The beautiful coastline from Maine to Massachusetts, the almost English countryside around the Berkshires, the mountains and forests of Vermont - New England offers an amazing variety of landscape and the activities and sights to go with it including whale-watching, summer music at Tanglewood, fabulous Fall colours and skiing.
From tiny Rhode Island to extensive Maine, New England encompasses beautiful coastline, high mountains, forests, lakes and tumbling streams - perhaps the only type of landscape you won't see here is desert. It's a landscape formed principally by glaciation resulting in rocky mountains, U-shaped valleys and many lakes.
Maine, by far the largest of the New England states, extends far north, bulging into Canada, and has a 3,500 mile spectacular indented coastline and a thickly forested interior relieved by rivers and lakes. Massachusetts has a gentler landscape, especially in the west, and beautiful beaches on Cape Cod. Boston in Massachusetts is regarded as the capital of New England. Connecticut is a rural state, with many small colonial villages, bisected by the Connecticut river and home to the old whaling ports of New London, Mystic and Stonington on its south coast on Long Island Sound. Rhode Island is not only the smallest state in New England but also the smallest state in the country, and became heavily industrialised in the nineteenth century based on the textile industry. New Hampshire, industrialised in the south, a lake region in the north, also includes the region's highest mountains, the White Mountains, where many come for the hiking and skiing. Vermont, however, is regarded as providing the better skiing in the Green Mountains, with the famous resorts of Stowe, Killington and Sugarbush.
Amherst is a very lively university town, its biggest claim to fame being that it is the birthplace of Emily Dickinson. It is a great place to live: rural but with lots going on and within easy reach of Boston, the Berkshires, skiing in Vermont, and Cape Cod. The area is also very good for Fall colour, probably the most famous aspect of New England!
Tobacco has been cultivated in the region since the seventeenth century and evidence of the activity can still be seen in tobacco drying barns.
Spring and summer are also a lovely time in Amherst, with many flowering trees and shrubs. Winters could be bitter, though - the first time I experienced nose-freezing cold!
The Berkshires is a green land of trees and small colonial towns, crossed by a number of small rivers including the Housatonic, right at the western edge of Massachusetts, close to the border with New York State.
It is an area that was favoured by wealthy Americans to establish large estates, including Tanglewood. It is popular for its cultural events such as the Berkshire Music Festival held every summer at Tanglewood, the summer home of the Boston Symphony Orchestra. The music director of the BSO in the 83-84 season was Seiji Osawa and I was able to go to three fantastic concerts: Itzhak Perlman playing the Mendelssohn violin concerto in E minor, Joseph Silverstein (also assistant conductor and First Violin) playng Tchaikovsky violin concerto in D and Isaac Stern playing the Beethoven violin concerto in D. I preferred sitting outside on the lawns - blissful.
Just north of Tanglewood is the Hancock Shaker village, a museum since 1960 created from one of the original Shaker settlements. The Shakers were a Quaker sect, founded by an Englishwoman Ann Lee.They belived that all aspects of life should be determined by their religious beliefs, the four fundamental principles being separation from the world, common property, confession of sin, and celibacy - men and women being separate but equal in the community. The sect established eighteen communities throughout the North-east and mid-west, this particular settlement being the third, established in 1780, six years after Ann Lee arrived in the country. It was almost completely self-sufficient with an agricultural economy supplemented by variousother ondustries. It reached its peak in the 1830s with around 300 inhabitants, declining steadily from the mid-nineteenth century,.
The settlement covered over 1,000 acres and the museum has a variety of restored buildings, many with beautiful Shaker furniture.
Further north still lies Mount Greylock, the highest point in Massachusetts at 3491ft. It was named after Chief Grey Lock whose tribe used to hunt here.
On the northern edge of the Berkshires is Williamstown, reached from the east by Hwy 2 with some excellent hairpins. It is a lovely spot for a colonial village, set amongst rolling hills. It was the site of an early settlement, West Hoosuck, of soldiers from Fort Massachusetts in 1753.
One of the soldiers, Colonel Ephraim WIlliams, later bequeathed part of his estate for the founding of a free school on the understanding that the town would be renamed after him. The school duly came into being as Williams College, which developed over the centuries into the large liberal arts campus sprawling through the town today.
The town is also home to the Sterling and Francine Clark Art Institute which has a magnificent collection of art and sculpture including a lovely Madonna and Child with Four Angels by Piero della Francesca - worth a trip on its own!.
Gloucester is the oldest of US seaports and still a major fishing port on the peninsual of Cape Ann. Not as picturesque as its neighbour Rockport, it has a far greater attraction for us: it is from here that the whale-watching trips depart. Having said that, the only time I went whale-watching from Gloucester the seas were mountainous and I didn't see a thing! Andrew was luckier.
Fin, Humpback, Minke and Right whales can be seen. These are all baleen whales - they have no teeth but instead filter food from sea water through baleen which are comb-like plates with hairy ends made from keratin, the same material of which claws and horns are composed.
Maine is thickly forested and the long coastline owes much to the action of glaciers which caused deep indentations into the land. The landscape defines the traditional industries: timber and fishing. Only seen very little of this large state.
The coastal region not so far north of Massachusetts has several attractive villages including Kennebunk and Kennebunkport, which became wealthy from shipping and shipbuilding in the nineteenth century, and Goose Rocks with its beautiful beach.
It is popular but unspoilt and makes a lovely place to get away from it all, especially during the early warm days of autumn. The best food: fresh Maine lobster from a lobster shack sitting out on the end of a wooden pier - very hard to beat!
For something a little more exhilirating: white-water rafting on the Penobscot and Kennebec rivers in Maine. The trips involved a guide and about eight passengers in a tough rubber dinghy. Everyone is attached to the boat and has to paddle like mad through the rapids - terrifying the first time but great fun.
Sebago Lake is a pretty area, especially in Fall, popular with fishermen and boaters.
New Hampshire and Vermont are both highly forested but also mountainous states, again, especially beautiful in the Fall. The White Mountains in New Hampshire are the highest in New England and an attractive vacation area year round for hikers and skiers. The Green Mountains serve the same purpose in Vermont. The White Mountains are crossed by deep U-shaped valleys, called notches, where roads can pass through the mountain range. Apart from the beautiful landscape the state is famous for its covered bridges.
Franconia Notch in the White Mountains of New Hampshire passes through lake studded scenery. On the route is the Flume, a deep, very narrow granite chasm, through which the Flume stream cascades. A boardwalk bolted to the chasm wall allows access.
Mount Washington, in the White Mountains, at 6288 ft is the highest mountain in New England: "home of the World's Worst Weather". During a terrible storm in April 1934 a gust of wind reached 231 mph (372 kilometers per hour) - the highest surface wind speed ever recorded.
Loved skiing in New England - it's great when you live close enough to be able to decide at short notice to go! Vermont is the premier ski location in the east with famous resorts such as Stowe, Killington and Sugarbush Valley.