The Kiss of Sweet Scottish Rain

Day 24 - Looking back to the Kings House

Day 24 – Leaving Kings House, Glen Coe

Because I live in southwest Connecticut, I mostly share hiking experiences from my home state and neighboring New York. Other parts of North America get a look-in when I am lucky enough to travel. I love the American wilds. But long before I ever set foot on an American trail, I loved the landscapes of Scotland.

Scotland just happens to be where I was born, although I did not get to stay there for long. The Kiss of Sweet Scottish Rain is, for sure, about walking; 420 miles of it, in fact, from the far northwest to the English border. But the book is also about roots and heritage. If you like the outdoors, or Scotland, armchair journeying or memoir, you might like my book. Clicking on the image to the right will take you to bookstore links, as well as to cover reviews and the chance to read the opening pages. Here are snippets from two cover reviews, one from each side of the Atlantic:

“This is a book that inspires and it urges you to grab your boots and turn your face to the wind and set off into the Celtic twilight.”— Cameron McNeish, hiker, author and television presenter

“The Kiss of Sweet Scottish Rain is travel writing at its best.”—David Miller, author of AWOL on the Appalachian Trail

Tunxis Trail—Connecticut’s Wild Woodlands

The Tunxis Trail “northern terminus” is a remote, tranquil spot

The Tunxis Trail northern terminus

Wildness, like pretty much everything else, is relative. If you’re from Maine, the idea of wild Connecticut woods may provoke a chuckle. If you’re a city-hound, almost any forest may seem way too nature-dominated. I’ll be the first to admit that some of Connecticut’s forest tracts are small and intruded upon by civilization (Connecticut’s Wild Corner is a notable exception). But in Tunxis State Forest, Katie and I walked for 13 miles without seeing a car, or hearing a leaf blower, or meeting hardly any other hikers at all. We found moose scat and knew for sure that bears were in the neighborhood. Wild.

For a change, I am posting my Day Hike Notes (below) and my Taking a Hike column simultaneously. Katie and I took this hike over a month ago. Here are the links to the column:

Tunxis Trail in The Norwalk Hour
Tunxis Trail in Hersam Acorn Newspapers

I am, by the way, just back from the wild Maine woods. More to follow.

DAY HIKE NOTES—TUNXIS TRAIL

DATE: Friday, May 11th.
START: Pell Rd at CT-MA line, Hartland CT (GPS 42.037715, -72.898143).
FINISH: CT Route 219 northeast of Saville Dam, Barkhamsted CT (GPS 41.926324, -72.925151).
ROUTE: Tunxis Trail south.
DISTANCE: About 13 miles.
TIME: 8 hours (8:50 a.m. to 4:50 p.m.)
TERRAIN: Only moderate elevation gain and loss, but often rocky & rooty underfoot.
MAP: I carried the CT Walk Book (a bit bulky, really).

WEATHER: Sunny and warm, high in upper 60s.
WILDLIFE: I don’t associate Connecticut with moose, but some do live here, and we saw their scat!
PHOTOS: Here.

BREAKFAST: Cheese & bacon hard roll from Pleasant Valley General Store, Barkhamsted.
LUNCH: Sandwich and snacks somewhere in the Tunxis State Forest.
UPS: 13 miles of tranquil forest.
DOWNS: Worrying about my (still newish) car on rutted and potholed Pell Rd.
KIT: This was the first hike of the year when I carried my water reservoir instead of bottles—no chance of freezing up and a greater quantity of liquid required.
COMPANY: Katie McWilliams from beginning to end; 3 encounters with other hikers, mostly nearing the end.

Clouds above Indian Council Caves

Clouds above Indian Council Caves

Day Hike Notes – Mohawk Trail: Mohawk, Red, and Breadloaf Mountains

In Cathedral Pines Preserve

In Cathedral Pines Preserve

When I walked over Coltsfoot Mountain in April, I wasn’t thinking that this was the first of a series of hikes to trek the whole Mohawk Trail. But when I was looking for a Memorial Day weekend outing, I chose another section of Mohawk, joining up with where I’d left off at the foot of Coltsfoot.

Mohawk is a 25.7-mile half-loop that begins and ends on the Connecticut Appalachian Trail, and indeed was part of the AT until a 1980s relocation. By the time I’d finished my second Mohawk hike (“Hike 1” in the notes below), I’d covered 10.5 miles of Mohawk Trail—twice, in fact, as these had been out-and-back hikes. The idea of hiking all of Mohawk this season began to grow. And that was the reason for “Hike 2”—to tick off the short Mohawk section I had not hiked between the AT in Sharon and the start of the Coltsfoot section. Next, north from Red Mountain ledge.
 
