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Trailing it in bucolic Connecticut

Email|Print| Text size + By Marty Basch
Globe Correspondent / June 26, 2005

POMFRET, Conn. -- When the innkeepers have their mountain bikes on top of their car, you know you've picked the right place.

Connecticut's northeast corner is farm-and-field rural. There is an elegance inside the homes, inns, and shops here, while country casual is alive and well among the hills, streams, and woods. The mills are gone, but not the miles of stone walls and winding roads, and state parks have trails for hiking and walking. If out for a spin, look out for farm machinery and equestrians.

On one of those country roads in Pomfret Center is the Daniel Trowbridge House Bed and Breakfast, a 1730s Colonial farmhouse filled with antiques. Innkeepers, Tom Campbell and Cris Cadiz, avid cyclists, are quick with directions to a rail trail near their 80-acre farm.

The Airline State Park Trail was once the corridor for train travel between Boston and New York. The Airline Railroad carried passengers until 1937 when service stopped. The 50-mile trail opened in 1991 for cycling, walking, horseback riding, and cross-country skiing. It stretches across eastern Connecticut, from East Hampton to Putnam.

Each stretch has its own personality. The eight-mile piece between Pomfret and Hampton was not without adventure. Flat, yes. Easy, not exactly.

With excellent directions from the innkeepers, the trail was a snap to find. However, it was virtually signless; certainly nothing stated it was the Airline Trail. A sign with an arrow slashed through a vehicle told us we were in the right place, and later other signs indicated it was a snowmobile route, too.

This was no paved paradise. It was a grab bag of treasures and booby prizes. There was the sweet, effortless riding under a canopy of pines on an easy dirt road. Waterfowl cruised on ponds. The trail cut through boulder fields, ran along valleys, crossed bucolic backroads, rimmed conservation land, and passed through fields waiting for corn to be planted.

There were bird's-eye views of beaver lodges and even a wild turkey hiding in the bushes near the Connecticut Audubon Society Center at Pomfret. That sanctuary, a small, pleasant network of trails by a brook, is a fine place to stretch the legs.

Like a page out of a glossy brochure, a deer bounded across the trail by a farm with a red barn, wagon wheel, fenced pastures, and stone wall with old farm tools on top. Cows watched as we rode by. Ponds, Canada geese, bird boxes, state parks, water lilies, and a quiet reservoir, a fine picnic spot, were all part of the landscape.

Closed gates by road crossings signaled we were on the right track. On the down side, crushed rock in spots made for bumpy riding, and even on a flat trail, there was the occasional steep pitch where trestles once stood. After a spring rain, muddy sections made cycling sticky in patches.

On the way back, we left the dirt for the pavement of Route 97, a designated scenic road. In less than a mile, cyclists have three reasons to stop: ice cream, a Revolutionary War cemetery, and the oldest standing meetinghouse in the state.

Abington's We-Li-Kit ice cream stand is on a working dairy farm. Ice cream places can be judged way before your first lick. It's all about the lines, and around noon there already was a short wait. A Colorado woman who grew up in the ''Quiet Corner," as this part of the state is called, was in line. On her ''to-do" list before returning west was buying lots of Irish tea, grabbing some deli near Hartford, and having her waffle cone.

A warm cone and cold ice cream works wonders. Cyclists have to have the vanilla, cherry swirl, walnuts, and white chips of Road Kill. It's so appropriate.

A short spin away is the well-manicured Old Abington Burying Grounds, the resting place of 60 Revolutionary War heroes who died between 1759 and 1900. Nearby is the Abington Meeting house of 1751.

Route 169, the longest scenic state highway in Connecticut, wiggles through towns like Canterbury, Brooklyn, Pomfret, and Woodstock. In Woodstock, the roadway is a nice spin past lovely homes, widow's walks, churches, the town green, a three-side rock veterans memorial, and the pedal-stopping pink of the Gothic Roseland Cottage, Bowen House.

Four preparatory and boarding schools call Pomfret and Woodstock home. Here, shaded and hidden estates are deep beside the road. Rolling Quasset Road leads by Wappaquassett Pond, stone houses, farms, fields, and the Tufts School of Veterinary Medicine. Quiet country lanes meander by cows, sheep, and mansions. Roseland Park Road takes riders by a golf course and the water's edge of Roseland Park, a picnicking place. The Child Hill Road downhill is brilliant, while payback comes on the ups and downs of Freedley Road. Roll by the Woodstock Fairgrounds, antiques shops, and art studios. Street posts are white with black lettering.

Post-ride sustenance is plentiful. After cycling, sip the wines of Pomfret's Sharpe Hill Vineyard on a hilly back road. Sit and sample on the patio courtyard outside the maroon Fireside Tavern. Walk up the hill to views of Connecticut, Rhode Island, and Massachusetts.

The Inn at Woodstock Hill in Woodstock was an intimate, gourmet reward. Romantic, yes, to dine with candlelight and classical music. No dainty portions here. Warm bread, hearty French onion soup, and creamy seafood chowder came before the Caesar salad and mixed green mesclun offering topped with an apple mint and dill dressing.

The rack of lamb was tender, and the Porterhouse pork chop topped with blue cheese, bacon, and a whiskey-maple glaze wonderfully decadent. The sides were ample zucchini and red peppers, broccoli, corn, sweet carrots, and a tasty pan-fried mashed potato with three cheeses.

In the Quiet Corner, luckily, there is ample opportunity to pedal it all off.

Contact Marty Basch, a New Hampshire writer and author of ''Twenty-nine Hills," through www.martybasch.com.

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