Day 1 Saturday September 24th
Roadtripping from New York City to Maine…driving towards Connecticut, through early morning Queens crossing the East River over Whitestone Bridge looking over towards Throgs Neck. Following the I-95 passing roadside signs ‘Are you preparing to meet Jesus? Call 083 for truth!’… ‘Accident? Bring on Bert!’ (Bert’s a lawyer…not an emergency worker). We drive over Connecticut Turnpike another sign ‘Jesus Offers Peace Hope and Rest’; being English we’re still a little baffled by the amount of religious and lawyer signs along American highways. Passing the National Helicopter Museum which with more time, I’d love to have visited. Have you read the book ‘Chickenhawk” by Robert Mason? Best book involving helicopters I ever read…the detail of how they fly those huge heavy machines is fascinating. So our first stop, New Haven Connecticut to see the glorious Pirelli Tire building designed by Brutalist architect mastermind Marcel Breuer, completed in 1970. Since it’s been renovated in to the Hilton Hotel Marcel it operates as a zero-energy building, generating renewable energy to run the hotel. I took the photo from the side of the building from the car park to get that wonderful cut out.
Leaving New Haven taking the I-91, the Connecticut River snaking our trail for a while; seeing signs for Glastonbury and Manchester, North through Hartford and Windsor…crossing in to Massachusetts, there are dinosaur footprints here now bordered by a golf club and a reservoir. Still North through Northampton…so many familiar English names. Over the State border in to Brattleboro Vermont and a brief stop to wander the town. A redbrick lined Main Street, shops, restaurants and bars, we walk the bridge over the river and back again to the Brattleboro Museum and Art Center to see surreal unsettling paintings by Mie Yim (loved them). Heading West, crossing another State border in to New Hampshire, stopping for a coffee in Keene…ahead of schedule we cancelled the hotel in Manchester NH and continued on, in to our 6th State of the day to the Rebekah Hotel where we picked up a last minute reservation in Old Orchard Beach, Maine.
Brooklyn friends Juli and Walter visiting family nearby drive to meet us at Ken’s Place for seafood in Scarborough. Fried clams, steamed clams, lobster roll and haddock; traditional Maine eats…we had a feast in a simple but established roadside set-up with walk up counters to order and a place filled with locals and visitors. Close by we stopped at the walk up windows of The Dairy Corner for loaded cones of delicious ice-cream.
Day 2 Sunday September 25th
Early morning Maine walking Old Orchard Beach the light illuminating the soft underbelly of the clouds captivates. We pack up and leave driving through Scarborough again stopping to look out across the Audubon Salt Marshes.
Our destination is Appleton for 3 nights but first to Portland, Maine’s largest city…sitting on a peninsular jutting out in to Casco Bay. Originally known as Machigonne (Great Neck) the first European settler was Captain Christopher Levett the city renamed after the English Isle of Portland; in turn Portland in Oregon being named after its Maine namesake. We walked the cobbled streets lined with impressive 19th century redbrick architecture, got breakfast from a hipster coffee shop with friendly staff keen to chat. Although gentrified and accordingly expensive, Portland still retains the character of a working city with a local community. It’s handsome but lived in…affluent having Maine’s largest harbour with a lively art community and attractive marina.
Back on the road taking the Carlton Bridge over Kennebec River, on over the Sasanoa River by Nequasset Park; Maine a State of water; of rivers lakes, inlets, the sea. Through the small town of Wiscasset where a long line of people hug the roadside waiting for food at Reds. Into Rockland where one of this roadtrip’s main attraction lies for us, The Farnsworth Art Museum, one of the galleries dedicated to a favourite artist. As a boy the artist Andrew Wyeth visited Maine for many summers eventually moving here and with his wife living on several of the islands. He experimented in his early work painting with tempera; coloured pigments mixed with a binder of egg yolks. His paintings are beautiful; thoughtful emotional, the way he captured light and fine detail of grass and fishing nets…the weathered wood cladding of buildings. I love his series depicting quiet empty milking sheds….of lace curtains billowing in windows caught in a breeze (not to be found at this gallery) and I want to see more of his wonderful portraits. I plan a trip to Pennsylvania next year to Brandywine River Museum to see more of his work. Shown below ‘Pentecost’ (1978 Allen Island Maine/fishing nets), ‘Sea Running’ (lighthouse 1978 Southern Island Maine) and ‘Charlie Ervine’ (1937). In the same museum another favourite artist exhibit coincides with our visit, Louise Nevelson…her huge installations of found wood usually painted black and here some works in jewelry, chunky wonderful oversized wooden designs. And in to a third room to be wowed by the large scale woodcut prints of Leonard Baskin where ‘…carnivorous birds and predatory humans merge in to universal symbols of degradation and despair.”(credit: gallery website). Six appropriately nightmarish large scale prints, his Holocaust series created towards the end of his career are heartrending powerful intimidating.
