Travel | Fall Comes to the Lake Country of New Hampshire
Lunching on the piazza, I watched the docking of a vessel older than any racy runabout. The M/S Mount Washington is a 230-foot excursion boat that has cruised Winnipesaukee since 1940. She was launched as the Chateaguay on Lake Champlain in 1888, and was cut into pieces and lugged by rail to New Hampshire some 50 years later, replacing the original Mount Washington, which had burned. From her home port of Weirs Beach, the big white boat stops at Alton Bay, Center Harbor, Meredith, and Wolfeboro, on a varying schedule. She was a bit late pulling in as I watched from my outdoor table, but I recalled something a crew member had once told me: “We’re not a train. We don’t run on time.”
Alton Bay, at Winnipesaukee’s southern tail, has the tranquil, lived-in feel of an old Michigan cottage community in one of Hemingway’s Nick Adams stories, with fried-clam joints–still serving in October– thrown in for New England effect. The town is, of course, connected by road to everywhere, but when the Mount Washington heaves into view at the head of the bay, it seems as though she’s coming to deliver a week’s worth of supplies. From the looks of things, that would be bait, flour, a few cases of Moxie, and the latest Saturday Evening Post.
I’d nearly finished circling the lakes. Tomorrow I’d continue northwest on Route 11, stopping at Gilford’s Ellacoya State Park to see the broad mirroring of color on Winnipesaukee, then ducking via 11B into incongruous Weirs Beach (a village in Laconia), its big neon sign urging travelers to hang a right toward an ocean resort that seems to be looking for an ocean, and for the 1950s. I’d swing up Route 3 through Meredith, its old linen mill polished and packed with cheerful shops and restaurants, now known as Mill Falls Marketplace. And I might head west from there on Route 104 over to Bristol and then swing up a counterclockwise route around pristine, spring-fed Newfound Lake, stopping to walk the wooded trails of Audubon’s Paradise Point Nature Center, Hebron Marsh Sanctuary, and Bear Mountain Sanctuary.
For now, though, I was tucked in at Gilford’s Inn at Smith Cove, a place that felt like the big summer camp of a well-to-do family, a camp on a lake that had been enjoyed for generations–a place where wealth had been displayed not in lace and china, but in an abundance of fir wainscoting, floor to ceiling, each room a snug redoubt of warm brown wood.
Dawn broke gray and cool the next morning. A small white boat glided past the dock outside my window. I was snug in the heart of New Hampshire, at the loveliest and most bittersweet of all the turnings of the seasons.