Saturday, August 11, 2012

Woodstock, Vermont Getaway

(covered bridge in Woodstock over the Ottauqueechee River)
Nearby Vermont is always a draw for us.  This year we planned a two-night trip to Woodstock, a town of 3000, about 120 miles northeast of Albany.  Having vacationed there decades ago, we felt well overdue for a return visit!

(pretty New England homes line the streets)
Voted the prettiest small town in America by Ladies Home Journal in 1998, Woodstock continues to acquire awards, most recently the 2011 Great Streetscapes of America commendation by the American Planning Association.

(Farmer's Market on the village green)

We agree that, with its buried power lines, well-kept 200 year-old homes, a picturesque village green, and Elm and Central Streets shopping area, all nestled in the rolling farm and forestland of the Green Mountains, Woodstock is a great getaway.  We spent a few hours wandering the streets, taking pictures, admiring flower gardens, and perusing charming shops.

(Hey, I thought we were going to hike the Long Trail!)
Although restaurants abound in town, when we got hungry, we headed a few miles west to Bridgewater Corners and the Long Trail Brewery, definitely one of Bill's reasons for wanting to visit this area.  I admit that, although I've seen my share of breweries and once you've admired those big cylindrical tanks and pipes and smelled the hops you pretty much have seen them all, Long Trail was one of the nicest breweries I've been to. 

Advertising a German-style beer garden, this offered a little of Germany and a lot of Vermont.  I was pretty content sitting under tall shade trees next to the Ottauqueechee River with some yummy pub fare and a slight breeze.  And, as Bill debated his beer options, I walked down the rock stairway and explored the riverbank.

(1836 Taftsville covered bridge is half destroyed)

Later, as we drove on back roads and through nearby villages, we saw considerable remaining damage from Hurricane Irene. Now, a year later, we could hardly imagine how devastated the area must have been. 

(This sugarhouse washed into a pile of rocks, has a sign on it that says, "we lost everything.")

A mobile home on its side on top of rocks in a field, tall trees lying cross-ways in the rivers, another house propped up on its foundation at both ends but with the middle a gaping hole...and everyone we talked to had a hurricane story. 

Along with the loss of fall foliage tourism last year, followed by a poor winter for snow, and a very brief maple sugaring season, Vermont's economy has struggled. Still, hardy New Englanders joined together in the recovery and Vermont's timeless beauty remains breathtaking.

(carriage path going up Mt. Tom)

Hiking Mount Tom in the Marsh-Billings-Rockefeller National Historic Park was on my list of things to do.  Like so many 19th-century estates of the rich and famous, this property is riddled with carriage paths laid out to maximize views.  We chose to hike on a traditional hiking trail to Mt. Tom's summit and to descend via carriage paths, making a loop of just over four miles with 600 feet of elevation gain.

(looking towards New Hampshire from the summit of Mt. Tom)

This National Park was founded "to tell the story of conservation history and the evolving nature of land stewardship in America."  Although the Marsh, Billings, and Rockefeller families had little connection beyond their love of this area and consecutive ownership of the property, each made major contributions to conservation from the early 1800s through the late 1900s.  Successive generations struggled to find new ways to protect natural resources within the economic and technological demands of their times...ideas that continue to ring loudly for us in 2012.

(The Pogue, a pond tucked in the Park's mountains)
Despite the scenic trail and gorgeous summit views, the warm humid weather left us eager for some ice cream on Central Street in town.  Bill chose cookies and cream gelato from an Italian shop we had passed, while I went straight for homemade coconut chocolate chip ice cream a few doors farther along. We found a comfortable bench, next to a babbling brook across from an old mill, to sit and enjoy our treats.

(an amazing variety of flours is available at King Arthur)

Our second day, we made a pilgrimage to nearby Norwich to visit the King Arthur Store. Heading straight for the bakery, Bill bought a bear claw and I had a sticky bun.  I've had enough sticky buns in my day to know when I've had one that's really fabulous.  This was the best sticky bun I had ever eaten. The bakery also has a wide variety of breads and an array of sandwiches, but we were holding off for a later meal at the Harpoon Brewery just down the road.

(me on King Arthur's throne, Lancelot, and my bag of purchases)

I had not really thought of buying much at King Arthur, but you can see I came home with a pretty full bag. Taken with the flour and cocoa options, I bought a package of Harvest Grains that would add interesting texture and nutrition to my everyday bread recipe, and I couldn't pass up the Black Cocoa that would make my brownies and favorite chocolate cake even richer. 

It would have been easy to spend a lot of money on kitchen supplies, cookbooks, and more varieties of baking chips, extracts, specialty ingredients, and baking mixes than I had ever seen.  Every one looked delicious; I had to exercise considerable self-restaint. 

After a fair amount of time at King Arthur's, we were ready for a pub lunch at Harpoon. We were both a little disappointed that the afternoon had become way too hot to eat in their beer garden.  Still, Harpoon fortified us for our next adventure back in Woodstock.

(Jersey cows in soft light provide cream for Cabot and Grafton cheeses)
Across the road from the Marsh-Billings-Rockefeller National Historic Park, the Billings Farm and Museum was the farm that went with the estate. We debated whether to tour the farm.  Besides our own childhood farm experiences, we have visited many places like the Farmer's Museum in Cooperstown.  Did we need to see another one? 

In the end, we decided that the combination of a quilt show in the main display area and our interest in the Billings Farm's relationship to the National Park made this an attraction we shouldn't pass up.  While the farm was interesting and the quilt display beautiful, our greatest fascination did indeed lean toward the connection between the wealthy estate and its farm. 

Besides the economic affiliation, an unusual respect and friendship existed between the mansion's residents on one side of the road and the farm family on the other.  In addition, the farm manager came up with, and put into practice, agricultural methods consistent with the natural resource and conservation philosophies of the wealthy owners.

(corn as high as an elephant's eye)
After walking the mile-long trail past Jersey cows, gentle work horses, tall cornfields and the Ottauqueechee River, we again felt the need for ice cream.  Fortunately, we didn't have to go far.  Museum staff served up generous portions of Vermont's Wilcox ice cream next to the Buttery under a big shade tree.

We lingered as long as possible before heading back to Albany's hot humid 90-plus degree weather.  The rural ride down Route 100 postponed our departure from bucolic scenery, and a stop at the Vermont Country Store in Weston broke up the drive.  By the time we got home, we felt like we had been gone a lot longer than a couple of days, and, after all, Vermont is just across the border.  It shouldn't be that hard to go back for a future getaway.