Ullswater – Messing around in boats in the Lake District

Sailing at Ullswater

Sailing on Ullswater

“There is nothing – absolutely nothing- half so much worth doing as simply messing about in boats. Simply messing.”  Kenneth Grahame in The Wind in the Willows.

Messing around in boats is one of life’s great joys, so I’m told. Sailing is the latest passion in my family – we’ve even bought a small boat.

I’ve never tried sailing before so imagine my shock to find myself clambering aboard our new boat this weekend at Ullswater in the Lake District.

Tripos had arrived from Wales after a five-hour road trip.

I’ve never been too sure about boats but my partner Tony has become obsessed with sailing over the last year. But will I catch the bug too and prove to be a competent crew member?

Sailing along

Tripos yacht

Tripos unleashed

Tripos is a 17 feet long yawl, a type of dinghy, built in a traditional style that reminds me of a Dutch yacht without a cabin.

It looks really pretty with its deep blue body, wooden masts and billowing, cream sails.

The excitement was huge as Tripos was unveiled on Ullswater’s lakeside.

The Glenridding Sailing Centre is a great place to sail a new boat. It runs classes for beginners and everyone is friendly and full of practical suggestions and advice.

Glenridding Sailing Club

Glenridding Sailing Centre

Early on, they’d twigged that I was a sailing virgin. Perhaps it was my lack of aptitude with the knots or my borrowed life jacket that gave the game away? And the look of pure fear in my eyes!

Tony had spent weeks reading up about the boat and getting up to speed on sailing techniques, having passed his dinghy and crew courses only a few months earlier.

We had all the books and theory but not much actual experience of sailing a boat this size.

We’d also watched all the classic disaster sailing movies – All Is Lost, Dead Calm and The Perfect Storm. Essential for Hollywood’s top tips on what to do when things go wrong on deck.

Sailing boat at Ullswater

Launching a boat on Ullswater

The idea was to start ‘sailing trials’ on what we hoped would be an easy stretch of water – Ullswater in the English Lakes.

But would it be a case of plain sailing or being all at sea?

Plain sailing?

As a land lover, I’ve always been uneasy on water, perhaps because of my fear of the sea. Worse still, I can’t swim which makes me feel very exposed.

Constantly, I have to remind myself that the only thing that lies between the waves and death by drowning is my buoyancy aid!

Launching Tripos on Ullswater

Launching Tripos on Ullswater

So Tony was sent out on his own on the boat’s maiden voyage.  “I know all the theory, it’s just the practice I need,” he proclaimed rather ominously as he launched the boat.

I blame Arthur Ransome’s Swallows and Amazons books which Tony read as a child. These days he’s more likely to be spotted reading Sailing and Watercraft Monthly.

All was going well with the launch but soon Tony got stuck in shallow waters by the jetty. Fortunately for him, the sailing club’s  rescue boat was on hand to set him on a straight course.

I confined myself to taking photos from the shore and talking to the master mariners on the lakeside who were keen to observe our new boat – a Swallow Boats Bayraider 17.

Launching Tripos on Ullswater

Tripos gets a helping rescue boat alongside

Putting the sails up looked slightly clumsy but soon Tony was sailing into the wind around the small island in the centre of the lake.

There was no stopping him – well, until he drifted slightly off course. His return to the jetty wasn’t too disastrous but lacked a little finesse.

I hadn’t intended to get into the boat till he’d become more accustomed to her pace and the technical stuff.

But Tony was adamant that it would be plain sailing now that he’d grasped the basics of the boat.

So it was with some surprise that I found myself taking to the water. But midway through the trip, it became clear that I wouldn’t be a passenger. I was expected to do some of the hard work on board.

Launching Tripos on Ullswater

Hoisting the sails

Relaxing ride

The weather couldn’t have been better – a sunny, clear day with only a little breeze to push us along at a gentle pace. The lake was – to my great relief – as flat as a pancake.

After a bit of a scare putting up the main sail when I nearly got decapitated by a falling boom, we were off up the lake to explore its islands and bays.

So far so good. It was really great sailing along at a relaxing pace. I felt at one with nature and the scenery. A cormorant whizzed by and a buzzard hovered above on the thermals.

Launching Tripos on Ullswater

Great views of the Lake District  hills

I was learning the sailing lingo too - there’s the jib, main and mizzen sails plus something called ‘the halyard’ which sounds like a character from Harry Potter.

I even had a go on the tiller and didn’t manage to crash into any other boats. This was fun despite a few glitches with the rudder and sails. Everything kept on get twisted – it was clear we needed better on board housekeeping.

Back on the quayside, after a third trip without any incidents, we congratulated ourselves on our improved sailing technique.

This sailing malarkey was better than I’d thought.

Stormy weather

Ullswater

Dark clouds descend on Ullswater

Next day, the weather looked ominously dark and cloudy over the lake with only a few gusts of wind.

We figured that it mightn’t be ideal sailing weather but decided to head off anyway.

After a smooth launch, we headed up to Norfolk Island in the centre of Lake Ullswater but it soon became clear that not all was well.

The centreboard had become stuck. A loose string has become wedged in, looking it up and reducing the boat’s ability to sail and keep in line.

Ullswater paddle steamer

Watch out for the Ullswater paddle steamer

Despite repeated attempts to dislodge it, it wouldn’t budge. We were stranded in the middle of the lake with the Ullswater Paddle Steamer heading straight towards us.

You learn quickly when you’re a beginner. You’ve got to keep calm and think straight. So down came the sails to stop the boat being pushed into the path of the steamer. Collision averted!

But then we were stuck, bobbing around, stranded 600 metres from the jetty.

Panic stations

I was starting to realise that this sailing adventure had turned from an adventure into a near-emergency.

With no outboard motor, we had only one choice – to row to the shore. Tony took out the borrowed oars and manfully rowed us towards the jetty.

Tony rowing on Ullswater

Tony rows for the shoreline

But the wind had started to blow a hooley and it was getting harder and harder to row against its force.

Feelings of elation had changed into frustration and fears that we were going to have to wave to the rescue boat.

Lesson number two – buy yourself an onboard motor for £550 in case of this type of emergency.

Finally, we made it back on shore feeling exhausted.

Shoreline Ullswater

Back on the shore at the sailing club

But how to fix the boat? Experts were on hand to suggest how to get the centreboard unstuck. We tried everything from a long pole to a sledgehammer and power drill.

Eventually, Tony and his new sailing chum managed to unscrew the unit and get the centreboard untangled.

Lesson number three – always check that the boat’s centreboard isn’t stuck before you leave the safe waters of the yacht club!

Stuck in the middle

Fixing the boat on Ullswater

Fixing the boat on Ullswater

Undeterred, we decided to head back out onto the lake. A helpful sailing man advised us to stick with the jib and mizzen sails but leave the main sail down till we got into the centre of the lake.

At first, this seemed like good advice as the boat sailed along quite gently but when we attempted to put up the main sail, we were hit by a sudden, large gust of wind.

The yard (the big stick at the top of the boat) came tumbling down, I caught it before it went overboard and the boat tilted wildly over to one side.

Still, we didn’t end up in the water but my heart was beating faster and faster. The gentle experience of sailing had turned stressful.

Although we weren’t in any physical danger, it felt scary and out of control.

We limped back to the shore with unpredictable, ever-changing winds buffeting us around.

Trying to manoeuvre in any direction was really hard as the wind kept dropping and shifting. Tony was looking uneasy which didn’t help my frayed nerves.

It took what seemed like an age to get near the jetty – and eventually Tony had to resort to using the oars to get us back in successfully.

Fixing the boat on Ullswater

Back on dry land

Phew – was I glad to be back on dry land!

So much for supping champagne on board during the maiden launch. That pleasure will have to wait till we know what we’re doing on board.

But I have discovered sailing in weird weather conditions, the different types of boats and the basics of what’s what on our dinghy.  It has been a steep learning curve.

Sail power

Sail power

Sailing tales

As we moored the boat, an old sailor regaled me with his Ullswater ‘disaster’ stories. There was the crew who – earlier this week – took their mast off in the trees trying to moor their yacht by a quiet bay.

Then there was the capsized boat which pulled its expert sailor underneath and tangled him up in its loose ropes. He only escaped because he had a penknife.

Lesson four – always carry a Swiss army knife close to your person.

He also suggested doing the intermediate crew course which covers falling overboard, emergencies and sailing in tricky conditions.

Fixing the boat on Ullswater

Be prepared before you depart

By now, I was feeling a bit like a nervous wreck. But at least there are no sharks in Ullswater – it is, however, renowned for its tricky wind conditions.

“Experts say if you can sail on Ullswater, you can sail anywhere”, a seasoned sailor told me as I took off my life jacket.

Mucking around in boats is great fun but you need to have your wits about you. And where is Sir Ben Ainslie when you need an expert pair of helping hands?

Whilst this sailing thing is exciting, next time I go out on the water, I’ll be taking a few more precautions – a pen knife, a remote radio and an outboard motor!

Rather like this dog wearing a special canine buoyancy aid, a man’s best friend is his – or her – life jacket.

Dog with life jacket at Ullswater

Dog with life jacket at Ullswater

Tammy’s travel and sailing tips – Ullswater

Ullswater is located in the northern Lake District in the north-west of England.

The Glenridding Sailing Centre is located in Glenridding village. The club runs classes and courses for all abilities and age groups. You can also hire a canoe, kayak or small dinghy. It’s a very friendly club with lots of great experts who can help.

Always wear a life jacket or buoyancy aid.  Dogs on board also need one.

Listen to the experts (not me) and tap into their wealth of experience. Learn the art of sailing - don’t plunge straight in.

Clouds at Ullswater

Check the weather

Do your homework when going out on the water. Read the weather conditions carefully, take a compass and try to judge the wind direction accurately.

Don’t go beyond your limits. Ask for help before you leave or call for the rescue crew if you get into trouble on the water.

Read Tammy’s earlier blog about getting started with a sailing boat.

For those who don’t want the challenges of sailing their own boat, try a trip on the leisurely Ullswater steamer from Howtown to Glenridding.

Ullswater Steamer

Ullswater Steamer

There are plenty of places to stay overnight in Glenridding from large hotels like the Best Western and the Inn on the Lake to smaller B & Bs or camp sites.

Zuiderzee – Holland’s best open air attraction

Zuiderzee Museum

Zuiderzee open air museum

If you’re looking for a trip back in time, Enkhuizen is the best place in Holland to experience life in bygone days.

The star attraction is the exceptional Zuiderzee Museum which recreates life in the region before the Afsluitdijk Dam was built in 1932.

The museum revives the stories of people who once lived on the shores of the Zuiderzee with an impressive collection of authentic buildings from the local area.

There’s a church, windmill, fish-curing shed, boatyard, shops and traditional houses from the area’s old fishing villages.

It’s a brilliant place to stroll back in time along the town canal and harbour, soaking up 200 years of history and culture.

Watch Tammy’s video tour of the Zuiderzee open air museum in Enkhuizen.

Walking back through time

The story of Zuiderzee is the story of a community trying to preserve its history and culture for future generations.

But this is no museum preserved in cotton wool – it is a living, breathing place with plenty of activities going on and lots of opportunities for visitors to interact with the exhibits.

