It seemed like I was on the road just yesterday and here I was back out in the wilds once again. This time my wife and I were celebrating a round-numbered wedding anniversary so we headed up to coastal Massachusetts and Rhode Island. I’d been to Boston many times previously however I’d never traveled along the horseshoe of Cap Cod nor to the islands offshore nor to very much of Rhode Island other than the Interstate highways running across it on the way to other places for that matter.
Let’s begin another Twelve Mile Circle multiple-article travelogue by focusing on the seacoasts that approximated my route and then move on to other topics in later installments.
We flew into Boston and drove down to the South Shore community of Hull (map). This was one of the oldest towns in Massachusetts, founded in 1622 as a an outpost for the Plymouth Colony to trade with local native American tribes. I captured this image from Fort Revere Park, a place that served as a military garrison protecting Boston Harbor beginning with the Revolutionary War and lasting all the way through World War II. It seemed so quintessentially New England.
Plymouth was a must. Twelve Mile Circle often delves into history so I simply couldn’t skip this most hallowed of New England locations. The site fell along our route and I’d never been there before. I’ll talk all about the Pilgrim connection in a future installment. I’m fixated on seacoasts for the moment so I’ll stick with those. Plymouth had an awesome breakwater to protect its harbor which I guessed stretched about a half-mile (map). Naturally I had to walk to the very end of it along irregularly spaced granite blocks because that’s what one does when encountering a breakwater. There wasn’t anything particularly remarkable to be found at the end although that was hardly the point.
The U.S. Army Corps of Engineers described it as:
A 3,500-foot-long stone breakwater. This structure begins at a point north of the town wharf and extends easterly from the shore for 1,400 feet, then turns southeasterly, parallel to the waterfront, for 2,100 feet.
My rough estimate of distance seemed to be pretty close to the mark.
Then we proceeded out along Cape Cod, eventually making it all the way to the tip at Provincetown (map). Much of the shoreline was protected within Cape Cod National Seashore. The cape was created by glaciers as noted by the U.S. Geological Survey.
The geologic history of Cape Cod mostly involves the advance and retreat of the last continental ice sheet (named the Laurentide after the Laurentian region of Canada where it first formed) and the rise in sea level that followed the retreat of the ice sheet. On Cape Cod, these events occurred within the last 25,000 years… Sometime after 23,000 years ago, the glacier reached its maximum advance… The ice sheet was characterized by lobes that occupied large basins in the bedrock surface. These lobes were responsible for the location and overall shape of Cape Cod and the islands.
It also created awesome sandy cliffs and dunes, and amazing beaches.
I’m sure Nantucket had some incredible ocean vistas (map). However most of our stay on the island coincided with the arrival of an oppressively thick fog. The bank seemed to sit directly atop Nantucket, permanently affixed, perfectly clear on the ferryboat ride out to the island and perfectly clear once we left. Nantucket had been dubbed the Gray Lady by mariners of yore because of the fog that often shrouded the island. We experienced the Gray Lady in all of her glory. That was fine, actually. It created a mysterious almost haunting atmosphere as we explored weathered cobblestone streets.
Martha’s Vineyard offered considerably more sunshine to the point where it was downright hot during our brief visit at least for most of the island. The far western edge with its spectacular cliffs was enveloped by clouds and a bitterly cold wind, so oddly disconnected with conditions found elsewhere on the island given the small geographic distance. Those photos didn’t turn out well although there were still plenty of sunny scenes like the one I selected.
It was also nice to visit a place with an officially recognized possessive apostrophe.
We finished our whirlwind tour in Newport, Rhode Island (map). The best coastline in town could be found along its famed Cliff Walk. This path was established as a National Recreation Trail, open to the public. Awesome scenes of ocean waves crashing on rocks far down below the cliff framed one side of the trail. Unbelievably huge mansions lined the other side. These homes were constructed primarily during the Guilded Age of the late 19th Century by some of the biggest names of legendary fortunes like Vanderbilt and Astor. Many of these American castles can be toured as museums.
It sat there in front of me, so tempting, so wanting to be bestowed with a clickbait title on this 12MC article. I could have called it Sex Folk or maybe Folk Sex. Certainly that would have attracted some undeserved attention and a few extra eyeballs. However, for what purpose? People who came to the site on that flimsy premise would create the classic one-and-done scenario, never to return again anyway. It’s not like Twelve Mile Circle ever tried to appeal to a wider audience beyond its faithful core of geo-geeks. I avoided the temptation. However now I have to describe what this article is all about because I spent the entire opening paragraph on a completely unrelated tangent.
The situation became apparent as I started my research for an upcoming trip to Cape Cod and environs in the next few weeks. Massachusetts, I noticed, had counties of Essex, Middlesex, Norfolk and Suffolk. The prefixes seemed directional, east, middle, north and south. The suffixes, well I knew they came from England during the colonial era although I’d never examined their meaning before. What did -sex and -folk mean, anyway?
At this point the UK audience can probably stop reading. This will likely be old news. It may also be old news for much of the North American audience too. I don’t know.
Oh, I have another interesting tidbit since we’re running down irrelevant tangents today. More 12MC visitors arrive on the site from London than from any other place in the world except for New York City. By that I mean 12MC has a surprisingly robust British audience and a lot of people could probably stop reading right around now and get on with their day.
Harvard Bridge, crossing between Middlesex and Suffolk Counties, Massachusetts (my own photo)
Once on a trip to Boston, Massachusetts I walked across the Harvard Bridge over the Charles River between Middlesex and Suffolk Counties. I’d gone there to observe the birthplace of the Smoot in person. That simple stroll allowed me to travel from -folk (Suffolk) to -sex (Middlesex) and back to -folk. Let’s begin by evaluating -sex.