Leaving Rockland inspired we pick up our route again towards Appleton, driving through Camden pulling over to look at the fancy old houses in the historic area.
Ten minute drive further we stop in Lincolnville, a small town of around 2,300 residents which serves as the mainland terminal for the Maine State ferry to Isleboro…a ferry was just pulling out as we parked. Hardly anyone around, some fishermen steering their boats in to harbour, a group of men on the docks…a pleasant respite from the heavily touristed harbour towns we’d passed through. A flick through the Wikipedia page for the town recounts an odd story: “On October 22, 1844, local members of the Millerite sect climbed Megunticook Mountain to await the end of the world and the Second Coming. The event was dubbed the Great Disappointment.” Brilliant.
And 15 minutes later hugging the coastline North takes us to Belfast, a city we immediately like for it’s friendly local community, quirky shops, the old cinema up for sale…which bizarrely got a mention on our favourite British film review podcast ‘Kermode and Mayo’s Take’…when the owner of a local Belfast knitting wool shop called in to the show to encourage someone to buy it and keep it local. We dropped in to the knitting store to say hello but sadly she wasn’t in. We like Belfast, it’s touristy but a lot less touristy than Rockland and Camden, it’s a bit tatty around the edges and worn giving it a comfortable vibe…people are quick to engage with us and proud of their town.
To our final destination to a great Airbnb in Appleton owned by Denis, a barn he built originally as his own home set in a field inland Maine…away from the busy tourist destinations, away from pretty much everything. We’d stocked up at a nearby supermarket so had everything we needed to spend 3 nights using this as our base.
Day 3 Monday September 26th
Overnight rain and morning drizzle turned in to a dazzling day…perfect we believed for a 1 hour 45 minute drive to Acadia National Park. Along the coast the ragged peninsular of Maine stabbing out in rocky promontories washed by the sea…North-East back through Belfast and on through Searsport hitching up to Orland, East through Ellsworth, dropping South through Trenton and on to Bar Harbor Road across the Trenton Bridge skipping above Thompson then Mt Desert Islands. These roads twist and curve always around the edges of things, pushed into shape by the coast. We reach the Hulls Cove entrance to Acadia and join the park Loop Road, something we’ve done in many National Parks across America…but here it’s confusingly signposted, forks in the road don’t show where the Loop continues. It’s frustrating and long lines of cars wait at each scenic overlook, parking areas congested…people fighting for the views…we’ve never experienced this at other national parks; it’s simply not a big enough area to accommodate the influx of visitors it draws. We know it gets a late peak season with Autumn colours and “Leaf Peepers”…but we planned this trip a week or two early to avoid that and late enough for the summer season to be over. After taking a route that actually exited the park rather than continuing the Loop Road we wound up driving 6-7 miles to rejoin the Loop, realising that we’d completed most of it already. A short hike and picnic at Jordan Pond (below) was scenic and serene. Thunder Hole was less thunder and more a big splash as the tide was out, the lookout points crammed with fellow visitors. No doubt it’s a beautiful landscape but our timing was off…more awareness of how populous it still is at this time of year would have been research well spent on our behalf.
We left via Bar Harbor but didn’t want to explore the town knowing it would be equally busy… and there’s only so many harbour towns you can visit before they start to merge in to one another; only so many lobster printed tea towels you want to look at. Passing the roadside Happy Clam Shack covered in buoys (in England we pronounce them ‘boys’ here they say ‘booeys’…a sound I like) a sign announces ‘God is real let us introduce you to him’ ( I don’t want to meet him early) another sign ‘Where did the King keep his armies? In his sleevies” has me chuckling for several miles, Dave amused that I’d never heard such an old joke.