Zuiderzee Museum

Recreating a community

For centuries the Zuiderzee people fought to hold back the water for centuries. They lived on the edge of a perilous watery landscape in northern Holland.

The area had a long history of floods and destruction but damaging storms and floods in 1916 were the final straw. Dozens of dykes burst, 16 people were killed and the damage across the region was huge.

There was no other choice but to close off the Zuiderzee for once and for all to protect against future flooding.

Zuiderzee Museum

The Zuiderzee today

The IJsselmeer Barrier Dam was built in 1932.  This effectively cut off the area from the North Sea and transformed its landscape. It became an inland sea – and the salt water of the harbour became freshwater.

Local people were concerned that the culture of the former Zuiderzee region would also be swept away. So the brilliant idea of an outdoor museum to recreate the culture of  the Zuiderzee took shape.

The museum village was built in the IJsselmeer, on the outside of the seawall separating Enkhuizen from the water on its east side. A peninsula was created by spraying up sand from the seabed.

Over time 130 buildings being moved to the Zuiderzee Museum site between 1969-1983. The early buildings were torn down at their original locations and reassembled brick by brick.

Zuiderzee Museum

Brick by brick reconstruction at Zuiderzee

But this was so time-consuming that the museum’s carpenters came up with a better system which involved bringing complete sections of buildings to the site in wooden and steel crates.

Some buildings, like the cheese warehouse, were even transported in their complete form.

Today you can see dozens of these heritage buildings reassembled in the form of a small town, fishing village, harbour and polder.

Zuiderzee Museum windmill

Windmill at Zuiderzee Museum

Meet the ancestors

A trip to Zuiderzee is definitely a case of ‘meet the ancestors’. The ghosts of the past have been reawakened but given a modern twist with the help of modern costumed characters.

The whole experience benefits from brilliant storytelling and fun activities strung across the expansive site.

Zuiderzee Museum

The harbour is brimming with activities

I loved watching the costumed craftspeople in the harbour mending nets, producing rope, preparing fish from their catch or working in the herring smokehouse.

I could have watched them for hours.

Nearby, the basket makers were weaving and plying their trade. I never thought I’d say this but basket making is fascinating.

The intricate craft skills have been lost in some many areas of life today. Watching these experts making beautiful baskets made me yearn for a time when people learned skills and crafts.

Basket weaving at Zuiderzee Museum

Basket weavers

There’s a whole range of traditional crafts from blacksmiths to sail makers and cobblers. Pick your trade!

Sometimes open air museums with costumed staff can feel like they’re trying too hard with ‘actors’ dressing up simply for effect.

But here at Zuiderzee, there’s a real sense of time and place. It’s like stepping back into a community before the dam was built. You feel a real sense of engagement with what’s going on. I also loved the fact that not everybody was dressed up.

At one point I watched for half an hour as simple folk were hanging out washing and going about their daily chores wearing traditional clogs.

Washing day at Zuiderzee Museum

Washing day

Scent of Times trail

Not only can you walk back  in time along Zuiderzee’s streets of reconstructed houses, shops and community buildings, you can follow your nose back to the 19th Century – literally.

The Scent of the Times trail is designed to evoke memories of bygone days. You can take in smells of the past at 20 different locations, from a burning paraffin stove to the pungent aroma of smoked fish hanging to dry.

Smoked fish at Zuiderzee Museum

Smell those smokies!

There’s even a Scent Station where your nose can be aroused by olfactory stimuli from the past and present.

This modern installation offers something different for each generation to sniff, a bit like a giant ‘scratch ‘n sniff’ card.

It’s a clever and  fun idea even if the smell of the fish was overpowering. But the whiff of beeswax and expensive perfume restored my sense of  well-being after the fishy odours!

Shopping in bygone times

Zuiderzee Museum

Chemist shop

One of the most enjoyable aspects of the Zuiderzee Museum is being able to walk inside the old buildings and shops.

Pop inside the chemists and you’ll see a perfectly re-imagined pharmacy counter with its multi-coloured pills and potions.

At the back of the shop you’ll be surprised by a collection of historic heads which were once used as signs outside chemist shops in northern Holland.

These weird heads are reminiscent of ship’s figureheads or grotesque gargoyles. Perhaps they were designed to ward off evil spirits and laugh in the face of ailments and ill-health?

Zuiderzee Museum

Chemist shop heads

This fascination with heads continues over at the old toy shop with its fine collection of pre-computer generation toys.

Another large head, this time with a top hat, is prominent on the glass display cabinet at the front of the shop.

Behind it, a series of hand-made toys, funny hats and animal heads complete the surreal display. It’s a far cry from today’s computer games for children.

Zuiderzee Museum

Cabinet of toy curiosities – Zuiderzee Museum

Stories from Zuiderzee’s shores

The Zuiderzee Museum is fascinating and it’s easy to lose yourself for several hours. I lost track of the time so badly that I realised that I had only 20 minutes to run around the indoor museum.

Zuiderzee Museum indoors

Indoor museum at Zuiderzee

Inside the museum  there are fascinating displays of everyday objects from the Zuiderzee. The Netherlands in Seven Floods – The Zuiderzee enables visitors to relive the great storm of 1916 which had such a major impact on the region.

The museum’s highlight is undoubtedly the collection of wooden ships, the largest in the Netherlands.

There are interesting heritage collections including these intriguing Dutch caps, reminiscent of the costumes worn in paintings by so many Old Masters.

Zuiderzee Museum

Dutch caps

Don’t miss the  Journey around the Zuiderzee displays which present stories of life in villages around the former Zuiderzee.

At the end of the trip I felt a real sense of Zuiderzee’s history. Bringing history alive to a modern audience is a tricky balancing act.

But Zuiderzee succeeds in being fun as well as historically interesting. It’s all down to some great storytelling which took me on a journey through time.

This is one journey you shouldn’t miss.

Tammy’s top travel tips – Enkhuizen

Zuiderzee Museum

Zuiderzee Museum

Allow yourself the best part of a day for a visit to the outdoor and indoor museum. Leave enough time because there’s a lot of ground to cover. Watch Tammy’s video of the museum trip.

If driving, park up in the station car park in the town centre and head to the ferry pier.  The museum ferry will take you across the IJsselmeer to the Outdoor Museum in a short but interesting ride.

There is very limited car parking close to the museum site. We parked our camper van in the marina car park (parking tickets can be bought in the sailing shop).

Grab a map of the museum site at the entrance so you can plan your visit effectively. Look out for kids’ activities if you’re taking the family.

Zuiderzee Museum

Zuiderzee Museum

Enkhuisen is a pleasant town so leave enough time to explore its centre and perhaps stay overnight.

If you’re in a motorhome or camper van, there’s a parking area overlooking the town’s main harbour where you can stay overnight for a few Euros.

Wake up to interesting views over the harbour front and dream about having your own boat!

Zuiderzee Museum

View from the camper van parking area

Malevich – Back to Black at Tate Modern

Malevich Black Square

Malevich’s elusive Black Square

Black is my favourite colour this summer. Why? It’s all because Malevich’s iconic and elusive Black Square is on display at the Tate Modern in London.

I’m not often stopped in my tracks by an art work but this superb painting demonstrates why black is never out of fashion. And it shows why Malevich is such an important modern artist and creative genius.

You may think I’m making an awful lot of fuss about a plain black square with a white border.

But you have to cast your mind back to when this remarkable, abstract painting was created.

Malevich conceived the original Black Square in 1913 on the brink of the outbreak of World War One. His home country, Russia, was facing revolution, unrest and turmoil.

A revolution in art

For me it’s a revolution in art. For 1915, it was stark, powerful and uncompromising. Today it still packs a punch. Standing in front of the painting is like gazing into the dark void.

Malevich painted the Black Square in what he called a state of “ecstatic frenzy”.  For him it was a return to ‘year zero’, a reinvention of painting. It still has the power to shock even today.

Malevich Self Portrait

Malevich Self Portrait

This version in the Tate dates from 1923 when Malevich repainted the original painting which had started to crack and deteriorate. The original version is now too fragile to travel. A second version from 1929 also features in the show.

It’s amazing to think that both works have spent long periods out of the public’s gaze. During the Stalin years, abstraction was considered too radical and the painting was consigned to the museum vaults.

The Black Square wasn’t exhibited again until the 1980s but the work cast a long shadow over the modern art world like a mythical presence.

It took on great symbolic meaning. When Malevich died in 1935, his mourners formed a procession, bearing flags adorned with simple black squares.

But the Tate exhibition isn’t just about this one iconic painting. There’s much more to admire in the show from Malevich’s early expressive, colour paintings (including his dramatic Self Portrait) to his famous geometric, grid works.

Walking a fine line

Malevich

Suprematism – abstract geometrics – 1917

Malevich is perhaps best known for his geometric works made up of lines and blocks of vibrant colour. He gave the name ‘suprematism’  to these paintings which he saw as an extension of Cubism and Futurism.

Shapes, lines and spaces jostle to get the upper hand in these striking abstract works which remind me of Dutch artist Mondrian – with added va-va-voom.

The Tate show also tries to recreate Malevich’s “The Last Exhibition of Futurist Painting 0.10″ which caused a sensation in 1915. Nine out of the 12 paintings still traceable today are featured in a riotous mix of colours, cubes and shapes.

No prizes for guessing that Malevich placed the Black Square in the top corner of the original show, like a Russian Orthodox icon.

How Malevich made these visionary works at a time of war, food shortages and conflict is really hard to imagine.

Experiments in art

malevich_suprematist

Malevich’s suprematist work

As the war drew to a close, it’s interesting to see how Malevich’s uncompromising vision failed to waver in the face of turmoil in Russia.

But what did fade was his passion for painting.

Not long after the war ended, he abandoned painting. He signed off with another ground breaking work, a plain white cross against a softer white background.

It’s one of my favourites in the show.

Malevich wrote that “painting died like the old regime because it was an organic part of it”.

Instead he turned to architecture as the way of transforming everyday life.

Looking at the models of his futuristic buildings  – many of which never got built – it’s clear that he was light years ahead in his vision.

But there’s a sadness that hangs over his later years when Malevich was largely confined to teaching art students because he was struggling to make a living.

His own art was sidelined by the anti avant-garde stance of the ruling Stalinist regime. It hated abstract art which was dubbed ‘elitist’.

In spite of the oppressive regime, it’s great to see that Malevich did bounce back. He returned to painting around 1929, creating works which mixed abstraction and figurative art.

I like his colourful rural scenes and  images of peasants with their geometric, blank faces staring out at us, conveying a sense of isolation and alienation.

These works are extremely powerful. This was a period of famine and collectivism as well as brutal repression. A poignancy hangs over these large-scale paintings as you wonder about the real life stories behind the blank faces.

Malevich

Mannequin-like peasant by Kasimir Malevish

In his final years, Malevich explored a variety of figurative styles, some of which are less to my liking.

But you can never accuse him of being dull – and every work has an intriguing style, some portraits echoing Renaissance art with their rich, bejewelled colours.

At this point in the show you can always whisk back to the rooms exploring other aspects of Malevich’s earlier creative life including his dalliances with performance art, poetry and opera.