The geographic prefix -sex came from the Old English seaxe, meaning Saxon. The Saxons were a Germanic people who arrived in Great Britain in the fifth century and formed part of the larger Anglo-Saxon grouping that remained in control until the Norman conquest in 1066. Sorry to disappoint everyone with that rather mundane derivation. Thus, in England, Sussex was south Saxon, Essex was east Saxon, Wessex was west Saxon and Middlesex was middle Saxon. That middle Saxon was centered near London and the other lands of Saxons were correspondingly south, east and west. England in modern times split Sussex into West Sussex and East Sussex which are west and east of each other (generally southwest and southeast of London), all logically enough. It made sense.
Things got a bit turned around in the North American colonies when settlers arrived and brought their familiar English placenames with them. In Massachusetts, Essex was east of Middlesex and that was fine. In New Jersey, Sussex was north, Middlesex was south and Essex was in the middle (although one tiny corner extended farthest east). In Virginia, Middlesex was in the middle and Sussex was south as they should have been, however Essex was north.
Boston skyline by Bert Kaufmann, on Flickr (cc)
The City of Boston was located within the -folk when I crossed the Harvard Bridge. Many counties in New England have been disestablished and Suffolk has joined the list. It exists for various statistical purposes although Suffolk no longer has a separate county government. Nonetheless it retained its historical name with it’s pertinent suffix.
Sometimes the obvious guess provided the answer, and -folk means folk, i.e., people. Suffolk meant south folk, from the Old English suþfolcci. Norfolk, well, meant north people.
Suffolk and Norfolk in England were aligned geographically in an appropriate manner. Massachusetts was completely flipped. Suffolk was north and Norfolk was south. Either the etymology had been obscured or nobody cared by then.
Twelve Mile Circle has some bold travel plans for 2015 if I do say so myself. I’ll keep it domestic this year unlike 2014 although I might cross the border into Canada briefly during one of the trips. As always, I welcome assistance as I begin my initial planning. Please feel free to offer comments or suggestions if any of my upcoming targets match your vast travel experiences. You all know what I like: weird geography; obscure parks; quirky roadside attractions; unusual boundaries and easy highpoints. The usual stuff. I’ve been able to visit several places suggested by users that I didn’t know about previously (e.g., Capulin Volcano National Monument) and I thoroughly enjoyed them.
Great Allegheny Passage
My travel season will begin with the Great Allegheny Passage. This trail was cobbled together from several abandoned railroad lines formerly operated by the Baltimore and Ohio Railroad, Pittsburgh and Lake Erie Railroad, Union Railroad and the Western Maryland Railway. Now the GAP is a 150 mile (240 kilometre) hiking and biking trail between Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania and Cumberland, Maryland. I plan to bike the length of the GAP on a long weekend sometime in mid/late April with a friend, the exact date depending on when the Big Savage Tunnel opens for the season.
The GAP should offer riverside passages, amazing tunnels and bridges, and wonderful scenery. I also hope to stop at Frank Lloyd Wright’s famous Fallingwater as well as the town of Confluence, which was featured on 12MC awhile ago.
Cape Cod, Massachusetts (NASA, International Space Station Science, 05/08/07)
by NASA's Marshall Space Flight Center, on Flickr (cc)
Cape Cod will happen in mid-May. I’ve never been to the cape before so that’s sufficient justification right there. It will also coincide with a significant wedding anniversary so that actually provides the real impetus. With luck, I might also be able to pick up Dukes and/or Nantucket Counties. Those are two difficult pickups and I’d love to add them to my county counting list. I also hope to add to my lighthouse and ferry lists.
Zavikon Island by Sergio, on Flickr (cc)
This one is less definite than the others. We’re thinking seriously about touring the Thousand Islands region between New York and Ontario, sometime in mid-July. The early plan was to find a spot within a day’s drive of Washington, DC and this seemed like an interesting place that I’d never explored before. This trip could just as easily switch to New York’s Lake Erie coastline or perhaps to one of the Finger Lakes we’ve not seen before, instead. It depends on what we find during our research and what seems most interesting.
Center of the Nation
This trip will follow the path designated by Mainly Marathons, specifically their Center of the Nation Series in September. Previously 12MC covered my adventures during their Dust Bowl series and their Riverboat series, plus two races at their Appalachian series. Once again I will stress that I am not a runner, I am the driver who transports a runner from one location to another. I would never imply or pretend that I had the stamina for something this extreme. However, rumor has it that I might partake in the 5K option each day during the series this time. That way I won’t feel guilty about snacking on all of their goodies at the start/finish line like I’ve been doing at previous races.
This time it’s six races in six states in six days. My driving duties will add an entire raft of new counties in some rather obscure areas of the United States to my lifetime list. The races will be held at,
- Day 1 (Sept. 14): Baker, Montana
- Day 2 (Sept. 15): Bowman, North Dakota
- Day 3 (Sept. 16): Belle Fourche, South Dakota
- Day 4 (Sept. 17): Sundance, Wyoming
- Day 5 (Sept. 18): Chadron, Nebraska
- Day 6 (Sept. 19): Sterling, Colorado
I can’t say enough good things about Mainly Marathons or its participants. It’s a great group of people albeit with one very unusual hobby.
Anyway that’s what I have planned over the next several months. Let me know if there are sights along the way I shouldn’t miss.