Maine’s Blue Hill Peninsula exudes the essence of what what many people picture when they dream about the Maine coast. It’s off the beaten track, a rolling landscape carved in granite, fringed with spruce, splashed with ponds, sprinkled with galleries, salted with farmsteads, and peppered with those classic big house-little house-back house-barn houses that art directors love to put on magazine covers.
To that, add a diverse yet unusually complementary population of back-to-the-landers and trust-funders, boat builders and bakers, artists and entrepreneurs, chiseled-in-granite umpteenth-generation Mainers and drawn-by-the-vibe New Agers. Now web this landscape with a spaghetti-like network of byways that are dotted with honor-bar-style farmstands, reveal spectacular views, provide access to underutilized parks and land trust trails, and validate the ages-old concept of taking a Sunday Drive just because.
Every time I visit, I wonder why this spectacular chunk of Maine remains so untouristed. And then I smile and thank God that it does.
Recently I moseyed (and shopped) through Sedgewick, Brooklin, and Brooksville, looping around Cape Rosier. (I’ll cover Blue Hill, Castine, and Deer Isle in other posts). This is a gorgeous drive any time, but it’s particularly spectacular in autumn, when the colors of the season reflect in the ocean, river, and fresh waters that color so much of the region’s map blue.
Follow Route 175, and you’ll parallel the famed sailing waters of Eggemoggin Reach, where it’s not rare to sight windjammers under full sail. Three studios beg attention in Sedgewick: First stop: Eggemoggin Textile Studio, where Christine Leith weaves magnificent scarves, wraps, hangings, and pillows with hand-dyed silk and wool. A bit farther is Reach Road Gallery, where Holly Meade sells her detailed woodblock prints as well as prints from the children’s books she has illustrated. Only a few doors down is Mermaid Woolens, source of Elizabeth Coakley’s wildly colorful hand knits–vests, socks, and sweaters.
Detour north on Route 172 for a mile or so, and you’ll find Sedgwick Antiques, and right behind it Pushcart Press Bookstore, which bills itself a “the world’s smallest bookstore.” Easy to believe; but the adorable, one-room shop is jammed with good reads, both used and new. Be sure to check out the editions of the Pushcart Prize: Best of the Small Presses annual series. Topping nearby Town House Hill is the Sedgwick Historic District, with some handsome 18th-century buildings.
Brooklin, the self-proclimed Wooden Boat capital of the World lives up to the moniker. It is the home of WoodenBoat Magazine and the Wooden Boat School as well as plentiful boatyards, large and small, building wooden boats. Brooklin is also the town where famed writer E.B. White, author of such beloved children’s classics as Stuart Little and Charlotte’s Web lived.
First, the artisans: Just west of downtown, Virginia G. Sarsfield handcrafts paper products, including custom lamp shades, calligraphy papers, books, and lamps at Handmade Papers . Now downtown Brooklin isn’t particularly large—it’s about three-blinks—but it’s well worth stopping for a browse about. Smack downtown is the Brooklin General Store, a classic, and next to it, Betsy’s Sunflower, a delightful shop filled with intriguing gifts, garden goods, books, and cookware.
In the Naskeag Building are a gallery with changing shows; a vintage goods shop; and glass-bead jewelry maker Sihaya Hopkins’ Blossom Studio. Around the corner and just a few steps away is Ken Carpenter’s Maine Hooked Rugs, where not only can you purchase his hand-hooked rugs, but also learn the craft and purchase supplies.
Drive down the Naskeag Point Road for a look-see at the Wooden Boat School‘s campus and poke into its store, then continue to Naskeag Point for the view. It’s a perfect spot for a picnic. Best place to pick up fixings is at The Cave, a delicious find near the Handmade Papers studio. Eureka! Wine, cheese, chocolate, local breads (this peninsula is also rich in bakers), sandwiches, soups, and much more.
Can’t bear to leave? Book a room at the Brooklin Inn, which also has a good dining room and an Irish pub.
Now you could sidle back up to Blue Hill on Route 175—and it is a gorgeous drive—but instead, consider backtracking and looping around Brooksville and out to Cape Rosier. Once you cross Route 15, you leave behind E.B. White’s Maine and enter that of another beloved children’s author, Robert McCloskey (One Morning in Maine and Blueberries for Sal). Hard to believe the region could become more rural and rustic, but it does.
In Brooksville, stop at The Sow’s Ear Winery, a funky spot where Tom Huey produces sulfite-free blueberry, chokecherry, and rhubarb wines among others (tastings!), and also has an intriguing collection of architecture-related books for sale. A bit further on, you arrive in Buck’s Harbor, where the Buck’s Harbor Market is a must-stop. If you didn’t eat previously, this is another great spot to pick up picnic fixings, sandwiches, and other goodies. Chef Jonathan Chase owns this and the Buck’s Restaurant tucked behind it (open for dinner and well worth a visit if you’re sticking around). I can’t get enough of the housemade artichoke-parmesan-truffle spread.
Now you need a place to picnic, and Cape Rosier is it. Loop out to the Holbrook Island Sanctuary State Park, where there’s a fine picnic area, small rocky beach, and fine views, as well as hiking trails. It’s worth the effort, while here, to detour over to Harborside for s gre finds: The Good Life Center at Forest Farm, was home to the late back-to-the-land gurus Scott and Helen Nearing. Four Season Farm is a lush organic farm owned and operated by internationally renowned gardeners Eliot Coleman and Barbara Damrosch—You will never see more gorgeous produce. Architectural Antiquities is filled with everything a house restorer covets.
Back on Route 176, finish the Brooksville Loop. En route, be sure to pull over every now and then to take in the views over the water toward Castine.And, keep an eye out for Tinder Hearth Bakery, source of organic breads that put all store-bought ones to shame. Tinder Hearth also hosts Open Mic sessions, check the website for details.
Two more artisan studios are worth a visit, too. Blacksmith Joseph Meltreder turns out wonderful, whimsical pieces at Bagaduce Forge. The site alone is beautiful, and I love his nail people (you’ll know them when you see them). Nearby, poters Paul Heroux and Scott Goldberg share a small waterfront gallery that’s a real treat to visit.
Route 176 reunites with the main section of the peninsula after crossing the reversing falls of Bagaduce River, where, in season, Bagaduce Lunch, a takeout stand named an American Classic by the James Beard Foundation, turns out awesome fried clams and other seafood favorites.
If you’re smitten by Brooksville, two cottage colonies make it easy to spend a week: Oakland House, on Eggemoggin Reach, and Hiram Blake Camps, on Cape Rosier. Blake’s includes meals in season. And of course, you can always stay at the Blue Hill Inn, in Blue Hill, and circle out from there.