By Katie Scarvey
Driving to Maine recently, I started thinking about all the beaches I’ve experienced, from Rehobeth Beach in Delaware to Venice Beach in California and Ocracoke Island in North Carolina. Then there were the more exotic beaches in France, Greece, Belize and Thailand. I used to look for different things in a shore experience than I do now. As a teenager, I didn’t have a problem with Virginia Beach and its tacky T-shirts and throngs of people.
Now, I have no desire to stay in a high-rise condo and have access to all the same fast-food restaurants I could find anywhere.
Give me a location with a sense of place and history. Give me a spot that has managed to avoid the over-development starting to tarnish formerly magical places like the northern Outer Banks. (On a recent grocery store jaunt at Southern Shores, it took us almost an hour to to drive 600 yards. Who needs that?)
My new vacation criteria: no hordes of people. No bumper-to- bumper traffic. Plenty of opportunities to be in nature. A sense of being somewhere.
A vacation to Prince Edward Island six summers ago met the criteria. We rented an out-of-the way farmhouse on a property we shared with a friendly draft horse named Jimbo. A short walk down a country road brought us to a beach.
It wasn’t a great swimming beach, but it was perfect for kayaking. We’d paddle along the dramatic red sandstone cliffs and often be rewarded with the appearance of a seal or two.
One day, our landlord Reid came over with a big jar of bar clams he’d canned himself. “You ought to be able to get a feed off ’em,” he said. Oh, we did ó and they were glorious.
This summer we yearned for another shore vacation with this sort of flavor. We weren’t up for the drive to Canada again, so we headed for the next best thing: Maine.
Maine isn’t called Vacationland for nothing.
Some years ago, my family and I camped outside of Bar Harbor and spent a day at Acadia National Park, one of the most beautiful places in Maine, or anywhere else for that matter. That experience prompted my husband a few summers ago to rent a house in Southport, near Boothbay Harbor. I couldn’t make the trip because I had to work, but the rest of my family came back with lots of great stories and insisted we all needed to go back to Southport.
This summer, we did.
The greatest thing about being on the coast of Maine is that it feels like a mountain vacation and a beach vacation rolled into one. If this strikes you as odd, it will surely identify you to locals as “from away.”
Nestled in the woods off a quiet road, our house ó with its two Papa-sized and two baby-sized adirondack chairs on the lawn ó was perfect. A path behind the house snaked through the woods to the beach. It seemed inconceivable that this forest path ó with its fragrant spruces, lush ferns and the greenest, most velvety moss imaginable ó could take us to a beach.
Mornings meant a trip to the Southport General Store, the only real store on the island, to pick up the Portland Press Herald, the Boston Globe, and the Boothbay Herald.Reading local newspapers on vacation is a must. How else would we know that a fiberglass canoe in good condition had washed up along the shore of Sheepscot River and its owner was being sought?Doughnuts are also a must, because when can you eat doughnuts if not on vacation? Protein fruit shakes with green tea and flaxseed and vitamins will still be there when you get home.
When the weather was nice (or even marginal) we’d kayak out from the rocky beach, which gave us a great view of a nearby lighthouse. The stark beauty of the scene made me think of the art of Andrew Wyeth, who found much inspiration in Maine. We’d also paddle into Southport’s Cozy Harbor ó spelled “cosy” or “cozy” depending on who you talk to.
Paddling through the colorful lobster buoys that seem to be everywhere there’s water, we saw lobstermen hauling in their traps. Making our way past the rugged cliffs, we tried to catch up to a family of ducks schooning around but quickly discovered it was futile to try to outpaddle them. We glided quietly by nesting ospreys, who’d eye us menacingly if we got too close.
Of course all that salt-air exercise would make us hungry, and Robinson’s Wharf ó located by the swing bridge separating Boothbay Harbor from Southport ó was just the place to satisfy seafood cravings. We feasted outside on the dock and discovered something we’d never tried ó lobster Caesar salad. It was perfect with sweet potato fries.If you continue across the swing bridge into the busy town of Boothbay Harbor, you’ll find lots of shops and galleries and places to eat. The town’s candlepin bowling lanes ó pretty much unchanged since 1946 ó are worth checking out.
Food always seems to dominate our vacation thoughts, so it didn’t take long for us to discover the town’s version of Hap’s ó Dunton’s Dog House. We hadn’t been in town 20 minutes when we were munching fried haddock sandwiches at a picnic table.The best place to buy lobster is probably the Boothbay Lobster Wharf, formerly the Lobstermen’s Co-op. Eat at the casual restaurant or take your lobsters home to cook. The prices are good and the lobster is shockingly fresh. If you’re in the mood to take a day trip from the harbor area, there are whale, seal and puffin-watching trips available, as well as mackerel fishing excursions. If you want an insight into the local economy, you can arrange to go out on a working lobster boat.
A nice way to spend the afternoon is a short ferry ride to Squirrel Island, a summer resort colony founded in 1871. There are about 100 historic homes on this charming island, and no cars. It’s easy to walk around this tranquil island; if you’re like us, you’ll find yourself lingering on the rocky cliffs and fantasizing about what it would be like to own a summer home there.
If you’re interested in a bigger excursion, Monhegan Island is a popular destination. Twelve miles from the mainland, it features inns, shops, restaurants and 17 miles of hiking trails, plus a swimming beach and an artists’ colony. It also boasts some of the most dramatic ocean cliffs in New England.
Oyster connoisseurs will want to make the drive to Edgecomb to the retail store of the Glidden Point Oyster Farm, which grows oysters in seed beds along the Damariscotta River. These oysters are exceptional: meaty and succulent and worth going out of your way for. The store is self-serve ó you pick the oysters you want from the refrigerators, use the store’s calculator to figure your bill and simply leave the cash in a box. New customers often stand and gape because they can’t believe a store would trust them that much.
Some people can’t make a trip to Maine without a stop in Freeport, home of L.L. Bean.
But if you’re lucky enough to find yourself in Maine, perhaps it’s better to just put on those L.L. Bean hiking boots or water shoes you already own and just get out and enjoy the real Maine attraction: the outdoors. Contact Katie Scarvey at 704-797-4270 or email@example.com.
By Katie Scarvey