Beyond reason

Wherever you look, there’s an intriguing story about the artist’s life and career. My personal favourite is Malevich’s collaboration with the musician Mikhail Matyushin and the poet Aleksei Kruchenyhk on a manifesto calling for the dissolution of language.

Malevich Black Square

Malevich’s Black Square

They proposed the rejection of rational thought in favour of ‘zaum’, a new language of sounds beyond reason and meaning!

There’s something very Dadaist about this collaboration.

And there’s more than a hint of surrealism in Malevich’s Knave of Diamonds period when the artist wore a wooden spoon in his button-hole, declaring a renunciation of reason.

But it’s his geometric shapes that are the real show stoppers in the Tate exhibition.

Having seen this stunning show, I’m a convert to the simplicity and power of Malevich’s blocks of colour and geometric style.

But his best work remains his Black Square.  There’s something primal and powerful about this iconic painting.

Malevich will forever be renowned as the king of the minimalist black square. Long live black!

Tammy’s cultural guide – Malevich

Malevich

Malevich poster

Malevich: Revolutionary of Russian Art is at the Tate Modern in London between 16 July-26 October 2014. There’s an admission fee.  The exhibition is open daily and till late on Fridays and Saturdays.

Look out for talks and special events throughout the exhibition’s season. The exhibition itself brings together paintings, sculptures, theatre and large collection of Malevich’s drawings.

Photos are courtesy of Tate Modern, Stedelijk Museum – Amsterdam, Khardzhiev Collection, Tretyakov Gallery Moscow and the Costakis Collection.

Acadia National Park – Maine’s spectacular scenery

 

Acadia

Go wild in Acadia

Acadia National Park is one of those awesome places that crams a lot of stunning scenery into a relatively small space.

This beautiful park has everything from mountains and gentle hills to a rocky coastline and an archipelago of islands.

I was lucky enough to visit the park this summer but was surprised by the lack of British and European travellers. Most Brits tend to head to Boston and south to Cape Cod or inland to New Hampshire.

Perhaps it’s simply a question of discovering Acadia’s wilderness which is a huge hit with Americans.

So if you’re looking for somewhere different for a Stateside vacation, why not get wise to Maine’s fabulous scenery, a few hours north of Boston.

Here’s my guide to 10 great things to do in Acadia National Park if you’re planning your itinerary.

Day one – Acadia Park Loop Road Scenic Drive

Acadia

Thunder Hole – spurting water

The Loop Road is one of the most beautiful drives in any North American National Park. It’s also a great reconnaissance trip for your first day.

The Acadia Loop Drive is a 27 mile circular route which twists and winds through the eastern park’s various habitats. From forests, lakes and ponds to the rugged coast, this is a must for every visitor to Mount Desert Island.

There are several ways of doing the trip. You can drive the loop in your own car or take the free Island Explorer Shuttle, hopping on and off at different stops. There are also guided bus tours.

The loop road car parks tend to be very busy during summer months so the ‘jump on, jump off’ bus is a better option, although the shuttle doesn’t take the route to the top of Cadillac Mountain.

Acadia

Acadia woodland

There are numerous stop-off points including the popular Thunder Hole where visitors can take a short walk to this narrow rock crevice which booms dramatically when the waves hit it.

But remember  you’ll only see the spurting burst of spray in its full glory at mid-tide on days when the waves are restless.

Drive on, stopping off at the vertiginous Otter Cliffs, popular with rock climbers, and then pop down to the cobblestone Little Hunters Beach.

Stop for lunch at Jordan Pond House and enjoy ‘popovers’, a Maine speciality, a cross between a souffle and a scone. If you’re not too stuffed, take the circular walk around the lake and admire the rounded hills of the Bubbles in the distance.

Acadia - Eagle lake

Eagle Lake

Complete your trip via pretty Eagle Lake – saving the Cadillac Mountain drive for later – and return to the park entrance to complete the loop drive.

Day two – Cadillac Mountain hike and sunset

Acadia - Cadillac Mountain

Cadillac Mountain

Cadillac Mountain is one of the park’s most spectacular high points. At 1,530 feet in height, it’s not a giant-sized mountain but it’s a dramatic climb to the top with spectacular views across Mount Desert Island from every twist and turn.

Get up early and take the park’s free shuttle bus to start one of two hikes to the summit.

Seasoned hikers might opt for one of the longer routes starting at the Wildwood Stables. My partner Tony started from here (as I enjoyed a carriage ride), and followed a slightly sketchy path over The Triad before joining the Canon Trail and hitting the South Ridge approach to the summit.

Acadia

The Triad hike to Cadillac Mountain

Half a mile before the summit on the South Ridge Trail look for a precariously perched boulder, probably a glacial erratic that’s been there for 10,000 years or more.

Those looking for a slightly gentler climb should head for the popular North Ridge Trail, a 5.7 miles round trip which takes about 3-4 hours.

Acadia

Perched rock or erratic

Less active visitors can drive to the top of Cadillac Mountain and take in the panoramic views over the Porcupine and Cranberry Isles.

The road is dramatic with hairpin bends and sensational views as it winds its way to the summit.

Once at the peak you can take the short Summit Trail with its fragile and rugged landscape. It can be incredibly windy, as I found to my cost, so wrap up warm.

Acadia sunset Cadillac Mountain

Sunset on Cadillac Mountain

Why not save the best to last? A wonderful trip is the evening drive to the top of Cadillac Mountain at sunset when there are stunning views as the sun drops over Mount Desert Island and the Cranberry Isles.

This is also the first place where the sun sets on the east coast of the USA prompting cheers from those watching this daily spectacle from the Blue Hill Overlook on the mountain!

Day three – Bar Harbor and whale watching

Whales

Whale watching

Bar Harbor is the main town on Mount Desert Island where you can admire the boats, take a trip on the water or simply shop or relax in one of its many bars and restaurants.

This became our vacation base and I’d recommend this town to anyone staying on the island because of its proximity to attractions, transport and facilities.

Take a trip on one of its whale watching boats to see the Maine coast’s spectacular marine life, one of my favourite excursions.

There are also puffin cruises plus outdoor activities like sea kayaking and sailing. The Margaret Todd schooner makes daily trips around the bay, although the people we spoke with had mixed views about this experience.

Bar Harbor

Bar Harbor’s cruise trips

Back on dry land, take a walk across to Bar Island – which is connected to the town by a sand bar at low tide.

There are great views of Bar Harbor although I never managed to time the tides right to enjoy this impressive sight!

In the evening head to one of the town’s restaurants for fresh lobster and fries or corn on the cob, another Maine speciality.

Soak up the atmosphere on the Village Green every Monday and Thursday night when summer concerts by the town’s band provide a fun diversion.

Bar Harbor Town Band in full swing

Bar Harbor Town Band in full swing

Day four – Carriage road rides

Acadia National Park is unique with its extensive network of car-free carriage roads which cover 57 miles of countryside.

Four legs are better than four wheels when it comes to these famous carriage roads. Taking a half day trip by horse and carriage is not only relaxing, you see parts of the park not open to gas-guzzling motor cars.

The carriage roads were the brainchild of John D. Rockefeller Junior, a rich philanthropist, who was worried about the impact of the motor car on the countryside. It’s a brilliant adventure for those looking to escape their automobiles.

Carriage road - Acadia National Park

Carriage road – Acadia National Park

Start your journey at Wildwood Stables in Acadia, a well-run equestrian centre, which offers drives on board the horse-drawn carriages.

If you prefer two wheels to horse power, why not hire a bike and cycle along the carriage roads. It’s a hugely popular way of getting around Acadia National Park. Bikes can be hired in Bar Harbor – and can be taken on the shuttle buses.

Day five – Bass Harbor and lighthouse

Bass Harbor is one of the most famous lighthouses on the Maine coast guarding the entrance to Blue Hill Bay. This brilliant white structure set on a rocky mound flashes its distinctive beacon every four seconds.

Bass Harbor lighthouse

Bass Harbor lighthouse

Take the steps down to the far side of the lighthouse for the best views from the rocks but be aware that mist can descend quickly here, creating poor visibility.

On our trip, a pea-souper appeared like a huge veil, enveloping us and providing an atmospheric, if murky, experience.

After your trip, head to nearby Bass Harbor with its authentic fishing village, lobster shacks and colourful buoys. Its ferry also makes this a good jumping-off point for Swan’s Island and Frenchboro.

In the evening try the local lobster at Thurston’s in nearby Bernard, one of the best places to enjoy this Maine delicacy. There are also great views over the bay from the lobster shack.

Bass Harbor

Bass Harbor

Day six – Island hopping 

For a different perspective on Mount Desert Island, why not take a day trip to the nearby offshore islands.

Drive to Northeast Harbor, take a stroll along its upmarket high street and then catch a ferry to the Cranberry Isles from where you can hop between Great Cranberry and Isleford.

Alternatively catch the Cranberry Cove ferry shuttle between Southwest Harbor and the Cranberry Isles to discover a slower, more relaxed pace of life.

We missed out on the islands because torrential storms (a seasonal hazard at Acadia) hit the coastline for two days. But locals told us that the islands are idyllic, if you have sunny weather.

There are also boat trips to the impossibly scenic Isle Au Haut, 15 miles south-west of Mount Desert Island but this requires careful planning as it’s a hard place to get to.

Foggy Mount Desert coast

Avoid foggy days when island hopping

Day six – Sea kayaking adventure

If you’re looking for water sports, you’ve come to the right place. Mount Desert Island has great opportunities for sea kayaking and sailing.

Most trips start from Bar Harbor where you can join a group – of mixed abilities – and take a leisurely tour around Frenchman Bay.

Basic training is given, and you don’t have to be super-fit to enjoy the experience. Tony’s professional guide kept his group entertained with stories of the rich and famous who own the mansions lining the shoreline, including apparently the family behind Campbell’s soup.

Some folk prefer the quieter western shoreline where you are less likely to be swamped by the wash from a whale watching boat.

Acadia

Sea kayaking

Day seven – Nature and bird watching 

Acadia is a nature lover’s dream. One of the easiest ways of seeing the wildlife is to go on a National Park warden’s walk from Sieur de Monts Spring.

Alternatively, take a trip to The Precipice on the Park Loop Road where peregrine falcons nest in the spring and summer months.

With the help of the wardens and their telescopes, we were lucky enough to see one of these super-speedy birds of prey jetting across the skyline. What a thrill to watch this bird whizzing along at 80 mph!

Acadia - peregrines

Look out for peregrine at The Precipice

After your bird watching trip, head along to Jordan Pond House for afternoon tea and a traditional Maine ‘popover’.

There’s also a great birding walk around the lake next to the restaurant so take your binoculars and look out for warblers and waterfowl in spring and summer.

Acadia popover

Tony enjoys a steaming ‘popover’!

At dusk keep your eyes open for the island’s white-tailed deer or visit Beaver Dam Pond where you can wait patiently for beavers to come out of their lodge.

We spotted their lodge but never saw these elusive master-builders on the water. Your best bet is to go beaver watching at dawn or dusk. Beavers are nocturnal so don’t generally come out during the daytime.