DATE: Saturday, May 26th.
START & FINISH:
Hike 1—Mohawk State Forest entrance on CT Route 4, Cornwall (41.844205, -73.289977).
Hike 2—Parking area at Furnace Brook Memorial sign, CT Route 4, Cornwall Bridge (GPS 41.818627, -73.369069).
ROUTE:
Hike 1—Mohawk Trail south and west to Cornwall village; return. Then Mohawk trail north to Red Mountain ledge; return.
Hike 2—Mohawk Trail west to Appalachian Trail; return.
DISTANCE: Hike 1—9.5 miles. Hike 2—2.5 miles.
TIME: Hike 1—5.5 hours from 7:30 with long lunch break on Red Mountain. Hike 2—about 1.5 hours from 1:30 p.m.
TERRAIN: Good trail, some road-walking. 800-foot climb back up Mohawk Mountain from Cornwall village; 650 feet plus to summit of Breadloaf from Housatonic River.
MAP: CFPA CT Walk Book.

WEATHER: Sunny and hot, increasing clouds in the afternoon. High in the upper 80s.
WILDLIFE: I startled a fox out on a hot afternoon on Breadloaf Mountain. Earlier, on Mohawk, I found the substantial scat of a carnivore (contained fur)—coyote or bobcat, maybe.
PHOTOS: Here.

BREAKFAST: Bagel & coffee from Village Market and Gas, Goshen (I was too early for more familiar places).
LUNCH: On Red Mountain ledge.
UPS: I was delighted by the ledge on Red Mountain, which I had to myself.
DOWNS: Having to apply bug spray.
KIT: Nothing noteworthy.
COMPANY: Sunny Memorial Day Saturday = hikers.

Coltsfoot Mountain

Back at Coltsfoot Mountain after a month’s absence

Day Hike Notes – Pond Mountain via the Appalachian Trail

IMG_1594

More than half the hike is AT

Until very recently I thought of the Appalachian Trail and Macedonia Brook State Park as separate hiking places. In Kent, CT, you could either hike the AT or you could head for Macedonia Brook. I knew, of course, that the places were close, but assumed that the lands between them were off-limits. Then, in February, I discovered Pond Mountain Natural Area which, east, nearly touches the AT and, west, bounds Macedonia Brook.

I began to think about a hike I would call “Caleb to Cobble”—a trek from Caleb’s Peak on the AT to Cobble Mountain in the state park, from views of the Housatonic River valley to a panorama of the distant Catskills. I am saving Caleb to Cobble for another day, but this hike was a step toward it. It was a varied hike—ledges above the Housatonic, a loop around a glacial pond, big views to the west from Pond Mountain.

DATE: Sunday, April 29th.
START & FINISH: CT Route 341 west of Kent (GPS 41.731220, -73.490832).
ROUTE: AT north to Skiff Mountain Road; short road-walk to Red Gate Trail in Pond Mountain Natural Area; to Pond Mountain summit via Red Gate, Pond, and Mountain trails, circumnavigating Fuller Pond. Return by same route, except replacing Pond Trail with Escarpment Trail.
DISTANCE: A little over 9 miles.
TIME: 5 hours (8:20 a.m. to 1:20 p.m.)
TERRAIN: Good trails underfoot. Ups and downs, mostly gentle. Start at 400 feet elevation, Pond Mountain summit = 1,332 feet.
MAP: For Pond Mountain, trail map picked up at Fuller Mountain Road trailhead on a previous visit. There is a different map online.

WEATHER: Overcast with showers; a little sun on the return leg. Temperatures in low 50s.
WILDLIFE: I saw a couple of white birds swooping low through the forest, then realized they were deer tails—deer bodies well camouflaged!
PHOTOS: Here.

BREAKFASTJ.P. Gifford, Kent—bagel & coffee.
LUNCH: Sandwich on Fuller Mountain, return leg.
UPS: At the very start I felt a surge of joy to be walking across a field in a cool breeze and rain!
DOWNS: None.
KIT: The routine stuff.
COMPANY: No-one at all.

Almost done—Macedonia Brook near start and finish

Almost done—Macedonia Brook near start and finish

Day Hike Notes – Mohawk Trail over Coltsfoot Mountain

Bonney Brook, Dark Entry, Mohawk Trail

Bonney Brook

I had hiked into Dark Entry once or twice before, over a decade ago. I had read back then of rumors of mountain lions, but what I found—or at least what I remember—was a steep climb to a mediocre view. So, in the run-up to this hike, Dark Entry was not what I was looking forward to, nor the views from Coltsfoot Mountain either. I was looking forward to a workout and seeing again the pretty flat-bottomed, steep-sided valley south of Cornwall village which I had first seen from the warmth of my car in February.

But how foolish it is to predict hikes based on old, half-forgotten experience! Soon after leaving Dark Entry Road for bona fide trail, I crossed Bonney Brook, pretty and decently full. Then, as I followed its bank upward, Bonney Brook served up a delightful succession of white cascades of all shapes and sizes, tumbling through boulders covered in moss and morning sunshine. My outing would have been worthwhile for this brook alone, but the remainder of my day turned out to be none too shabby either.

