We awoke on Labor Day to find a peculiar calm following the storm. In a radical change from the day before, the ocean’s fierce winds and thundering waves had been replaced by a placid waveless bay, with no breeze at all. All across the campground, the people who had wished to spread out for the long weekend finally got their chance, and out came the vital camping accessories: awning, folding chairs, outdoor rugs, colorful umbrellas, rope light, telescope, flags, tiki torches …
Being light-weight travelers as much as possible, we don’t carry a lot of accoutrement. We also don’t spend a lot of the time at the Airstream, when there’s exploring to be done. I think that’s a difference in traveling philosophy. The folks who are out here for the weekend want to establish their territory and create a mini-palazzo by the sea. We are not the types to sit under the awning and admire the ocean for very long, and whenever I set up the awning it seems that the wind will kick up or a thunderstorm will come by. So our site remains bare relative to the festive campers nearby.
Instead of admiring the calm sea, we made plans to head to nearby Newport RI, to hike the famous “Cliff Walk” along the magnificent “summer cottages” (mansions). These mansions were built with Gilded Age money from railroads, oil, and other industrial concerns when income tax didn’t exist and monopolies were allowable. Many of them are open for tours, and along with the pleasant streets of central Newport and the Cliff Walk, make for an interesting day. When we lived in Massachusetts we used to come down here regularly, and I used to lead bicycle tours right through the city, but Eleanor and I just calculated that we haven’t been to Newport in about 20 years.
Newport is more pleasant to navigate by bicycle, in my opinion, especially if you want to hike the Cliff Walk. Parking is a problem at peak times, and it doesn’t get more peak than Labor Day. Luckily we snagged a space in the parking lot at nearby Easton’s Beach (above), which is just a short distance from the formal end of the Cliff Walk.
From there, it is 2/3 of a mile to the first exit of the Cliff Walk at Narragansett Avenue. The trail winds above the edge of the sea and just below the elegant houses. Some are open to the public, a few have become inns or restaurants, and the rest remain private. All told, you cross the property lines of 64 owners if you traverse the full 3.5 miles of the Cliff Walk.
At times the trail reminded us of the hiking trails along Lake Como (Italy), with cut stone and meticulously built retaining walls. At other times the trail is more modern, and at still other times it is rustic and rugged like some hikes in Acadia National Park (Maine). There’s no time, however, at which the trail is anything less than beautiful.
From the back the houses protect their privacy with tall hedges and fences. But you can take one of several exits up side streets to drop in on the ones that are open for tours, like the famous “Breakers” pictured below.
The idea behind these “cottages” was that super-wealthy New Yorkers could exchange the heat of summer for the breezes of the oceanfront. In the 19th century you didn’t have air conditioning no matter how wealthy you were. The elite would hold conduct an elaborate social season in their American castles while admiring the view and the grounds.
Now of course, anyone can do the same thing in a smaller way. The palazzos by the sea are out in great numbers here at Horseneck Beach, for the price of $15 per night. We don’t have ballrooms large enough for 400 of the “best” people, but on the other hand we can still live quite happily listening to the waves, and we don’t need a gardening staff.
Solar report: Full sun again on Monday, and batteries were at 100% when we returned at 7 p.m. With more sun predicted, and work resuming on the laptop, we’ve let our power budget rise. At 8:00 a.m. Tuesday batteries were reading -36.0 amp-hours. Even with a few hours of laptop use I expect nearly full power by mid-afternoon. We don’t usually get a lot of use out of our solar panels while on the east coast, but with no trees at Horseneck and plenty of sunshine this week, living within the budget of solar power has been easy.