WORDS + PHOTOS BY MARC HURWITZ
For many of us who grew up in the Boston area, Plymouth was seen as a place to go on field trips as kids, enjoying (or not enjoying) a bit of history at Plimoth Plantation; then, transitioning from youth to young adulthood, it was often seen as an endlessly long town to get through on the way to the Cape for its beaches, bars, and gift shops. As a result, if you live in places like Somerville, Peabody, Newton, or Allston, you may have no clue as to what Plymouth has to offer other than a rock on display near the water and maybe a seafood shack or two. I was one of those people until recently, when, thanks to a fellow Appalachian Mountain Club leader, I (and others) was shown just how interesting Plymouth is, especially by foot, as the combination of ocean views, multiple historic sites, and good options for food can all be had in one relatively easy day hike.
Plymouth may seem like a long way from Boston, but it’s actually quite easy to get to from the city by commuter rail, with the Kingston/Plymouth line from South Station actually stopping right at the start of this particular walk at Cordage Park in North Plymouth. (Driving is pretty easy as well, as it’s a quick shot down Route 3 to Route 3A.)
Cordage Park itself is a rather interesting spot, as it is a huge old mill that has been converted to a multiuse development with office, residential, and commercial space including some dining options. A good place to start this walk is at a little gazebo on a pond facing the front of the complex, which, by the way, has restrooms inside in case you’re not up for using the woods along the way. The route from here goes briefly along busy Route 3A for about a block before turning left down Hedge Road, which leads to the start of the Seaside Trail (also called the North Plymouth Rail Trail), which, fingers crossed, will someday hopefully be extended directly into Cordage Park instead of being hidden away like this.
Because of its slightly out-of-the-way location, the Seaside Trail is a quiet, little-traveled stone-dust rail trail that quickly gets you away from the hustle and bustle of Route 3A. The path itself is almost completely flat and has remnants of the old railroad bed here and there as it cuts through a wooded and at-times residential area for the first half mile or so.
As soon as the houses on the left end, take a left turn off the trail onto a little loop path that winds its way along some spectacular bluffs above the ocean. Here you’ll find endless views to the south that extend toward the Cape, and more views to the north including Duxbury and (to the east) the sandbar where Duxbury Beach can be found. The path soon returns to the rail trail which continues on to Nelson Memorial Park where you’ll find direct beach access and more tremendous views in both directions. This actually marks the end of the rail trail, which only runs for about a mile for so until it hits the park and the spot where Nelson Street curves along the water and becomes Water Street.
With the Seaside Trail behind you now, continue for a few hundred yards along Water Street, taking a left toward the ocean just before Lothrop Street; this will take you to the town wharf and with it, a whole lot of good stuff, including a breakwater that goes more than half a mile out into the ocean, various walkways and boardwalks with more views, several restaurants and food spots like the Lobster Hut and Cupcake Charlie’s (more on these later), and options for fishing charters, whale watches, cruises, and the like.
Continuing south along the water, you’ll arrive at a section of Pilgrim Memorial Park that includes restrooms, a waterfront exhibit, more boardwalks, options to do cruises, and, yes, Plymouth Rock. For history buffs, Plymouth Rock is a pretty big deal, and tourists apparently come from hundreds if not thousands of miles away just to view it. And while it does seem impressive, housed within a vaguely Roman-looking structure, for locals—and hikers—it’s, well, it’s a rock. And since there are some really interesting sites shortly ahead, it’s best to take a quick picture (or not) and continue on.
Heading south from Plymouth Rock with the ocean to your left, a short trail hugs the coastline before looping back to Water Street just before the road goes over a narrow stream called Town Brook. Crossing Water Street here while keeping the brook to your left will take you to the beautiful Brewster Gardens, which is a small park that has a variety of interesting trees and plants.
A small bridge goes over the brook within the park, after which you take a right and enter what looks like some kind of mythic netherworld that includes a stone arch bridge with what appears to be nothing but greenery beyond it. Walking under the overpass leads to a site that not everyone knows about in part because it’s away from the ocean—a grist mill that’s a reconstruction of one from the 1600s, and which includes (no joke) a little-known pub that offers bar food, beer, and karaoke, which could make this the only grist mill in the country where people can make fools out of themselves while holding a mic. The front of the grist mill is a great place to hang out, with its huge working water wheel, gorgeous greenery within the grounds, and, just across the street, the bucolic Alms House Pond, which is a good place to view wildlife.
If you take a right on Spring Lane at the grist mill, you’ll come to an intersection and, across the street, a narrow road that goes under an arch that says “Burial Hill.” Head up this somewhat steep road to Burial Hill Cemetery, a peaceful spot where a handful of Pilgrims are buried—and which has calendar-like views of the town below and the ocean and hills beyond. You could probably spend an hour alone looking at the historic gravestones and the scenery here, especially since it feels so far away from the crowds of tourists even though it’s just above downtown.
A couple of walkways exit at School Street, where you turn left, then right on Russell Street, then left on Court Street (Route 3A) where you’ll find yourself in the heart of the town center, complete with a dive bar or two along with various restaurants and shops. If you decide not to end the walk in one of the dive bars (and just remember that you’re still a couple of miles from the end of the walk), head a few blocks up to Samoset Street where you’ll take a left, then a quick right onto Allerton Street up another hill, where you’ll pass a few houses and then come to what can only be described as a “big-ass statue.” This is the National Monument to the Forefathers, and it’s almost comically huge, honoring the Mayflower Pilgrims in a (literally) big way.
There isn’t much else to see at this site other than the statue (which used to be called the Pilgrim Monument), so if you start to get a stiff neck from looking up, continue on down Allerton Street to Court Street, cross over to Lothrop Street, which is kitty-corner to the right, and take this back to the town wharf which, as you’ll recall, has some good eats, which is why you’re making a second visit to this spot.
Several dining options can be found at and around Plymouth’s town wharf, but two particularly good ones to hit while on a hike are the Lobster Hut and Cupcake Charlie’s, in part because both are quick and completely casual and the prices won’t break the bank. The Lobster Hut is a classic New England seafood shack that also happens to be open nearly all year long, typically shutting down in late December and opening back up in early February. The setup is simple: You order at the counter, grab at table in any of the sections within the spacious interior (or spacious outdoor patio if the weather is nice), and wait for your number to be called.
Highlights here include both a chilled and a warm lobster roll, both of which are about as good as you’ll find within an hour of Boston; fish and chips that aren’t overly greasy; a mountainous plate of fried clams a wonderful broiled swordfish plate, which is almost obscenely cheap; and various combo plates and platters if you’re into a variety of seafood. (You can also order burgers, dogs, chicken tenders, and a few other items if you’re more of a landlubber.) If you somehow have room for dessert after the Lobster Hut, Cupcake Charlie’s is a must, offering such items as cookies, ice cream, push pops, cake cups, frosting shots, variations on old-school items such as Ring Dings and Hostess Cupcakes, and, of course, all kinds of cupcakes.
Once you finish eating, you have a decision to make; you can either retrace your steps back to the rail trail and Cordage Park, or you can continue to explore other parts of the downtown area of Plymouth. Because so much more can be looked at that’s so close to the town wharf, the latter isn’t such a bad plan, but if you feel like you’ve done enough for the day, it’s only about a half hour or 45 minutes back to the start from here—and since this is a hike that packs a lot in during a relatively short amount of time, perhaps it’s worthwhile to take another trip down to this fascinating section of Southeast Massachusetts to find more places for views, food and drink, and a history lesson or two—and you can even visit the Rock again if you’re so inclined.