We were originally going to Budapest, and to meet my brother, but then…covid happened! We couldn’t have asked more from an alternative trip though, and our ten days in New England surpassed our expectations! Every day was different, with an eclectic mix of activities (though with the common thread of some top notch tucker and drink, of course). And those autumn colours! I’ll add two more “!!’s” to that. You often hear talk of New England in late September and October, but it’s more spectacular than you can imagine.
Okay, here I go. I’m going to write the trip in three parts, starting with our visit to the Lake Squam area of New Hampshire. ‘On Golden Pond’ – the early 1980s film with Henry and Jane Fonda and Katherine Hepburn – was filmed (and set) there.
When we were planning the trip, Marie asked me which guest house would I prefer: The Glynn or The Cheney. Both are in the village of Ashland, handy for Squam Lake. The couple in the photos at Cheney looked friendly and old-school so I chose that.
Our drive from home was four and a half hours, expertly done by Marie. Leaving home, the neighbour’s cat – Louie, who had become fond of us – forlornly watched us go.
Breakfast of McMuffins locally, eaten in the car, we also unexpectedly found a Cracker Barrel on the way several hours later. What a treat, Marie had a snack of a grilled cheese and a baked sweet potato and melted marshmallows (so American, and so autumnal!). Myself peach cobbler.
A nice journey, not dominated with boring highways too much at all. We’d played fine music – in our opinion – in the Sienna: Johnny Marr, It’s Immaterial and Elbow (Seldom Seen Kid). We had passed some trees of beautiful, rusty colours on the way but really nothing as to what we would see over the days ahead.
Arriving in Ashland, of course the two guest houses were right next to each other. We pulled in to the Cheney drive to find Anthony with Eddie, Anthony and Bobbie’s big catahoula dog barking at us excitedly from his home in the garage. We loved Eddie. Anthony showed us the rooms. We had asked for the red room, randomly, but he suggested we take the blue room which we did like better and which let in lots of sunlight. John Lennon was greeting us in the form of a bunched cloth and shades on the bed!
We liked the village very much, the guest house, everything. In the evening we headed on a walk down the road to the small Main Street. Oh, by the way, you may well not get any cell (mobile) phone reception out here! Only if you have Verizon. We have T-Mobile. Nothing. We were pretty much okay with that, as we wanted to get away from modern life for a bit. In Ashland there are mainly just two restaurants in town of any note: a Mexican place a further walk away or The Common Man which is a small chain of pub-restaurants. You would never know the one in Ashland was part of a chain, and it felt totally unique (old tavern style). It was busy. The nice staff on the desk said they would call us if/when a table opened up. No problem. Oh, but wait! We have no phone we can use! We hung around a while though, and we were told there were now bar seats available upstairs. Happily we took those, and loved the whole experience for the next two hours or so. Great food, great cocktails and beer and great chat with the fast-moving and likeable barmaid (who had a dry sense of humour). We shared mussels and a kind of apple infused chicken kiev – both delicious. We lingered a long time.
On our short walk back uphill to the guest house, Marie stopped and exclaimed, “oh my God, look up!”. The night sky, free from all that light pollution you get back home in a big city, was indigo black and scattered with a thousand bright stars. And complemented by just the sound of crickets!
Day 2 –
You get breakfast at the Cheney, expertly made by Bobbie. We thoroughly enjoyed the fare, and talking a lot with Anthony and Bobbie who are terrific hosts. They make it clear you purty much treat this like your own home. Anthony is originally from Brooklyn, and very dry. He reminded us a little of Marie’s uncle Jerry. And Bobbie (Roberta) put me in mind of my friend, Chris’s late mum Irene (but extra chatty). Both A & B are so nice. They lived in Denver previously, but no longer want city living. We talked about bears. There are some black bears in the area, less dangerous than brown bears but still dangerous. Bobbie told us that you have to make yourself appear big, make loud noises and they’ll get scared off (in the event we should have an encounter). She also said the worst thing you can do is run, and that they can reach you in two or three leaps. Uhmmm…we just hoped not to see any!
