Mon July 13, 2020
Char and I went rolling out of the driveway at 07:20 on a muggy Monday morning, headed towards Maine. With cloudy weather predicted for most of the day, severe thunderstorms would be appearing appearing later afternoon in northern New England. We should have just enough time to make our run north, visiting all the lighthouses between Portsmouth NH and Portland ME, before the skies open up. Based on my recent ride to Maine’s mid-coast, I was hoping tourist traffic would still be relatively bearable in Vacationland, particularly during pandemic, on an early weekday, with questionable weather.
Zipping up I-95 in amazingly light commuter traffic, we exited in Portsmouth, skirted south of downtown and found our way out to the isle-bound town of New Castle, NH. The Coast Guard station at old Fort Constitution was closed to visitors due to COVID, but I’d already Google-scouted a nearby residential dead-end lane with access to the waterline. Being on a bike has its advantages, like scooting around snooty “No Parking – Private Way” barriers down to a nice little turnaround by the rocky shore. From there we had a nice view of Portsmouth Harbor Lighthouse a few hundred yards away.
I was surprised and pleased to see we also had a good view of the offshore Whaleback Ledge Lighthouse. Visiting Fort Foster Park across the river in Maine was going to be our next stop, but now we would not have to pay the hefty day-use fee just to photograph the lighthouse.
I was amused to see the “Don’t bother the seals” signs…try telling that to all the white sharks hanging around in New England waters these days.
We motored back onto the mainland, crossing New Castle’s smaller islands on route 1B, amidst some construction which forced us to move slowly and take in the very pretty views of the Piscataqua River and Portsmouth shoreline.
We crossed the river on US 1 into Kittery, noting the formidable old Navy Prison building standing like a high castle overlooking the Piscataqua. According to the interwebs, the building has been empty and mostly neglected for many years now (i.e. there is no longer a man in the high castle… hmmmm).
We turned on ME 103 back out towards the coast. Though we already had the photo of Whaleback Ledge Light, we detoured out to the gates of Fort Foster anyway, just to explore. The park was due to open soon, and there was a line of cars waiting to enter, so we just turned around. We retraced our path back to 103, which is a nicely wooded route north through a National Wildlife Refuge and up to York.
Picking up US 1A after crossing the York River, we enjoyed a slow scenic cruise along the main drag by Long Sands Beach. Based on the tide line, it would seem there is not much beach here at high tide, but for now the tide was out and there were acres of wet sand stretching a mile or two of coastline. People were out there making the most of it either solo or in small groups, jogging, walking, even a few swimmers and surfers.
The famous Cape Neddick (Nubble) Lighthouse, our next destination, can be seen from Long Sands – a distant sentry. It is a greater pleasure to see it from a bit closer in the park across the narrow channel from the little island. For a late Monday morning, their were plenty of visitors around, but there were plenty of parking spaces. The public restrooms were available to use, with an attendant keeping track of how many people were entering/leaving the gift shop and facilities.
After a brief stop by York’s boardwalk area at Short Sands Beach for an inspired photo op near the arcade, we turned inland to pick up US 1 north for several miles, skipping the nicer but slower coastal roads up through Cape Neddick and Ogunquit.
In Wells, we diverged onto ME 9, through charming Kennebunkport and out to the even more charming village of Cape Porpoise, which was apparently the very first area of settlement in the town. We’d never heard of it – a quintessential quiet little Maine village.
Down at the pier area’s crowded parking lot, there are a couple seafood restaurants and a distant view of Goat Island Lighthouse, the last lighthouse in Maine to be manned by a human keeper (until 1990). Char was kind enough to prop the flag so I could work the zoom lens magic.
We continued north on route 9, going by another National Wildlife Refuge area on the way up to Biddeford. It was a nice ride out to East Point on ME 208, skirting the large salt marshland of Biddeford Pool. At the end of Orcutt Ave where it meets Ocean Ave is a beautiful coastal scene to rival any other I’ve seen in Maine, with rocky formations reaching out into the ocean with beach roses and windswept shrubs in the foreground.
Right there is a trail head into East Point Sanctuary, a famous birding location (if there is such a thing). We parked on the street, ditched our gear, and trudged up a narrow wooded right-of-way between a golf course and some private homes.
We passed a few folks along the way (yes even on a Monday morning!), some wearing masks, and stepped off the path a few times to maintain social distancing. We don’t generally hike on crowded trails so had left our masks back on the bike. After maybe a quarter mile, the trailed opened up to the grass-swept point of the peninsula, with several paths cut through the vegetation to grant panoramic views in every direction.
We hiked over to the north side and had a decent view from there of Wood Island Lighthouse. One historical anecdote I liked about this station was a keeper’s mongrel dog, Sailor, who learned to ring the station’s bell by tugging the rope, in response to boat whistles from passing craft.
After tromping back to the bike, we hydrated and geared back up. We spun a quick circuit around the little neighborhood on the point before taking route 208 to parallel the Saco River into downtown Biddeford. We crossed over into Saco and picked up US 1 again for several miles into Scarborough. We turned on ME 207, then zig-zagged over to ME 77 to cross the Spuwink River onto Cape Elizabeth.
Following Two Lights Road almost to its end, we quickly set up and shot photos of Cape Elizabeth East Lighthouse and Cape Elizabeth West Lighthouse. Once part of the same light station and only 300 yards apart, both towers are privately owned residences now, though easily visible from the street.
The west tower was converted into a turreted lookout station during WWII, after its original lantern room had already been removed.
Hungry for lunch now, we considered the crowded parking lot for the Lobster Shack at Two Lights at the end of the road. We hemmed and hawed a bit about finding someplace a bit quieter, before deciding “YOLO” and just finding a spot to park. This is a NER-listed restaurant, so I wanted to try it out. The restaurant website had warned me of all their COVID precautions, and they really seemed to have their process down pat.
The shore views here are stunning, and it is pretty cool to eat outside within sight of one one, but TWO lighthouse towers. The lobster roll I bought was pretty pathetic…tasty, but tiny. Char said her haddock was very good. We also tried a piece of blueberry crumble pie, which they said was homemade. It was an 6″ single-serving round pie and was so good it was gone before the camera could capture it! 😉
We were glad we’d stopped to enjoy the atmosphere here, though I’d recommend saving your money on the lobster rolls. We headed back to route 77 and continued north to Fort Williams Park and the iconic Portland Head Lighthouse.
From a nearby railing overlooking Casco Bay, there is also a pretty decent view of Ram Island Ledge Lighthouse, sitting prominently on a rocky islet just offshore.
Following this nice two-fer, and with skies darkening to the west, we hurriedly made our way into South Portland to collect my final two Maine lighthouses. Picking our way through the campus of Southern Maine Community College to the water’s edge, capturing a shot of Spring Point Ledge Lighthouse proved an easy task.
A few minutes later, we’d navigated over to Bug Light Park at the mouth of the Fore River to snap the picturesque Portland Breakwater Lighthouse, which was modeled after a famous monument in Greece. We marveled at the few HUGE power “yachts” moored across the bay.
The western skies were looking quite formidable now, but we were already mentally prepared for a good soaking on the ride home. Our goal was to get the lighthouses photographed in the dry, then just hunker down for the ride home. Which is pretty much how things unfolded. Shortly after picking up I-95 for the run south, we began hitting some of the weather.
We saw many distant lightning flashes ahead of us, but the storms were crossing west-east and we never saw/heard anything immediately near us. Boy, did it rain though! We hit several pockets through Maine and New Hampshire, before coming more or less into the clear as 95 turned west to skirt the Boston metro area and head for home.