Acadia deer

White-tailed deer

Day 8 – Drive back in time at Seal Cove

For a day out with a difference, drive to Seal Cove to the west of Mount Desert Island, the quieter side of Acadia National Park.

Classic car lovers are in for a treat with a surprisingly good historic collection of the brass and steam age at the Seal Cove Auto Museum.

Be dazzled by the brass and flash of Benzes, Buicks, Cadillacs and Model Ts from yesteryear in a display that is immaculately presented.

Acadia Motor Museum

Acadia Auto Museum

After your trip to the museum, drop into Pretty Marsh for a picnic amongst the woods and scramble down to the shoreline for picturesque views.

Why not combine this trip with a run out to Somesville, a small town with white clapboard houses which became the first permanent settlement on Mount Desert Island after Abraham Somes landed from Massachusetts in 1761.

We were too late for the Strawberry Festival in July and too early for the Blueberry Festival in August but its small museum provides a distraction if you’re looking for a leisurely stroll.

Tammy’s travel tips – Acadia National Park

With stunning scenery and so much to do, why not book your trip to Acadia? It’s the perfect antidote to modern, fast-paced life with its sleepy, small towns, picturesque harbours and car-free carriage roads.

Idyllic Acadia National Park has something for everyone. Just make sure you book ahead because it’s popular with New Englanders. Its hotels and camp grounds can be booked up months in advance during high season.
Acadia Bass Harbor

Bass Harbor

There are many lovely hotels on Mount Desert Island including The Bluenose Inn and Bar Harbor Inn.

I’d also recommend booking a self-catering cottage for a week. Bar Harbor Acadia Cottage Rentals provides a long list of properties catering for couples to larger family parties, designed for a variety of budgets.

We stayed in a cottage just outside Bar Harbor, managed by the rental agency, which was a brilliant base for exploring the whole of Mount Desert Island.

Our cottage was beautifully furnished with great views of the woods and sea from its attractive deck.

Self catering cottage - Acadia

Self catering cottage – Acadia

There are also holiday cottages at Ellsworth, the biggest town on the mainland, but this is an hour’s drive from Mount Desert Island.

In my view Ellsworth is in a poorer location if you want to be in the thick of the action and scenery at Acadia National Park. Remember the old saying – location, location, location.

Alternatively, why not stay in a cabin or wood cottage in the National Park? Or hire a RV and stay on one of the island’s camp grounds, but be sure to book well ahead, especially in peak season.

If you’re travelling to Acadia, I can recommend buying James Kaiser’s beautifully illustrated and well-researched travel book called Acadia – The Complete Guide.

Beadnell Bay – sailing dreams and beach bums

Beadnell Bay and beach

Beadnell Bay

Summer beaches are often overcrowded so it’s good to escape to a quieter and more relaxing sandy cove.

Beadnell Bay is one of Northumberland’s most popular small seaside towns. It’s not as dramatic as some of Northumberland’s beaches but boasts stunning views of Bamburgh Castle and the coast.

There’s just the right amount of activity going on. The sheltered horseshoe of the bay makes it popular with water sports fans. There’s everything from kite surfing, kayaking, wake boarding to sailing and dinghying.

But it was the sailing that brought us to Beadnell this week because we’re buying a boat. Don’t laugh – this may seem incredible news for someone who’s uneasy on water but it’s true. I’m still trying to get used to the idea.

Beadnell Bay and beach

Boats on Beadnell beach

My partner Tony has developed an obsession with sailing. It started many years ago on a family holiday to Cornwall but has grown into something more serious over the last 12 months.

I blame the parents. They bought him Arthur Ransome’s Swallows and Amazons as a child. Reading these books made him fall in love with sailing.

But it was a trip around Scandinavia last summer  when we stayed at marinas in our camper van which launched his bid to buy a boat.

Plans were hatched, sailing books and manuals were bought. Charts were studied. Evenings were spent studying knots and navigation.

Beadnell Bay and beach

Tony’s favourite boat spotted at Beadnell Bay

Soon Tony was booking himself onto dinghy and sailing courses, learning the craft of navigation and crewing.

A five day yachting course along the North East of England coast resulted in an official rubber stamp. Tony became a qualified sea dog or ‘competent crew’ man.

You’ll be pleased to hear that the advanced skipper and radio communications courses are coming up very soon.

So the next stage was always inevitable. Buying a boat,

For months Tony has been trawling sailing magazines, websites and eBay in search of the perfect boat, veering between a dinghy and a small yacht. After much navel gazing, he opted for a small 17 feet yacht.

Tony has also been keen to stress that “boats aren’t as expensive as you think” although he refuses to tell me the true price of the second-hand boat he’s buying.

Imagine Tony’s unparalleled joy when he spotted a yawl similar to the one he’s buying on Beadnell Beach this weekend.

Sailing away

Ketch boat

Our potential new boat – the Tripos

The Beadnell Bay boat was a beautiful sight with its wood rigging and deep blue and cream colours. How could I fail to fall in love with it?

By now I was starting to get enthused about the boat. I had visions of relaxing on board with champagne as Tony navigated around the coast on a summer’s day with barely a ripple on the water.

Then I remembered that the North East coast of England is one of the windiest places in Europe.  Could this be wetter and wilder than I’d thought? Looking out across Beadnell Bay, it looked gusty and bumpy – far from ideal conditions for champagne quaffing.

A trip to the sailing club did little to allay my fears. When I asked what would happen if Tony fell over board, I was told that I’d be expected to turn around the boat, trim a fine line and rescue him from the murky waters!

Beadnell Bay and beach

Sailing at Beadnell Bay

At this point I thought it was best not to mention the following facts: 1) I can’t swim and have a fear of deep water ; 2) I have a back problem; and 3) I have absolutely no aptitude for sailing.

Tony wasn’t bothered too much by these apparently “surmountable” problems and has embarked on teaching me the basics of sailing.

I can now tell my jib from the main and mizzen sails – and I’m being taught the terminology of sailing which means that I can talk like a salty sea dog captain. “Ahoy, me hearties – release the jib boom and shiver my timbers” is one fine example.

Getting knotted

Looking at the boats at Beadnell harbour, Tony was keen to show me the ropes – and rigging – in intricate detail.

Needless to say, I’m now learning sailing lingo like someone doing a crash course in driving (an unfortunate parallel, perhaps?).

Beadnell Bay and beach

Bounce – ready for action

But will I be ready for a watery adventure when the boat arrives in two weeks’ time? The yawl – called Tripos – is being brought up north from Wales – and its maiden voyage will be a big challenge.

In the meantime, I’ve been told to get knotted – not literally – by learning from a ‘step to step’ book explaining over 100 different knots.

Whether my granny knot will be useful isn’t clear so I’m practising my bowline, stevedore knot, sailmaker’s whipping (not the Madonna variety) and rolling hitch.

As I gazed at the boats on Beadnell beach, I wondered how I’d cope and why this sailing malarkey is so complex. After all, when the yachts are moored, they look so peaceful and uncomplicated.

Beadnell Bay and beach

Sailing – learning the art

That evening I was asked to watch Robert Redford in the sailing disaster movie ‘All Is Lost’ to help our understanding of what to do in a storm.

Tony provided a running commentary on Redford’s survival strategies – the good, the bad and the disastrous.

The film is excellent and makes for compelling viewing but I’m not sure if it made me feel any better.

Perhaps it was the sequence with the circling sharks or the moment when the yacht sank, leaving our hero battling against the elements in a lifeboat, which fuelled my unease.

I kept telling myself that the Indian Ocean and Sumatra is a thousand miles from Beadnell Bay. Tony reassured me that we’d have life jackets, GPS, ‘waterproof’ flares and an anti-capsize device on board our boat.

Skipper or beach bum?

So how will I adapt to life on the ocean waves? Perhaps I’m more of a beach bum than a sailing skipper or seaman?

But I’m prepared to give this sailing adventure a decent shot in the full knowledge that I may have to launch the boat from the beach at Beadnell and tie a few knots.

And on those choppy days, perhaps I can stay on the beach in my ‘tent’ as Tony glides along the harbour doing his best Robert Redford impersonation?

When it comes down to it, I enjoy hanging out like a beach bum at Beadnell. This place has no pretensions to be anything other than a fun spot where you can set up a deck chair in the dunes, watch the world go by or build a sand castle.

Or you can sail a boat along one of Britain’s most attractive coastlines from this picturesque spot, if the passion takes you seaward.

Beadnell Bay and beach

Beadnell harbour

On dry land

Back on dry land, you can explore Beadnell harbour with its authentic fishing boats and crab pots which line the quayside.

At low tide, it’s a treat to take a walk along the beach to look at the fleet of small yachts and boats waiting for their next sea excursion. Look out for special events and regattas at the sailing club and along the coast.

Perhaps I can learn a few sailing tips from the experts?

 

Beadnell Bay and beach

Crab pots on the quayside

Beadnell has another claim to fame – it’s the only west facing harbour on the east coast. It’s a colourful place where you’ll see traditional Northumberland cobles, a type of fishing boat, heading out to fish for wild salmon, crabs and sea trout.

Further along the quayside, take a walk along to the impressive and distinctive lime kilns. These 18th Century stone structures were used for burning limestone to make lime until the late 1820s.

Although in need of a makeover, the lime kilns are interesting remnants of Beadnell’s traditional industries.

Just beyond the kilns there are great views up the coast where, I’m told, you can watch the sunset in its full glory.  Tony tells me that this experience would, of course, be better from the deck of a yacht. 

 

Beadnell Bay and beach

Lime kilns at Beadnell

Beadnell is a great, little place to come for a summer stroll or a sailing adventure. The sailing experience is growing on me but I’ll need to work on getting my sea legs.

I’ll be back soon but whether it’s on sea or land, I’m not quite sure yet. But Tony has just told me that it’ll take a while before we’re experienced enough to attempt the North Sea.

Look out for our first venture onto the water at Ullswater where (hopefully) it’ll be a bit flatter.

So what’s the next step? No surprise here – I’m off to the chandlers to select a buoyancy aid right now!

Tammy’s travel tips – Beadnell Bay

Beadnell Bay and beach

Beadnell Bay’s harbourside

Beadnell Bay is located a couple of miles from Bamburgh off the A1 in Northumberland in the North East of England.

Visit Northumberland has more information about travel and accommodation. There are B ‘n ‘Bs and self catering apartments in the village as well as a camping & caravan site.

Beadnell Bay is very much a family orientated beach during the summer holidays. The sailing club is located close to the lime kilns and beach.

Look out for training courses in sailing at Northumbria Sailing before attempting a yacht trip.

Other tourism attractions worth visiting in the area include Bamburgh Castle, the Farne Islands and Lindisfarne (Holy Island).

Beadnell Bay and beach

Beadnell Bay’s quieter rocky shores

Lindisfarne’s Viking raiders and historical re-enactments

Lindisfarne

Lindisfarne – the Vikings are coming!

The world of historical re-enactment is a strange place as I discovered this weekend at Lindisfarne Priory.  A Viking raid was in full flow when I arrived on the island.

So I headed down to the Priory to find that its ruined grounds had been transformed into part battle field, part Viking encampment.

