Connecticutís northeast corner is farm and field rural. An elegance can be found inside the walls of its homes, inns and shops while country casual is alive and well among the hills, streams and woods. Once teeming with mills, they are gone now, but not the miles of stone walls and winding roads. State parks have trails for hiking and walking. Called the ìQuiet Corner,î look out for farm machinery and equestrians while out for a spin.
Off one of those country ambles in Pomfret Center is the
Airline State Park Trail. The trail was once the corridor for train travel between Boston and New York. The Airline Railroad carried passengers until 1937 when service was stopped.
The Trail opened in 1991 for transportation like cycling, walking, horseback riding and cross-country skiing. It stretches some 50 miles across eastern Connecticut, beginning in East Hampton and ending in Putnam.
Each stretch has its own personality. The eight mile piece between Pomfret and Hampton was not without adventure. Flat, yes. Easy, not exactly. To pedal between the two communities is to cycle on miles of potential.
The trail was virtually signless, certainly nothing stating it was the Airline Trail. An arrow slashed through a vehicle told us we were in the right place and later on, there were signs indicating it was a snowmobile route too. But with excellent directions from a couple of locals, the trail was a snap to find.
This is no paved paradise. It is a grab bag of treasure and booby prizes. There is the sweet effortless riding under a canopy of pines on sections that were like an easy dirt road. Waterfowl cruised on the ponds. The trail cut through boulder fields, ran along hills and valleys, crossed bucolic backroads, rimmed conservation land and cut through fields waiting for corn to be planted.
The Airline State Park Trail passes through the northeastern corner of Connecticut.
There were birds-eye views of beaver lodges and even a wild turkey hiding in the bushes near the Audubon Center in Pomfret. Itsí sanctuary is a pleasant small network of trails by a brook. Get off the bikes and stretch the legs.
Like a page out of a glossy brochure, a deer bounded across the Trail by a red-barned farm, complete with wagon wheel, fenced pastures and stone wall with old farm tools on its top. Oreo cows - this was Connecticut, not Vermont right? - watched as we rode by. Ponds, Canadian geese, bird boxes, state parks, water lilies and the quiet Hamden Reservoir, a fine picnic spot, were all part of the landscape.
Closed gates by road crossings signal youíre on the right track. Crushed rock in spots makes for bumpy riding and even on a flat rail trail, there is the occasional steep pitch by where trestles once stood. After a spring rain, muddy sections made the cycling sticky in patches.
An out and back journey with a twist, on the way back, we left the dirt for the pavement of Route 97, a designated scenic road. In less than a mile, cyclists have three reasons to stop: ice cream, a Revolutionary cemetery and the oldest standing meeting house in the state.
Route 169, the longest scenic state highway in Connecticut, wiggles through the northeast corner and towns like Canterbury, Brooklyn, Pomfret and Woodstock. A 13 mile loop around Pomfret and Woodstock gave a taste of the scenery. In Woodstock, the roadway is a nice spin past lovely homes, widowís walks, churches, the town green, a three-side rock memorial to veterans and the pedal-stopping pink of the Gothic Roseland Cottage Bowen House.
Four preparatory and boarding schools call Pomfret and Woodstock home. Shaded and hidden estates are deep beside the road. Rolling Quasset Road leads by Wappaquassett Pond, stone homes, farms, fields and the Tufts School of Veterinary Medicine. Quiet country lanes meander by cows, sheep and mansions. Roseland Park Road takes riders by a golf course and the waterís edge of Roseland Park, a picnicking place. The Child Hill Road downhill is brilliant while itís pay back on the ups and downs of Freedley Road. Roll by the Woodstock Fairgrounds, antique shops and art studios. Street posts are white with black lettering.
Post-ride sustenance is plenty. After cycling, sip the wines of Pomfretís Sharpe Hill Vineyard on a hilly back road. Sit and sample on the patio courtyard outside the maroon Fireside Tavern. Walk up the hill to views of Connecticut, Rhode Island and Massachusetts.
In the Quiet Corner, there is ample opportunity to pedal it all off.