Nancy Merrill is asking for a picture on the horizon. I guess that could include sunrise, sunset, city skyline, or a roof. In this case, it’s simply the skyline of the road on which we were traveling — Route 201 northbound to Skowhegan, Maine.
It was September, the beginning of Autumn in Maine. And with each mile northward we drove, the more autumnal the scenery became. It isn’t just the latitude. It’s also the altitude. As we drove north, we were also driving up into the mountains.
Which way is ever so much more complicated when you get involved with ships that have real rigging and masts and stuff. Nothing looks more beautiful on the water than a multi-masted ship … and nothing can be more complicated to find your way around! I’ve heard that submarines are really difficult, but the only submarine I was on was one of those 60-foot long hot dogs they use to look at the fish in the Caribbean. The big ones are for the military — and I’m not one of them!
Tom and I are going on a nautical road trip with our friend Deb. We all live in southern CT. She bought a boat that is moored in Eastern MA. So we agreed to drive with her, in a car, to the boat and then drive the boat, on the water, back to the home marina in Stratford, CT. That trip would be 128 nautical miles, at about 12 miles per hour, if the seas are calm. We plan to make the journey in two days.
We meet in the parking lot at our marina. Deb has rented a van and packed it with everything she’ll need for the boat, which is basically a small house. Bathroom stuff, bedding, cleaning stuff, tools, food, etc. The kitchen also has to have dishes, glasses, silverware, serving pieces, pots, pans, Tupperware, Saran wrap and baggies, you get the idea.
The drive up is uneventful. When we get our first view of Deb’s new boat, I swear to God, a rainbow appears in the sky! Good omen! Lots of unloading and unpacking. We go out to dinner and get to bed early.
Deb returns the car and does some more unpacking. Tom relaxes and hangs with the dogs while we wait to head out again.
The 6 ½ hour drive is smooth. But it is cold and raining off and on. We’re bundled up in three layers of clothing, including hoodies and jackets. I’m also wrapped in a blanket all day – in June!
We go through the scenic Cape Cod Canal and I take photos of bridges. Mostly in the rain.
When we tie up at our marina for the night, Deb and Tom troubleshoot some of the problems they found on the boat. Something called an inverter, the shower pump, the kitchen drain, the windshield wipers. (Yes, this boat has windshield wipers!)
We marinate our lamb chops and try to start the grill. Guess what? There’s no gas for the grill, the stove or the oven. All that works is the microwave. So we warm up some beef stew and nuke some potatoes. We’re roughing it. In a floating condo.
We go to bed to the sound of strange noises from the water pump every three minutes.
We wake up to no water. Not a big deal, just fill the water tanks. But why are we out of water? We didn’t use up ½ gallon of water overnight. Welcome to owning a boat.
Microwave the eggs and bacon and head out. There’s a six and a half hour drive ahead of us. But we are looking forward to seeing our friends at the other end who are ready to greet us with pizza and champagne to christen the boat.
Cold and rainy again. Deb and Tom drive the boat and I stay inside most of the day trying to stay warm. But it’s hard to stay warm because the heat inside the boat isn’t working.
Major miscalculation! The trip home is 36 miles longer than we expected. So the total trip is actually 164 miles and today’s travel time is up to 10 ½ hours! So much for the welcome home party. We approach our marina in the dark. We’re navigating by all three of us sticking our heads out of the windows and looking for marker buoys. Still raining. Dancing to oldies rock and roll.
We really know how to have fun!
We arrive at our marina at 9:45 PM and dock the boat in the pouring rain. Unload quickly and drop Deb off at her house. Tom and I find a diner that’s open and get a late, light dinner. Home by midnight. Greeted effusively by ecstatic dogs.
There are many tour operators in London. Besides the trips they offer around town, you can go out on a day trip that will take you to one or more famous places. On a previous visit to London I took the day trip to Oxford, then on to Warwick Castle and finally to Stratford on Avon. Shakespeare was not home when we arrived at Stratford, but we saw his boyhood home anyway. These trips last all day so you need to be ready for an adventure of up to 12 hours.
While you can reserve a tour at many locations in central London, we chose to book in advance before we left on our journey. A visit to visitlondon.com and other tourist sites will link you to the leading tour companies. We picked the Stonehenge and Bath tour and saved a little by buying in the USA and taking our vouchers with us. Once in London we received an email saying our trip was cancelled but they would upgrade us to the Salisbury, Stonehenge and Bath tour for the same price and on the same day. There was an additional entrance fee at Salisbury we did not have to pay, so we gained a good savings.
The modern charter buses pick up at various hotels around town and take tourists to a central location, where you board your particular tour bus and head out of town. We got a slow start due to traffic but made our way on the road to Salisbury Cathedral. We knew little about it, but learned a lot from our guide who explained everything to the group in both English and Spanish.
The first thing we noticed was the size of the structure. The spire is the tallest one in Great Britain at 404 feet. While the church was finish in the 1258, the massive spire was added later and finished in 1320. It would have long since toppled without additional supports over the centuries, including tie beams designed by Christopher Wren in 1668
The tall nave is impressive in length, with tombs filling the spaces between many of the columns. The Diocese of Salisbury has been in existence since the beginning of construction in 1220. The building houses one of four remaining copies of the Magna Carta, agreed to by King John and rebellious Barons in 1215, basically a peace treaty. Unfortunately, the agreement was not honored by either side initially, but it did lay the basis for English laws in years to follow. No pictures are allowed of the ancient document and it is protected in a small enclosure you can enter for viewing. A full translation of the Latin document is nearby for the true historians.
