Foliage in Vermont's Northeast Kingdom
Yes, well, maybe some other time, when our body armor is out of the shop. For now, we were pleased when Tim Tierney, Kingdom Trails’ executive director, told us that a six- or seven-mile network of relatively easy trails would take us from the village to a viewpoint called Heaven’s Bench, and that East Burke Sports, right across the street, rented bikes and helmets. And Heaven’s Bench? There was a bench, and the view was almost a rival to Brownington’s Prospect Hill: mountains and meadows and lavish lacings of color.
There’s a cliché about the Northeast Kingdom that says that it’s rough, rugged, remote–hardscrabble, even. There are places up here where all of those things hold true. But when you take a slow drive down Darling Hill Road from East Burke, as we did one late afternoon, the sense is of trundling through a very mannered shire indeed.
A century ago, much of this countryside was the property of Elmer A. Darling, a New York hotelier whose Vermont cows put butter on his city guests’ tables, and this stretch still seems a squire’s domain. The Inn at Mountain View Farm incorporates Darling’s one-time creamery; farther south, in Lyndonville, the Stepping Stone Spa offers a menu of massages and even something called a “Vermont Maple Sugar Body Polish”–the perfect finish, no doubt, to one of those days when it feels as though life has put you through a waffle iron.
On meadows behind the spa, Belted Galloway cattle graze beneath the shadow of the ethereally beautiful Chapel of the Holy Family. It was privately built yet is open to all, and on an afternoon when we were the only visitors, hidden speakers filled this small yet soaring space with Gregorian chant. It was as if we’d taken a back road into the Middle Ages, into a kingdom that lay not to the northeast but to a point entirely off the compass.
If our most recent autumn exploration of the Kingdom began with dog-traveled dirt roads in the hills above Montgomery, it ended in a rutted track sloping down to the Connecticut River in the hamlet of Lower Waterford. Overhead, light filtered through the dappled leaves as if through stained glass.
We tarried at the river’s edge, with New Hampshire barely a stone’s skip across the water, then strolled back up to where the great white columns of the Rabbit Hill Inn, our night’s lodging, stood just ahead. This sumptuous property, where travelers have been sheltered since 1795, is a place that belies any rough-edged image that might still stick to the Northeast Kingdom.
But we know better than to think about the Kingdom in terms of its image. It’s just the place where we go, when, as Vermonters, we want to see Vermont.