The excerpt from this article written by Abigail King (UK) originally appeared on the Inside the Travel Lab blog post after her media visit to Massachusetts last June. She has included Plymouth as part of A Road Trip from Boston: A Two Week Massachusetts Driving Itinerary in her Best Places to Visit in the USA article.
Plymouth, Cape Cod and the Islands -- Days 5 - 11
Now it’s time to visit all those places you’ve heard about in half-whispered dreams, novels, schoolrooms, history books and anything that probes into the life of J.F.K. Plymouth is where America began. That’s a simplification, of course, and that statement itself is a massive understatement. But it is where the pilgrims settled (they originally landed at the tip of Cape Cod at Provincetown), and, although not the first, it was and remains the oldest continuously inhabited settlement in the United States founded by Europeans. Its history is fascinating and complex; its layout restfully small. It’s a walkable, beautiful grid of artsy coffee shops, bobbing boats and impressive, historic brick buildings. But before you get there, stop off at World's End in Hingham and the cranberry bogs along the way.
This unexpected wilderness between Boston and Plymouth offers a chance to get back in touch with nature and see views that haven’t changed for centuries. Managed by the Trustees (the same ones who manage the Appleton farms), World’s End involves over 250 acres of tree-lined avenues, rocky shores, steep hills and wild grass. Look one way to see Boston, its skyline painted in faint, pastel colours. Look the other to see a Nordic fishing village which turns out to be the New England coastline. While the buildings of New England may be old in US terms, this place is even older. Linked to the retreat of the same glacier that led to Boston Harbor, the salt marshes and spoon shaped hills (or drumlins) look the same now as they did thousands and thousands of years ago. The Trustees hold concerts here on a summer’s day, but, even if grey clouds roll in, a stride between the granite ledges, red cedars and blueberry thickets make the perfect exercise break on a road trip.
Unmissable New England: The Cranberry Bogs
Yes, when I heard about cranberry bogs I wasn’t that impressed. Yes, when I saw a photo, I completely changed my mind. Cranberries are big business in New England, with U.S. Farmers harvesting approximately 40,000 acres of cranberries each year. What makes this farming industry so much more interesting than the rest are the shimmer of the cranberry bogs come harvest time. Full of bright red berries as far as the eye can see, farmers flood the bogs with enough water to cover the vines that carry the berries. They then use water reels to knock the fruit off and collect them with conveyors or pumps. Alas, for international visitors, the season is short, running from approximately mid-September to early-November each year. We stopped off at Mayflower Cranberries LLC (call ahead if you wish to do the same) in Plympton, Massachusetts to speak to owner Jeff LaFleur. An amiable, passionate man, LaFleur has taken cranberry farming to the next level.
A Bog With a Difference
Mayflower Cranberries LLC offers bog side dining, adopt-a-bog schemes and harvest viewing tours. His 112-acre farm has 236 acres of active cranberry bogs and are grower-owners for Ocean Spray Cranberries (side note – I assumed this was a big, faceless, awful corporation before this visit, but it’s actually a pretty decent co-op that benefits small farms and keeps them in trade. Jeff is a fan!)
In Plymouth, you can indulge in as much or as little history as you like. Unless you’re particularly keen, though, one full day is probably enough. Spend the day from Boston to Plymouth stopping off at World’s End and the cranberries, and then give yourself one full day in Plymouth itself before driving on to the Cape. The Plimouth Plantation is a little way out of town, but everything else is easily walkable, and it’s really the best way to get a taste of the place. With the big anniversary coming up in 2020 (400 years since the pilgrims landed), some places are closed for a bit of spit and polish. So, do check in advance if there’s something you really, really want to see.
Plymouth Rock is New England's most visited rock (drawing in more than 1million visitors each year). This historical landmark signifies the place where the Mayflower pilgrims began Plymouth Colony, which is essentially the first permanent European settlement in New England. You'll find Plymouth Rock in the peaceful Pilgrim Memorial State Park on the shore of Plymouth Harbor.
This open-air museum really turns the traditional idea of the American thanksgiving around. Two villages co-exist: the Wampanoag settlement with trailing smoke, simmering cauldrons, feathers, paints and spears. the pilgrim settlement, where actors have British accents and talk about their journey from Leiden in Holland where they were granted asylum before they left ”to find the new world.”
A Tale of Two Sides
From a fraught narrative, the Plantation showcases both sides of the American story without passing judgement. Leave at least a full afternoon to really make the most of it.
Where to Eat in Plymouth
Kiskadee Coffee Company - for local art, simple snacks and, well, good coffee.
The Water Street Café – head to this diner for an all American breakfast you’ll never forget. Order crunchy French toast and consume more calories in one sitting than you even do at Christmas. Guilty. Delicious. Fun.
Dillon’s Local – we enjoyed this so much, we went back twice. ;-) Cosy, yet hipster eatery with classics like New England clam chowder and more modern arugula grilled peach salad.
Where to Stay in Plymouth
We stayed at the John Carver Inn & Spa, right within walking distance of town. It’s a curious spot, with a mix of themes and styles, but rooms are spacious and well stocked. There’s a fantastically outrageous swimming pool with a full size replica of the Mayflower (with a bit of artistic license!). After you check out, it’s time to grab your swimwear and prepare to head to the Cape…