Touring the Monadnock Region
Kayaking in Mountain Brook Reservoir.
Photo by Stillman Rogers
We arrived at the Monadnock Inn, where each room is decorated differently, in an inviting - but not fussy - country home style. Our spacious room had a four-poster canopied bed.
Dinner at Thorndike's
The dining room at the inn has just the right blend of county inn warmth and professional service, and the menu changes often to reflect the freshest market ingredients. We began by splitting a generous order of Mussels Provençal with artichoke hearts, shallots and tomatoes. For main dishes we ordered pork scaloppini encrusted in crispy potato and sauced with maple, served with mashed Yukon Gold potatoes, and rainbow trout coated in sage and walnuts with a medley of different rice varieties. Our server knew the menu well and could describe dishes in detail.
The weather report had promised that Sunday would be a bright and clear day for climbing, so we planned to explore Jaffrey on Saturday, beginning right across the street at the Melville Academy. This private school, built in 1833, is now a museum, its top floor set up as a classroom where exhibits look at early 19th-century private academies. The lower floor reflects early life in Jaffrey Center and has a particularly outstanding collection of Hannah Davis bandboxes. Hannah Davis, born here in 1784, developed a method of crafting bandboxes from wood veneer covered with colorful wallpaper. Some of the finest examples of her work (a collection that major museums covet) are here and at the Jaffrey Historical Society. Samplers, antique kitchen and agricultural tools and other reminders of small town life finish off the displays.
Part of the photogenic cluster of buildings on the common is Jaffrey's oldest building, Jaffrey Meetinghouse, raised in 1775 on the day of the Battle of Bunker Hill (contemporary records report that workers could hear the cannon fire all the way from Charlestown). The 1808 horse sheds and 1822 Little Red Schoolhouse (authentically furnished) complete the ensemble. Behind these, we wandered through the Old Burying Ground to find the graves of Amos Fortune and Willa Cather. She visited Jaffrey often between 1917 and 1940 and used the diaries of a local doctor as the basis for one of her books.
At the western end of Jaffrey, Kimball Farm is a local institution beloved for its giant scoops of ice cream and for the region's best fried clams. We felt it would be cheating not to sample both, so after generous helpings of crisply coated tender clams, we finished off with our favorites, butter pecan (so many pecans there's at least one in each bite) and rich dark chocolate.
We needed something active to work off lunch, so we dropped our kayaks into one corner of Mountain Brook Reservoir, beside Rte. 202. We like this meandering body of water because it offers so many nooks and crannies to explore and for its wildlife. We saw a beaver (or at least the tip of his nose making a V across the water), a kingfisher and several great blue heron. The entire shore was aflame in bright foliage, doubly intense reflected in the water.
As we came in from our day's exploring, we passed the cheery buzz of Parson's Pub, so before dinner came back down to join locals and other inn guests who were enjoying the piano and vocals of Bernie & Louise. We liked the fact that the inn is clearly a part of the community, not just for travelers.
Dinner at Sunflowers Café
One of the reasons we'd chosen Jaffrey was for the chance to revisit two wonderful restaurants in the same town. We ordered a bottle of wine from LaBelle Winery in Amherst (Sunflowers owner Carolyn Edwards is committed to supporting local businesses and artists - the walls are an ever-changing gallery) and studied our menus. After much debate, we settled on a sauté of herbed wild mushroom with garlic and Madeira, and a salad of melon, prosciutto and shaved Asiago on mixed greens with fig-balsamic dressing. We followed with pan-roasted sea scallops served with fennel slaw and citrus gremolata, and Maple Leaf Farms duck breast with a pomegranate Merlot reduction. That was more than enough, but the dessert menu was so tempting that we split a generous wedge of lemon-raspberry cake.
We appeared for breakfast at 7:30 to get an early start climbing Mt. Monadnock. We'd seen its gold-and-red slopes and rocky summit often during the weekend and were anxious to see the view from its top on what was already promising to be a sparkling fall day. We weren't alone - after all, this is now the world's most-climbed mountain.
Expecting this, we had chosen the Red Spot Trail because it is usually the least crowded one from the Monadnock State Park side. It also offers open views well below the rocky summit. The 3,165-foot Monadnock is an isolated mountain (and in fact gave the name monadnock to such separate peaks left when glaciers scraped away softer land around them), so on a perfectly clear day its summit, which is bare rock for the top 400 feet, gives unobstructed 360-degree views to Boston's skyline, Vermont's Mt. Killington and Mt. Washington. And it was one of those days.
We ate our lunch on top, with enough company to make it seem more like a town picnic.