Driving around New England in Fall

Longer-term readers of this blog may remember that autumn is forever my favourite time of year, and where better to appreciate the beauty of this season than the World Capital of Autumn (Fall) Appreciation: New England.

Going to New England in the autumn has been a major bucket list item for me for ages, and this October I finally did it. It was every bit as wonderful as I was expecting: pumpkins everywhere, stunning autumn colours, gorgeous houses and so much history to explore. I did an absolute tonne of research before I went, so I thought today I’d share my itinerary in case you want to plan a similar trip (highly recommended!). I made a Boston suburb my base, renting this quirky Airbnb for a proper taste of New England life, and did a series of day trips from there.

Day 1

My flight landed at about midday and I picked up my rental car with no issues at all despite arriving on Columbus Day, an American holiday. My Airbnb was still being cleaned, so I began by driving to the pretty town of Lexington, MA. I visited the fabulous Wilson Farm and marvelled at its incredible wall of pumpkins…

…and then I parked up in the middle of Lexington and had a little stroll across the common.

Day 2

My first port of call – after breakfast at the ubiquitous Dunkin’ Donuts – was Lawrence Municipal airport. I’d booked an hour in an R44 with Boston Helicopters so that I could do some flying at (considerably cheaper) American prices and see the autumn colours from the air. I obviously had an instructor with me, but I did the flying except when I wanted to take photos. It was the most amazing flight, right through downtown Boston and unbelievably close to the buildings. We flew up the coast after that, up to Manchester-by-the-Sea, before going back to the airfield. Wonderful!

I spent the rest of the day visiting various lovely farms and photographing pumpkins. I had lunch at Boston Hill Farm, which has a pumpkin patch a pleasant ten-minute walk from the main farm stand. I then went to another farm called Ferjulian’s…

…and then to a place called Marlborough. I ended the day with another, more leisurely visit to Wilson Farm, which was a lot quieter without the Columbus Day crowds. Such a fab place!

Day 3

My first destination of the day was Plymouth, just down the coast from Boston. It’s the place where the ‘Mayflower’ pilgrims first landed in the New World, and I was in for an interesting morning discovering more about this fascinating chapter in the country’s history. The focal point is Plymouth Rock, said to mark the exact location where the pilgrims made landfall and now commemorated with this memorial. (There is an actual rock there, but it didn’t make a very good photo!)

After a brief stroll, I drove to the nearby Plimouth Plantation, a painstakingly reconstructed replica of the first pilgrim village that also has a reconstruction of a Native American settlement, featuring actual members of the local tribe. Unfortunately the entire place was absolutely overrun by horrid schoolchildren, which detracted from the experience somewhat.

From there I hit the road again, making my way around the Cape Cod peninsula to the town of Provincetown. I lunched on clam chowder in a local tourist trap called the Lobster Pot…

…and drove to Race Point beach, where I saw a seal bobbing around in the sea. There’s a great little visitor centre near there, which has a free 360 degree viewing deck that also provides a good view of the aircraft taking off at the local airport.

Day 4

There had been a ferocious storm overnight – the strongest October storm ever recorded in the Boston area – and it was still unbelievably windy for my drive down to Rhode Island. In the morning I had a brief look around Newport, where there’s a nice little marina and a whole avenue of impressive mansions that were the the summer homes of wealthy families like the Vanderbilts. It was too windy to walk around the town, so I don’t have many photos!

In the afternoon I drove along the ‘Farm Coast’, taking in a series of delightful towns including Dartmouth. I stopped by the sea when I could, admiring the new ring I’d just bought from a jeweller in Newport.

Day 5

I devoted Day 5 to sites associated with the American Revolution and with the author of a favourite book, Little Women. Just half an hour from Boston, the Minute Man National Historical Park has numerous historic buildings, but only one was open on the day I went: the amazing Hartwell Tavern, built in 1733.

Five minutes down the road in Concord, you come to two even more astonishing buildings, next door to each other: Louisa May Alcott’s ‘Orchard House’, where she wrote and set Little Women, and the equally interesting ‘Wayside Home of the Authors’ next door, home to the Alcotts before they moved to the Orchard House, and subsequently to the author Nathaniel Hawthorne.

Entry to the Orchard House is by guided tour, and it was an absolutely riveting half hour or so, as the Alcotts were a most interesting and amazingly liberal family. You get to see the very desk where Louisa (Jo in the novel) wrote Little Women, see extensive drawings on the wall by her sister, and learn all about the similarities and differences between their lives and the version of them depicted in Little Women.

