Monadnock Region Sampler

A summer Saturday, great weather, and no schedule to keep: this is as good as July gets.

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The blossoms that give Rhododendron State Park its name.

I’ve never managed to get to Rhododendron State Park in Fitzwilliam, NH during peak bloom time, which is supposed to be mid-July, give-or-take. Even so, I’ve never had a disappointing trip there. The rhododendron grove is shady and cool, with or without blooms.

I skipped the trail leading from the grove to Little Monadnock Mountain. Instead, after  a walk around the grove, I left the park via Rockwood Road to connect with the Cheshire Rail Trail at Rockwood Pond a little over a mile away.

Rockwood Road

Where the Rhododendron State Park sign points left, Rockwood Road goes right.

Rockwood Road is unpaved but well-maintained, at least in midsummer. I walked the first half-mile with only a barred owl and a few tiger swallowtails for company, which suited me. Beyond that, as I approached the pond, I passed a few houses and was passed by a few very polite drivers.

Last time I saw Rockwood Pond was on a foggy autumn weekday without another soul in sight. This time, there were picnickers at the shore and canoeists on the water. Not much traffic on the rail trail, though. In fact, the only other pedestrians I saw were in the grove at the park. Grove, road, and trail together made a great walking route for me. Bug repellent was useful.

 

Rockwood Pond

Rockwood Pond, Fitzwilliam, NH

A map of the area suggests to me a longer loop hike for some other day: from the trailhead in Rhododendron State Park, go uphill to Little Monadnock; follow the Metacomet-Monadnock trail northward into Troy; turn south on the Cheshire Rail Trail; then turn right (south-southwest) on Rockwood Road to return to the park.

But no long hike for me today. Instead, after my walk I drove to discover a couple of places that were new to me (even though they’re apparently very well known by the rest of the world).

  • I am now a very big fan of Monadnock Berries in Troy, where I picked about three pounds of scrumptious blueberries while enjoying a prime view of Mount Monadnock.
  • The Kimball Farm ice cream stand in Jaffrey was crowded, and I could have done without the smell of fried seafood being served a few windows over. But those are just quibbles. My ice cream cone, allegedly a “mini” portion (but don’t you believe it), was perfect.
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Monadnock and blueberries: a great combination. Photos by Ellen Kolb.

 

Cheshire County drive

I spent this foggy and snowless December day driving from the Merrimack River to the Connecticut River and back, stopping for walks now and then. Visibility was too limited to make a mountain hike worthwhile, but rail trails and roadside parks made for fine stops.

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Rockwood Pond, Fitzwilliam NH

I chose a short segment between the nicely-restored depot in Troy and Rockwood Pond in Fitzwilliam – a round trip of just over four miles on a wide, straight trail. Conditions were fine. The only sounds were from birds and my own steps. No ice or snow, just a bit of mud on the southern half of the walk. I’m told that on a clear day there’s a splendid view of Mount Monadnock from the shore of Rockwood Pond. I thought this morning’s fog on the pond made for a pretty good view on its own.

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No one else in sight, and hardly a sound besides birdsong.

Swanzey was next, and I managed to work a pair of the town’s famed covered bridges into my route. Pleasant as they were, the most exciting sight of the day was a bald eagle I spotted as I was driving. (No photo. Why couldn’t it have come into sight while I was walking?)

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Thompson Bridge in Swanzey, complete with sidewalk. 

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In New Hampshire, where there’s a river, odds are there used to be mills.

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Ashuelot River seen from Thompson Bridge. The Ashuelot rail trail is nearby.

The village of Ashuelot is in Winchester, my next stop. It has a covered bridge of its own. The rail trail goes by an abandoned RR depot that looks pretty sorry after the cheery little depot in Troy. The “no trespassing” signs all over the place don’t help.

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Bridge in the village of Ashuelot, Winchester NH

After business in Brattleboro, Vermont – the main purpose of my trip – I took the more-or-less direct route back east, along New Hampshire routes 9 and 101. I stopped for a half hour at Chesterfield Gorge,  a small roadside state park on  route 9.

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Enjoy Chesterfield Gorge with just a three-quarter-mile loop walk from the parking area.

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Wilde Brook, which cuts Chesterfield Gorge.

The ride home took me past Monadnock, invisible in the persistent fog. It’s strange to look across Dublin Lake and know the mountain is right there yet out of sight.

As the photos show, this is a very mild late autumn. In a fit of irrational exuberance, I almost tossed sandals in the car before I left home. Good thing I refrained; there was just enough mud and chill to make me glad I wore sensible shoes.