The Sound of Spring on the Connecticut Shoreline
Time stands still in all the best places, but only for so long. As spring melts into Long Island Sound, the villages along the Connecticut shoreline stir and stretch, sloughing off winter’s crust. Midway along the coast, snow lets go of the edges of Hammonasset Beach, and before you know it, town greens up and down the Sound start living up to their name. Migratory birds flock overhead. Crocuses poke; tulips burst.
It’s only a 25-mile meander from Old Saybrook–Kate Hepburn’s well-bred stomping grounds–to Branford, an unexpected dining mecca. Along the way, spring unfurls furiously in towns as diverse as Westbrook, Clinton, Madison, and Guilford. Meanwhile, all the things that make these communities terrific in summer–pretty marinas, salt marshes, tucked-away restaurants, historic inns, bookstores, shops, and cafes–are still here, just less expensive and less crowded.
Speaking of time, here’s what the local voice of authority, Hepburn herself, opined to costar Sam Waterston, when the two were working together on The Glass Menagerie. “Your clock’s not ticking,” the somewhat-abrupt four-time Oscar winner informed Waterston. “And when it’s not ticking, you’re very, very dull. But when your clock is ticking, you’re very, very interesting. So start your clock!”
Our clock’s ticking. Let’s see what we find on a long weekend in Hepburn country.
Like ancient Mycenae, this area along the 110-mile Long Island Sound is a cradle of civilization–American-style. The basin was here before the glaciers, but once the ice came and went 18,000 years ago, it deposited a freshwater lake. Eventually the lake overflowed, carved out a gorge, and met up with the sea.
Native Americans inhabited the area, farming along the Hammonasset River. Poetically, they bequeathed us a word meaning “where we dig holes in the ground,” which children still do today at Hammonasset Beach. Dutchman Adriaen Block first wrote about the Sound in 1614, and European colonists began arriving a decade later. Old buildings and houses from the 1700s hunker close to the water; crisp white Colonials ring town greens like clothes bleaching on the line.
But there’s beauty with the history. Today, workers are dredging the marina in front of the Saybrook Point Inn, where my room overlooks the very spot where the Connecticut River meets the Atlantic. The sun rises over Griswold Point, and the marina is so quiet I can almost hear the panicked splashes of freshwater fish as they careen into the Sound, tasting salt for the very first time. In spring there are few boats bumping against the docks, no masts or yachts obstructing the view. Just me and a priceless panorama. The Rat Pack enjoyed it, too, back in the day; more recently, rumor has it, Beyonce.
There’s a reason why Hepburn lived a stone’s skip from here. Her sprawling home, in an area of Old Saybrook known as Fenwick, had glorious views of the water and a lighthouse, practically in her backyard. Fortunately, I can have all the perks of this lovely slice of the Sound without the property taxes. I can borrow a bike at the inn and pedal across the nearby causeway, and back in time, on the 10-mile Maple Avenue loop, past streets with names like Neptune, Seagull, Osprey, and Great Hammock Road. (Just saying those names probably lowers one’s blood pressure.)