• Mansions and beach shacks, old Odiorne’s Point
After turning in for a night at Lamie’s Inn in Hampton, I’m rested and ready to get back on my sandy trail. More estates loom up, more manicured gardens. I stay in the Gilded Age for a few more miles until the mansions turn into cottages and the path into a pebbly beach with a high berm to keep storm tides at bay.
Time for a dip. Up until now, I’ve done some wading to cool down but this is my first time riding waves and ducking underwater. For New England oceanfront, it’s warm — I’m guessing 70s in the shallows — and clear enough for me to see two silvery fish on a mysterious mission, flipping sideways and flashing away.
Getting out is easy since it’s nearly noon and I’m being blow-dried by a gusty breeze. I cross into Rye where barnwood houses look like just the place for a nap. They’re extra cozy: think treehouses that have been spruced up with gables and brought down from branches to dunes. Even the tiniest of these have clever names. “Rye on the Rocks” says one. “The Catcher’s Lair” is a few doors down.
I reach Odiorne’s Point, where English settlers first laid out a New Hampshire town, in 1623. And Rye’s Cable Beach is close to where the first Europe-to-America telegraph line hit shore in 1874, scrolling under the Atlantic all the way from Ireland. At Cable Beach I ask some locals if they are proud of the historic link. “Never heard of it,” replies a woman in a white, floppy hat. “Did it connect to Cape Cod?”
• Siding scrubbed by the sea, New Castle clapboards
For my second inn night I pick a famous old hotel, the Wentworth by the Sea in New Castle. It still has some of the sprawling charm that drew President Theodore Roosevelt here in 1905 when he was negotiating the end of the Russo-Japanese War. Reopened a few years ago after a renovation and expansion, the 137-year-old hotel building with its bright red roofs and whitewashed siding seems freshly scrubbed by the sea, like some tropical cruise ship that has washed ashore.
The next morning, I step out onto a playhouse-sized Main Street. New Castle sure looks the part of New Hampshire’s smallest town. Plaques display 17th and 18th century dates and clapboards are narrower near ground-level in the style of the time. Besides being the state’s tiniest town, it’s the only one located entirely on islands. You used to have to take a boat to get to New Castle. This is probably one reason that it has such an unspoiled, preserved-in-amber feeling.
I head over to the town’s U.S. Coast Guard Station to check out the Fort Constitution Historic Site (603-436-1552). Mulling over a plaque, I discover that the fort was used during the War of 1812 and that several Civil War units were trained here. Its precursor, Fort William and Mary, played a key role in 1774, on the eve of the Revolutionary War, when Paul Revere rode all the way from Boston with a message that troops were coming to take it over.
To check out the town’s miniature lanes and Colonial-era plaque houses, I make a small loop. From Main Street, I wander down Walbach Street towards the water, make a left on Piscataqua Street, and then another left on Cranfield. A sign for watercolor lessons draws me into Maddi Alana’s tiny studio along Route 1-B. “I’ll go get paints and brushes now,” she offers. I wish I had time but I’m running out. Portsmouth is calling.