April Road Trip: Farms and Fresh
Take a springtime drive north of Keene.
Signs of spring are visible all around, and now that March’s frost heaves have settled back into place, it’s time to drive through the countryside and watch the world wake up.
Leave Keene heading west on Route 9, with a detour on Chesterfield Road to see the new spring lambs at Stonewall Farm and browse in the newly opened art gallery. In Chesterfield, turn right onto River Road. This winding road parallels the Connecticut River, dipping into several deep ravines, through which little seasonal streams still drain the melt-off.
River Road passes the barns of the Cheshire County Farm, one of only three remaining in the state. Here spring work is just beginning at the Master Gardeners Demonstration Garden, where avid gardeners return throughout the growing season for ideas and to watch its progress.
River Road joins Route 63, where a detour to the right leads into lovely Park Hill. Fine homes cluster below a 1762 meetinghouse with a Paul Revere bell in its steeple; a group of homes of this elegance dating from the 1700s is rarely seen this far inland.
Return to the intersection and continue on Route 63 to Route 12, turning left to continue north alongside the river. River Road soon wanders briefly off to the left, passing Boggy Meadow Farm, where you can look into the dairy, sample their cheeses and buy it from the cooler.
Back on Route 12, it’s a short distance to the right turn into the village of Walpole, where houses circle a spacious green. L.A. Burdick Chocolate is worth a stop for lunch or a thick European-style hot cocoa and a chocolate or two to take home.
North of Walpole, Route 123 follows Cold River east into the hills and through the village of Drewsville. A mile’s detour north on the road to Langdon leads to New Hampshire’s shortest covered bridge, only 36 feet long.
Route 123 continues to Alstead. Turn south on Route 12-A, climbing onto the beautiful ridge lined with stately farmhouses in Alstead Center. From the top of the ridge, a road heads right, and before continuing south on Route 12-A, follow this until it begins to drop into the valley for the view across to the southern Green Mountains.
Route 12-A drops steadily, alongside a deep ravine where Thompson Brook rushes through short falls and rapids. You get the best view of it at this time of year, before foliage intervenes.
At the bottom of the hill, a left turn leads to Gilsum, and Route 12-A continues back to Keene. But the adventurous will choose the narrow road to the right, getting hopelessly lost in the spiderweb of roads that climb the hills and drop into the charming hollows of Walpole and Surry. It may take a while to find your way to the Old Walpole Road or Route 12, either of which leads into Keene.
Views from the hilltops are splendid, and between them are steeply rolling meadows and pastures studded with red barns. If you find your way to the Old Walpole Road in Surry, there is a spectacular view of Mount Monadnock from a long high ridge.
If, instead of getting lost in the hills, you continue on Route 12-A, you will pass Surry, then the entrance to the Surry Dam Recreation Area. Not far past it, another left doubles back to the foot of the dam, where you can walk or drive along the top of its wide impoundment. Before the dam was built, this water covered much of downtown Keene in the spring.
Leaving the dam gate, go left at the tiny cemetery (stop to read the old markers) and drive alongside the greens of Brentwood, which disappear into the high waters of the river, a bit more water hazard than you’ll find there in the summer. East Surry Road continues past the entrance to Goose Pond’s trails and meets Court Street in Keene. On the right are a stone arched bridge and historic hillside cemetery; a left goes into Keene’s Central Square.