You won’t want to leave one of the most beautiful islands in the world for walking, biking, or simply looking out to sea.
MORNING: “Close to home, a world away …” With the Block Island Tourism Council‘s tagline in mind, how do we tackle a Block Island daytrip to the place the Narragansett Indians called Manisses (Island of the Little God), with limited time and many options?
For instance, to cross the approximately 13-mile stretch of the Atlantic to visit what has also been called “the Bermuda of the North,” do we take Interstate Navigation‘s high-speed ferry or the traditional ferry from Point Judith? A half-hour joyride, or an hour-long meditative journey set to the rhythm of the swells? Since our mission is to get “a world away,” let’s opt for the 8:00 a.m. slow ferry. The passage is integral to the journey, as ideally it will promote reflection and perspective. (Try to sit outside, as TV screens with continuously running news are now mounted inside: precisely, I’d argue, what we’re leaving behind.)
As the island’s contours emerge above the southern horizon, we first spy North Light, built in 1867 near the island’s northern terminus. “Cow Cove,” where the original European settlers are said to have pushed their livestock overboard upon arrival in 1661, forms a sweeping arc before the lighthouse.
Next is Clay Head, a bluff on the island’s northeastern side, often mistaken for the even more majestic Mohegan Bluffs on the island’s southern side. Speaking of perspective, as you pass Clay Head, note that just an island’s-length to the east –7 miles–a World War II-era German submarine lies on the ocean floor, sunk with all hands mere days before war’s end.
As we enter Old Harbor and behold its facade of Victorian-era hotels, we do indeed seem a world away. Choices: Walk, or splurge for a bike or Smart Car rental at Old Harbor Bike Shop? (Note that hills are steep, and the roads can be congested on busy in-season weekends.) Or hail one of 34 cabs?
First we’ll head south on Spring Street to Southeast Light. Built in 1874, this National Historic Landmark has been visited by both Ulysses Grant and Bill Clinton. It would have fallen off an eroding cliff if not for a grass-roots effort to move it back from the edge nearly 20 years ago.
Working our way west, we stop at Payne Overlook for a view from the Mohegan Bluffs. Anticipating company, one option is to continue west to an unmarked entrance just south of Pilot Hill Road. The view from this vantage point is worth the walk, and it’s where the cabdrivers usually go.
AFTERNOON: Before heading for the ultimate Block Island activity–playing in the ocean blue–lunch is in order. We can choose between the porch of the Spring House Hotel, the 19th-century wonder that commands a beguiling view of the eastern sea, or we can saunter along the island’s only commercial stretch, Water Street, to the Three Sisters sandwich shop near Bridgegate Square. (It’s a four-way stop, the closest the island comes to a busy intersection; there are no traffic lights.) Tuck into a “Molly’s Meatloaf” or “Twisted Sister,” among many other local favorites.
Just down Corn Neck Road from Three Sisters is the entrance to the truly incomparable Crescent Beach. Extending north for about two miles, this strand is open to anyone and everyone, no key or fee required. Collapse on your own patch of sand, or take a long walk to the ramparts of Clay Head, where a series of Greenway trails called “the Maze” are hidden. Careful … you could be there longer than planned. Other options include renting a paddleboard from Diamond Blue Surf Shop and taking a kayak tour of Great Salt Pond, replete with herons and oyster catchers, with Pond & Beyond.
EVENING: We have a little time between the beach and the 9:00 p.m. boat (summer weekend schedule) on which we’ll depart Block Island. As the sun approaches the yardarm, we’re drawn to higher ground: specifically, to the lawn of The Atlantic Inn, arguably the premier sunset-cocktail vantage point on the island. It’s best to return to “America” (a.k.a. the mainland) with a full belly. Perhaps some lobster mac-and-cheese at Winfield’s bar, or pad Thai at Harry’s, just around the corner. As you head back to the ferry landing, remind yourself gently that you should get “a world away” more often.
Have you ever been on a Block Island daytrip?