Okay, off out in our car now to explore. We had booked an animal nature trail near the lake mid morning. I had spotted this online some months ago. Although not the wild trail we had expected, it was still great fun. On the 50 minute (ish) walk there are some zoo-like animal enclosures because the Science Centre have rescued animals in need. So there is, for example, a three legged fox. Mountain lions too (see below)…
We most enjoyed the otters of course and when a couple of families had left one of the otters seemed to put on a swimming and back-flip show for us. We also went on the slide next to the otter enclosure!
Also, after that we enjoyed an extra trail full of nothing but nature and a mass of yellow and purple flowers. Autumnal colours were really coming through right now too, and I was reeling off photos by the hundreds.
Then we thought we’d drive to the waterfront town of Meredith to see what went on there. An attractive town, especially around the water, though a little plain perhaps. We noticed how many shops and eateries close early though (everywhere). We’d often find somewhere we liked the look of, only to discover it closed at 2pm. Still, we did stumble on a very friendly, down-to-earth diner called George’s which had very cheap, massive portions. My pot roast was huge!
Next destination was Fun Spot. We’d seen Fun Spot featured a on a travel programme (Samantha Brown) some weeks ago. Run by a lovable old chap from the 1950s onward, it’s a large and multi-roomed gaming arcade. Classic, old games that have been around forever! We started gently with some mini golf, then bought more tokens (so cheap) and played pin ball, skee ball, space invaders, Q Bert etc.
Afterwards, we had really excellent ice cream at a hut just outside. Richardson’s ice cream is everywhere in NH it seems, and is one of the best we’ve ever had. If a groundhog had appeared we would have given it our cones maybe, but that’s all.
Then a really beautiful drive along the lake’s edge, and back to the Cheney. At night, Anthony lights a fire in the huge back garden. It was very chilly but it was still a fine time spent with A & B talking away, Marie and I sat in the swing chairs and drinking white wine and Eddie close by demanding a constant petting. They asked us would we like to do lobster night on our last day at the guest house, picking up steamed lobsters from the supermarket. Of course!
Then Marie and I walked out to find somewhere for dinner. We thought to try the Mexican, La Catrina. It turned out to be a bit far, so we settled on The Common Man again! We had a similarly wonderful time as yesterday, but this time ate a little less. We tried the fantastic mac and cheese pizza! We joked with the barmaid about Bob Dylan’s style of singing Christmas songs.
Day 3 –
We weren’t the only guests in the four bedroom guest house any more, as two couples occupied other rooms. A very different feature to a hotel is talking away to other guests over breakfast. A Brit from London, who has lived in the U.S since the 1990s (and about my age) was a nice guy. He was there with an American woman. And the other couple were Ukrainian. Purely coincidentally both couples live in Boston. The Ukrainian couple were lovely. They had an interesting tale of their visit to Japan where the husband had a minor accident in their hire car in Tokyo. It was his fault, because he made what he didn’t realise was an illegal turn and so collided with another car. They told us how the police had to question them for a few hours, but in such a polite way. An assistant wearing white gloves made notes at a desk. The Tokyo police were apologising to them and even bowed at the end, again apologising profusely for having kept them!
Marie and I had another event booked mid morning, a loon-spotting boat cruise on Squam Lake. Only one other couple were on the compact boat, and the pilot. The water was calm, the scenery wonderful and the two hours very peaceful. The (retired age) pilot was very knowledgeable and gave a informative narration. We did see some loons, though no chicks today. A loon is not a duck, but is more closely related to the penguin family and is a notoriety around the lake. We’d started off at Little Squam Lake, then into Big Squam Lake. Scenes from ‘On Golden Pond’ were pointed out to us, and because Marie and I had watched it recently, in preparation, we knew the locations well. After the film’s success in 1981, big corporations tried to build accommodation and leisure sites but were thankfully fended off by local groups. The lake is almost completely unspoiled.
We saw eagles nests, but no eagles. Marie and I were to spot one in flight whilst driving on a main road much later on the trip though.