Over the Penobscot River we decide to cover some extra miles and head to Bangor to the home of Stephen King; the stand in for his fictional town of Derry in several of his novels. And Bangor turned around the day for us, this is what we love, finding the eccentric in places which this town really delivered. Parking at Stephen’s King’s spooky spiderwebbed gates topped with bats; his home now The Stephen & Tabitha King Foundation….and because of Stephen King’s legacy here, everything in Bangor feels a bit creepy. It’s brilliant. We love it. We seek out the infamous water tower from his novel ‘It’ where Pennywise the murderous clown lived. We didn’t knock…just in case. It’s actually the Thomas Hill standpipe built 1897; a 1.75 million gallon riveted steel tank housed in a wood jacket topped by a 3 tonne steel drum ‘carousel’. The tank is 50 feet tall, 75 feet in diameter. The wooden housing 110 feet high made from hard pine and covered in 220,000 cedar shingles. The interior 100 step staircase follows the line of the windows. It still supplies water to downtown Bangor. Not far from the tower we look for what is claimed to be the drain that inspired King as the place where Pennywise lurks in the book…someone with a sense of humour had attached a red balloon. The big old storm drains we see all over New York and used in the movie adaptation are scarier as Pennywise looks up and reaches out.
As dusk is settling over Bangor we walk to see one last eccentricity, the giant Muffler Man repurposed as a Paul Bunyan statue. His hands which previously would have cradled a muffler (exhaust for my english friends reading this) now hold an axe and a farm implement. Dave refuses to play so my series of ‘Dave Standing Under Giant Things’ is thwarted but another Muffler Man sighting added to our list. There’s a great instagram account worth following created by Joel Baker where you’ll learn so much about these iconic American giants…called appropriately @americangiants
Day 4 Tuesday September 27th
Denis dropped by told us how he’d come to build his barn, moved out for a while and let it on AirBnB as an experiment never to move back in again. Astounded by its popularity he’s a gregarious interesting character, revelling in this unexpected turn of events. Full of great stories he’s undertaken some incredible motorcycle trips across Europe in to Russia…across China sleeping in tents in the desert. We trade travel stories laughing at the various crazy situations we’ve found ourselves in.
We head out to explore Deer Isle…the name of the island and of one of its towns…we passed through Little Deer Isle en route. Over the Penobscot Narrows Observatory Bridge which connects Deer Isle to the mainland; a 2,120 foot long (650 metre) cable-stayed bridge, the first bridge observation tower in the United States. At 420 feet/128 metres, it’s the tallest public bridge observatory in the world but sadly closed to visitors when we were here. We drive to the tip of Deer Isle to the small town of Stonington. Fog hung low, soft white light…the crash and boom of granite cutters, huge slabs of it were transported from here to be used in the building of Brooklyn Bridge. 30 to 40 small islands lay scattered close including ‘Wreck Island’. Ferries leave from here to Isle au Haut. We really like it. I talk to some local fisherman about a Clipper Ship passing through the harbour, we wander in to a coffee shop and talk with two fellow visitors. Most of the town is closed for the season and it’s more atmospheric for it. We feel lucky to have the place almost to ourselves. The light makes me think of Andrew Wyeth paintings.
Driving back on ourselves we visit ‘Nervous Nellie’s Jams and Jellies’ on Sunshine Road in the tiny town of Deer Isle. It’s bonkers. Homemade jams and chutneys in a shop set in woodland crammed with scrap metal and wooden sculptures of people and animals…creaky buildings and surreal whimsical groupings created by outsider artist Peter Beerits. It’s great fun, totally mad and must be creepy as hell in the dark…we loved it.
Winding our way back to the barn through beautiful scenery, trees starting to turn red and gold, low level heathland brackish marshes…inlets of water and views to islands. Barns and weathered silver shingled houses. Stopping in Belfast again for dinner, clam chowder and seafood in a harbourside place. Driving to Appleton pulling over to watch the sun sink across the fields gifting us with a gorgeous sunset.
Day 5 Wednesday September 28th
Leaving the barn (and its massive bathroom with heated floor) our end destination was Portsmouth for one night in New Hampshire…routing ourselves first to Cushing to visit the Olson House and nearby graves of Andrew and wife Betsy Wyeth and Christina Olson…set not far from the house tucked away in the tiny Hathorne Cemetery where other local people are buried beside them. Anna Christina Olson was the subject of Wyeth’s most famous painting ‘Christina’s World’, a scene depicting a young woman in a field, the woman’s limbs thin and her body appearing unnaturally aligned. Olson had a degenerative muscle disorder which physically left her incapable of walking….refusing to use a wheelchair she would crawl everywhere, something that Wyeth observed from his window as she crawled across a field. Wyeth’s wife Betsy posed for the torso of the painting as Olson was 55 years old by this time. The Olson house can be seen on the rise of the hill where Christina lived with her younger brother, both friends of Wyeth from when he stayed in a summer house in the area; they were often subjects of his paintings from 1940 to around 1968. The house still stands the barn now shielded by trees; Wyeth’s painting shows a wider separation between house and barn and the land lies slightly differently…but nothing much has changed. The Olson House is now a National Landmark owned by Farnsworth Art Museum (closed for refurbishment during our visit) and ‘Christina’s World’ is owned by MOMA where it has become one of America’s most iconic works of art.
