Explore cellar holes in one of the least-known state parks, look for moose and see a castle across a moat, all on meandering Route 31.
Begin in Newport’s vintage downtown, lined by brick mercantile buildings, the restored County Court House, the Newport Opera House and 1826 District Court building. The latter is now home to The Old Court House, a restaurant serving creative dishes based on local ingredients at lunch and dinner Wednesday through Saturday, and brunch on Sunday.
Follow the main street ( Route 10) south, past the Newport Golf Club. Beyond are two campgrounds – Crow’s Nest and North Star. Shortly beyond is the village center of Goshen, where a NH Historical Marker near the white clapboard church tells about Captain John W. Gunnison, an early surveyor of the American west. His home, east of Route 10 on Goshen Center Road, is listed on the National Register.
About a mile south of the village, just past the old hillside cemetery, bear left onto Route 31. As you climb, you may glimpse the towers of the Lempster wind farm along the ridge to your right. On the left, Newton Park Wayside Area is a nice shady spot for a picnic. Watch for moose as you drive along the winding road through mixed forest to Pillsbury State Park.
Set on lakes, this little-known park has several campsites that can only be reached by boat, and others set along the shore and in the woods. The two lakes are prime kayaking and canoe waters, separated at low water by a narrow portage. Along with its wildlife, including moose and loons, Pillsbury is known for its trails, part of the 51-mile Monadnock-Sunapee Greenway, connecting Mount Monadnock with Mount Sunapee. The park’s overgrown cellar holes are the last trace of the late 1700s farming and lumbering village of Cherry Valley.
Bear left into the village of Washington, stopping to admire the 1787 Town Hall (one of the oldest still in daily use), 1840 church and 1883 Police Station, all surrounding the town common. Washington was the first U.S. town incorporated under the name of Washington, in 1776. A state Historic Marker identifies it as the birthplace of the Seventh Day Adventist Church. Antiques collectors can stop at shops at either end of the village: Tintagel Antiques and Step Back in Time.
Route 31 briefly joins with Route 9 in Hillsborough, where the Franklin Pierce Homestead is on the left. Turn right onto Route 9/31, then follow 31 to the left 4 miles later, through the village of Clinton, where there is a stone church with stained glass windows and several fine old homes. Continue into Antrim, where you’ll pass two notable churches – a towered Victorian and a Stick Gothic with patterned shingles.
Here Route 31 joins Route 202 for two miles, leaving to the left in Bennington. Turn right on Main Street at the 1839 church, next to Common Place Eatery, a good lunch stop. Turn left at the Civil War Monument and follow Route 31 into Greenfield. Turn left and climb out of town past a series of fine old homes. Shortly past Zephyr Lake, be prepared for a surprising sight – or several of them – at The Yankee Farmer.
For five years in a row, the giant catapult similar to those used to lay siege to medieval castles has held the world record for tossing a pumpkin 1,702 feet. On the left is a moat surrounded by battlements and a large iron chain, beyond which stands a “castle” – the target of the pumpkin toss. A wooden horse and a wattle-fenced enclosure add to the eye-catching ensemble, all adjacent to The Yankee Farmer’s farmstand. Route 31 continues into Wilton, where it meets Route 101.