A little later, in a more modern, mall-like area we had a light lunch at Bay Gulls for bagels (New York bagels they’re not, but a nice lunch all the same). And we bought red and white wines at a large shop next door, for our hotel rooms in the days ahead.
Another dream-like drive next, twisting roads around the lake. Weather was mostly perfect and almost entirely sunny, though it was to be very cold at times early on in the holiday/vacation and very hot later. Something we’d prepared for in clothing.
We had an early dinner, one of our favourites of the whole trip. At Walter’s Basin we had an ideal window seat with a view over Little Squam. We chose bourbon-glazed brussel sprouts to start, and shared a champion paella for mains. The lobster in the paella was fractionally overcooked – not much – but the dish was richly flavourful, bright and one of the best (maybe the best) restaurant paella we’ve had in the U.S. Although many Spaniards in Spain don’t like chorizo in paella, you couldn’t argue against it in this one.
I also enjoyed a rough (alcoholic) cider. By the way, Walter is the fictional big trout Norman (Henry Fonda) and the kid catch in the movie.
We came across the beautiful town of Wolfeborough too, with it’s old railway station and tasteful shops. We bought some local cakes, including one with molasses.
Back at the Cheney in the evening, we sat outside by the firepit again with B & A and Eddie. Marie and I were still wary of bears, and every so often it was, like, “what’s that noise?”. The deep dark shadows beyond the garden patio seemed to go on forever. We hoped to see a fox though. We’ve still never seen a fox!
Anthony and Bobbie are very into jigsaw puzzles (Anthony a big train set in the garage too). There are several framed ones they’ve completed, around the house. They had a jigsaw out and partially completed, of a garden, near the dining room. As there were no rave clubs going on tonight – cough – M & I had a go later in the evening. It was tough (I think 500 or 1000 piece). We ended up stopping up until midnight working on it, and took it to about three quarters done. We also ended up meeting the two house cats: Toby is one big ball of fur and very affectionate, so we petted him for ages. Bootsy was more nervous, but watched us curiously from just out of sight.
Day 4 –
Today we drove out to shopping outlets in North Conway before heading on to a famously scenic drive, the Kancamagus Highway. Although we didn’t find much in LL Bean, Marie found her dream coat and a bargain price at Eddie Bauer’s. And our success in shopping moved on a pace when we bought some great stuff (jams and sauces) at the Stonewall Kitchen shop. Then a convenient lunch of whoppers from Burger King.
The Kancamagus Highway is celebrated as one of the most – probably THE quintessential – scenic autumn drive through the whole of the States. It was that wonderful, yes. The tree colours were changing every day, and we were constantly wowed. There was also a very pretty river alongside, with boulders that have been smoothed over time. A little like the ice-age creation of Peggy’s Cove in Nova Scotia. It was so perfect, as we walked between and sat on rocks with just the sound of gently rushing water in the bright sunshine.
We then stopped at a brewery-restaurant in the town of Woodstock, The Woodstock Inn. Some good beers, and I had a flight. We loved the cinnamon, autumn ale (which they didn’t have available in the gift shop). But the staff were robot-like, thoroughly disinterested and the customer service was at zero. A bit of a tourist trap, but it was really pretty much the exception in the whole ten days because almost every establishment was near perfect elsewhere.
In the evening at the Cheney, I went with Anthony to get the steamed lobster from a supermarket a few miles away. I also bought canned brown bread for Marie and I (and as gifts). Canned bread is a New England curio.
In the dining room, we all cracked our own lobsters and had a wonderful meal.
When Marie and I were back in our room, we browsed up more on Keene, New Hampshire, which was to be our next stop for two days an hour and a half drive to the South West of the state.
The next morning, Anthony had to go out early but we had a long chat with Bobbie over breakfast and we were sad to be leaving. She said she was happy to “have made new friends from Queens, New York”. Marie was also sad to be leaving Eddie, who was really like a 90 pound, energetic puppy!
And the cats.