The blurb promised grisly displays of combat culminating in a full-scale, deadly battle with the re-enactors of The Vikings”.  Who could resist taking a look?

Viking raiders

Lindisfarne

Monks versus Vikings at the Priory

Lindisfarne was the first place on the English mainland to experience a Viking raid in AD 793 when attacking forces ransacked the abbey. Many monks were killed in this brutal attack.

I’m never completely convinced by historic re-enactments of this nature. Although they’re colourful and fun, there’s a nagging fear that this is history turned into pantomime.

The “Yo ho ho – take that! Oh, he’s dead. What a shame!” banter seems more about comedy than re-creating history. I’m sure a lot of research went into the costumes and combat sequences but playing a massacre for laughs feels uncomfortable.

This Blackadder version of history makes me feel uneasy. I’m never sure how authentic it is. There’s also a feeling that the event is geared up to the re-enactors having a fun day out rather than it being about the audience.

Lindisfarne

Live like a Viking – Lindisfarne Priory

As well as the ‘skirmish’ and ‘raid’ the re-enactment group had recreated a Viking encampment in the walls of Lindisfarne Priory.

For those with an appetite for warfare, classes in warrior training were available for adults and their kids.

I’m not sure that mini-warrior training for children encourages bellicose behaviour in later life but it feels dodgy on a weekend when we’re commemorating the millions of dead from World War One.

I guess that everyone likes a good war – especially if you’re a re-enactment society.

Lindisfarne

Lindisfarne’s monks before the skirmish

Looking back at real events, Alcuin, a scholar. gave this account of the Viking raid on Lindisfarne. It’s more revealing and scarier than the Viking Raiders re-enactment:

“Never before has such terror appeared in Britain as we have now suffered from a pagan race… The heathens poured out the blood of saints around the altar, and trampled on the bodies of saints in the temple of God, like dung in the streets.”

Recreating history

I’m sure that you’ll be thinking re-enactment is just good fun, which it is in small doses. But after several decades of watching historical re-enactments at castles, historic palaces and battle fields around the UK, hasn’t the time come to reinvent this type of event?

I also wonder why the re-enactors get involved in this hobby. They’re obviously passionate about what they do.

Perhaps it’s escapism? Or a sense of discovering history from a personal perspective? Could it be in the genes – an urge to connect with one’s ancestors?

Lindisfarne

Living like yesteryear

Today it’s estimated that 20,000 people belong to re-enactment societies. I wonder who chooses whether they’re a servant or master, warrior or war lord?

English Heritage has an extensive programme of re-enactment events at its properties across the country. You can ‘get medieval’, discover your inner Anglo-Saxon, witness the English Civil War or re-live the Battle of Hastings. The choice is endless.

Re-enactment has also spawned its own mini-industry with experts and crafts people supplying costumes, jewellery, weaponry, pottery and props.

Anyone can go along and join the fun. Wuffa, a Saxon and Viking re-enactment society, offers weekly combat training for those who fancy wielding an axe or indulging in sword play. Dozens of societies provide similar sessions.

All harmless fun, I guess, or is it?

For many of the re-enactors the whole thing becomes quite obsessive, right down to the authentic detail of their costumes and language.

Lindisfarne

Re-enactment Viking camp

But where do you draw the line when it comes to authenticity? Looking at a Viking in full dress wearing Marks and Spencer shoes or sandals is slightly distracting for me. Am I being harsh?

I spotted a group of Vikings having a quick fag in full view of the audience – and a trio of warriors enjoying cornettos at the village ice cream parlour. It does destroy the illusion of the immersive experience. All very surreal!

I’ve learned that there are groups known as ‘farbs’ who do re-enactment for fun rather than being super-authentic. They are regarded with suspicion by hard-core re-enactors. But how do you know the difference between the two?

Many argue that at least this re-enactment malarkey brings history to life. I guess it’s a question of how you like to enjoy your history at the end of the day.

Dressing up

Viking life at Roskilde

The simple life

One intriguing thing that I’ve discovered on my travels is that northern Europeans and Americans love dressing up and re-enacting history. It seems most prevalent in Scandinavia and the UK.

The Danes can’t get enough of it – it seems to be deeply rooted in their national sense of identity. It’s no surprise that Viking re-enactments are especially popular. It’s a golden age in their history.

But how far do you take authenticity? At Roskilde Museum in Denmark we watched one Viking skinning a real deer and cooking it over a hot spit!

Roskilde Museum

Roskilde – skinning a real deer

The Scandinavians also invented the idea of open air museums as places where collections of buildings and folk traditions could be preserved for future generations.

This tied in with providing a living history style experience with costumed villagers and crafts people at museums like Skansen (Stockholm), Aarhus (Denmark) and Lejre (Denmark). In Britain we’ve done the same at Beamish Open Air Museum.

In Holland they’ve taken it one step further. Enkhuizen Museum features costumed folk going about their business in a very simple, quiet way on a large outdoor site rebuilt with original buildings. It feels authentic and engaging.

Enkhuizen

Enkhuizen – authentic history

Bottom line – I enjoy this type of re-enactment much more than the set-piece battle reconstructions and marauding Viking shows.

Watching ordinary people doing stuff in an authentic way is both fun and educational.

It’s more performance than pantomime. A slice of social history. The actors are also keen to set the historical records straight if you have any questions.

Sweden re-enactment

Skansen in Sweden – pot boiler

The Americans also love this form of dressing up as a way of connecting with their history. Needless to say, there are also plenty of epic, cinematic American Civil War reconstructions of battles and wars.

History recaptured

Lindisfarne

Recreating history

Of course, historic re-enactments are nothing new. They go back to the Romans who loved nothing better than staging re-creations of famous battles in their amphitheatres.

During the Middle Ages there were re-enactments of earlier historic periods at tournaments. Military displays of mock battles have continued to be popular throughout the centuries.

In the late 19th Century the USA became a hotbed of historical re-enactments. Buffalo Bill staged enormous shows recreating this history of the wild west featuring rodeos, shooting contests, wild animals and a re-enactment of the Battle of Little Big Horn.

In 1998 an epic American show recreated the Battle of Gettysburg with 25,000 troops played by re-enactors. An amazing event in its scale and ambition.

British re-enactment societies started to mushroom in the late 1960s with groups like The Southern Skirmish and The Sealed Knot. The boom continued with the growth of living history activities and events.

Lindisfarne

Creating the illusion of history

But the real turning point in the UK came in 1984 when English Heritage employed Howard Giles who introduced authentic historic re-enactments to historic properties. His legacy continues today.

After leaving that job, he went on to create spectacular re-enactments for TV films such as the Battle of Orgreave, a clash between miners and police, shown on Channel 4.

Heritage explosion

Viking Tammy

Viking Tammy

With the explosion of re-enactments, I wonder if we’ve overdone the whole heritage trip?

I favour big dramatic re-enactments that offer a theatrical experience with an authentic historic story. But I guess these are too expensive to mount regularly.

What we’ve left with is a glut of smaller pantomime style battles – for kids and family viewing. Sanitised and safe. It’s history not taking itself too seriously.

So is all historical re-enactment bunk?

Perhaps there is a certain pleasure in enjoying fun-filled, hands-on history.

But there’s a big difference between good and bad re-enactment. And I’m still to be convinced.

Now where did I put that Viking hat, robe and sandals?

Tammy’s top tips – Holy Island and the Vikings

Holy Island or Lindisfarne is located in northern Northumberland eight miles south of Berwick-upon-Tweed on the A1.

Lindisfarne

Lindisfarne

Before visiting Holy Island it’s crucial that you check the crossing and tide times. Many motorists have been stranded on the causeway during high tides resulting in dramatic rescue operations!

Lindisfarne Priory is open daily in the high season at weekends during the winter. Admission fee.

Find out more about Lindisfarne on my previous Holy Island blog post.

English Heritage runs regular re-enactment events at their properties across the country if you’re tempted by swords, sandals and warfare.

Lindisfarne Priory

Lindisfarne Priory

 

Dream Homes – Walter Gropius’ House

Walter Gropius House

Walter Gropius’ House in Lincoln

What’s your dream home? Mine is a gleaming white cube of a contemporary house with spacious rooms and ceiling-to-floor glass windows looking out onto gardens.

Naturally, it would ooze style and boast the most beautiful furnishings and interior designs. In fact. it would be a bit like Walter Gropius’ stunning house in Lincoln near Boston in the USA.

Gropius’ modern masterpiece was built by the famous German architect for his family when he came to teach design at Harvard University in 1938 after leaving the Bauhaus.

I was lucky enough to visit the house on my trip to Massachusetts and was blown away by its elegant architecture.

Walter Gropius House

House and country collide

At one with nature

As you walk up the driveway it’s clear that this is a house at one with nature. The setting is absolutely beautiful with gardens and woodland surrounding the house.

Apparently Walter Gropius picked the site because he loved the views of the apple orchards and surrounding countryside.

There’s a real sense of escaping to the heart of the country away from the city.

The house was revolutionary in its design. It’s unique in that it combines traditional New England architecture with innovative modern materials rarely used in houses of this period.

If asked, I would have dated the house in the 1950s rather than 1938 which illustrates how far ahead of its time it was.

Walter Gropius House

Entrance to the house

There are traditional elements of New England architecture such as clapboard, brick and stone which Gropius mixes with new, innovative materials, some of them industrial.

Gropius took modernist glass blocks, acoustical plaster, chrome banisters and the latest technology in fixtures.

I’m sure that it would have been shocking at the time to see these industrial materials sitting alongside rustic New England style.

Simplicity rules

Walter Gropius House

Simple and full of light

Writing in the early 1930s Walter Gropius was asked what would be his ideal small home. His response almost describes the  house which he built a few years later in Lincoln.

“The dwelling house should no longer resemble something like a fortress, like a monument of walls with medieval thickness and an expensive front intended for showy representation.

“Instead it is to be of light construction, full of bright daylight and sunshine, flexible, time-saving, economical and useful to its occupants whose life functions it is intended to serve.”

The design of the Gropius House is very much in line with Bauhaus-influenced ideas about simplicity, functionality, geometry and aesthetic beauty.

Like most modernist houses, it stands out because of its lack of ornamentation and fussy decoration. Everything is simplified – a bit like a minimalist painting.

I love its gorgeous white exterior and sleek lines. The house is in perfect harmony… which reminds me that I must de-clutter my own home when I’m back off holiday! 

Walter Gropius House

Colonial style meets Bauhaus

Who would have guessed that the entrance to the house would mix two unlikely bedfellows, American colonial style and Bauhaus simplicity?

A glass block wall protects the building from wind and rain yet allows light to flood into the entrance hall.

As I walked inside the lobby, there was a tingle down my spine. I was walking through Mr Gropius’ actual house –  like I’d popped in for afternoon tea!

In the hallway Mrs Gropius’ coats and hats were hanging in the cupboard. Apparently she designed most of her own clothes and they exude a stylish simplicity – a bit like the house.

On the wall a stunning red and black Miro art work with delicate paper shapes complemented the white simplicity of the interior decoration.

Livable spaces

What’s great about this house is that all the family possessions are still in place, including the remarkable collection of furniture designed by Marcel Breuer. 

As I wandered around the house I noticed that every aspect of its design was planned for maximum efficiency and simplicity.

