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Over the Highlands of Western New Hampshire
It was a fresh autumn morning when we left the village of New London, high up on the hills of central New Hampshire, and drove westward, without any definite idea of our destination.
New Hampshire possesses all kinds of scenery and soil. The northern mountain country falls off into a valley which crosses the western half of the State, in no very direct line, from the valley of the Connecticut near Hanover to the valley of the Merrimac near Franklin Falls. South of this valley — the west half of the State — running north and south, is a range of highlands, mostly now or formerly under cultivation, rising in farm-lands at times to a height which I believe is considerably more than 1000 feet above the sea. You know Mount Kearsarge, near North Conway. But few persons seem to know that there is another Mount Kearsarge in the State. This lies at the northern or north-eastern end of the range of highlands of which I speak, and is, in part, in the town of New London, or directly east of it in the next town. It is a very noble hill, rising alone out of the cultivated rolling lands. Away down in the south-western part of the State a similar mountain rises in stately grandeur, Monadnock by name, and thence the highlands of New Hampshire fall off gently towards Massachusetts.
This topographical account is not interesting, but it is necessary to understand it if you would understand carriage travel to the southward in the State, west of the Merrimac River. You can drive from the Profile House or the Crawford House to Hartford, following the valleys of the Amonoosuck and the Connecticut, without a hill of any account on the road. The scenery along the entire route is lovely beyond all praise, its variety infinite, its beauty equal in spring, summer, and autumn. The roads are, however, somewhat sandy and heavy, especially in dry weather.
You can also drive from either notch, Franconia or the Crawford, through the eastern part of New Hampshire southward to Massachusetts, over roads without severe hills and with varying scenery, most of it very beautiful.
But I prefer the hill roads through the highland country between the Merrimac and the Connecticut. These roads are in general good, the roadbeds hard, and the many fine views repay the labor of climbing hills. Withal, horses do better, if carefully driven, on rolling than on level roads.
I had come from the Profile House down the Pemigewasset Valley through Plymouth to Bristol, thence across to New London, via Danbury, Wilmot, and Scytheville. At this last place I had reached the bottom of the cross-valley which I have mentioned, and thence the road to New London was uphill all the way, with Kearsarge on the left and behind us. New London is one of the high hill-towns, and every house in the village looks off many miles over fields and forests.
Turning the horses' heads to the southward, I could have gone down through Sutton and Bradford, and thence over tremendous hills to Washington. Turning them to the west, I should have a short drive to Lake Sunapee, which lies on the upland, surrounded by low wooded hills. I had driven both roads repeatedly. I am never tired of driving the last named, for it is exceedingly beautiful, and we chose it now.
In half an hour we were going through the dense woods which skirt Little Sunapee, the upper of a chain of three lakes, and of which you see only glimpses as you pass along by it, until you reach its outlet, which goes down into Otter Pond. Here the road strikes the upper end of Otter Pond, and sweeps around on its open shore for a quarter-mile. The pond is charming, a mile or two long and nearly as wide. The shore is clean sand and the water pellucid. I have waded off on this hard, sandy bottom and taken black bass with the fly, casting out to right and left, while my horses stood waiting on the road.
Fish Commissioners in some of our States have laboriously spoiled the fishing in a great many waters by introducing these black bass. Pickerel or perch or pumpkin-seeds are a more valuable food-fish to the farming population than black bass, and black bass when placed in a pond will destroy all other fish. It is only a question of time, and the destruction is sure to be complete, except in large bodies of water. The bass are protected by law till June 15th, and in some States till July 1st. In July and August they can be taken only with proper tackle and strong tackle, such as the farmer's boy does not possess. As soon as the weather and the water begin to grow cold, these fish begin to find places where they hibernate. After the middle of September they cannot be taken at all by any one with any tackle except in large lakes, and in those not after October. Here, then, is a fish of very small value to a population. It is time that all laws protecting them in the spring were repealed. Let the farmer get them whenever he can. There is no danger of their extermination — I wish there were; but if their increase can be kept down in the smaller lakes and ponds, it may happen that some other fish will survive.
We drove slowly around the head of Otter Pond, then through the forest road along its rocky shore, with the water lapsing over the stones and making pleasant music in the sunshine. Then we came out of the woods at the little village of George's Mills. Here is the outlet of the pond, which falls over two or three saw-mill dams in its short course into Lake Sunapee. Sunapee is a large, wandering lake, presenting wherever you strike it abundant beauty of scenery. Bold, rocky headlands, covered with timber, jut out into it, and deep shadowy bays lie between them. I never yet have gotten to knowing which way is up and which way is down the lake or how it stretches its chief length. Properly speaking, this principal inlet, the only one of any account at George's Mills, ought to mark the head of the lake; but a long, narrow arm which goes far away to the eastward, along whose shores are villas and cottages, and which heads at Newbury, on the Concord and Claremont Railroad, always tempts me to consider that the upper end of the lake. However, there is no mistaking the outlet at Sunapee Harbor, into which I drove before dinner. Here Sugar River, a roaring torrent (depending on how high they lift the gate-way of the dam which holds back the lake), plunges down a steep declivity and finds the valley, through which it winds with clear and swift flow to Newport, and thence to Claremont and the Connecticut.
We dined, and then decided to linger for the day. I took a boat and rowed miles and miles along the shores; landed here and there in golden forests or dark pine groves; cast flies where bass, if not yet gone to their winter sleep, ought to be found; took several that were not eight inches long, and were put back to go to bed and grow next year; and so idled away the afternoon. The night came on cold. Next day we rode with the carriage-cover thrown back, to give us what warmth we might get from the sun shining through the still dense smoke. The road follows the river down to Newport; but we did not stop in that thriving town, except to post letters and send some telegrams. Driving through it, we crossed the valley and took the hill road to Unity or Unitoga Springs. This is a lonesome but very charming country-place, where are mineral springs and an old hotel. We had the house to ourselves; and again the loveliness of the atmosphere, the rich foliage on the near hills, and the dust of gold smoke that made a canopy over us and hid the far views, all tempted us to stay. I spent the afternoon in the woods on the shore of a small lake a mile from the hotel. I went there to fish; but the only boats on the lake were full of water, and there was no spot on shore where I could get out a cast of more than twenty feet. At that I took some perch and small pickerel with the fly, but gave it up soon and wandered in the woods, rich in ferns and mosses. The next morning I sought and found a road, before unknown to me, by which to reach the Connecticut Valley; for it was Saturday, and I proposed that my horses and I should rest over Sunday in the fine old village of Charlestown. It was only nineteen miles from Unity Springs, but in carriage travel we never, unless from some peculiar pressure, seek to accomplish great distances. The purpose is the enjoyment of the passing hours. I often linger along the road and cover only two or three or a half-dozen miles in a forenoon. So it was along this charming road. When I reached Charlestown I had driven only 108 miles from the Profile House in six days. Sometimes I drive 180 in the same time, taking the road leisurely and keeping the horses unwearied. I have known of gentlemen making 230 and 250 miles between Sunday and Sunday, with travelling carriages. But I have not known an instance of that kind which was not followed by the sickness of one or more of the horses that did it. The traveller by carriage must keep in mind that he is dependent on the good condition of his horses for continuous journeying, and must therefore care for them with unfailing watchfulness. It is more important that they should find a good stable than that he should find a good inn at night. He can put up with poor lodgings and food, and feel none the worse for it, whereas the dumb horse must suffer in a cold draughty stable, and may come out of it to sicken and fail along the road.