Just 8 miles north of Salisbury is the iconic Stonehenge. While it is thought to date back to 2000 BC, it could in fact be somewhat older. There is a mound containing burial sites around it which dates back hundreds of years before the structure. In front of that is a ditch which is clearly visible above. No, they do not let you cross the mounds or go into the center, except for four times a year. At the summer and winter solstice and Vernal and Autumnal Equinox. If you are a Neo-Druid or Pagan that may be your time to go. You can get rather close on one side any time.
Yes, there are sheep in the valley alongside Stonehenge. It just seemed to fit appropriately in the countryside. A parking lot that was formerly close by stones has been moved in order to restore the view. A visitor center opened in 2013 which is near the highway and well away from the structure. You can walk up the road to Stonehenge, but take the visitor’s shuttle. It is a long walk.
From there is was back on the bus to travel another 38 miles out to the town of Bath, Somerset. Much of the architecture of the town is distinctive in it golden colored stone. From the spot above (on the extreme right) we entered into the ancient Roman baths.
Dating back to 60 AD it is a popular tourist spot now. Fed by hot springs to this day, the waters are quite warm. While they advise tourists not to stick their hands in the calcium and sulphate ion rich, and possibly disease laden (dangerous amoeba) waters, people do it anyway to see just how hot it is. The site itself is a treasure trove of artifacts from Roman times. A slow tour of the facility is worth your time.
Nearby the Roman baths is the Abbey dating from the early 16th century. While we got to see the building from several angles, there was no time to stop inside. We were approximately 97 miles from London at this point and ready for our long trip back.
Our original intent had been the two stop trip in order to allow enough time at each place. The three stops this far out of our origin meant there was little time explore, especially in Bath where we truly just ran out of time. Nonetheless, we were glad to see Salisbury for its architectural and historic significance.
The tour provided lunch on the bus in order to save time, but some heavy traffic, even in off-season, slowed us down considerably. An alternative plan would have been to take the train from Paddington station in central London to Bath and catch a tour bus to Stonehenge from there. Since our visit to the three stops was relatively brief, it is safe to say we would not mind a longer visit to each one. Perhaps we will return some day in the future.
Those were the days, we say. The good old days which we remember from the back seat. Where we were pinching and pummeling our siblings while nagging our parents to stop for ice cream. Or asking the deathless question: “Are we there yet?”
Everyone who ever waxed poetic about the good old days of travel should take the drive from Jackman, Maine to Danville, Vermont.
It’s 231 miles from Jackman to Danville unless you travel through Canada, which we did not want to do. Just going through the customs checkpoints would have added hours to the journey. Unless you go through Canada, there’s only one route. Take 201 from Jackman to Skowhegan. Hook a right on route 2. Drive. Keep driving. Behind pickup trucks and aging SUVs veering erratically while never exceeding 28 miles per hour … the exact point at which the car changes gears. The engine lugging relentlessly as it tries to find the spot.
There is food to eat and gasoline to be pumped as you pass through all those little towns. There’s always someplace selling pizza, baked goods, sandwiches, and cold drinks. Usually a toilet, too. You will get a chance to visit every little town in the mountains between Maine and Vermont. I found myself staring at the map, hoping a faster road would magically appear.
Talk about ambivalence. In the middle of October the trees look as if they are lit from within. The mountains are covered in autumnal glory so magnificent it looks surreal. Reconcile that with an overwhelming urge to blow those pokey drivers off the road. Cognitive dissonance, here we come.
“Wow,” I say, “That’s incredibly beautiful” as we loop around a breathtaking curve in the road. I’m trying to control my peevish aggravation with the current slow driver riding his brakes in front of us.
They must lie in wait for us. As we are about to pass, they pull out in front of us, then slow to a crawl. The beauty of the mountains, lakes, streams, trees, sky, clouds, villages, farms, towns morph into a seamless continuity as we crawl down the mountains behind drivers whose feet never leave the brakes.
It’s a religious experience, but not in a good way. Aggravation wars with admiration for nature and a mounting need to drive at a normal speed. Garry is exhausted, irritable, frustrated. I’m empathizing, even offering to drive.
It took most of a day to make the trip. We crawled through Maine. Crept through New Hampshire. Limped into Vermont.
Our most startling moment was looking up and seeing a sign — a huge, brightly painted sign — that said: “WELCOME TO MEXICO.” Mexico, Maine. There were no Mexican restaurants, or at least none we could find. Lots of Chinese, though. After we drove out of Mexico, we came upon another huge, bright sign. “WELCOME TO MEXICO,” it said.
“Didn’t we just leave Mexico?”
“Maybe,” says Garry, “this is the village and that was the town?”
“Or something.” I wondered where the rest of North America had gone. Never mind. It was time to face the inevitable. Garry and I had to fill the gas tank. Ourselves.
Back home — a town which had seemed rural and quaint, but now seemed sophisticated and metropolitan — gas stations provide service. Not the case in very rural New England. Together, Garry and I pondered the problem. We had to remove the gas cap, which was stuck. Garry looked at me. I would manage the gas cap.
I pressed. Twisted. It was the child-proof lid from Hell. Eventually, it came off. Whooping in triumph, I fed our bank card into the pump’s reader and selected the grade of gasoline. Garry, feeling his moment had come, removed the pump from its hook, stuck it in the hole and pressed. Gasoline started feeding into the tank. When it snapped loose, Garry looked at me.
“Does this mean it’s full?”
“Yes,” I exalted. “We did it. We put gas in our car!”
We gave each other a high-five and continued our journey. We have developed a deep appreciation for the interstate highway system. And lost every trace of nostalgia for the old days of travel.
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