Mrs Gropius called the house “a happy amalgam” of the New England vernacular and the Bauhaus spirit. It is functional but also feels intimate and warm.

It’s great to see so many of the family’s possessions still in place – as if they’d popped out for a few minutes.

Their artworks are amazing. There are personal gifts from Josef Albers, Joan Miró, and Henry Moore plus a small sculpture by Boston-based William Wainwright, an architectural colleague of Walter Gropius.

Gropius House

Gropius’ Living Room

Almost all of the furniture in the house was handmade in the Bauhaus workshops in Dessau before the family left Germany.

In the living room there are a few exceptions including the welcoming ‘Womb Chair’ and the distinctive Japanese-style Sori Yanagi ‘butterfly’ footstools.

I was allowed to sit in the special reclining chair complete with its sheepskin throw. What a thrill. Although it’s a copy of the original, I felt very much at home in this living space. I could live in this house!

Gropius House room

The ‘Womb’ Chair and butterfly footstool

Dining in style

The dining room forms an extension to main living area so the space flows into one.  The dining table is designed for four, the perfect number of guests according to Gropius.

Guests to the Gropius house included Bauhaus friends and visionaries such as Alexander Calder, Joan Miro, Igor Stravinsky, Henry Moore and Frank Lloyd Wright. A bit like the perfect dinner party really.

Gropius House white dining room

The white dining room

Every detail of the dining room is beautifully designed from the overhead lighting recesses to the matching tableware.

It’s perhaps no surprise that the dining chairs were the tubular steel and canvas designs of Marcel Breuer. Stark but simple.

The downstairs of the Gropius House contains a lot of furniture designed by Breuer made in the Bauhaus workshops. There’s also a convertible day bed, a cantilevered armchair, nesting tables, side tables and Gropius’ desk.

The kitchen next door is also a joy with a giant oven, dishwasher and mod cons. Quite a feat to have ultramodern labour-saving devices in the late 1930s. We didn’t get our dishwasher till 2004, 60 years later.

Bedrooms and balconies 

The whole house feels spacious without being too big and palatial. A fabulous spiral staircase in wood and chrome takes you  upstairs. Light pours in from every direction.

On the top floor, there are two upstairs bedrooms, a guest room, a small sewing room and a stylish bathroom.

Gropius House room

The Gropius’ master bedroom

Once inside the master bedroom there are more ground-breaking designs from the heating system to the decoration.

There is an en suite bathroom, built-in wardrobes, cleverly hidden cupboards and a glass wall which separated the dressing room from the sleeping area, creating the illusion of a larger space.

An attractive textile from Iraq is draped across the wall, emphasising Gropius’ interest in design as well as architecture.

One of Mrs. Gropius brightly coloured dresses hangs from the wall and another lies on the bed, adding to the feeling that she had just popped out before hosting a dinner party.  

Then I spotted a random Henry Moore art work. How amazing to have such a valuable work casually stuck to the dividing wall.

The work is called “Underground Shelter with Figures”, featuring war-time Londoners taking shelter in the Tube. It was given to Gropius by the British artist in 1941.

Outside inside

Gropius House roof deck

The roof deck in ‘Bauhaus Pink’

Next door there’s a smaller bedroom for Gropius’ adopted daughter which features art and textile works by Miro. I wish that my own bedroom could claim to have Miro originals.

A simple but well-designed room, it leads onto a half enclosed balcony space.

It is almost as if nature is reaching straight out into the house. Its main wall is painted in an unusual shade of pink – known as ‘Bauhaus Pink’ – to add a warmer colour to the space. What a wonderful idea.

A wrought iron staircase allowed Gropius’ daughter to enter the house with her friends from outside without going through the main house.

I wonder if they were ever tempted to sneak in for late night parties?

Walter Gropius House

External staircase at the Gropius House

This roof deck next to her room provides excellent views of the surrounding countryside.

When the Gropius family lived here they would have enjoyed sweeping views because the house was unobstructed by trees and woods.

Today the trees and greenery are more mature but it’s easy to imagine how it must have looked originally.

I loved their idea of having wooden trellises on the east and west sides of the house covered with roses and vines, offering colour and sinuous shapes.

Today you can still see the grapes growing on the trellises of the roof deck.

Gropius had wanted to create an idyllic New England landscape with mature trees, rambling stone walls and boulders around the house.

The house sits within its landscape at one with nature. Go the rear of the house and you’ll see Mrs Gropius’ Japanese-inspired garden, a spin-off from her travels in Asia.

The conservatory space is where the Gropius family would have relaxed. It’s easy to see why.

This box-shaped room has wall-to-floor windows which make you feel almost as if you’re sitting right in the centre of the garden.

Walter Gropius House

The conservatory – window on the garden

Bauhaus style

Bauhaus

The Bauhaus – Dessau

It’s intriguing to visit the Walter Gropius House in Lincoln after seeing how he lived in Germany before his move to the USA.

Gropius had been the director of the famous Bauhaus design school in Dessau but the political situation in Germany forced him to move to the USA. This period coincided with the coming of the Nazis to power in Germany.

The Lincoln house is unusual in some ways because it seems less spartan than the Master’s House which Gropius lived in during his stay in Dessau.

But the Dessau houses have few of the original furnishings so it’s hard to imagine how they looked in the 1930s. But they do have much in common with the Gropius House in the USA.

They are simple, flat-roofed, white blocks with geometric lines. They make clever use of light and space.  They have more in common than you might think on first glance.

Bauhaus master's house

The Bauhaus master’s house, Dessau

They are both about creating a house which is functional and aesthetically pleasing – a space for living in.

Gropius and his family fell in love with the New England countryside and decided to live in a more rural environment.

The Dessau and Lincoln houses are mirror images of each other – one urban, one rural. One German modernist, one Bauhaus-influenced American colonial.

So is the Gropius House in Lincoln my dream home? In some ways it is – it’s a remarkable house in a beautiful setting. For its era, it was streets ahead of its time with many revolutionary features.

It’s perhaps not my favourite dream house – that honour still goes to Frank Lloyd Wright’s Fallingwater. But it’s definitely on my top five favourite architectural homes!

Tammy’s top tips – Gropius House

Walter Gropius House

The Walter Gropius House

The Walter Gropius House is in Lincoln, Massachusetts, a 40 minute drive from Downtown Boston.

From Route I-95/Route 128, take Route 2 West 4.5 miles to Route 126 South past Walden Pond. Take the second left on Baker Bridge Road. The Gropius House is 0.5 miles on the right.

By public transport, take the MBTA Commuter Rail on the Fitchburg Line to the Lincoln stop, 2.5 miles from the Gropius House.

Other places of interest nearby include the DeCordova Sculpture Park and Museum in Lincoln which can be combined with the Gropius House if you’re making a day trip.

If you’re travelling to Germany, you can visit the Bauhaus (still a working college) and the Masters’ Houses in Dessau – it’s well worth the trip if you’re a fan of modern architecture.

Image credits - Indoor photos are courtesy of Historic Houses of New England – the Gropius House.

Walter Gropius House

Rural living with the Gropius House

Rockport – sea monsters and tales of the unexpected!

Rockport Massachussetts

Rockport’s iconic red shack

Rockport is a picturesque, historic fishing town in New England which boasts a pretty harbour and stunning sunsets.

But behind its pretty demeanour and the curtains of its white clapboard houses there lies chilling tales of the unexpected.

From strange stories of sea serpents and salty schooners to yarns about rebellions and rum, many of the town’s tales would make your hair stand on end.

A short hop from Boston, Rockport makes for a pleasant weekend or day trip in coastal Massachusetts. But be prepared to discover its darker history as well as its stunning historic houses and quayside.

Bear attack

The main historic centre of Rockport is focused on the brilliantly named Bear Skin Neck. The district takes its moniker from a bear which was caught by the tide in 1700.

Rockport Massachussetts

The story of Bear Skin Neck – Rockport

Legend has it that one of Rockport’s residents, Henry Witham, was attacked by the marooned bear on the shore.

With no gun to defend himself, he stepped into the water and battled with the bear using only his knife. After a scuffle, he killed the bear, skinned it and spread the animal’s fur to dry on the rocks. 

The battle between man and beast led locals to call the area ‘Bear Skin Neck’. It may sound improbable but it’s true.

As you wander along its charming shopping streets lined with artists’ studios, it’s hard to imagine a time when bears came up onto the coastline.

Rockport Massachussetts

Craft shop at Bear Skin Neck

Sea serpent

Most fishing towns are deeply superstitious so perhaps it’s unsurprising that tales of strange sightings and creatures abound along the coast.

Rockport lies on the Cape Ann peninsula which also takes in the nearby port of Gloucester. In 1817 there were numerous eye-witness reports of a huge sea serpent off the coastline of both towns.

A local newspaper talked of “a monstrous sea serpent, the largest ever seen in America” spotted in the calm waters of Rockport and Gloucester harbours.

Rockport Massachussetts

No sightings of the Cape Ann sea serpent today

For almost a month, witnesses reported seeing what they described as a sea serpent 80-100 feet long with a head resembling a horse with a horn-like appendage.

This scaly monstrosity was compared to a “row of casks” by some eyewitnesses. Perhaps it was simply that – after all, it’s hard to get a clear view of the sea when the mist rolls in.

But a firm sighting was reported by two women on August 10, 1817 who claimed to have seen the creature swimming in Gloucester harbor.

Cape Ann sea serpent c/o Cape Ann Museum

The Rockport sea serpent c/o Cape Ann Museum

In the following years there were sporadic sightings from ship’s captains and eye witnesses who claimed the serpent had  the “head of a turtle…  larger than the head on any dog… (with) a prong or spear about twelve inches in height (coming from its head)”.

Although not seen in recent decades, it’s worth keeping your eyes peeled for the sea serpent which is Cape Ann’s version of Scotland’s Loch Ness Monster.

Sadly it didn’t pop up on my visit to the town!

Rockport’s rum revolt 

My favourite Rockport story is one of temperance, rebellion and liquor. It’s a rum tale which rivals the prohibition battles fought in Chicago during the 1920s.

In the 1850s there was growing concern about alcohol consumption in Rockport. Fishing was the main employment but the weather only permitted this for nine months of the year.

Rockport Massachussetts

There are no bars in Rockport even today

During this enforced three-month “vacation” the fishing men idled away their time and drank enormous amounts of spirits.

The town’s women became increasingly worried about the amount of money being spent on alcohol which was causing problems for poor families.

In 1856 a gang of 200 wives, mothers, daughters and supporters gathered in the town’s Dock Square. Led by seamstress Hannah Jumper, they swept through the town, smashing up all supplies of alcohol.

Rockport Massachussetts

Rockport’s raid on rum reverberates even today

Hiding their weapons beneath lacy shawls, the protesters set out to destroy every drop of alcohol in the town. After five hours “Rockport’s revolt against rum” was over. Legend has it that the women went home to make supper for their families.

One eyewitness described the scene: “On finding any keg, jug, or cask having spirituous liquor in it… with their hatchets they broke or otherways destroyed it.”