Next door, I took another guided tour, this time at the Wayside Home of the Authors, noted for its unusual tower installed by Nathaniel Hawthorne. The home has had numerous alterations over the years, some by Amos Bronson Alcott, Louisa’s father. Well worth a visit. There are lots of other historic homes to see in Concord, along with the Sleepy Hollow Cemetery, where you’ll find Louisa’s grave in the Alcott family plot.

Day 6

I drove two hours north, through New Hampshire and into Vermont, for a spot of ‘leaf-peeping’, as it’s amusingly known. I drove through delightful villages with covered bridges, ending up in Woodstock, which was the epitome of New England autumnal perfection.

Having wandered around the town, I drove off the beaten track a bit, through idyllic farmland along roads framed by the most glorious autumn colours. At one point, my sat nav took me up a single track road and I finally lost phone signal for the first time since I’d been in America. I didn’t see a single soul. I stopped the car and got out, soaking up the sound of silence broken only by the crickets.

On the way home I drove through a place called Quechee, where I bought a couple of treasures from a wonderful antiques shop run by a man who told me he’d met his wife when they were at university in Durham. In the village itself, I perused an upmarket glass shop and admired the ‘Quechee falls’ and their fall backdrop.

Day 7

I devoted my last full day to Boston itself, getting an Uber to drop me off at picture-perfect Acorn Street, one of the few remaining streets left with cobblestones intact and replete, at this time of year, with the obligatory Halloween decorations.

From there I walked to Boston Common and found this delightful series of statues.

I spent two or three hours walking the Freedom Trail, a 2.5-mile red brick line that runs all round the centre of Boston connecting various places of interest associated with the American Revolution.

The trees were only just beginning to turn autumnal on the Common.

I loved the idea of the Freedom Trail, as it meant I didn’t need to think about finding my way around and could simply enjoy the sights while following the line. Among many other things, I discovered some of the city’s oldest graves…

…and a church/museum where people gathered at key moments in the run-up to the Tea Party…

…and the ship yard where the Boston Tea Party took place.

Boston was a lovely city – quieter than New York, but full of history and interest.

The obelisk is the Bunker Hill Monument, which commemorates the site of one of the first major battles in the American Revolution and marks the end of the Freedom Trail.

In the afternoon I went to Cambridge, where, true to its namesake, a boat race was going on.

It was horribly busy, so I took refuge in the virtually empty Harvard Museum of Natural History, famous for its wonderful collection of life-size glass flowers.

Day 8

On my final day, my flight wasn’t until 10pm, so I had plenty of time to get in another day of exploration. I went to Salem, Halloween capital of the world, where my first port of call was the so-called Witch House.

The Witch House is the only building surviving that has direct links to the infamous Witch Trials of 1692-3, as it was home to the magistrate who presided over the trials. It’s a great place to learn about the trials, as well as about what life was like in Massachusetts at that time.

There’s a monument to the twenty people who died in the trials, which includes details of how the unfortunate victims were executed: most were hanged, except one who was ‘pressed to death’. Eek.

I wanted to go to the Witch Museum, but the queue was huge, so instead I had a wander around a residential neighbourhood admiring all the beautiful houses and autumn colour.

From there I drove up the coast to Manchester-by-the-Sea and then Rockport, famous for this red hut. I had a delicious lunch of lobster roll at a little place by the sea not far from here.

I also visited Gloucester, which you might know from the film The Perfect Storm, which is based on the true story of six fishermen from Gloucester whose lives were lost at sea in 1991. Their names are among the thousands of fishermen remembered on a memorial along the seafront, where there’s also a statue dedicated to the wives and children left behind, along with this earlier monument to those who’ve died at sea.

Eventually I drove my way back down the coast, stopping at various intervals to stretch my legs and watching the sunset from Revere Beach before heading to the airport.

Trip in numbers

  • Miles driven: 1,065
  • States visited: 4 [Massachusetts, New Hampshire, Vermont, Rhode Island]
  • Helicopter hours logged: 1
  • Record-breaking storms survived: 1
  • Donuts consumed: 7
  • Dunkin’ Donuts branches sighted: never more than 6ft away from one!
  • Trump posters seen: 2
  • Number of houses I wanted to buy: all of them

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