A Weekend in Ipswich

After our wedding, Ben and I were too wiped out to do much of any honeymooning. So instead of jetting off to New Zealand or Patagonia or the Adriatic, we took a couple of days and went to recuperate in Ipswich, at the Inn at Castle Hill. Set on a wooded hill emerging from a salt marsh, the landscape is unlike any other in New England; it’s hard to believe it’s only an hour from our home.

An ipswich salt marsh, seem from atop Castle Hill. Photo by Ben Carmichael.

An Ipswich salt marsh, seem from atop Castle Hill. Photo by Ben Carmichael.

The Inn itself is an old farm that the Crane family lived in while constructing their massive dream house, then turned into a guesthouse when the mansion was finished. Today, the B&B is a perfect blend of homey comforts and gracious hospitality. We spent most of our time simply sitting on the wide, jasmine-smothered front porch, drinking coffee in the mornings and rosé in the evenings and looking out at the marsh. It’s funny how when you slow down, two nights and three days can feel like a week.

The view from the veranda at the Inn at Castle Hill. Photo by Ben Carmichael.

The view from the veranda at the Inn at Castle Hill. Photo by Ben Carmichael.

We did venture out for a bit of exploration. We went to see Cogswell’s Grant, a colonial-era home maintained by Historic New England. But it’s not the house itself that people come to see — it’s the quirky and extensive collection of early American folk art inside.

We also had some amazing meals. The North Shore punches well above its weight in terms of culinary offerings. We had a fantastic dinner at Brine in Newburyport, and excellent lunches at The Deck in Salisbury and Salt Kitchen and Rum Bar in Ipswich.  Rum is a great old New England spirit, and I am glad to see it making a comeback among the hipster crowd — it’s time we stopped letting the beach bums and Parrotheads have all the fun.

But probably the best meal we had was at a little hidden gem in Annisquam, a tiny seafaring town I’d never even heard of before we stumbled into it. Overlooking Lobster Cove is a low key little spot called The Market Restaurant. It’s so low key, in fact, that when Siri triumphantly told us we’d arrived, we looked around in befuddlement. We didn’t see any restaurant; only a few shingled houses and an old grocery store. Finally, after driving around the peninsula again, we phoned them to ask for directions, only to be told we were sitting right out front. Walking around to the back of the apparently abandoned grocery store, we found the restaurant, leaning out over the water. The food, view, and wine list were all excellent.

And of course, we couldn’t leave before wandering over to the Crane Estate. One evening, we strolled from the Inn for cocktails — for a $30 cover charge, we got snacks, drinks, and the ability to wander freely around the house, as well as a chance to go up into the cupola and out onto the roof. Anyone who has ever toured the estate will tell you about the bathrooms — the Crane family made part of their considerable fortune in bathroom fittings, and the restrooms are appropriately luxe — but what really struck me was that the house felt like a house.

I’ve toured Hearst Castle, the Newport Mansions, and a seemingly infinite number stately homes in the UK, and in general they feel like museums. Like movie sets. This one felt different — not homey, exactly, but intimate in its way. You could imagine the Cranes arriving, relieved to be back in this beautiful spot. You could envision their two children taking the long walk through the woods and over the hot dunes to the four miles of white sand shoreline today known as Crane Beach. And you could imagine the parties spilling out from the house onto the lawn, the great sweep of grass rolling out to the cliffs over looking the sea. Maybe some of the young Cranes would drunkenly dare their friends to jump into the saltwater pool, or challenge them to a game of billiards in the poolhouse.

The Crane Estate on a midsummer night. Photo by Ben Carmichael.

The Crane Estate on a midsummer night. Photo by Ben Carmichael.

Today, though, the house does have a bit of an abandoned feeling. The Trustees of Reservations, the nonprofit charged with upkeep of the estate, could use a few more resources. With events like evening cocktails, concerts, specialized tours, and an end-of-summer Roaring Twenties lawn party, they’re clearly trying to get the money together to keep the old pile together. And, in a move I find particularly exciting, they’re beginning to renovate the gardens. While the grounds are evocative and a few treats remain — for instance, Mr. Crane had a massive stone mounted on a pivot, so that he could impress his guests by appearing to move it — the gardens are long gone. Peering into the rose garden, for instance, all you see is grass and a circle of broken columns, like a concrete Stonehenge. But this may soon be changing. The old Italianate garden had a backhoe in it when I was there, and I hear they’re trying to hire a couple of landscapers to bring it back to life. If and when that happens, you can bet we’ll be back.

A Weekend in Woods Hole

A typically stunning Cape Cod sunset as seen from near the Woods Hole ferry terminal.

A typically stunning Cape Cod sunset as seen from near the Woods Hole ferry terminal.

To most New Englanders, Woods Hole is the way station to Martha’s Vineyard — a quaint village we see in passing as we rush to hop on the ferry. But when my friend Susy got married in Woods Hole this September, Ben and I had the chance to slow down and savor this oft-overlooked little town.

We stayed at the Sands of Time Inn, which consists of an old-fashioned motor inn (the rooms have balconies overlooking the water) and a traditional harbor house with classic B&B furnishings. In the mornings, we’d stroll the seaside sidewalk into town, where we had breakfast at the Pie in the Sky bakery and cafe. With pastries the size of your head and breakfast sandwiches on Portuguese sweetbread with linguica, there was plenty to feed our post-wedding hangovers. I was happy just to sit for a while at a picnic table out front, enjoying the cool Cape Cod air and doing a crossword, watching the line expand and contract as ferries pulled in and out of the neighboring berth.

Another highlight: oysters and ocean views at the Landfall, a restaurant made famous to me by the bride. (She worked there for several consecutive summers.) Ben ordered a beer, and I got the rum runner — which came served in a pint glass. The waitress set it down and, with a certain amount of pride in her voice, described as “probably the most alcoholic drink we have.”

If you’re wondering why they call it “Woods Hole,” it’s so called because the tidal pond in the center of town — Eel Pond — was once entirely surrounded by woods. And, being round, it kind of looks like a hole. Hence… Woods Hole.

My only regret is that I did not try the tacos at Quick’s Hole. When Ben returned to Woods Hole for some saltwater fishing, he texted me an envy-inducing photo of their delicious fish taco.

However, we had plenty to keep us busy in not-so-sleepy Woods Hole and the environs, including a late night at Grumpy’s, a friendly local dive with live music, pool, and — my favorite — air hockey. And on our way out of town, we strolled around the prosperous shops of Falmouth before antiquing our way off the Cape. When you’re not rushing to catch a ferry, it turns out that there’s no need to hurry.

A Scenic Drive Around Cape Ann

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.

Halibut Point is a great place for a quick stroll.

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!