When I think of Cape Cod, I think of seafood – shiny red lobsters, their shelled claws dripping with melted butter; sweet, juicy oysters on the half shell; and that archetypal Massachusetts beach fare – succulent fried clams. I tried these first as a teen while visiting The Cape and thus began a lifelong love affair with the little bivalves.
So, as we drove across the Cape Cod Canal and branched onto Highway 6A, the meandering road that straddles the shoreline, my first thoughts were of lunch. I had heard the best fried clams could be found at a restaurant that rejoices in the name Kreme ‘n Kone, in Dennis. Ignore the name – and the unprepossessing premises. The first juicy bite told me my informants were right on the money. Fabulous!
Replete with mouth-watering mollusks, we drove on toward Provincetown, at the tip of the scorpion’s tail that is Cape Cod. There’s a sting in that tail; a good many ships have foundered on the rocks around this projection of land. As a result, wise inhabitants built lighthouses all around the shoreline. Indeed,Cape Cod boasts more lighthouses than anywhere else in America, though not all still function and several are now privately owned.
Nonetheless, a few are worth visiting. Noteworthy are the Three Sisters Lighthouses and the Nauset Lighthouse, both at Eastham. Nauset is a distinctive red and white building which was moved inland when erosion threatened it. At the very tip of the scorpion’s tail, Provincetown’s three lighthouses are still operational.
The tip of the tail – Provincetown
Of course, everyone associates this city with its thriving gay community, but Provincetown is more than a sanctuary for same-sex couples in a country increasingly intolerant of them. It began as a fishing village which became an artistic community in 1889, when Charles W. Hawthorne, an artist himself, founded the Cape Cod School of Art here. Artists and literati arrived from New York to paint this derelict little village where the colours of sea and sand, and the quality of the light were so extraordinary. Provincetown has continued to attract artists like Jackson Pollock, Edward Hopper and Robert Motherwell and, true to its roots, the community is abuzz with little galleries and boutiques.
Provincetown’s history began with the very first pilgrims who came from England. While their first landing was at Plymouth Rock, further up the coast, it was in Provincetown that they signed the Mayflower Compact; this would codify the way in which they were going to administer the new colony they intended to establish. The Pilgrim’s Memorial Monument, a 252-foot tower, is dedicated to those first hardy voyagers. Its 116 steps and 60 ramps make for a heart-healthy climb, great for working off all those clams! It’s worth the effort too, for the view from the top is spectacular.
We spent the night in Barnstable, a charming little village on the inside curve of the scorpion’s tail. Ashley Manor is a magnificent old inn, circa 1699, which has been lovingly restored and still offers warm hospitality and generous breakfasts. In fact, a Bed-and-Breakfast is, to my mind, the best accommodation in this area because so many are in historic homes. More importantly, their owners are mines of information and history.
Barnstable is almost part of Hyannis, which became famous in the 1960s as the summer home of the Kennedy clan. A museum to America’s 35th president can be found here, and from its harbour, a day cruise aboard a steamer gives you a glimpse at the Kennedy compound from the water as well as at the summer homes of the glitterati. So much money, I found myself thinking as I spied the magnificent Kennedy summer home, and so little happiness.
Whales to watch
But while history may be abundant, for me, the main attraction of Cape Cod is provided by Mother Nature. My favourite day was spent aboard a vessel provided by Hyannis Whale Watchers. This company always has a naturalist on board, and as we headed out to find whales and other sea life, ours told us about these amazing creatures of the deep and offered samples of urchins, sand dollars and more for the children aboard to touch.
For my first such voyage, the local whale population cooperated beneficently and we spotted a humpback as well as a couple of finbacks and minkes.
Whales are truly magnificent creatures and seeing them in their own environment is exhilarating. Actually, I was so excited, I forgot to be seasick!
As we enjoyed dinner that evening at Mattakeese Wharf, overlooking Barnstable Harbour, Mother Nature provided another treat as we watched the sun set slowly over the water. Indeed, slowly was the operative word. I took picture after picture over a period of 40 minutes! Each time I thought it couldn’t get more breath-taking, it did! And I had to haul out the camera again. Other diners began doing the same and we’d laugh at one another, rushing to take one more shot as the sun lit the sky and the little boats in the harbour, outlining them in red and orange and purple hues. It was awe-inspiring and it went on – and on – and on!
Of course, one mustn’t forget the miles and miles of sandy beaches for which Cape Cod is justly famous. But they’re practically a given. All along the highway which curves its way along this magnificent finger of land, you’ll find sign-posts for one after the other of these. Some of these are wonderfully remote and you could find yourself relaxing in solitary splendour on an ample stretch of sand and sea.
And then, there are those fried clams.