Thursday, 27 September 2007

September in Maine - best for hiking

September can be a fine month to go hiking in New England. The summer crowds are back in their offices. The foliage has yet to blaze red and gold, attracting an autumn wave of sightseers.

And Acadia National Park, on the coast of Maine, offers some of the best walking in the region. In Vermont and New Hampshire, where I had hiked previously, you mostly climb through forest to a vantage point overlooking more forest. In Acadia the trees give up where their roots can no longer tap sustenance one the pink granite, affording magnificent views of lakes and ocean.

Acadia occupies much of Mount Desert Island, whose harbours sheltered warring British and French ships in the late eighteenth century.

Its highest summit, Cadillac Mountain, is named after a self ennobled French aristocrat who laid claim to half the island and later founded Detroit, lending his name and part of his coat of arms to the eponymous car. Though only 1520ft it is the second highest peak - after Corcovado in Brazil - on the estern shores of th entire American continent. A rack and pinnion railway once ran to the top. But we were put off climbing it by the road which allows visitors to drive up.

Instead we scaled a string of other minor mountains: Pemetic, the North Bubble and three - Parkman, Gilmore and Sargent in one exhausting day.

The walking was varied and alway interesting, sometimes among bilberry bushes, often across lattices of pine roots groping out across the rock in the search for moisture.
Most of the more difficult routes involved some modest scrambling with use of the hands, though it must be stressed there was nothing a reasonably agile 65 year old couldn't handle with ease.

The temperature rose to a humid 85 degrees as we toiled up Mount Acadia, finishing on Man O'War trail which was named for a a brook from which British naval crews took fresh water. At Echo Lake the temptation to plunge in was too much to resist. The water was deliciously cool but far from icy.

Not so the Atlantic at beautiful Sand Beach, where my resolve to swim again was broken as the waves hot though level.

We based ourselves on the edge of Bar Harbor at the aptly named Wonder View Inn & Suites. There had been no need to book ahead. Spacious, airy rooms had balconies and picture windows allowing views of the sun setting and rising over the ocean. At the present, highly favourable exchange rate for European travellers, our rooms cost roughly £70 a night.

Dinner hardly broke the bank, either. A whole boiled lobster with melted butter could be had for around £12.50. Some excellent New Zealand Sauvignons have appeared on wine lists since our previous trip, priced at about the same again. Evening meals, often with shared desserts since they are so often too big for one, never cost more than £35 - £40 for two.

But perhaps the most pleasant interlude in an altogether excellent week was post-hike drinks at the Tan Turtle Tavern in North East Harbour. There, too hungry to wait for dinner without nibbles, we ordered oerhaps the most delicious steamed clams we had ever tasted. For Acadia, read Arcadia.