Posted September 26, 2019 – Narrated by Carmen
State and National Parks are our favorite locations, but the occasional well-managed private campground with full-hookups is a real treat.
Here in New England good private campgrounds are a rare find.
Our usual vetting system couldn’t turn up a desirable place on the New Hampshire coastline. So, turning inland on the map, Jim hunted for a place with rail trails, hiking, kayaking, breweries, seafood, and bam! the Ashuelot River area near Swanzey, New Hampshire gained Google ascension.
These travel snafus – when we’re thrown off our preferred direction – usually result in delight and surprise.
Our seven day stay at the Ashuelot River Campground was one of those memorable LIB experiences.
Had things gone our way we’d have missed out.
The cancellation policy was fair, so we reserved by phone five weeks in advance for this independently owned, family-run campground.
The proprietor kindly warned us to turn off our GPS and follow their detailed map so we’d miss the covered bridges with low clearance which span the winding Ashuelot River.
We paid careful attention because a few weeks earlier in Catawissa, Pennsylvania we had a GPS directed surprise encounter.
The neighbors immediately came to our rescue and directed us to a place where we could turn around that was no less than five miles up the road.
Learning to navigate around the old covered bridges is part of living with history. Residents are the naturally appointed curators.
Replacing these colonial structures with modern technology is unthinkable.
Bridges are my favorite form of architecture because even the name is functional, describing utility in action. Everything can be bridged.
Bridges facilitate travelers, but a bridge can also be a method to transport currency, or a unique way to communicate an idea from here to there. But to fulfill the contract, one must surrender. There is always risk.
And old covered bridges have a peculiar dynamic. As they move you forward to a different place, they also take you back in time.
Whether it’s an accident of art, physics, or nostalgic reverie brought on by those vintage Americana horse and wagon images, old covered bridges are a romantic portal for the imagination.
Ghosts from the past seem to make the journey across the river with you.
The dreamy, meandering Ashuelot River contributes to the surreal effect as Nancy Priest wrote in her poem, Over The River, published in 1883.
When we arrived, our camp host gave us a map with all the tourist information necessary to view the covered bridges and other places to visit, such as historic buildings and shops.
The map also includes hiking and cycling trails and boat launches.
We say bike or cycling trails, but they’re called Rec Trails or Rail Trails in New England, because snowfall facilitates snowmobiles, cross country skiing and even dog sleds.
Most Rec Trails built along abandoned railways are a work in progress. North of Keene, the Cheshire Trail got a bit rough, but our folding bikes with speciality off-roading tires plowed over the rocks, roots and loose sand.
These are easy forest trails with natural hedges of black berries, blueberries and wild flowers. The six mile ride into Keene for coffee and shopping was a delight.
The local craft brewery scene in Cheshire County is experiencing a boom. Pico loved the dog-friendly beer garden at Granite Roots.
For us, breweries aren’t just about beer and a few rounds of corn hole. We get the best info about festivals and music events while sharing pints with the locals.
On our first night we stopped at Elm City Brewing Company for dinner.
… and our wonderful server gave us the scoop about a seafood and pig roast at Branch & Blade Brewing.
Immediately, we bought tickets online and, Score!
The Hog and Seafood Roast
Keene is a small university town steeped in New England charm and flourishing with natural beauty that retirees find attractive.
Some say Keene is the town that trees built and in nearby Swanzey, local lore has it that the poet Joyce Kilmer was inspired by a tree while on vacation.
The late summer Ashuelot River was low with a gossamer glimmer as the sunlight played on the gold flakes in the sand.
With nothing else to do on a warm and sassy New Hampshire day, we put-in at our campsite and paddled the couple of miles or so to Sawyer’s Crossing Covered Bridge – built in 1859 to replace the 1771 bridge.
Standing beneath that marvelous structure, we paid homage to its beautiful old bones and the craftsmen who built it.
Then, momentarily, we surrendered our thoughts to the ghosts of people, animals and vehicles that have crossed those boards throughout the decades … The doctor or midwife races on horseback to deliver a baby … A fugitive slave waits in the darkness of night for his ride to approach … A weary WW1 soldier returns home … And, yes a family in a carriage totes home a freshly harvested tree just like on the vintage Christmas cards.
The current was mild, the water warm, the breeze, gentle. We pulled the boats across the dry places and swam them across the deep places, but one way and another the golden-sanded Ashuelot carried us home.
If you want to see our exact route, click here.