Tidewater Traveler - March 2011
The Beaches of New Hampshire
George W. Sellers
Beach? New Hampshire? New Hampshire is not the destination that normally pops to mind when someone says “beach.” In fact, most folks might need to consult a Google map to realize that New Hampshire has any exposure at all to the Atlantic Ocean. The “Live Free or Die” state, more commonly remembered as Vermont’s inverted twin, reaches out at its southeast corner, squeezes between its neighbors, Massachusetts and Maine, and claims about 13 miles of Atlantic coastline.
A mom, probably in her early thirties, has her bare legs stretched out on a beach recliner chair gathering some of the last rays of the New England summer sunshine. Her two youngsters are wading about ankle-deep in the fairly calm Atlantic surf just a few yards away. “Beautiful day,” I say, to which she replies, “Yes, I suppose this will be the last good weekend beach day we’ll have this year, so I wanted to take advantage of it.”
I stifle a smile and a chuckle when I consider that she has referred to this area as a beach. When I think about a beach, I usually consider that I will be walking on granular or powdery sand; or maybe shell pulverized by centuries of wave action. Here, I am picking my way gingerly across pebbles and rocks, some as large as grapefruits. Even wearing sneakers, I find it awkward to walk on the surface. The kids are wearing thin-soled water shoes; the mom had been wearing flip-flops. They seem to give no heed to the uneven, irregular and uncomfortable carpet.
The word “beach” would never have crossed my mind had the lady not used the word to describe her activity for the day. Unlike many Mid-Atlantic beaches that are often hundreds of yards wide from a commercial boardwalk area to the surf, this beach reaches no more than 30 or 40 feet from the seawall and narrow sidewalk where the car is parked to the water’s edge.
Though it is not crowded, hundreds of folks are enjoying the warm, pleasant September Sunday on this rocky New Hampshire beach. Many people are in the water; some are surfing several hundred yards offshore. Some are flying kites; others playing with their dogs; others just sitting. Okay, so this is a beach!
It is totally coincidental (and maybe a little creepy) that as I compose the first paragraphs of this article the iPod has shuffled to Barry Manilow singing Weekend in New England, in which he expresses the lyrics “...Time, in New England, took me away, to long rocky beaches – and you, by the bay.” Maybe that is my motivation to continue writing.
What brings me to this scene? In a word – Southwest Airlines – okay, that was two words. Amazingly, Southwest operates eight nonstop flights every day of the week between BWI (Baltimore) and Manchester, New Hampshire. Careful shopping and flexible travel dates can yield airfares between the two cities as low as $29 each way. Of course, that figure gets doubled and all kinds of taxes and fees get added, but the resulting airfare still makes the cost of a round trip less than bus fare.
Why Manchester, New Hampshire? The Manchester-Grenier Industrial Airpark is positioned as an alternative gateway to the Greater Boston area. Drive-time from the airport to downtown Boston is less than one hour (pending traffic conditions). To the New Hampshire coastal town of Hampton, the drive along SR 101 is only about 45 minutes.
Today we have chosen to drive the scenic U.S. Route 1A going northward from Hampton to experience the coastal beauty of New Hampshire. For much of the drive, Route 1A is immediately adjacent to the Atlantic and its related bays, offering spectacular views to the right (easterly). To the left are competing views provided by dozens of incredibly large and elaborate estate homes with perfectly manicured lawns and shrubs.
Route 1A winds through several small coastal state parks and past numerous rocky points that have surely been the subject of many photographers and artists. The path eventually enters the City of Portsmouth, New Hampshire, where Colonial architecture is prominent along its narrow streets.
I am motivated to pull the rental car into a small parking lot when a most unusual bridge comes into view. Spanning the Piscataqua River is Memorial Bridge, linking Portsmouth with her sister city of Kittery, Maine.
The steel structure was built between 1920 and 1923. Upon its completion it was dedicated as a “Memorial to the Sailors and Soldiers of New Hampshire who participated in the World War 1917-1919.”
My fascination with the bridge was immediate when I saw the center truss being elevated between the two towers to allow for passage of an ocean-going freighter. Known as a through-truss, lift-bridge, the entire roadway truss, nearly 300 feet long, remains horizontal as it is lifted to provide a clearance of nearly 130 feet. I watched until the counter-weights of the steel monster rose back to their resting position high on each tower and the roadbed truss banged back into position to allow vehicles to cross once again.
Riding across the open-grate bridge deck brings us to Kittery, Maine, where just about every place of business for the next few miles displays large “Save the Bridge” signs. It seems the bridge may be reaching the end of its useful life as a safe and cost-efficient conveyance between New Hampshire and Maine. Its condition is generating a civic battle between preservationists and progressives.
It does not take too long for signs promoting lobster cuisine to entice us into the parking lot of a local restaurant. Yummmmm ... and then we walk it off in the Kittery Outlets.
Back on the road to pass through the seacoast town of Ogunquit, where I learn to pronounce the town name like the locals do (oh-GUN-kwit) – will I remember? Just a few more miles bring us to Wells, Maine, and a very conveniently located Hampton Inn & Suites, which happens to be owned by an Easton-based hotel management group.
If you are looking for something inexpensive and interesting to do for a weekend, consider flying to Manchester, or rent a car and explore the beaches of New Hampshire and other New England destinations. Imagine – create your own Barry Manilow Weekend in New England.
May all of your travels be happy and safe!
George Sellers is a Certified Travel Counselor and Accredited Cruise Counselor who operates the popular travel website and travel planning service www.SellersTravel.com. His Facebook and e-mail addresses are George@SellersTravel.com.