Yankee pedaler: Salem seems more bewitching by bike, and Newport’s ghosts are more lively from the road – Salem, Massachusetts; Newport, Rhode Island; New England bicycle tours

Richard D. Rothschild

Salem seems more bewitching by bike, and Newport’s ghosts are more lively from the road.

Within moments of lowering your bike from the car, you are riding along the banks of the lazy Connecticut River under a pine-scented canopy. The route is a loop-a 23-mile circle of sorts and takes two and a half hours to complete. Back at the car you catch your breath en route to the next stop, this time to pedal past Marble House, The Breakers, and Newport’s other palatial “cottages.”

The New England Coast beckons. The interstate highways allow you to cover ground quickly to places where you can bike leisurely … along a restful riverside, beside the roaring sea, a soft sandy beach, or next to a glittering boat-filled harbor, framed by a white clapboard village steeped in history.

Connecticut River Ramble

Essex, Connecticut, perched above the mouth of the Connecticut River at its opening to Long Island Sound, has been home to sailors since the 1600s. Today’s sailors embark from the Corinthian and Essex Yacht clubs, or public boat launching and docking facilities.

Starting at the Valley Railroad Station, you cycle past stately early Colonial, Federal, Greek Revival, Italianate, and Victorian homes, then hug the Connecticut River heading north through hardwood and evergreen forests, catching glimpses of the river beyond hillside houses with lawns sloping to water’s edge.

The road bends inland around a wetlands with tall grey-green marsh grasses sheltering water birds. Crossing the river at Haddam, you may catch sight of an old excursion boat-as it plies its way from Deep River. On the far shore is the 1876 four-story gingerbread Goodspeed Opera House, where Broadway shows and revivals of Gershwin, Rodgers & Hart and-Cole Porter musicals fill a lively season from April to December. After a rigorous uphill climb you head downstream to Gillette Castle, the 42-room medieval Rhenish citadel built by turn of the century actor-playwright William Gillette. Then you swoop down into the Haldayne Ferry Historic District to recross the river by ferry. Ferry boats have been operating here for more than 200 years. The return route takes you through the rural villages of Chester and Deep River, past the Old Stone House (now a museum), to the starting point at the Valley Railroad.

The 23-mile ride can be shortened six miles by taking the nostalgic steam train from Essex to Deep River and back. If the train is crowded, however, you may not be allowed to take your bike aboard.

The Mansions and Mystique

of Newport

Newport, Rhode Island, today host to sailors, sightseers, and music buffs, has been a haven for disparate groups since 1639. Founded by Roger Williams’ followers who settled here to escape Massachusetts’ religious intolerance, it soon became home to the first New World Quakers and 15 Jewish families from Holland. After the Civil War, Astors, Belmonts, Vanderbilts, and Auchinclosses made it their summer playground, building huge stone palaces and marble chateaux.

In these summer “cottages,” they staged lavish-even outrageous-entertainments. One such, the “Dog’s Dinner,” co-hosted by Mrs. Stuyvesant Fish and Elisabeth Drexel Lehr, was a party for 100 dogs and owners. The guest list was based on the pedigrees of owners, not the pooches.

Beginning on broad, tree-lined Bellevue Avenue, we ride past the quaint Newport Casino, home of the International Tennis Hall of Fame and Tennis Museum, with superb grass tennis courts that can be rented for play.

Gliding by Kingscote, an 1839 Victorian cottage with Tiffany glass windows and lovely paintings, porcelains, and furnishings, we approach The Elms. Coal Baron Edward Julius Berwind had it designed after the lovely 18th Century Chateau D’Asniers near Paris. Soon Chateau-Sur-Mer comes into view. This extravagant 1852 Victorian mansion was built for William Wetmore, who amassed a fortune in the China trade.

A short detour on this level ride brings us to Newport’s most elaborate summer home, The Breakers. Designed in 1895 by architect Richard Morris Hunt for Cornelius Vanderbilt, it retains the original furnishings. The largest private ballroom in Newport, however, belongs to Rosecliff, which Stanford White designed after Marie Antoinette’s Grand Trianon at Versailles.

William Vanderbilt’s Marble House, further along Bellevue Avenue, also has elements modeled after Versailles. Beyond it is Belcourt Castle, which Richard Morris Hunt created in the style of Louis XIII’s palace, for Oliver Belmont and his wife.

