Mountain roads and historical highlights await the two-wheeled traveller
Story and Photos by Ron Keys
Home to 541 proud Vermonters, Weston is a pastoral village nestled in Vermont’s Green Mountain National Park. Picturesque stone fences divide emerald-green pastures that fade upward into tree-covered mountains as the West River threads its way through the valley alongside Route 100. It’s all reminiscent of a picture postcard – a pristine village where time has stood still.
As with many New England towns, names were derived from the motherland, each with a central park from which the villages radiate outward. Across from the park, the six-pillared Weston Playhouse Theatre gleams in the summer’s sun. A few steps up the street is the Vermont Country Store. A walk along the store’s squeaky wooden floors, down its narrow aisles stocked with miscellanies from apple peelers to old wooden clothes pegs, is a walk through American culinary history.
Tina and I wing quietly through town, then upward through a bower of trees. We savour the aroma of pine pitch from the tall white pines, and soon break free from the forest covering the hillside to find an uncut field of green clover; on the other side of the field is our destination. Claimed by New York and then New Hampshire, Vermont eventually became a state in 1790, coincidently, just one year prior to the construction of the red clapboard Colonial House Inn, our home for the next few days. It’s a place where you immediately feel like you’re home.
Jeff and Kim Seymour are the third family to own the inn, and as they greet us at the front door, I see that Jeff is a fellow enthusiast. His two-wheeled therapy, a BMW R1150, sits by the front stoop at the ready. What better place to stay than at a fellow motorcyclist’s inn?
Silence. Just Eat Your Breakfast
Morning arrives, and with it the tantalizing aroma of Jeff’s tasty breakfast creations. Interestingly, we share our table with older ladies and I share a bit of our itinerary with them. As I tell them about a certain monastery we’ll be visiting and the oath of silence taken by the monks, I make light of how I could possibly get one of them to talk. Unknowingly, these ladies are retired nuns who are spending a week at the Weston Priory just up the road. Thankfully, they have a sense of humour, and apprehension gives way to conversation and there is never a pause throughout our breakfasts each morning of our stay.
Leaving the inn, there’s hardly a car in sight as we freewheel along the curvy road heading south through the forest-filled valleys following the river to Londonderry. After a right onto Vermont 11, we soon sweep past Peru (pronounced “pru” by the locals), and later, the expansive Bromley valley opens before us. We coast downward and cruise by the ski village, with its water slides and summer entertainment facilities, then climb upward again to another awesome view of ski slopes etched into a far-off mountain’s forested flanks. The roadside is dotted with inns and restaurants to assuage the ravenous appetites of winter skiers and summer hikers. Thousands of kilometres of hiking trails in Vermont overlap and interlace these mountains, including the renowned 3,500 km Appalachian Trail.
At the intersection of Route 30 and VT 7A sits picturesque Manchester. Pristine white-shuttered clapboard homes with Victorian-era gingerbread embellishments, along with white-pillared mansions, line the streets. It’s apparent there were a few affluent citizens here when the town was founded in 1761.
Jake Burton, one of the inventors of the snowboard, called Manchester his home, but its most famous citizen was Robert Todd Lincoln, Abraham’s only surviving son. Robert made a fortune as a lawyer, politician and, later, as president of the Pullman Car Company – and he fell in love with Manchester. In 1902, he purchased 500 acres of land and built his mansion, known as Hildene. After his death in 1926, his daughter Jessie, Abraham Lincoln’s last undisputed descendant, used Hildene as her summer home. She died in 1948, and the home fell into disrepair until 1978, when the community formed a non-profit organization called the Friends of Hildene. They’ve since restored the property to its original grandeur and opened it to the public.
Winding south again to another bend in the road, the toll house for the Mount Equinox Road beckons us, and we begin terracing up the snake-like ascent to its 1,172-metre summit. The reward is a breathtaking panorama of Vermont’s Green Mountains, New Hampshire’s White Mountains, the Adirondacks of New York, the Berkshires of Massachusetts and, on a clear day, Montreal’s Mount Royal. Private construction on the toll road began in 1941 and was completed in 1947. At 8.3 km, it is the longest privately owned, paved toll road in America. On our descent, the white stone of the Carthusian Monastery gleams amid the surrounding greenery below. The Carthusian Order originated in 10th-century Europe. Talking is prohibited, which fits perfectly with its tranquil setting.
Vermont is a plethora of American history, and while rambling past immaculate farms and through charming villages, thoughts of the Revolution and Ethan Allen leading his Green Mountain Boys roll through my head. Kill is an Old Dutch name for “creek,” and at Arlington, we turn right and parallel Battenkill River along VT 313. We cross over the river through a red covered bridge, pass by a little white church and arrive at the Inn on Covered Bridge Green. It’s here that Norman Rockwell called home during his most productive years and painted most of his many, memorable works. Inspired by Franklin D. Roosevelt’s famous Four Freedoms speech on the eve of the Second World War, Rockwell created his Four Freedoms on canvas, depicted by simple family scenes. His artistic illustrations graced more than 40 books, including The Adventures of Tom Sawyer and The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn, as well as an unprecedented 322 covers for the Saturday Evening Post. Behind the inn, Rockwell’s historic studio has been converted into a cottage accommodation.
With the Wing humming along in the shade of the overhanging boughs, I crane left and right hunting for a certain stone house, and suddenly there it is. We ride up the gravel driveway, past a lovely one-and-a-half-storey stone house: the 1920s home of the legendary American poet Robert Frost. Through the orchard I spot a single surviving birch tree beside the barn, the…