Last weekend, on Columbus Day, Ben and I were heading back from Portland, Maine when we decided to take a scenic detour around Cape Ann. If you’re looking for a good leaf-peeping route, we recommend it.
The Globe recently did a “Mohawk Trail vs. Kancamagus Highway throwdown” for scenic fall drives, completely ignoring Cape Ann. And in fact, an unofficial poll of friends revealed several who had never been to the lesser-known Massachusetts cape at all; including Ben! This is a pity. Cape Ann is dotted with charming architecture, local history, state parks, and antiques.
You can see the route we followed here:
We started in Newburyport, a beautiful beginning — historic houses line the street like sailboats drawn up to a pier — and cruised down 133 into Newbury and Ipswich. One regret: we did not stop at the Plum Island Sound Wildlife Refuge. I’ve been before and it is stunning, but on this trip, we thought we should keep moving so as not to delay our dinner in Gloucester too late. This was a mistake. Cape Ann is not as big as it looks, and the main roads (133 and 127) actually get you from A to B fairly quickly. As it was, we cruised on to Essex, where we limited ourselves to two of its many antique shops. Another regret! We both later agreed we should have dawdled there much longer.
Nevertheless, once we got to the oven mitt of the cape and up to Halibut Point State Park, we did get out of the car and stroll around. There’s a striking view of an old granite quarry overlooking the ocean, and paths through the brush down to the rocky point.
Back in the car, we continued around to the “thumb” of the cape and Rockport, possibly the tourestiest town in New England. I immediately purchased a hot cider, which instantly transformed me into Ms. Autumn Woman. A profusion of shops proffered Rockport sweatshirts, fudge, taffy, and other seaside ususals, especially out along the ticky-tacky Bear Skin Neck, a pedestrian zone. At the end of the neck you can often find a lone violinist, playing to the picture-snapping crowd. This would be fine, but for the back-up orchestral music being pumped out of his intrusive amplifier. It reminded me of a flutist I once saw spoiling the ambiance of Bryce Canyon by a) playing the flute, and b) hooking his flute up to some sort of electronic echo machine. We fled.
By the time we arrived in Gloucester, it was just a little after 4pm; we’d completed the entire drive in something like three hours. Deeply regretting that it was too early for dinner, and not wanting to brave the pre-Halloween crowds in Salem, a favorite town of ours, we resigned ourselves to slipping into the evening rush in 128. I don’t know why they call it a rush, as everyone was driving very slowly. And instead of our delicious dinner at one of the places we’d been recommended — Duckworth’s Bistrot, the Franklin Cafe, the Alchemist — we simply picked up some Indian takeout in Somerville and ate it in front of Inspector Lewis. Not a bad end to any day; just not the end we’d been hoping for on this particular day.
When we do it again, we’ll spend much more time browsing the antique stores in Essex and north of the Cape, and less time in Rockport. (We did find a few good shops — which I’ll add to this post once I can remember their names (eek) — but we would skip Bear Skin Neck completely.) I’d also want to explore more of the small museums in the area (like the Beauport Museum, the Cape Ann Museum, and Sargent House) and some of the sites that are just sort of curious or interesting (Hammond Castle, Dogtown Common, the Rocky Neck art colony).
So was this trip a swing-and-a-miss? Not hardly. More like a sacrifice bunt. We still had a good, if very mellow, time, and we consider it recon for our next ramble around Cape Ann.
What else did we miss? Let us know!