The Maine Adventure

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Project 15: Designing and Preparing the Retreats

Alpha Female        Bold Colorful Life      Bold Colorful Love        Life Purpose      
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Visit the Retreat Site Through the Seasons

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

See what global travel experts have to say about the Boothbay region of Maine:
 


 USA

 
The Sunday Times January 07, 2007

 

Why I prefer Maine to the Med

Beaches, blueberries and lobster — Sebastian Faulks enjoys the finer things of New England



 
One day soon, Britain will probably complete its transformation into the new Borneo, with sweaty Christmases, year-round temperatures of 80 degrees, unpredictable flooding and orang-utans in the trees of Sherwood Forest. Until then — and, come to think of it, after then, too — there will always be a case for taking a holiday somewhere with temperate summer weather, beaches, fine scenery and plenty of outdoor things to do.

On the American East Coast, Maine continues, in its downbeat way, to offer a modestly complete solution. If you like small boats, rocky shorelines, clapboard houses, sunny days, a few but not too many excursions, and, above all, eating lobster pretty much every day, you’d be pushed to find a better place.

 
 
Maine is not a fashionable or designery kind of state. On Long Island, the ordinary vista of potato fields and deciduous trees is enlivened — for some — by the news that X paid eight million dollars for that roadside house. Martha’s Vineyard offers more chance of meeting high-rollers from Boston and New York, while the prices on little Nantucket operate as an automatic chav-repellent. A fortnight in Maine isn’t going to cause paroxysmal status envy in your colleagues, but for most people it could be the best bet left in New England holidays.

It will probably begin in Boston — another advantage, in my book. Depending on your arrival time, you may want to spend the night there; package deals will try to push you out to a suburban Holiday Inn, but it’s better to stay in town. I’ve been to several hotels in Boston in the past few years and the best without doubt is the Four Seasons, with its alpha-star position on the common and the entrance to the Cheers bar happily visible from the higher floors.

However, if you’re not on business and you have to pay your own bill, you need to think again. This summer, I went to the Marlowe, which is on the Cambridge/Harvard side of the river, but only a short cab ride from downtown Boston. I had a double room for $199, not that cheap perhaps, but it’s a comfortable, stylish hotel (the rooms have a sort of African safari theme) and the brasserie makes the best chips I’ve ever eaten — served in a cone with small bits of fried sage and thyme.

This puts you in a good mood for the drive up the coast. I was headed for Boothbay Harbor, which is about three and a half hours northeast of Boston up the interstate, past various New Hampshire state liquor stores. I took on a case of American wine, not sure what would be on offer at the other end. On the way, you pass Freeport, a kind of retail hell of cut-price designer outlets. It does, on the other hand, contain Maine’s most famous shop, LL Bean, a specialist in outdoor clothes.

Your next stop should be Bath. If you’re going from Boston to the midcoast area of Maine, this is a natural lunch break. I first came here in 1994 and was lucky enough to see a USS navy destroyer being launched from the Bath Iron Works. Such events happen about once a year only, so a large crowd had gathered on the bridge to watch. The man I stood next to had worked for 18 months on the vessel, and what he had to say — like what he had had to do — was riveting.

Now you’re heading east, through Wiscasset, a charming town whose large number of antiques shops and narrow main street cause traffic tailback. I’ve never been that clear on the distinctions along the spectrum that runs from antiques to junk, via brocante, second-hand, flea market and boot sale, but whatever they are, this part of Maine has the lot.

BOOTHBAY HARBOR is a relatively prosperous holiday town at the tip of one of the many jagged peninsulas. We had taken a house on Southport, a heavily wooded island connected to the outskirts of the town by a swing bridge. It was here, between 1958 and 1962, that the naturalist Rachel Carson worked in a fierce seclusion on Silent Spring, her alarm call to the new environmental movement.

Our house was down a track, off a lane, miles from anywhere. When I left Boothbay, I had to set the trip meter on the car at 2.7 miles for fear of missing the hidden turning into the woods. My family would be arriving after me, so I entered the eight-bed house alone. I suppose being divorced must be a bit like this. Your wife gets the children, the money and the home. You get to spend a lot of time on your own.

The remoteness of the place would have been right up Rachel Carson’s street, I imagine, but I found that a night alone there summoned visions of Stephen King novels and I was glad to rise from my dreams of Kathy Bates hobbling my ankles to make some toast with wild-blueberry spread for breakfast on the sun deck. Maine is big blueberry country, though I’m afraid I was never quite man enough to tackle the bottle of blueberry wine the owner had hospitably provided.