DATE: Sunday, April 22nd.
START & FINISH: Parking area at Furnace Brook Memorial sign, CT Route 4, Cornwall Bridge (GPS 41.818627, -73.369069).
ROUTE: Mohawk Trail from Dark Entry Road over Coltsfoot Mountain to Cornwall village; return by same route.
DISTANCE: About 11½ miles.
TIME: 6½ hours (8:30 a.m. to 3:00 p.m.)
TERRAIN: 0.7 miles on steep Dark Entry Road, then rocky trail to complete climb to Coltsfoot’s ridge (600-900 feet above starting point). Moderate terrain along the summit, then steep, awkward descent to Cornwall village.
MAP: Unusually for me, I didn’t carry one. Trail was well blazed.

WEATHER: Sunny, temperatures rising from 30s to low 60s.
WILDLIFE: Wild turkeys, hawks, the sound of woodpeckers.
PHOTOS: Here.

BREAKFAST: J.P. Gifford, Kent—bagel & coffee.
LUNCH: In the forest on the return leg—cheese & chorizo baguette.
UPS: The little waterfalls on Bonney Brook were an unexpected delight.
DOWNS: None, period.
KIT: I carried microspikes in case of lingering ice in shady places; there was none.
COMPANY: Just one group of three guys and a barky dog.

Coltsfoot Mountain from Cornwall CT

Northeast end of Coltsfoot Mountain from Cornwall village

“Taking a Hike” at #62

Taking a Hike TNH

Taking a Hike Edition #62

I have not, for six months and more, said anything here about my “Taking a Hike” newspaper column. The culprit has been a lack of posting time. Often, too, “Taking a Hike” is about an outing for which I have already posted “Day Hike Notes”, so the incentive to post is reduced.

“Taking a Hike”, however, is alive and well, approaching its 63rd edition. And I don’t think I ever mentioned that last year it placed second in the general column category of the 2017 Connecticut Press Club awards. (Though, who knows, there may only have been two entries!)

For five years, “Taking a Hike” was a monthly column. Last fall, I decided to move to eight times a year. Time was a factor, but so too was wanting to continue to enjoy writing the column, avoiding its becoming a grind. What use would that be to writer or reader? The schedule for “Taking a Hike” is now, roughly, as follows:

Easter or early April
Memorial Day
July 4th
Labor Day
Columbus Day
Thanksgiving
New Year
Presidents’ Day

And the columns since I last posted have been:

Hunter Mountain in the Catskills
The Pacific Crest Trail
Redding CT’s Westway, close to home
West Kill Mountain, Catskills again
Three winter hikes in Connecticut

Taking a Hike Montage

FROM TOP LEFT, CLOCKWISE: Devil’s Path to Hunter Mountain, September; W. Branch Saugatuck River, Weston CT, New Year’s Day; Devil’s Path to West Kill Mountain, December; Cracked Crag, Sierra Nevada, September; Redding’s Westway, November

Day Hike Notes – Ragged Mountain

Ragged cliff

Ragged Mountain Cliff

Time flies faster than sleet in a storm. Can it really be nearly two years since my eldest and I went up and over Ragged Mountain on our 11-hike trek from Massachusetts to Long Island Sound? Apparently it is, and I will have to accept this speeding-up of the reel of life just when I want it to go slower.

It was a different day in May 2016—green, warm, snakes basking. This time, I went to Ragged Mountain to avoid new snow that I knew would greet me north and west of home. Here—northeast—Friday’s nor’easter had brought just rain. Even so, I found a harsh day, what you’d expect of March—grays and browns, debris and blowdowns, black scavengers perched on bare branches … But I also found basalt cliffs, a (surely temporary) waterfall, and a windswept summit.

DATE: Sunday, March 4th.
START & FINISH: Andrews Street, Southington CT (41.630112, -72.833566).
ROUTE: Metacomet Trail to blue/red Preserve Trail. Blue/red clockwise to rejoin Metacomet near Ragged Mountain summit. Metacomet back to finish.
DISTANCE: 8½ miles.
TIME: 5½ hours (8:00 a.m. to 1:30 p.m.)
TERRAIN: Quite rough. Although Ragged summit (all of 761’) was only 350’ or so above my starting point, there are numerous short, steep ups and downs (some very steep). Moreover, the trails are often rubbly underfoot.
MAP: Ragged Mountain Preserve Trail System from ctwoodlands.org.

WEATHER: Overcast; low 40s; breezy on exposed ledges.
WILDLIFE: A pair of perched turkey vultures let me get very close before flapping off.
PHOTOS: Here.

BREAKFAST: McDonald’s, Southington.
LUNCH: On a ledge overlooking Shuttle Meadow Reservoir.
UPS: The hike’s many big-view ridgetop sections—Hartford’s high-rise downtown, 12 miles northeast, was clearly visible from Ragged summit.
DOWNS: I was mentally tired toward the end and switched off somewhat.
KIT: Glad of a rain jacket to keep out the northerly breeze in exposed places.
COMPANY: I chatted a while with a hiker about my age. He is planning to thru-hike the Appalachian Trail when he retires at 65! Good on him.

Hart Ponds and Hanging Hills

Hart Ponds and Hanging Hills, Ragged Mountain, Berlin CT