Except for a brief period in the 1930s, Rockport remained one of 15 Massachusetts’ dry towns. It wasn’t until 2005 when Rockport voted that alcohol could be served at restaurants. Amazingly, liquor stores are still illegal in the town!

Military might

For a small town Rockport has an unusually colourful history. During the 1812 Anglo-American War, Rockport became the focus of attention during a siege on its coastal defences by the British.

Throughout the war Bear Skin Neck was home to the Old Stone Fort and barracks which were built to provide protection from the British warships that would patrol the coast and prevent townsfolk from fishing in the bay.

On 8 September, 1814 the British launched an unexpected attack on the tiny fishing village of Sandy Bay (the old name for Rockport).

The town’s people hurled rocks at the enemy using their stockings as slings because they didn’t have muskets and cannons.

Rockport Massachussetts

Site of Rockport’s fort

The site of the old fort is now marked by a historic plaque at Bear Skin Neck which commemorates the 1814 attack.

It’s sometimes easy to forget that the east coast was a battle ground for British military power in America – and that Britain was the last ever country to occupy the US mainland.

Artistic community

Rockport Massachussetts

Motif Number 1 – distinctive red shack

Rockport isn’t all sea serpents, marauding bears and military manoeuvres –  it also has a softer, artistic side.

Once again, it’s a surprising story of a small, sleepy town punching above its weight.

International artists such as Winslow Homer, Edward Hopper and John Sloan drew inspiration from the town’s coastal setting, exquisite light and distinctive maritime character.

We noticed the light on our trip which is especially dramatic at sunset when you can sit on the harbourside watching the changing hues and colours as the sun goes down.

Rockport Massachussetts

Rockport sunset

One of the town’s main inspirational draws for artists is a simple, red fishing shack on Bradley Wharf, known as “Motif Number 1“. The shack is the most frequently painted building in the USA.

Painter Lester Hornby was the first to call it Motif Number 1 in the early 20th Century – and the name has stuck ever since.

Built in the 1840s, this iconic New England-style building was swept away in 1978 by snow storms but has been replaced by a replica which is every bit as distinctive.

Its frail, simple structure is part of its appeal – a throwback to early centuries when fishing was at the heart of Rockport’s economy.

Rockport Massachussetts

Motif 1 – an iconic sight in Rockport

Town of granite

After discovering so many tales about Rockport, the town  has one last unexpected story to tell.

The clue is in the town’s name. Rockport is a town built on rock – quite literally…  its granite was an important factor in its growth at the beginning of the 19th Century.

The first granite quarries were developed to the north of the town near Halibut Point. By the 1830s, Rockport granite was being shipped to cities and towns throughout the USA’s eastern seaboard.

Haliibut Point

Halibut Point – quarry turned park

As the demand for its high quality granite grew for industry and construction, the quarries of Rockport boomed.

A special type of sloop boat was developed to transport the granite far and wide across North and South America.  

The quarry eventually closed in 1929. Today the disused quarry is a popular nature reserve. There’s a lovely walk down to the beach and great opportunities for bird watching on the nature trails.

Its tranquility makes it easy to forget that this was once a hive of industry but the scattered remains of old stones provide a glimpse of its past. A Second World War watch tower now dominates the country park.

Haliibt Point

Halibut Point observatory

Rockport’s real life stories

Rockport is much more than a small, charming town with historic buildings and a pretty harbour. It has fascinating and authentic stories to tell.

Delve deeper and you’re bound to find more… from its splendid, white First Congregational Church and historic homes to its headland and shoreline.

Rockport Massachussetts

Rockport today

With its tales of scary bears, sea monsters, mining men and marauding women, Rockport is my kind of small town. Quite simply, it’s one of a kind.

Just a shame that it’s still hard to get a drink of alcohol!

Tammy’s travel tips – Rockport

Rockport is located 35 miles north of Boston on the Massachusetts coast – it takes around 50 minutes to drive there.

Rockport Massachussetts

Rockport historic centre

Where to stay?

There are fewer hotels than I expected in Rockport but locals recommend the value-for-money Bear Skin Neck Motel, The Seafarer Inn and the upmarket Rockport Inn.

We stayed at the Emerson Inn by the Sea, a historic hotel which lies just out-of-town. Its main claim to fame is that the writer Waldo Ralph Emerson visited the original hotel on vacation at the height of his fame.

Rockport Massachussetts Emerson Inn

Emerson Inn by the Sea – Rockport

There are cracking views of the sea from the Emerson Inn’s garden plus a charming dining room and porch with a seafront vista. This place oozes history.

Where to eat?

Lobsters are on the menu wherever you go in Rockport. We picked Roy Moore’s restaurant on the main street for our evening meal although his smaller shack has pleasant tables on the outer deck for a daytime snack or lunch.

Locals also recommend The Red Skiff and The Lobster Pool in Rockport town centre.

Lobster shack in

Lobster shack in Massachusetts

Where to shop and relax?

Rockport boasts an attractive shopping centre with a mix of tourist shops, arts and crafts galleries and high-end boutiques.

As my partner Tony put it – “the tourist shops in Rockport have higher quality tat” rather than the usual rubbish. That’s a little unfair as Rockport does have an air of class, although it also has some ‘bog standard’ gift shops.

For some reason it also has high proportion of psychic, boho and ‘hippy’ shops, if you fancy a touch of tarot or transcendental meditation.

Rockport Massachussetts

Rockport’s shops and galleries

On the attractions front, Rockport boasts a rich heritage and I was struck by the impressive number of historic buildings. It’s worth taking a stroll around the historic centre.

The stunning Shalin Liu Performing Arts Centre is a must for music lovers with beautiful views from the rear of the concert hall out to sea.

Rockport Massachussetts

Heritage house in Rockport

Acadia National Park by horse and carriage

Horse and carriage ride in Acadia

Get on board for the horse and carriage ride in Acadia

Travelling by horse and carriage is always seen as a thing of the past but in Acadia National Park it’s one of the best ways to get around.

Four legs are better than four wheels when it comes to Acadia’s famous carriage roads. This may seem incredibly antiquated but horse power scores over the automobile big-style.

Taking a half day trip by horse and carriage is not only relaxing, you get to see parts of the park not open to gas-guzzling motor cars.

This isn’t a quick tour around the sights, it’s a proper road trip. It feels like you’re on a mini-adventure!

Carriage roads

Acadia National Park is unique with its extensive network of car-free carriage roads which cover 57 miles of countryside.

Carriage road - Acadia National Park

Carriage road – Acadia National Park

The carriage roads were the brainchild of John D. Rockefeller Junior, a rich philanthropist, who was worried about the impact of the motor car on the countryside.

He was a nature lover and early conservationist whose dream was to create Acadia as a national park with car-free roads.

This was a vast enterprise which involved the construction of gravel roads, 17 stone bridges and a well-designed loop network which took place between 1913-1940.

Rockefeller donated his own land, bought up and assembled other landowners’ holdings to create the carriage drives which can be enjoyed today.

On the horse and carriage ride you get an excellent and entertaining commentary about Rockefeller’s roads as well as ambling along the highways at a leisurely pace.

Wildwood Stables

My journey started at Wildwood Stables in Acadia, a well-run equestrian centre, which offers drives on board the horse-drawn carriages.

There’s a variety of trips but I opted for the Rockefeller Carriage Roads Drive, a two-hour excursion through the park’s scenic by-ways with great views of its pretty bridges and woodland.

Carriage ride Acadia

Meet the Suffolk Punch horses

At first I wasn’t quite sure what to expect but found myself loving every minute as I hung onto the back seat for dear life!

As I made friends with my fellow passengers, I realised that this is a slow experience in which you soak up and enjoy the local flavours and landscape without speeding ahead at a mad pace. So no need to cling on!

Our knowledgeable guide, Morgan, told us about the history of the roads, throwing in entertaining anecdotes as we meandered along. It was a perfectly pitched commentary and a fun experience.

Carriage ride Acadia

Giddy up Tammy!

As we hit the open roads, we learned that the horses were Suffolk Punch, best known as dray horses from eastern England.

The stables also use other big breeds like Percheron and Belgian draught horse to pull the carriages, the crew and eight travellers.

The horses walk at a gentle 3 mph and there’s no trotting or cantering so it’s a safe to say that you’re in for an easy and smooth ride.

Carriage ride Acadia

The Rockefeller bridges road trip

As we left the stables we went up a bit of an incline and gradient but the horses coped brilliantly. Apparently they love their work and the challenges it brings so this is all in a day’s work for them.

Our carriage driver told us that today they were chomping at the bit to put on their working gear and get out on the roads. You almost get a sense that they could make this trip without a driver.

But then you forget that carriage driving is a real skill. Avoiding ditches, negotiating tricky bends and keeping the horses focused is trickier than I thought. Apparently, the horses do get distracted by stuff along the route!

Carriage ride Acadia

A scene reminiscent of 1940s Acadia

Country roads

Carriage ride Acadia

Pretty vista –  a carriage road and bridge

So how did the carriage roads come about? After all, this must have been a huge and expensive undertaking.

It was the result of John D. Rockefeller’s fantastic vision which still shines brightly today. But the story behind the roads is even more remarkable.

John D. Rockefeller Junior’s father was the wealthy head of the Standard Oil Company, whose fortunes were inextricably linked to the motor car.

He joined the family business as a young man but after a few years decided that it wasn’t for him. At the age of 36, he retired from the business and decided to dedicate his time and money to philanthropy.

John Junior had bought a house at Seal Harbor on Mount Desert Islands in 1910 as a summer retreat from New York. He loved the great outdoors and the simple pleasure of travelling by horse-drawn carriage.

It was this that gave him the idea for creating a public network of carriage roads.

Carriage ride Acadia

Carriage horses – Acadia

He was also keen that the roads were made to the highest standards. Each of the bridges was hard-crafted by local stonemasons using the island’s famous granite stones.

The use of native materials helped the roads blend into the natural landscape. Rockefeller made sure that the roads followed the contours of the land and he made the most of scenic views. This is evident when you’re riding along today.

The carriage roads were designed to cope with Maine’s wet weather with built-in stone culverts, ditches and layer-upon-layer of rock to ensure good drainage.

He also graded the roads so they weren’t too steep or sharply curved for horse-drawn carriages. After all, you wouldn’t want to end up in a ditch!

Carriage ride Acadia

One of the Rockefeller bridges at Acadia

Rockefeller wanted everything to celebrate the landscape of Mount Desert Island so the roadsides were landscaped with native vegetation including blueberries and ferns.

John Junior was hands-on in the construction of the roads and bridges, and paid attention to the most minute details. He also spent a sizeable chunk of his personal wealth on creating the carriage roads.

He also financed 16 of the stone bridges. We stopped at one of the prettiest bridges and dismounted from the carriage, taking a walk down the bank to look at its stunning craftsmanship (see above).

The setting was simply gorgeous and so quiet that it felt like you’d walked back in time 100 years. No buzzing of traffic, no coughing of engines and no air pollution from cars. Pure peace and quiet.

Carriage ride Acadia

Carriage bridge – Acadia

Today you can see the labours of his dedication with many beautiful bridges spanning streams, waterfalls, road, and cliff sides.

One of the prettiest sections is around Jordan Pond, the deepest body of water on Mount Desert Island, which is surrounded by the hills of the Bubbles.

