Kate Abbott: A winter trek from back roads to railways in Northern Berkshires


You know the way it feels, when you have guests -- you can become a tourist in your own town. My parents came to visit this weekend, and I keep saying how have I not known this was there?

Or then again, man, it's been a long time.

We started with lunch at On a Roll in Pittsfield, which continues to be one of my good quiet places. It's comfortable enough to have meat loaf specials and deft enough to make the meat loaf very good. (And it must be one of very few places in the county with liver and onions on the menu.)

But I had a Beachcomber burger with blue cheese and bacon on a homemade sourdough bun, the kind of rubust comfort food I keep for special occasions and the day I finish the 72-page Summer Previews.

And then, looking for a flattish place for a walk, we hunted up the northern end of the Ashuwillticook Rail Trail. The very northernmost stretch I had never walked before. We passed CJ's pub in the old train station -- the Pittsfield & North Adams Passenger Station and Baggage & Express House, on the National Register of Historic Places.

As we walked south out of town, it was easy to imagine mill workers stepping off the train from New York and onto that platform. I can almost see and smell it -- when the building was heated by wood and lit by kerosene -- when a February morning regularly started below zero, and the mountains were cleared far up for pasture land and charcoal.

We talked about riding a train here, when the Berkshire Scenic Railway runs passenger trains from Adams to North Adams next summer, beginning near here.

We walked south along the Rail Trail, following the old train track, out of town. Here are old mill buildings, the long brick structures with the wooden windows on the upper floors.

About a mile out, the flood chutes end and the Hoosic River runs freely beside and below the trail.

Heading back, we drove back through Blackinton, the mill village in the west of North Adams, another landmark on the National Register. We stared out the windows asking each other "what is that gorgeous brick building with the mosiac inlay?" Along the railroad tracks, the electric wires are strung on pint-sized poles still shining with old glass insulators.

While Adams families were speaking Polish at dinner, I'm reading, Welsh workers came to the Blackinton Mill. Could you once have found home-made Welsh cakes in North Adams, as you can find home-made kielbasa in Adams today?

Asking questions like that and driving beautiful and unexpected back roads is what my family does on vacation. Often we throw in book stores and ice cream, but this time we went with freshly baked French bread and sea scallops.

My parents have come up here for weekends to visit me, and then my brother, as we went through Williams, and so we have old favorites too.

So in Williamstown we puttered through Wild Oats, picking up Double Gloucester cheese and Anjou pears, and then repaired to Hobson's Choice.

And so I look back at a quiet weekend and think over how many things I have learned, even on a rainy and icy weekend in February, even when the colleges are on break and the theaters are taking a breather before Valentine's Day and the Clark Art Institute is largely closed for renovation, and even when our idea of a hot Superbowl afternoon is to stop at the hardware store and fix the latch on my front door.

Now I know Where'd You Get That?! in Williamstown can supply remarkably salty quotes from Eleanor Roosevelt, and that the Heritage Tavern in Lenox will serve a gracious meal even at 4 p.m. on a Sunday -- with good coffee and curly fries. And I can get frozen shrimp at Guido's in Pittsfield -- or frozen rabbit from a local farm.

I also know that a major New England publication is planning a story about Bennington and researching it right now. I'm looking forward to reading what they find out.


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