From Cushing picking up route 220 following the edge of an inlet to Waldoboro where we join Highway One Road heading West before dropping down to cross the Damariscotta River. On through Newcastle…passing back over the Sheepscot River through Wiscasset where a new line of people waited for food at Reds. More English town names; Woolwich… across the Kennebec River to Bath, Brunswick, through Freeport to Yarmouth where we stop to visit ‘Eartha’ allegedly the biggest globe in the world housed inside the headquarters for Garmin. Open to the public and free, we look for familiar places as it slowly revolves and tilts.
Heading South we stop briefly in Kennebunk where hundreds of pumpkins are for sale at a roadside garden centre. We didn’t stop in Ogunquit, driving through it looked pretty but much the same as the rest of the harbour towns we’d already seen.
Over the state border in to New Hampshire to Portsmouth. Good looking 19th century brick buildings and redbrick pavements. Shops in original storefronts. We walked around town, chatting with street musicians from Georgia, seeing the old music hall, the town centre church and walking to the harbourside. Ate pizza from a wood-fired oven, friendly staff. 20 minute drive out of town we stayed one night in Hampton at a roadside place called Lamie’s Inn, an old fashioned room where you could hear all your neighbours’ going for a pee…but clean comfy, friendly staff…luckily we had earplugs.
Day 6 Thursday September 29th
Driving by Hampton Falls Inn Dave said I hope they got him out. Over another State line back in to Massachusetts, through Tewksbury, Worcester, Berlin following the I-84, stopping briefly at Sturbridge….passing an RV with a full size plastic skeleton strapped to the back. Over the border in to Connecticut where we stop in Cheshire for a final roadtrip photo, another Muffler Man. Cheshire has a law dictating that no sign can be higher than 7 feet; to get around it by using this 26 foot high Muffler Man repurposed as another Paul Bunyan, local business The House of Doors replaced the axe with an American flag because as the business commented: ” You can build a flagpole as high as you want and the town can’t do anything about it.” The Muffler Man has since become an official landmark in the town.
So another roadtrip ends. I’m already planning the next.
Connecticut New Haven Pirelli Building https://www.dwell.com/article/marcel-breuer-pirelli-building-renovation-hotel-marcel-new-haven-connecticut-0b28e059
Vermont Brattleboro Museum and Art Center https://www.brattleboromuseum.org
Maine Scarborough Audubon Center with pdfs for walking trails https://maineaudubon.org/visit/scarborough-marsh/
Maine Rockland Farnsworth https://www.farnsworthmuseum.org
Maine Rockland The Olson House (call ahead) https://www.farnsworthmuseum.org/visit/historic-homes/olson-house
Andrew Wyeth artist https://andrewwyeth.com
Andrew Wyeth Michael Palin episode (1 hr) https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=jNuGbKIoUds
Andrew Wyeth ‘Wyeth’ documentary trailer https://vimeo.com/283490946
Maine Belfast Heavenly Yarns knitting store https://www.heavenlyyarns.com
Maine Deer Isle Nervous Nellies Jams and Jellies https://www.nervousnellies.com
Maine Acadia National Park (plan for off season) https://www.nps.gov/acad/index.htm
Maine Yarmouth Eartha https://www.roadsideamerica.com/story/10408
Louise Nevelson artist https://louisenevelsonfoundation.org
Leonard Baskin artist https://americanart.si.edu/artist/leonard-baskin-275
Muffler Men American Giants https://usagiants.com
Stephen King writer official website https://stephenking.com
Mark Kermode Simon Mayo English film critics very witty lots of fun https://www.kermodeandmayo.com
Maine Scarborough Ken’s Place https://www.facebook.com/KensPlace1927 (seasonal opening times/check ahead)
Maine Scarborough The Dairy Corner (Ice cream take out) https://www.thedairycorner.com
Maine Portland Buzz Coffee shop https://www.buzzcoffeemaine.com
New Hampshire Portsmouth woodfired pizza The Flatbread Company https://flatbreadcompany.com/locations/portsmouth-nh/
Maine Old Orchard Beach The Rebekah Inn https://rebekahinn.com
Maine Appleton The Barn AirB&B https://abnb.me/KX2rkGWmJvb
New Hampshire Hampton Lamie’s Inn https://www.lamiesinn.com