook of a traditional lobster boil, sitting outside in the darkness on benches set on either side of trestle tables overlooking the bay. Bundled up in our parkas and boots, we set to: dinner was not just the lobsters (poor things!) but huge vats of boiling corn on the cob, tubs of melted butter, and chewy bread. Nothing like it in Houston, that’s for sure!
Maine, with its iconic coastline and small towns, is a total delight…I loved every minute of this wonderful, albeit short, trip…. I like the feeling of “going back in time” when I visit New England and I like that a lot. Maine lived up to its promise…it’s a state I would like to revisit one day.