If you find it hard to visualize the social life in these American palaces, visit the Astors’ Beachwood, where actors portray servants and high society guests during the gilded age.

At the end of the Avenue, at a turnaround, a small footpath serves both as the public entrance to Bailey’s Beach and access to the thiee-mile Cliff Walk, which offers breathtaking vistas at the ocean’s edge (no bikes allowed).

Riding downhill, we soon reach a fine. grey sand crescent around an exquisite bay. A line of rounded rocks provides a natural breakwater, while nearby individual boulders within the bay beckon sunbathers. This is Gooseberry Beach, the perfect spot for a swim. Cyclists may park their bikes for a dollar. Lockers are two dollars. Gooseberry even sports a casino and bathhouses.

Further out, at King’s Beach, seabirds and fishermen share grey-green rocks fringed with iodine-tinted seaweed. Brandon Point State Park offers sweeping views of Gooseberry Island, the Block Island Sound, Point Judith, Narragansett, and Jamestown-and clean rest rooms.

Past the Coast Guard Station and venerable Oceancliff Hotel, handsome brown cattle grazing on well-tended fields signal our arrival at Hammersmith Farm, begun in 1640. The tall shingled 28-room Victorian “summer cottage” John Auchincloss built in 1887 is now open to visitors. It was here that John and Jackie Kennedy held their wedding reception. The couple returned during summers even after Kennedy became president. A short ride through old Newport Harbor brings us back to the starting point.

The 11-mile near-level loop will probably take you less than an hour and a half of pedal pushing, but with stops to visit mansions and the beach you can easily spend a fascinating day.

The Cape Ann Loop

Few areas along the New England Coast offer Cape Ann’s appealing combination of scenery, superb beaches, boating, bird watching, fishing, historic towns, art, theater, and good dining.

You’ll get a great view of Gloucester, Massachusetts’ bustling fishing port from Gus Foote Park on the waterfront, and, with luck, glimpse a commercial fishing trawler unloading its briny catch. Riding east on Rogers Street into the Harbor Loop you’ll come to a granite building dated 1849. It was the home of the renowned marine artist, Fitz Hugh Lane. The building, which later served as a prison, is jokingly known as The Old Stone Jug. If you’d like to see some of Lane’s dramatic seascapes, you will find the foremost collection of his work at the Cape Ann Historical Association Museum, a few blocks up the hill, on Pleasant Street.

On the way to Eastern Point, ride out to Rocky Neck, the oldest working artists colony in America. Park your bike and wander the narrow streets lined with tiny shops, cafes, and galleries showing the works of local artists.

On Eastern Point Boulevard, past Niles Beach, you will reach Beauport, the arts and crafts style house built in 1907 by the talented interior designer, Henry Davis Sleeper. Over the ensuing 27 years, with the help of Halfdon Hanson, a Gloucester architect, Sleeper enlarged it from 26 to 40 rooms. In each room the designer created a masterful composition of furniture and art objects. Twenty-five of the rooms can be seen by visitors.

At the tip of Eastern point, you are likely to see an artist painting the picturesque lighthouse, a favorite subject for generations. Children, fishermen, and adventurers climb out on the huge rocks of the breakwater that stretches a half mile across the mouth of the harbor.

Returning to Atlantic Road, you head for Rockport, passing beaches and rolling, grassy bluffs.

Just beyond Good Harbor Beach, Thatcher Island hovers into view with its tall twin lighthouses. You cross into Rockport township, zipping along inland of Long Beach, Cape Hedge Beach, and Pebbly Beach, and then hug the high shorelands past Land’s End, Emerson Point, Loblolly Cove, and Paradise Cliffs. Another shoreline detour takes you by peaceful Gap Cove and Garden Beach, down into Rockport Harbor with its great granite bulkheads and quaint old painted and weathered buildings.

Walk out on the Tuna Wharf for a closer look at the lobster shacks, painted so frequently by artists that they are affectionately known as Motif #1 and Motif #2.

On the far side of the harbor, the narrow peninsula, crowded with small art and craft galleries, shops, and cafes, is known as Bearskin Neck.

Just up the hill on Main Street, the Rockport Art Association sponsors changing exhibits of paintings, sculpture, and graphics by 250 artist members, as well as concerts, lectures, and art demonstrations.

Leaving Rockport, climb Landmark Lane for a panoramic view of this charming fishing village and its dramatic coastline.

