When I was getting my hair cut during our second stop in Maine, the ladies in the salon were giving me tips on what to see when we got to our next state – New Hampshire. They said not to miss Lake Winni or the Lakes Region. “Winnipesaukee” is a native Indian name that means “Smile of the Great Spirit”. The Lakes Region was very important to Native American Cultures as well as to early settlers during America’s Colonial Period. This part of the state has an abounding history in addition to fun, fun, summertime fun. Not to mention the scenic advantages. Everywhere you look there is an all- inclusive view of mountains, water and big skies. This is one of those places where you can have the beach and the woods all at the same time. Visitors and locals stay busy fishing, canoeing, sailing, kayaking, paddle boarding, boating, skiing, hiking or just lounging in the warm sun. (And that is just for the summer, in winter there is more skiing, snowshoeing, snowmobiling, ice fishing, ice skating, etc.). When we saw all the tourists and traffic, we knew we had come upon something special. Mike and I had never been to the Lakes Region or really even heard of it in travel conversations, so we were pleasantly surprised with our new discovery. I was also grateful to the ladies at Studio 114 Hair Salon for the advice.
The roads are small and curvy in New Hampshire, so we selected a Campground called Twin Tamarack Family Campground in New Hampton. I thought it would be fun to stay in N.H.N.H. for a little while. It had easy access to I-93, so we could zip up from Raymond through Concord, and stay on the Interstate for almost the entire drive. Even though Twin Tamarack was 2 miles from the Interstate, we still felt secluded in nature once we checked in and got settled at site #185. New Hampshire isn’t very populated so it is easy to feel secluded in nature from almost anywhere.
Our site was nice and level with good drainage – a boring observation, but important none-the-less. We even had a deck this time, so we would be able to keep the dogs fairly clean… hopefully. Our fire pit was lined with big granite rocks, and it was situated at the back of our site. We had our own little semi-private back yard. We were on the outer boundary of the campground, so there were no neighbors behind us for this stay. The only thing we didn’t have was television. The trees blocked the DirecTV signal, we were too remote for over-air channels, and we didn’t want to pay the campground an extra $4 per day for the cable connection to be turned on. We had Wi-Fi, our wicked CD collection, and a Red Box Movie Rental at the gas station near the interstate. TV not critical.
We did ‘the usual’ on our first day in our new campground. After some house cleaning and maintenance chores, we found our way to the nearest town to stock up on supplies. This time we needed a liquor store, a grocery store, gas in the Honda, and a Lowe’s. We drove around Lake Winnisquam, through Weir’s Beach to Laconia and finished our errands before we turned around and followed the same scenic drive back home. State Rt. 3 bordered the water for most of the drive and it was beautiful. When we got back home we grilled hamburgers and watched Caveman TV in our fire pit. The rain was scarce this week, so we actually got to enjoy a campfire almost every night of our stay in N.H.N.H. I went to the Red Box on the one night it did rain and rented “Hyde Park on Hudson” with Bill Murray as FDR. Since we had visited the estate where the movie is based, I thought it would be fun to watch. Mike never likes my movie selections, so I thought I would try to win him over with the Bill Murray card. He loves Bill Murray. I was doing great until he learned Mr. Murray’s role was not comedic in this film. It WAS an interesting story, that is for sure.
We were still dealing with the ‘garage addition’ to our home at this time. Mike had ordered the Yakima Cargo Box and had it shipped to Twin Tamarack. He spent a couple of days waiting for the delivery and assembling our new storage vessel, so I took a couple of solo daytrips from this campground. One afternoon I drove to nearby Meredith, only about 10 minutes down the road. Meredith Village is a picturesque New England community located on the far northwestern shore of Lake Winnipesaukee. I drove through the tiny town to explore a bit and get my bearings, and then I parked in a spot downtown to see the cutest parts on foot. Meredith is a Main Street City and I was once a Main Street Manager in downtown Tyler, Texas –so I had a fun time meandering around the downtown area. The ancient buildings were all bustling with businesses and customers. There was a great mix of retail, service businesses, community spaces and restaurants. The downtown area was very small, but it was active and prosperous. The village also had parks along the lake shore for people to enjoy picnics or sun worshipping. There were a couple of waterfront restaurants directly on the water, and an ice cream shack with a standing line of customers. It looked like one of the things to do on Lake Winnipesaukee was to ride the boat over to the town docks in Meredith and get out for ice cream or an alternate snack. The boardwalk was dense with boaters clad in swim suit cover-ups and flip flops.
Another solo daytrip was devoted to seeing the Castle in the Clouds, otherwise known as the historic Lucknow Estate. Tom and Olive Plant, a retired businessman and his wife, built the mountain top estate in 1914. One edge of Lucknow’s original 6,300 acres bordered the Ossipee Mountain Range, and the other side of the property emptied into the waters of Lake Winnipesaukee. Mr. Plant made his fortune in the shoe manufacturing industry. He became burned out at age 51; so he wrapped a $1 million check around his wife’s coffee mug one morning, divorced her, retired, and started building his country estate in New Hampshire. Pretty soon, he fell in love with Olive (who was 10 years his junior), married her, and settled into a very luxurious lifestyle at Lucknow. The fairytale was in full swing until a series of failed investments. Eventually the Plants lost all of their money… the biggest portion going to Russian Savings Bonds just before the fall of an empire. They were allowed to remain living at Lucknow until the time of Mr. Plant’s death, at which point the estate was put up for auction. The property has been owned by others since then, but today 5,500 acres of the original property are owned and managed by the Castle Preservation Society.