Another gorgeous area of carriage roads traverses the countryside around stunning Eagle Lake. It’s well worth returning here by bike or on foot to complete the circular loop.

Jordan Pond Acadia

Jordan Pond

On the return route, we were told an amusing anecdote about the carriage road that runs past the Jordan Pond Gatehouse, a French-Romanesque style villa built as a checkpoint to keep automobiles off the route in the 1930s.

Rockerfeller had this sumptuous villa specially designed to give the architecture of the park a touch of class and style.  He also wanted it to blend in perfectly with the rustic countryside setting.

Villa in Acadia

‘French’-style villa

The bells in the gate posts next to the house were designed to alert the person living in the gatehouse to open the way for the horse-drawn carriages.

But local children would ring the bells so many times (and then run and hide as a jolly jape) that the angry tenant tore them off their plinths and threw them into Jordan Pond where they still lie today.

Carriage ride Acadia

The empty bell plinths on the gatehouse today

Homeward bound

As we came within sight of the Wildwood Stables on our return leg, the carriage had to perform a tricky manoeuvre to get back inside the compound.

Once again, it demonstrated how this horsing around business can be harder than you think. Just as well we were in safe hands with our expert carriage drivers.

This may be a very slow and laid-back way to see the countryside of Acadia National Park, but it’s a fascinating throwback to an earlier age when four legs dominated the roads.

Thank goodness that one man had the vision to create and preserve this idyllic countryside and its horse-drawn carriage roads. Best of all –  there’s not a single car or motorbike in sight.

Tammy’s top travel tips – Acadia’s carriage roads

Carriage ride Acadia

Carriage road travellers – Acadia National Park

The horse and carriage rides depart from Wildwood Stables in Acadia National Park on Mount Desert Island which is located in northern Maine.

To reach the stables take the free Acadia National Park Shuttle Bus from Bar Harbor Town Green or drive the National Park Loop Road. The regular bus shuttle service stops directly next to the carriage departure point.

There’s a choice of rides including Mr Rockefeller’s Bridges, the Day Mountain Summit (with great views), Day Mountain Tour and Jordan Pond House. Private charters are also available. The trips cost between $20-$26 per adult.

Carriage road view

View from carriage road

Most of the carriage roads are also open to bikes. All are available to walkers and hikers. Cycling is hugely popular on these routes so why not pick up a carriage roads map to make the most of your trip.

Take a hat, sunscreen and suitable outdoor clothing. Weather conditions can change quickly and the carriage has no cover.

If you head out on the morning ride, why can combine your trip with a visit to nearby Jordan Pond House, famous for its ‘popovers’, a kind of fluffy dessert which is a mix between a scone and sweet Yorkshire pudding.

Pop up the road (walk or use the shuttle bus) for a ‘popover’ in the Jordan Pond restaurant. But don’t eat too many like me – they are more filling than you think!

Popover at Jordan Pond  Acadia

Popover at Jordan Pond House

Where to stay? Try the nearby town of Bar Harbor which has a wide range of hotel and cottage accommodation down the road from the park entrance.

Whale watching in Maine

Whale watching in Maine

Whale watching in Maine

It wasn’t my first whale watching trip but it was definitely one of the best. A perfect summer day in Maine on a lovely boat in Boothbay Harbor with calm seas and a bright, blue skies.

I’m never at my best on boats but this memorable trip soon had me feeling at ease with the high seas. There wasn’t a bumpy wave in sight!

As we motored away from the main harbour, the trip went to plan like clockwork. The marine life came out to greet us in their droves – from dolphins and porpoises to harbour seals.

But would we succeed in spotting the world’s largest mammals – the whales?

Whale of a time

Boothbay Harbor

Boothbay Harbor – calm waters

It wasn’t until the day of the trip that I decided that the whale watching excursion was definitely on. As I peered out of the hotel window, I had to make sure there were perfect weather conditions. No rough seas, not a hint of wind and a good weather forecast.

After the hurricane which hit the USA’s eastern seaboard a few days earlier, I was understandably nervous.

But the weather was so perfect that it was just a case of hitting the sun cream, donning a daft hat and taking a sea sickness tablet (just in case!).

Tammy on whale watching boat

Mad cap Tammy on whale watching boat

The Gulf of Maine is one of the very best places to go whale watching because of its cool, nutrient-rich waters which attract a wealth of marine life including whales.

We were on the look out for fin and humpback whales – but, as ever on these trips, there’s no guarantee of a sighting. It’s a bit like finding a needle in the Atlantic Ocean.

The whales are a law unto themselves – they move around the seas and they’ve often underwater which adds to the difficulty of finding them.

Tammy on whale watching trip

Tammy searches for whales on deck

Boarding the boat, I was optimistic because the weather was so perfect that surely even the shyest whales would be out hunting for food in the clear, azure waters.

Cap’n Fish Boat Tours run most of the whale trips from Boothbay Harbor midway up the Maine coast. It’s a beautiful spot but the boat needs to travel way out to sea if there’s a chance of seeing the whales.

I’d heard on the grapevine that these huge marine mammals had been spotted about 14 miles off the shore the previous day – so we would be heading to the same area. The omens looked good.

As the boat, The Pink Lady, moved out of the harbour, my attention focused on the scenery and the many small islands. There were great views of the famous Burnt Island lighthouse too as we pulled out to sea.

Burnt Island lighthouse

Burnt Island lighthouse

It wasn’t long before we spotted seals bobbing up and down in the bay’s waters, as curious about us as we were of them.

As we moved out towards the high seas, we accelerated towards the best whale watching areas in the Gulf of Maine.

No luck at first but the scenery was interesting. There were lots of lobstermen in their fishing boats bringing in their lobster pots and baskets.

The many classy sailing yachts had us dreaming of owning a boat.

There were also some interesting sea birds that were new to us which the tour guide told us were petrels, a good sign because where they feed, the whales often hang out too.

Boothbay Harbor

Scanning the seas for whales

But there were no whales. I was starting to worry that these elusive creatures had moved further up the coast.

We were looking for small clues as we cast our eyes over a seemingly endless sea of blue that went on and on for miles. We gazed into the expansive void on all sides.

Then, unexpectedly, came a hopeful sign that the whales were in the vicinity – about 16 miles out to sea.

Our pilot, Captain Steve, announced that he had spotted a whale blowing about 2 miles ahead of us. We accelerated towards the spot – and the excitement grew on board.

Tammy on whale watching boat

Tell-tale sign – whale blowing

It wasn’t long before we got our first sighting of two large finback whales, blowing and riding the waves. These long, super-sleek mammals can weigh up to 70 tonnes but they glide along gracefully.

The tell-tale sign is their prominent dorsal fin on their backs. Compared with humpback whales, they are smoother and longer in appearance.

We followed their progress for the best part of an hour as they came up for air before diving again and disappearing under the waters.

Boothbay Harbor whales

Fin whales riding the waves

They stay under the water about 10-15 minutes during which time they can dive down to around 700 feet. They can also move at a nippy 23mph in quick bursts.

It’s a real art working out where they’ll resurface when they come back up for air. But this pair were sticking around and didn’t seem fazed by our presence.

During their final resurface, they came pretty close to our boat and we enjoyed fabulous views of the whales swimming side by side. It was an exhilarating moment.

Whales

Resurfacing whale

What a thrill to see these fabulous animals in the North Atlantic!

Finback whales

Finback whale

Finback whales are around 85 feet long

Finbacks are the world’s second largest whales after blue whales – and they are frequently sighted off the Maine coast.

They are huge mammals, reaching around 85 feet in length – the size of  a two and a half double-decker buses. They can live to the age of 80-90 years.

It’s hard to believe that in earlier centuries people hunted these fabulous creatures and nearly drove them to extinction. Commercial hunting in the North Atlantic ended only in 1986. Remember the ‘Save the Whales’ campaigns?

Today we’re hunting whales to watch these spectacular creatures in their natural habitat.

After a long while tracking them, our cruise was over and it was time to go home.

As we headed back to the harbour a pod of dolphins played in the boat’s slipstream, enjoying the adrenalin rush they were getting from the disturbed waters.

On the return leg, there were yet more seals and some incredible sea birds plus an osprey sitting on its nest near the entrance to the harbour.

But the highlight had been watching the whales. What a show they put on – and how incredible these huge mammals are when you see them up close!

Tammy’s top whale watching tips

Boothbay Harbor whale trip

On the deck – The Pink Lady whale boat

Boothbay Harbour is in mid Maine, New England, USA. Our trip was organised by the excellent Cap ‘n Fish who run boat trips several times a day including two whale watching trips in the early morning and afternoon.

The trips cost around £35 per person ($54) and take around 3.5 hours. Buy a ticket on the day or book in advance during the holiday season by phone. The company also has several kiosk sales points along the main trawl of Boothbay Harbor.

The boats are a decent size so they’re reasonably stable, if your sea legs aren’t too great. There’s also a small bar, cafe and a toilet on board.  There’s a choice of seating on the open deck or you can opt to go under cover inside the boat.

As well as Finback and Humpback whales also look for the smaller Minke Whales and Basking Sharks on your excursion.

Whale

Whale watching on the St Lawrence estuary

Other good whale watching spots in Maine include Bar Harbor on Mount Desert Island where you can catch a whale watching catamaran from the main waterfront.

Further up the Maine coast near Campobello Island there are also whale watching trips from the Head Harbor Wharf back on the mainland.

In Massachusetts there are whale watching trips out of Provincetown on Cape Cod with views of the mammals breaching and spouting almost guaranteed.

Be aware that some whale watching trips can get cancelled during bad weather so try to pick a calm and clear day. Avoid misty and dull days with poor visibility. Pick your time of year – May to October is the viewing season in Maine.

Tammy whale watching in Canada

Tammy whale watching in Canada

Elsewhere in North America there’s great whale watching in the following places:

  • Washington Stage, Oregon – Killer Whales are the big draw here between April-October.
  • British Columbia, Canada – great territory for Killer Whales off Vancouver Island in the summer.
  • Saguenay National Park, Quebec – watch Beluga Whales from the land as they swim in the fjord.
  • St Lawrence river estuary, Canada – boat and dinghy trips run from Tadoussac or look out for the whales on the ferry crossing between Tadoussac and the southern mainland. We saw about 12-14 whales on a single dinghy trip.
  • Alaska – trips run into the Gulf of Alaska and Inside Passage with the best viewing in the spring.
  • Hawaii – great whale spotting opportunities between October-May around the West Maui channel.

Wear sensible clothes and a hat as it’s easy to get sunburned or cold on a boat once you’re out on the open seas – remember that  weather conditions can be changeable.

Tammy in hat

Don’t forget a hat!

Don’t forget to take binoculars and a camera with a zoom lens.  I was amazed how few people had binoculars and looked at mine with envy!

Look for tell-tales signs of whales – blow flumes, disturbed waters, fins… Birds feeding on krill (small fish) on the water may indicate that whales are nearby as both like eating the same dinner.

Do your homework and go with a reputable boat company who know their whales. Their guided and knowledgeable commentary will help you get the most from your trip.

Boothbay Harbor whales

Surfacing whale