A mile or so further at the northern tip of Cape Ann, you’ll reach Halibut Point, a 66-acre coastal park with walking trails through woods and along a sloping rocky shore. Halibut Point’s piece de resistance is a huge, water-filled granite quarry. The water’s black mirror-like surface provides unforgettable reflections of clouds, trees, and the granite walls.

Leaving Halibut Point, you will round steep, dramatic Folly Cove, a favorite haunt of scuba divers. Then it’s on to Lanesville, a tiny Victorian village, sleepily oblivious to the passing of time. The road passes through Bayview and descends to a white church. To the right, bordering a pretty inlet, is the village of Annisquam. Past a footbridge across the inlet, behind The Lobster Cove Market and Marina, is a small restaurant with a deck, a great place for a snack and a view of Lobster Cove, dotted with sailboats on their moorings.

Cape Ann’s uninhabited interior is known as Dogtown. All that remains to tell us of earlier dwellers are foundations of abandoned 18th century houses. A maze of footpaths leads through Dogtown’s rolling land with low-growing vegetation. Beyond Annisquam, there is an easy entry point off Route 127. If you explore., be careful to remember your turns. It’s easy to get lost.

Down the home stretch, you descend Washington Street, past the statue of Joan of Arc on horseback and arrive at Rogers Street near your starting point.

The 26-mile Cape Ann loop takes about two and a half hours to ride, but plan to spend at least twice that time to enjoy the wonderful places along the way. If your time is limited or your legs give out, you can shorter the ride to only 11 miles by heading directly back to Gloucester from Rockport on Route 127.

Other Short Cycling

Adventures along the Way

For a complete change of scenery take your bike aboard the ferry a Newport and venture out to enchanting Block Island, a part of Rhode Is land, 13 miles out at sea (ferries also `run from New London and Poin Judith). Clustered around Block Is land’s Old Harbor are wonderful Victorian hotels and simple restaurant serving delicious seafood. Few cars short distances, and interesting scenery make it ideal to explore by bike North of town is lovely Crescent Beach and the Clayhead Nature Trail along red clay oceanside cliffs. Further north, past Settlers Rock, the 1867 granite North Light dominate the Block Island National Wildlife Refuge. Other places to visit are New Harbor on Great Salt Pond; Rodman’s Hollow, a forested glacial ravine that leads to the sea; and Mohegan Bluffs 150 feet above the sea, with its 187 brick and gingerbread Southeast Lighthouse. Cycling Block Island is like entering a charming diorama with hills dotted with dark green sponge bushes, fields of green-yellow flocking, blue glass ponds, and tiny weathered shingle houses.

Marblehead, Massachusetts, is little-changed 17th century fishing village. Its beautiful big harbor fille with sailboats supports its claim a “Yachting Capital of the World.” Narrow streets and scarce parking can make sightseeing by car a nightmare. By bike, however, it can be a delight. Highlights include a visit to the Old North Church, the yellow and white Old Town Hall, and the Jeremiah Lee Mansion, a handsome 1768 Georgian home where both Lafayette and Washington were entertained. You’ll want to see the famous painting, “The Spirit of ’76,” commissioned for the 1876 centennial, which hangs in Abbot Hall, Marblehead’s highest structure. To get a fine view of the old town, the harbor, and a newer residential area, ride out past Deveraux Beach, around Marblehead Neck. Stop at the Audubon Bird Sanctuary and Chandler Hovey Park. From the Marblehead Light at the entrance to the harbor, you can see hundreds of boats at anchor and under sail.

Salem is more bewitching by bike. The distance between attractions makes cycling preferable to walking or traveling by broomstick. Save time to visit the John Ward, Crowningshield-Bentley, and Gardiner-Pingree Houses on the grounds of the Essex Institute. The PierceNichols House, Cotting Smith House, and Ropes Mansion are also worth a ride by.

Why not devise your own bike rides, wherever you plan your next vacation? Planning them can be fun. Bike trip books and travel guides are at your library and bookstore. State travel or tourism offices will send you maps and brochures, and local chambers of commerce may provide additional useful information. When you get to your chosen location, stop in at the local tourist bureau. And, don’t forget, you can probably pick up some good tips from your innkeeper, and from other bikers you meet along the way.

COPYRIGHT 1991 Saturday Evening Post Society

COPYRIGHT 2004 Gale Group

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