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Special Events: Cape Cod Rail Trail, Brewster, Massachusetts
In this era of reclaimed, re-purposed and recycled, it’s a pleasure to find the Cape Cod Rail Trail, a 28-mile bike trail that follows a former railroad right-of-way from South Dennis to Wellfleet. The rails came to Cape Cod in the mid-1800s as these beach front communities grew in popularity with visitors from as far away as New York City. Once the bridges to the Cape were built in the 1930s and car travel took over, the rails were left to haul freight until the mid-1960s. Today, a well-laid asphalt path is a sweet reminder of the scenic byways of yore.
Easily one of the prettiest bike trails in the northeastern U.S., the Cape Cod Rail Trail is relatively flat save for a few mild hills to the north toward Wellfleet on the Outer Cape. On a recent fall visit, we set out from Brewster, which could be considered the mid-point of a trail shaped like an anchor. Heading south toward the bike rotary between Dennis and Chatham, we pass scenic Long Pond and red-hued cranberry bogs, all the while shaded by a leafy canopy of oak, maple, aspen and birch. At the bike rotary, the eastern fork takes us to Harwich Center for a cooling beverage. We’re now on the Old Colony Rail Trail, a 4.25-mile spur from the main trail that takes us into downtown Chatham, an amalgam of quaint shops, restaurants and cafes. Lunch is at the Captain’s Table on Main Street, where the fried scallops and lobster roll served on a sunny patio provide delicious fuel for the ride back.
A stop at White Pond Beach, one of many pocket beaches along the way, is essential Cape Cod. This cozy hideaway is lightly traveled and a treat for kids of all ages who appreciate soft white sand and gently lapping waves. With well-marked car crossings and a smooth, even surface, the Cape Cod Rail Trail is a breeze for even beginner riders so it’s all aboard for a year-round family recreation experience. mass.gov/dcr/parks/southeast/ccrt.htm
Where to stay: The Ocean Edge Resort & Golf Club is located in the former Nickerson mansion, once home of one of Cape Cod’s first families. With lumber as one of their many interests, it’s no surprise that the original buildings are a study in fine wood paneling. A Bayside King on the mansion side of this sprawling property (golf villas are across the street) is lighter in feel and provides 750 square feet for parents and ranging kids. Calling in the seafoam green of the sea, your quilt-topped king is the focal point of a room that includes living area with sleeper sofa, work desk and bath with separate dressing area. Bike rentals (for adults and children) are available at the tennis center, which is home base for five Har-Tru courts. A dip in the 84-degree swimming pool and even warmer hot tub are prelude to a walk on the resort’s private beach but it all pales next to the chance to run free on the football-field-sized lawn that the Nickersons once roamed. 2907 Main Street, Brewster (508) 896-9000; oceanedge.com Mansion-side king-bedded rooms with sofabed from $195; suites as well as two-and three-bedroom villas also available.
Where to eat: It’s a good thing that biking is on the agenda on Cape Cod because if you’re like me, you’ll be spending most of your time eating fried seafood. It’s no lie when the folks at Kream ‘n Kone advertise “the finest fried seafood anywhere.” This 50s-era ice cream shop soon found that fried fish was the big seller, which is why they bring in golf-ball-sized scallops from Ipswich daily. While the lightly-battered scallops are by far the most popular selection, the broiled scallops are perfection and marry beautifully with sides like fries, cole slaw and onion rings. 961 Main Street, W. Dennis (508) 394-0808 kreamnkone.com Captain Frosty’s is yet another ice cream/fish ‘n chips roadside stand, though the drive-ins of yesteryear now offer indoor seating to plentiful guests. Ask for the day’s catch, which could be cod, haddock or flounder and pair it with good fries and even better slaw. A frappe, Cape Cod’s version of a milk shake, is the sweet ending to an excellent meal. 219 Route 6A, Dennis (508) 385-8548 captainfrosty.com Seafood Sam’s specializes in fried or broiled fisherman’s platters for two and a family of four would be smart to order one of each, since the medley of fish is terrific prepared either way. Skip the sides if at all possible and order an extra helping of scallops or fish ‘n chips. 302 Route 28, Harwich (508) 432-1422 seafoodsams.com Clancy’s is fancy, and why they haven’t used that as a slogan is beyond me since it has a much better ring to it than “A County Tavern for Ladies and Gents.” No matter, since the place is both, an elegant setting for heaping platters of fried seafood (request a window table overlooking the Swan River) and a cozy tavern for pre- or post-dinner drinks. 8 Upper County Road, Dennisport (508) 394-6661 clancysrestaurant.com While old-time Cape Codders might think it heresy to buy ice cream from out-of-towners, Emack & Bolio’s of Harvard Square (yes, that Harvard) makes a sinful banana split thanks to homemade fudge and dark, rich chocolate ice cream. The lemon sorbet packs a tart punch and is a pleasing warm-weather choice. Route 6A, Orleans (508) 255-5844 emackandbolios.com
What else? The Brewster Store is an old-time general store where the penny candy now costs a good dime and kids are still commanded to add up the total themselves lest a king’s ransom be requested of them. The math lesson is half the fun but then so is the chance to gawk at cards, glassware, jams, jellies, just-picked (cran)berries and a whole lotta homemade fudge. The elderly gents on the bench out front are keen to say “hi” with a wink and a smile. brewsterstore.com...
The Brewster Book Store cheers you up the minute you walk in. Thanks to a helpful staff, extensive children’s section and well-chosen adult selections, it’s a great place to wait out a rainstorm or simply while away an afternoon. brewsterbookstore.com...A good map of Cape Cod is a must when visiting since the naming conventions of towns are utterly confusing (Dennis merges with West Dennis and Dennisport while Harwich bleeds into Harwichport and bisects Harwich Center). Winding roads with names like Yankee Drive and Owl Pond Road are yet another quirky aspect of New England and its seashore.
Elaine Sosa Labalme is a food and travel writer based in Pittsburgh, PA. When she's not busy as a domestic goddess she's out traveling with husband Fen and seven-year-old son Steven. She hopes to be the next Charles Kuralt.