Kick Off Summer in Ashland and Holderness
We begin at one of NH’s prettiest lakes and explore the two towns that guard it — Ashland and Holderness
The setting of Walter’s Basin Restaurant overlooking Little Squam Lake at the inlet that connects it to Squam gave us a lovely view from our window table. We lingered there through twilight, over a generous Fisherman’s Platter of fresh haddock, scallops and shrimp, and a generous bowl of braised beef and vegetables in a rich Guinness broth.
We hadn’t fully appreciated the view from our large second-floor room at Manor on Golden Pond until we stepped onto our balcony to see Squam Lake glittering in morning sun. We descended the wide staircase, admiring its Arts and Crafts design. The dining room where we had breakfast was in the same style, with lead grilles dividing the small window panes and elegant, mahogany-paneled walls and ceiling. From a breakfast menu of seven entrées we selected French toast of pumpkin sourdough bread (made here) and Eggs Benedict.
Anxious to see more of the lake, we drove up Rte. 113 and followed Old Bridle Path up West Rattlesnake Mountain. The 1,260-foot rise is more uphill walk than climb, but the lake view from the top was mountain-worthy as we stood directly above the steep drop into Rattlesnake Cove.
Not having thought to ask the inn for a picnic lunch to eat while we enjoyed the view, we drove into Ashland to The Common Man. We split an order of Best of NH crab cakes before The Big Cheese sandwich of grilled cheddar on Parmesan bread and The Ultimate BLT — thick bacon with lettuce, tomato and avocado aioli on toasted Parmesan bread.
The town’s several museums — Ashland Railroad Station Museum, the Toy Museum and Whipple House Museum — were not open in June, but we found plenty to occupy us there. Opposite the late 19th-century station, one of the state’s best preserved, we found the studio of sculptor Bill Bernsen, who creates wonderfully imaginative art works from old tools, farm equipment, auto parts, register covers and other found metal and wood pieces. What others might see as a scrap pile, Bernsen sees as parts of flowers or human figures or as components for an eye-catching gate or arbor. As we toured his studio and show yard, we found him as fascinating as his work.
Corner Shoppe Antiques & Collectibles and Ashland Antiques sit opposite each other along Main Street, a few steps from The Common Man Country Store, where we bought a box of fudge after sampling several different flavors. We strolled past several buildings on the National Register — 1859 Gothic Revival St. Mark’s Episcopal Church, the 1872 Ashland Baptist Church and a fine Victorian school building from 1877 — before returning to the Ashland Memorial Park, a pretty green spot beside the river in the center of town.
After a short detour to the 1990 Ashland Covered Bridge, we returned to the Manor on Golden Pond to find afternoon tea being served in the library, with smoked salmon tea sandwiches and delicious pumpkin cheesecake. We savored these in the adjoining central parlor, like the rest of the first floor a beautiful example of Arts and Crafts style.
We had more chance to appreciate the house’s design in the Manor’s Van Horn Dining Room, where we noticed the Grueby tiles on the large fireplace. We learned from our hosts that this was originally the 1904 mansion’s billiard room and that all the paneling is original. Our first courses soon claimed our full attention, however. My Parmesan-crusted shrimp were delicately enlivened with Sriracha and served over lightly pickled fennel and cauliflower florets. The risotto appetizer was generously flavored with wild mushrooms and shaved Asiago. The menu description of my entrée of roasted dory on a ragu of shellfish and artichokes barely prepared me for the plate filled with whole shrimp, mussels, lobster claws and chunks of artichoke in a delicate sauce, topped with a tender filet of dory. The duck was smoked in-house, fork-tender and flavorful, fanned over crushed winter squash and roasted vegetables.
The Squam Lakes Natural Science Center explores the environments around Squam Lake and the animals found there. Along the 3/4-mile exhibit trail we met coyote, river otters, a bobcat, black bear and deer, all safely enclosed in spacious natural habitats. Hawks, owls and eagles live in the raptor exhibit area, and in each we found hands-on activities along with information on specific species. A trail leads into beautiful Kirkwood Gardens, filled with flowering plants chosen to attract butterflies and birds.
The gardens lie below the terrace of the National Register building that was formerly the Holderness Inn, now home to Squam Lake Artisans. After browsing among the handweaving, baskets, pottery, stained glass, silver jewelry, furniture and fine art by local artists, we had quick (but good) sandwiches at Kirkwood Café before boarding our pontoon boat tour of Squam Lake, operated by a naturalist from the Squam Lakes Natural Science Center. This 90-minute tour was a perfect way to tour the lake, whose wooded shoreline has been carefully protected from development.