The Other Cape and Points North
Cape Cod may be more famous but Cape Ann, north of Boston, has its own charms. Comprising Essex, Gloucester, Rockport and Manchester-by-the-Sea, this area offers seaside scenery and activities, just like the other cape. While heading up that way for a short vacation recently, we also stopped for an afternoon in Salem to visit the Peabody Essex Museum (www.pem.org). This museum is now open but requires purchasing tickets in advance. There is a maritime art exhibit “In American Waters” on display now and the Yin Yu Tang Chinese house on the property is certainly worth a visit.
Rockport has a shuttle service to an outlying parking lot in July and August, which seems like a good idea with the summer crowds. Bearskin Neck is always fun with its restaurants and shops. A walk along Rockport’s lovely little beach, just a few steps down from the street, will make you envy those who live nearby in this charming town. Halibut Point, a former quarry nearby, is now a state park and a good place to walk and take in the sweeping ocean views.
You can take whale watch trips from Gloucester, which calls itself “America’s Oldest Seaport”, or you can just walk along the harbor-side park and take a somber moment at the Gloucester Fisherman’s Memorial “Man at the Wheel” statue to read the names of local seafarers who have lost their lives on the ocean over the past couple of centuries. One sightseeing feature we weren’t aware of before is the Essex Scenic Coastal Byway. This road runs for 90 miles, linking 14 communities along the coast and makes for a very enjoyable drive and an easy way to take in the scenery.
Though technically not part of Cape Ann, Ipswich is one of my favorite towns. Ipswich has more “first period” colonial homes (built before 1725) than any other place in America. These houses are still occupied and well-maintained, and seeing so many old historic houses really makes you feel like you’ve stepped back in time 300 years.
Ipswich is perhaps most famous for Crane Beach, which is regularly named one of the best beaches in New England. That’s all well and good, but access to this beach is at present severely limited. This big sandy beach is owned by the Trustees of Reservations, which is currently issuing day passes twice a week and I understand that these go very quickly. You will need to check for beach information on www.thetrustees.org to find out more before heading here.
Also owned by the Trustees is the historic mansion Castle Hill on the Crane Estate. When we visited, only the first floor of the mansion was open but the beautiful grounds and gardens are worth a visit. (The Cranes, by the way, made their money by manufacturing valves, pumps and bathroom fixtures). The Trustees have traditionally offered tours, picnic concerts, art shows and many other activities at the Crane Estate. Again, check the Trustees website to see what’s on (or what’s not on) at Castle Hill this summer,
Ipswich is also home to “Wolf Hollow” wolf sanctuary where you can see a few wolves up close (behind an enclosure) and learn all about them. The highlight was when the audience was encouraged to howl at the end of the presentation, getting the wolves to howl along. However, it was a very hot day and the wolves were a little lethargic. I can sympathize. Perhaps fall would be a better time to see the wolves at their best. Note that this is a very popular attraction, so you should order tickets ahead of time (www.wolfhollowipswich.org)
Heading further north, we took a drive through historic Newburyport and also Plum Island, where I had never been before. The Parker River National Wildlife Refuge with its long boardwalks over the marshes is a great spot for bird-watching.
This summer many people, myself included, aren’t quite ready to board a plane for a major trip just yet. We in Massachusetts are lucky to live some place where there is so much to see and do all within a few hours from home.