The drive to The Castle was about 45 minutes from our camp. I got to the gate around 1:30 on a Friday afternoon. I paid my $16 entry fee and drove the Honda on a one-lane road for 2 miles along switch-backs carved into the side of a mountain until I reached the parking area. The gate attendant had advised I stop two times before actually parking my car for good. About mid-way up there was a place to take a tiny hike along an easy path into the woods to see the Falls of Song, a 50’ waterfall on the property. If I got back in my car and continued along the path, I would come to another stopping point. A second small parking area allowed visitors to get out of their cars and absorb a breathtaking scenic vista of the entire Lakes Region below them. I did make both of those stops on my way to the carriage house and I was not sorry. As the lady at the gate had explained, there was only one way into Lucknow. If I missed these sights on my way in, I would not be able to retrace my steps.
The preservation society in charge of The Castle in the Clouds also operates a restaurant from the estate’s historic carriage house. The stables have been turned into a dining room, and tables with umbrellas are also available on an outdoor patio. It was a pretty afternoon, so I grabbed a table on the patio to enjoy a salad and glass of wine before getting on the trolley. The parking lot is located near the carriage house, but the actual castle was still situated farther up the mountain and visitors were shuttled there every 10 minutes. The house itself was magnificent. It took 4 years to build. All the rocks and timber were harvested from the land. Mr. Plant hired 1,000 workers to come construct the house. That is a bunch of workers! The walls were rock and all of the woodwork was intricately carved. History tells us that the mason workers were happy if they cut and set 3 stones in one day. Just three and the day was a success for them. The home was state-of-the-art. I was surprised that this 100 year-old home had an intercom system, refrigerators, its own built-in organ that could be played manually or mechanically, a central vacuum system, and a crazy “needle shower” contraption. The entire time I was touring the historically preserved treasure, I kept wondering if maybe Mr. Plant could have kept his fortune had he named it something other than Lucknow. LuckNOW was possibly too fleeting. Maybe he should have named it something like “Perpetual Luck” or “Constant Luck”… something a bit more enduring.
While I was doing research on other things to see in the area, I learned about a geological formation called Sculptured Rocks. Since there are so many waterfalls and rushing streams in New Hampshire, there are lots of public swimming holes too. We took a 30 minute drive to our west and north one afternoon to see about a spot that looked the most interesting to me. We drove another beautiful route around Newfound Lake until we got to the Hebron Village Store. From there, we turned left and followed another tiny road for a few miles until we got to the parking lot. Sculptured Rocks is maintained by the State, but there is no staff. Parking is on the left, the swimming hole is across the street and down an unmarked path. I can’t imagine how anybody but a local would know about it, but when we got there the parking lot was about 2/3 full. The name of this swimming spot is self explanatory. Thousands of years of water rushing through the area have carved huge holes and divots in the rocky landscape. It is shaded with trees and loud with the sound of the powerful water in motion. There were roughly 20 people visiting when we got there. Some were looking around like us, and others were families with kids daring each other to jump off the rocks into the water. We sat around and absorbed the beauty of the place, until Mike got stung by a bee. It was time to get moving anyway, so we got back in the car and drove in a big circle back to our camp. We went through Plymouth, N.H., which was a charming colonial town that happened to be celebrating its 250th anniversary this year. We also drove past Squam Lake, which was the actual setting for the movie “On Golden Pond”. I made a mental note to rent that movie next time… if it was available at the Red Box.
We were too close to a Lake at this campground for Mike not to fish. Twin Tamarack had a small ramp for launching canoes and kayaks into Pemigewasset Lake, which encompassed about 250 acres. He bought a 24-hour fishing license and fished Saturday afternoon and Sunday morning. He got rained on a couple of times Saturday afternoon as a cool front pushed through. On Sunday he wasn’t even sure if he wanted to go back because it was cold and windy. Cold and windy at the beginning of August … we just kept grinning to ourselves as reports of 110 degree heat indexes reached us from Texas. Mike is a die hard, so of course he braved the cold to use up all the time he could on his fishing license. He caught 3 bass and 2 pike. He had to release the pike because he wasn’t sure of size limits. That morning he also saw an eagle soaring above him and heard an elk or moose bugling from somewhere in the surrounding forest. He might have been most excited when he told me about the flight of three WWII-era restored planes that flew over him in formation during his time on the water that morning.
We had a great time in the Lakes region. I don’t think either of us expected to encounter such a splendid array of sights and attractions when we made the decision to finish our tour of the Granite State in N.H.N.H. I put this region on my list of places I would like to return. The scenery was idyllic and the locals were very gracious. The air was crisp and cool during the day. The sky was clear and bright with stars at night. When I win the lottery, I think I will buy a little lake shack somewhere in this area so we can host friends and family at this American paradise all summer long. I’ll leave a hidden key in case anyone wants to come during the winter for ice fishing or snow shoeing.