It's august, so we head to the white mountains, as I've been doing every August since I can remember.
We arrived at Purity Spring Resort late Friday evening just in time to catch the smorgasbord in the Tavern, and although we usually shun buffets, this one was excellent. In fact, the chef insisted on bringing out new servings of the swordfish so we wouldn't have to take the last ones on the hot table. It was melt-in-the-mouth delicious and cooked perfectly, as were the vegetables. The carrot cake was outstanding.
We hadn't really paid much attention the night before to our big room in the resort's original farmhouse, except to notice that the beds were wonderfully comfortable. By morning sunlight, we found it bright and cheery, curiously un-hotelish and more like visiting a friend's house. Breakfast was a busy affair with lots of children excited to be about their day-camp activities. Most of them left in a whoosh as we were sitting down, and we enjoyed a peaceful breakfast with a wide choice of hot entrées. I'd have been happy with another slice of that carrot cake.
Purity Spring has a lot of activities for us to choose from; archery, croquet, sandy beaches, a big pool, fishing, sailing, tennis and badminton are all included. The use of sailboats, kayaks and canoes are all complimentary too – when we were there with the girls last winter, we were delighted to find that even our ski lift tickets were included in the room rate. They ought to know a bit about making guests welcome and happy, since the Hoyt family has been running Purity Spring ever since Edward E. Hoyt opened their farmhouse for guests from the city in 1911.
We chose to kayak and put in at the beach across the street to explore Purity Lake, which stretches about a mile and a half north, then an adjacent pond connected by a narrow channel. Paddling past an esker – a long ridge deposited here by glaciers at the end of the last ice age – we entered a natural habitat of birds, bog plants and beavers so remote from humans that it seemed impossible that we were so close to the resort.
After a long morning on the lake, we drove just up the road to the Eaton Village Store to gather picnic provisions and took our basket to the Madison Boulder – something else the glacier left behind in its retreat – where we enjoyed our picnic. This huge chunk of granite is the largest known glacial erratic in this hemisphere, measuring 83 feet long by 37 feet wide, standing 23 feet above ground and buried to 10 or 12 feet deep. Some geologists believe it came from as far away as Mount Willard in Crawford Notch.
We had made an appointment to visit the Madison Historical Society Museum, where along with seeing Charles A. Hunt's White Mountain paintings we learned a lot about this little town. Madison was the summer home of poet E.E. Cummings (and no, although he eschewed capital letters in his verse, he did not sign his name that way), and it was the white 1789 Madison Church just up the road that inspired his poem "i am a little church (no great cathedral)," written on VE Day, 1945. His home, Joy Farm on Silver Lake, is on the National Register of Historic Places.
While we were parked here, it seemed a good time to follow the trail right behind the building to Madison Cascades. The trail climbs gently through the woods, dips to cross a stream, then climbs again to a ridge. Below, Forest Brook cascades over a series of flat ledges.
After all the day's activities, a genteel game of croquet followed by a quick dip in the pool seemed the right activity level as we waited for the restaurant to be less busy.
Dinner at Traditions
We began with salads of mixed crispy greens in a pomegranate balsamic dressing with cumin-spiced pecans and goat cheese and quickly realized how much appetite we'd worked up since our picnic. For entrées we chose grilled smoked pork chops with bourbon-raisin sauce and cedar-planked salmon filet with honey-glazed grilled pineapple. Delectable baklava tempted me to eat dessert the second night in a row.
After breakfast we took a short walk through the NH Audubon's Hoyt Wildlife Sanctuary's level forested trails beside Purity Lake before checking out. We'd learned yesterday that E.E. Cummings often found inspiration at Hurricane Point on Silver Lake, so we headed to that corner of Madison. We found East Shore Road and the quarter-mile trail to that scenic point of land. Following the road to its end at Rte. 41, we came to West Branch Pine Barrens Preserve, a Nature Conservancy property that protects a rare NH natural habitat. It's one of the nation's best examples of pine barrens, a woodland of northern pitch pine and scrub oak; trail guides at the entrance explained the features and wildlife we saw along the mile-and-a-half loop trail.
How could we resist the cute little open-car train at the head of Silver Lake? We ate lunch from the snack bar in the restored 1941 Diner and toured the 1910 Railroad Station, now a railroad museum, before boarding the Silver Lake Railroad for an hour-long excursion through the woods. For me, it was a piece of my childhood, riding on the same tracks that used to take me to Conway to visit friends in the summer.