It is such easy walking that even a sandy incline up to a bridge seems as smooth as a Sahara dune. I kick off my sneakers and go barefoot for a while just to get the feel of it. “Captain Bob’s Lobster Tours!” screams a shack on the other side. Right next to Bob’s — for those who want to taste, not tour — is “Rico’s Lobster by the Pound.”
I am already thirsty. The spicy peanuts were a mistake. I rummage in my pack and feel only folded objects. With my no-camping rules, I’ve gone too far. I’ve forgotten to pack water. I cross the sun-baked bridge and look ahead for any sign of a store.
• Famous subs and a parade down Ocean Boulevard
Suddenly I’m in a different summer. It might be a mirage, but clustered in the road ahead is what looks like a crowd. I smell popcorn. There are thumps and thuds of music. “Welcome,” says the sign, “to Hampton Beach.”
I want to get past this jam-packed strip as quickly as I can, but it isn’t easy since I haven’t had lunch. I’m drawn to the window at Gerri’s Famous Subs on Ocean Boulevard and get a root beer (extra large) plus a popsicle stick to keep track of my order. I pick a “Boardwalk Burger,” which comes perfectly grilled and up to its heavy load of ketchup and onions and cheese.
While I work on the beef, I watch a parade file past. It’s led by sun-blocked beachgoers with bellies. Just behind march teenagers speckled with tattoos and toting massive surfboards. Suddenly the teens break ranks and charge the beach. Although the surf is mild today, they’re up to their waists in seconds, and under — paddling out beyond the lines of breakers.
I think of taking a swim. But I’ve got half a burger to finish, and a coastline to explore. I check out the one other customer at Gerri’s: a guy at the next table. His dirigible of an Italian grinder is leaking ham and provolone and drops a pepper whenever he bites. After a second root beer, I waddle on.
• Little Boar’s Head, elegant roses, ancient statues
If Hampton Beach is Coney Island, then North Hampton is Nantucket or Newport. At Little Boar’s Head I find myself on a sort of Sunday stroll along a landscaped path that traces cliffs overlooking the sea. This area has long been a posh summer resort and shows off a lineup of imposing estates in a range of architectural styles.
There’s a stretch where the walkway is landscaped with both flower beds and benches and the effect is much like Newport, R.I.’s Cliff Walk: To one side you have ocean vistas, and to the other, views of summer mansions and their sloping lawns. Along with 19th century facades, I run into a scouring wind that scoops up sand and whips it into an eye-stinging summer storm.
For shelter, I detour into Fuller Gardens, a former estate that’s now open to the public. Sue Hagen closes her register at the gift shop to take me on a tour. “The turn-of-the-century rose plantings are our big draw,” Sue says, “but look at these espaliers!” She’s pointing at two twisty apple trees. One is shaped like a candelabra. And one is a menorah, complete with bark and leaves.
Inside the gardens we are walking from era to era, not beach to beach. “Our oldest statue,” Sue presents. “It’s by a student of Michelangelo’s.” My finger traces the signature on its plinth: MICHEL ANGELO FANCIULLO.