Your first move here must be to get a boat: a sailing boat if you know how, or a little thing with an outboard motor if you don’t. These can be hired quite easily and moored either to the dock, if it’s deep enough there, or to a buoy from which you row ashore in a smaller boat. “Buoy” is pronounced locally as “boo-ey”, which saves any misunderstanding with male children.

You can spend a whole day chugging up the coast, from beach to small island and back again, though the wind can rise suddenly. I remember on our first visit being unsure whether to steer into the waves or at right angles. I opted for a compromise: a tumultuous diagonal that made the deck bulge terrifyingly.

A larger, commercial, boat takes you to Burnt Island for a kind of tableau vivant re-creation of the life of the old lighthouse keeper and his family. Kerosene lamps have been replaced by remote electronic controls, but enthusiastic local historians have kept the story alive, and a short climb to the top of the lighthouse gives a good view of the bay.

A new friend in town told me that Boothbay also plays host to “miniature-golf competitions at both national and international level”. “Miniature golf?” I queried. “Is that like crazy golf?” “Sure. With the little obstacles.” An international competition in crazy golf? Well, I remember that Woody Allen line — “My family was broke. My father was working as a caddie at a miniature-golf course” — but I’d thought it was a joke.

There’s a playhouse, too, which I managed to sidestep in favour of a lobster dinner at Brown’s Wharf Restaurant on the seafront. This has a giant plaster fisherman in yellow oilskins and sou’wester outside, so it’s hard to miss. Inside, it’s fish, in big quantities, and a good choice of wine, too. We had “steamers” (steamed clams) to begin with, and I was instructed in how to remove the flesh from its protective “sock”, then rinse it in broth before dipping it in butter. The steamers didn’t quite happen for me; I think it may have been something to do with that word “sock”.

Then came lobster in the local way: boiled, with “drawn” butter. No amount of hot lobster will overcome my European prejudice that the best way to eat it is cold, with home-made mayonnaise, a sharp, green salad and brown bread on the side. That is not the sort of reservation you bring up, however, when being overwhelmed by American hospitality, which — Bush, Iraq, Guantanamo and other disasters notwithstanding — is a humbling constant.

Unless you’re a vegan thalassophobe, you’ll like Boothbay. And it also provides a good base for further exploration. I drove to the Phippsburg peninsula, the next one to the west, and rambled round there for a day. Popham Beach, long, dune-backed and sunny, is the main attraction in the area and is usually full of swimmers (though the water is not that warm), canoeists and people just lying down eating lobster rolls in the sun.

On the west side, by Casco Bay, is the small fishing village of West Point. When I last went, in 1994, it had two general stores, but both have recently been converted into residential houses. A single developer seems to have built up a number of properties here, slightly out of scale with the rest of the village, but the character of the place has remained the same — laid-back, slightly scruffy, with great views of the sea. Typically Maine. The pleasant Sebasco Harbor Resort, less than two miles away, has golf and a swimming pool and all that stuff, but this is not a place where things are really laid on for you; in fact, a little planning is essential for enjoying this coast.

That’s what I like about it. You have to find a farmers’ market or organic-vegetable shop, because the stuff in the supermarkets tastes of nothing; but they exist, as does decent wine if you sniff around. If you go to the fish plant in the evening, you can get tuna fresh from the sea and lobsters for less than $10 a go. Then all you have to do is sit back on your deck and watch the dying sun cast shadows on the sea.

  • Sebastian Faulks travelled as a guest of New England Country Homes. His latest book, Pistache, is published by Hutchinson at £10.99. To buy a copy for the reduced price of £9.89, with free p&p in the UK, call The Sunday Times Books First on 0870 165 8585

    Travel brief

    Getting there: Boston is 160 miles from Boothbay Harbor. Fly there from Heathrow and Manchester with American Airlines (0845 7789 789), and from Heathrow with British Airways (0870 850 9850) and Virgin Atlantic (0870 380 2007), all with spring fares from £290. Aer Lingus (0818 365000) flies from Dublin and Shannon from €463.

    Getting around: Opodo (0871 277 0090) has a week’s inclusive car hire from £103. Or try Auto Europe (0800 358 1229).

    Where to stay: Boothbay Region Rental Properties (00 1 207 633 5471) has cottages from about £800 per week in spring. For information on other companies, visit.

    Packages: New England Country Homes (0870 192 1037) offers a range of Maine cottages, such as the one Sebastian Faulks rented, the Cottage by the Sea (ref: MC107), which sleeps up to six and has two sun decks and its own pebble beach. It costs £1,563 for a week in spring, excluding flights and car hire (or from £761pp, with flights and car hire, based on six sharing and two cars). Or try North America Travel Service (0113 243 0000).

  • Press here to continue the Maine Adventure---The Sunsets


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