It was a beautiful autumn day in southern Massachusetts. The watery sunshine illuminated the gold and red leaves on the maple, beech and oak trees flanking the long winding roads out towards Cape Cod.
But despite the beauty of the foliage, which attracts thousands of ‘leaf peepers’ from all over the world each year, admiring the vegetation was not on my agenda during this particular afternoon in New England.
Sporting a pair of waders, I was up to my chest in cranberries at Mayflower Cranberries in Plympton.
For anyone who’s seen those amusing Ocean Spray “straight from the bog” TV commercials, featuring farmers Justin and Henry – well, it was just like that.
During the cranberry harvest season in Massachusetts, there are fields upon fields that look like they have been dyed a deep ruby red, as millions of crimson berries float to the surface on the flooded vinelands and change the entire colour of the landscape.
My trip took in three states – Massachusetts, Maine and New Hampshire – and over the course of a week I sampled life in a big city, at a beach resort and a port, as well as adventures in the forests, mountains, lakes and farms.
After picking up a car in the bustling city of Boston, I took the Interstate 95 to the harbour of Portland, Maine.
Because one of the best reasons to visit New England in the fall – that’s what the Yanks call the autumn – is that summer is coming to an end.
Rather than feeling anxious about a barren winter on the horizon, Portlanders view the months of September and October as their ‘last hurrah’ and there is a great atmosphere in the city’s bars and restaurants.
As I continued my journey, exiting the I-95 and heading into the mountains, driving became a joy.
Silent roads meandered through the trees in their full autumn regalia, and past secluded lakes shimmering in the sunshine.
My destination was Bethel, a small mountain village at the side of the Androscoggin River and the base of Paradise Hill.
For a place of just over 2,500 residents, Bethel is full of history. I was taken on a short tour of the area and regaled with tales of ghosts, ghouls and patients who escaped from the town’s infamous asylum during the 1890s.
Meanwhile, in the neighbouring state of New Hampshire, visitors to Jackson could be fooled into thinking they were in the European Alps rather than the White Mountains, especially while staying at the Christmas Inn Farm and Lodge, complete with rooms named Mistletoe, Rudolph and Sleigh Bells.
Nevertheless, it wasn’t quite winter in New England, and I made the most of the autumn sunshine by exploring the spectacular Franconia Notch area of the White Mountains National Park. But for sheer breathtaking scenery and opulence, the highlight of my week was a short stay in the wealthy Americans’ vacation playground of Meredith, on the banks of the stunning Lake Winnipesaukee.
To get a true appreciation of Winnipesaukee, tourists should head to the Castle in the Clouds – Tom and Olive Plant’s mountaintop estate that was built in 1913 high in the Ossipee mountain range.
For the final stretch of my trip I drove back down the I-95 to the iconic pilgrim town of Plymouth, Massachusetts.
Obviously a place rich in history, with tourists flocking to get a glimpse of the Mayflower II and Plymouth Rock, ‘America’s Hometown’ also has great shopping, vibrant nightlife and is famous for its seafood.
After spending a week in New England, it was easy to see why English settlers chose to relocate to this part of America.
I found the locals keen to share their tales of New England, as well as asking me all about life in old England.
Returning home, I couldn’t stop talking about my adventures in Massachusetts, Maine and New Hampshire.
Just like the pilgrims four centuries earlier, I had ‘fall-en’ in love with the place.
NEW ENGLAND IN FOCUS
WHERE TO STAY?
WHERE: church Landing Inn and Spa and Mill Falls, Meredith, New HampshireC
HOW MUCH: Doubles from £160 per night. Visit www.millfalls.com
WHAT: Regularly voted in the top 50 hotels in the whole of North America, Mill Falls looks out onto Lake Winnipesaukee. The town of Meredith was the setting for Oscar-winning drama On Golden Pond.
WHERE: The John Carver Resort and Spa, Plymouth, Massachusetts.
HOW MUCH: Doubles from £61 per night. Visit www.johncarverinn.com
WHAT: This family-friendly hotel has an air of colonial charm, with roaring fires in most rooms. The resort’s real highlight is the Pilgrim Cove pool, complete with a replica of Plymouth Rock.
WHERE TO EAT?
WHERE: East Bay Grille, Plymouth, Massachusetts.
WHAT: Learn how to eat lobster the New England way, with a perfect boiled specimen caught that morning. Rumour has it that Friday night is Cougar Night, so young handsome men better be on their guard!
WHERE: The Bethel Inn Resort, Bethel, Maine (www.bethelinn.com)
WHAT: This country club serves up fine dining in two restaurants, and has a bar stocked with some of New England’s finest ales and wines. Weary golfers can come straight from the course and head for Bethel’s 19th hole, aka The Millbrook Tavern & Grille.
Richard Jones was a guest of Discover New England and Ocean Spray.
He joined Ocean Spray cranberry farmer Jeff LaFleur for a cranberry harvest tour at his ‘bog’ in Plympton, Massachusetts. The LaFleurs are one of more than 700 farming families across North America and Canada who together form the Ocean Spray co-operative. Visit www.oceanspray.co.uk
Virgin Atlantic flies daily to Boston from London Heathrow from £512.79, including tax. Click www.virgin-atlantic.com or call 0844 209 2770.
Alamo offers USA car hire from £18 per day. All rates are fully inclusive of zero excess insurance and taxes. See www.alamo.co.uk/USA
For more information on New England, visit www.discovernewengland.co.uk