Val’s friend, Angela, has emailed her to say that she’s only up to Day 19, and can we cycle a bit slower! It’s a bit late, Angela, and at this rate, it’ll be Christmas before you reach this bit anyway. It would be easier if you read faster.
The cat at the top appears in Bennington and is labelled ‘Catitude’. Which reminds me that yesterday, we passed a sandwich shop called ‘Subs-Ta-Toot’.
Sometimes, it’s only when we’ve been through an area that we find out something we would have visited had we known sooner. We were told that the cemetery to the Old First Church at Bennington contains the grave of the poet, Robert Frost. When we were married, one of Val’s friends bought us a photograph of a forest covered in snow with the oft-quoted lines, “The woods are lovely, dark and deep, But I have promises to keep, And miles to go before I sleep, And miles to go before I sleep“. But, even so, we weren’t going to go back up the hill – it’s not as if he was Butch Cassidy.
Today delivered on the promised climb, at 1,197 metres, the most we’ve done since Glacier National Park, Montana on Day 12. Not for nothing is this the Green Mountain state. Unlike yesterday, when the climb came in spurts, we had one big hill early on between Bennington and Wilmington, and then a mini-peak around half-way, but neither of them troubled us unduly, the result of eight weeks’ hard work.
It is only right that we mark the occasion with the return of a photo of Val climbing a hill:
Before we started the first climb, we passed the Appalachian Trail, five miles out of Bennington, an anonymous crossing of the road marked only by a sign warning of walkers. The Appalachian Trail is the longest hiking-only trail in the world at 2,190 miles and those travelling south to north are here nearing the end at Mount Katahdin in Maine. There’s a good book on walking the trail, Balancing the Blue by an Englishman, Keith Fossett if you can overlook the sometimes juvenile sense of humour and idiosyncrasies (and this is me talking). He mentions that it is the custom for local people to drive to crossing points to leave supplies for trekkers, a practice confirmed by the spaghetti house in town. The Trail takes about six months to complete whilst we’ve taken two months (nearly) to complete a crossing of eleven States so I think I’ll stick to cycling whilst I can.
Of all the states so far, I think Vermont is the one I’d like to explore further. Looking at a map of the estate, we are at the very south extremity of land that stretches 160 miles to the north – although it could be that all of New England is as good. Everywhere we have cycled today has been brilliantly green, whether it be thick forest or deep valleys:
We passed many well-appointed houses today, and were told that these are the second homes, weekend retreats, of wealthy New-Yorkers. We saw the evidence of this yesterday when as we cycled through Hoosick on leaving New York state just after mid-day. There was a huge traffic jam, like Scarborough on a Bank Holiday weekend, as cars returned to the city, slowed by the single traffic light in the centre of town.
In the museum we visited yesterday, there was a section on covered bridges in New England, of which only around 100 hundred survive despite there being at one time over a thousand. We saw two of them today:
By the time we arrived in Brattleboro, it was lunchtime and the temperature was into the thirties. Nevertheless, I googled the visitors’ centre and we cycled to the address given. This turned out to be an ordinary house and the owner of the property was as surprised as we were to find out that she’d been a victim of a Google mistake. We did find the genuine centre and were given a number of options to spend the afternoon pursuing.
The first two involved a trip of another eight miles deep into the Vermont forest. I didn’t tell Val it would be uphill but I think she suspected something was up when we turned on to Black Mountain Road. We found ourselves once again battling an uphill gravel track – it really wouldn’t have been the same if we hadn’t had the chance to curse this once again. It was worth it though as we found Scott Farm, devoted to growing more than 160 varieties of apple as well as other fruit. There was no-one about so I wandered around until I found a dry-stone waller busily engaged; he was responsible for this on the left:
Meanwhile Val found other personnel sheltering from the heat in the cooler and we bought two peaches and apples – Yellow Transparent, the second to crop of the season. We swapped tales of our favourite varieties – there’s no bore like an apple bore – and took away recommendations for Strawberry Chenango, Red Astrakhan and Dolgo crab apple.
On the way back we passed Naulakha, Rudyard Kipling’s house:
I didn’t know Kipling lived in America, but it turns out he married an American and lived on his wife’s family estate in Vermont where he wrote The Jungle Book and Just So Stories. He abandoned the house when his first child died at the age of six, returning to London.
We completed the afternoon with a tour of the ‘hotch-potch’ of Brattleboro’s Main Street buildings including this 1861 (‘Italianate Revival’) building built by a shoemaker. The plaque at the top cost $12,000 and, being made out of bronze, required multiple teams of oxen to haul it from the station:
We finish with a sighting of the Loch Ness Monster. No wonder they can never find it in Scotland:
(PS Don’t forget tomorrow is Val’s birthday).