Last year we made the sensible decision to spend late July/early August in Maine. DC in July and August can be unbearably humid (see my previous post: Living on a Swamp), so the idea of heading north and hanging out by the water was very appealing.
The next decisions involved where on the Maine coast we wanted to stay, and what sort of accommodation we were looking for. Maine’s tourist information website was very helpful in outlining the state’s different areas. Most famous is probably the southern part of the coast with its big sandy beaches, like Kennebunk, and beachside communities. But there are also lakes and mountains inland, and there’s the wild north coast from Penobscot Bay to New Brunswick, which includes Arcadia National Park. And then there’s the MidCoast area that we chose. An easy drive from the airport in Portland (ME, not Oregon – that’s much further away), the MidCoast is characterized by rocky peninsulas and long inlets, lighthouses, and lobster fishing. Wild in a gentle way (at least in the summer) it’s a beautiful place.
We decided we should experience an American resort, so we booked a room in Spruce Point Inn just outside Boothbay Harbour. Many of the resorts we looked at were rather far away from bigger towns – there’s one down by the tip of a peninsula – so the fact that we would have access to the shops and restaurants of Boothbay Harbour helped us make this decision.
As soon as we drew up at the main inn building we knew we’d made the right decision. It was the perfect American inn, of white wood with long verandahs and a lawn that sloped down to the sea. A saltwater pool area – with hottub could be seen down by the inn’s dock, and Adirondack chairs were dotted about the lawn. Our room was in one of the little two-story cottages, with a verandah and a view of the gardens plus a sliver of sea.
One of the first things we did was get down to the pool and enjoy the hot tub. It was by now evening and the sun was struggling through the clouds. My main memory of this place is the silvery light of the late evening sun on the sea, seen as I lounged warm and content by this pool.
Not that we did that much lounging. The resort had tennis courts which we made great use of, and we spent quite a bit of time driving around the area, sightseeing.
One of our drives took us to Wiscasset, an old town just north of Boothbay – so on the mainland rather than the peninsula. We did the walking tour of the town, up and down its hills to the old Victorian mansions, the old prison and one of the first ever public schools. Sadly most things were shut in the morning, and the Musical Wonder House, with its collection of music boxes, had closed, it seemed, for good. Luckily Red’s Eats, with its famous ‘more than a lobster’ roll was open and made us forget our disappointments. A true lobster shack, we ate at tables set up outside in the sun with a view of the water and a sea breeze keeping us cool.
That afternoon we headed over to Pemaquid Point, to see a lighthouse and enjoy the rocky shoreline. It turned out that entry to the lighthouse also included entry to the historical site of Colonial Pemaquid – a really old fishing settlement that dated from when the English probably established seasonal fishing settlements there in the 1610s. Nothing really remains, save some old foundations, but it was still interesting, and a lovely spot in the summer. Nearby is the site of what has been various forts since 1677. Its earliest incarnation was made of wood and fell to Indian attack in 1689. Next came Fort William Henry in 1692, built by Massachusetts, which governed the area at that time. This was destroyed in 1696 by combined French and Indian forces. The final fort – Fort Frederick – was more successful but was dismantled when it came to the war of Independence, to avoid it being used by the British. Part of the second fort – William Henry – has been reconstructed so you can go up the tower, which gives great views.
It also houses an exhibition about the area between 1677 and 1761, the archaeological finds, and the complex relationships between English, French and Indian traders. Although this is not the Fort at which Paul Revere fought as an artillery officer, there was a mention of him and what they saw as his disreputable behaviour there (see my article on regional versions of American history here).
We learnt more about Maine’s part in American history when we visited Bath and Portland on our way back to the airport our final day. Bath has an excellent Maritime museum, where you can see where they built America’s first ships – and how they got them into the water after building them (harder than you might think). And in Portland we saw Longfellow’s House – the poet who immortalized Paul Revere in his (pretty awful) poem Revere’s Ride.
Mostly though, what I enjoyed about Maine was being on the water, the seafood, and the casual nature of things. One of the best things we did was to take a boat trip around the Boothbay area. When we started the morning mist hadn’t quite lifted – even further out at sea – but we still saw plenty of lighthouses, islands and wildlife. I’m a fan of birdlife, so passing close by herons and nesting ospreys was fantastic. Most excitingly, while we were looking at some seals, an American bald eagle turned up!
I’ll write about the seafood in another post, but I can’t end this blog without mentioning at least the lobster shacks. As well as the one we enjoyed in Wiscasset, we also found two around Boothbay that we loved. There’s just something about spending the whole day enjoying the sun and the water and then walking, slightly sand and salt-crusted, to a lobster dock, where you’re welcomed with beer, shellfish and plenty of paper napkins. It’s casual, relaxed, and utterly unselfconscious, and I think eating that way in the sea air can’t help but make the lobster taste even better.