Before I visited Maine I imagined it to be a place of open vistas, dramatic cliffs, seascapes with crashing waves, flashing lighthouses on solitary rocks, big cloud-filled skies. I’m not quite sure where this idea came from as it was not the reality I found, at least in the area around Bath, 40 minutes north of Portland, where we based ourselves. This part of Maine is wooded and creased with estuaries, roads are winding, rarely can you see too far ahead. Off season it felt quiet and full of secrets. Outside of town we barely saw a soul.
We camped at a remote site in Georgetown, confusingly not a town at all but an area of roughly 20 square miles encompassing a few small villages and collections of houses on a spit of land near the mouth of the Kennebec River. The facilities were lacking, the price was astronomic ($45 for a night) but the location was breath-taking.
At the nearby hamlet of Five Islands we got to sample something that I had been looking forward to since the trip was first planned, Maine lobster. The straightforwardly named Five Islands Lobster Co is located right at the waterfront so you can watch the next boat load of crustaceans land as you tuck in to yours. We opted for lobster rolls and fries, rather than whole lobster which was also available, and they were delicious. If you plan to visit, check the opening times in advance, we were there on a week day in early June and doors opened at 11.30. There’s plenty nearby to keep you occupied whilst you wait, from photogenic houses decorated with rustic sea-themed ornaments to the small but wonderful Five Islands Farm Garden where we bought American, yes American, blue cheese and bread and picked up travel tips for our return journey to New Hampshire from the friendly owner.
Our last port of call was the Maine Maritime Museum on the outskirts of Bath, a fantastic place staffed almost entirely by volunteers. The Museum is housed in a collection of buildings that once formed Percy & Small shipyard, builders of the Wyoming, the largest wooden sailing vessel ever built in North America. As we paid for our tickets at the desk we were told that a tour would soon be leaving from a muster point outside. We much prefer to look at things unsupervised but headed in the general direction out of politeness. We were welcomed by Rick, an enthusiastic former shipbuilder, and realising that the two of us were the only visitors, dutifully followed him from one point of interest to another whilst he imparted his wisdom and very glad we were that we did.
There is something uniquely wonderful about people that really love what they do and, after an informative and entertaining 40 minutes, Rick introduced us to his fellow volunteers, Dave who taught us with the aid of a model ship and a paddling pool how the giant boat was launched, and Robert, who can be seen in the photograph above. Robert is part of a scheme, run by the Museum in conjunction with local schools, to teach the young people of Bath traditional boat building skills and was very happy to give us his time and his stories.
The last thing Rick showed us was the Museum’s newest acquisition, the Lobstermobile, recently donated by a restaurant in Florida. Sadly the exhibition it was there to promote, about the history of lobstering in Maine was not due to open for a few weeks but I was able to get my last dose of all things lobster by photographing the large advertising banners already on display. If you’re in southern Maine I would definately recommend a visit.