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Westport to Little Compton, R.I.: the fertile essence

Email|Print| Text size + By Stephen Jermanok
Globe Correspondent / June 2, 2003

WESTPORT --South of Route 195 and the gritty mill towns of Fall River and New Bedford lies countryside so fertile you will feel as if you are in Vermont. Stretching from Dartmouth into Rhode Island's Little Compton, this region is the Heritage Farm Coast, where the sunniest and most temperate climate in New England brings the longest growing season.

Dairy farms and cornfields share the land with crops of pumpkins, squash, potatoes, beans, tomatoes, berries, even grapes for two vineyards. Roadside stands sell the goods straight to the buyer. And, like Vermont, there are village greens, requisite white steeples, and one-room schoolhouses from the 1800s.

Did we mention the ocean? Indeed, this farmland slopes down to the beaches of Buzzards Bay and Sakonnet Bay, creating for the bike rider an unparalleled opportunity to pedal along country roads and be looking down on waves crashing ashore. Best yet, these rides are only an hour's drive from downtown Boston.

The town of Westport is the perfect place to start your exploration of the area. This 21-mile loop is a good two-hour ride on relatively flat terrain that most bikers will consider a decent workout. Park your car at the Middle School on Old Country Road and turn left out of the lot. Turn right onto Pine Hill Road and head downhill. Within a mile, you are lost in acres of farmland. Historic Cape Cod shingled houses and barns are bordered by old stone walls.

At the 3-mile mark, continue straight on lightly traveled Old Pine Road to see row upon row of corn edging out onto the horizon. The smell of manure is soon replaced by that of the salty sea. A mile later, turn right onto Hix Bridge Road and then left a half-mile beyond onto Horseneck Road. You start to weave through dense forest as you make your way south to the shoreline. Soon, the Westport River appears on your right, a strip of dark blue snaking through the emerald green pasture of horse and dairy farms.

If you take this ride in the summer, you can purchase produce straight from the farmers -- blueberries, sweet corn, juicy tomatoes, whatever the farm happens to be harvesting at the time.

At the 9-mile mark, the ocean starts to appear on your left and the area becomes more developed, lined with summer cottages. You can stop at the Bayside for lunch and sample cod wraps, lobster rolls, and fresh salads. Veer right on East Beach Road for unencumbered views of the ocean. The beach here is rocky and the wind can wreak havoc, so if you want to go for a dip, wait until you reach Horseneck Beach just up the road. Turn right at the Horseneck Beach State Reservation sign onto Route 88. The sweeping beach and dunes can be entered on your left.

To finish the loop, cross over a small bridge, which rewards you with views of the Westport River harbor and its fishing boats. If traffic is bad here, which it can be on hot weekend days when cars line up to drive into the parking lot at Horseneck Beach, walk your bike across. Then make your next right onto Drift Road. Once again, you ride through farmland with views of the Westport River, to your right this time. You pass the white clapboard Mill School House, built in 1841, before turning left at Old County Road to return to your car.

If you have yet to work up a sweat, drive west on Route 177 to reach Route 77 and the town of Tiverton, R.I., the start of another great two- to three-hour ride. While the crowds flock to Newport, the small stretch of land across the Sakonnet River is popular with folks from Providence who would prefer to keep Rhode Island's southeastern corner a coveted secret.

Park your car at the Emilie Ruecker Wildlife Refuge, on Seapowet Road, just off Route 77 as you head south. If you feel like a quick walk to warm up your legs, you will find fiddler crabs and a vast assortment of sea birds in the salt marshes and rocky outcroppings of this Rhode Island Audubon Sanctuary.

Then hop on your bike and make a right on Seapowet Road for expansive views of Sakonnet Bay and the many houses that cling to the hillside across the water. Next up is Neck Road, lined on both sides by potato farms and small tidal pools. Swans are often found grooming in the waters here.

A left turn onto Pond Bridge Road, and you head downhill to Route 77. Turn right and continue south. On the stands that line Route 77, you can often find fresh fruit, baked bread, even homemade salsa and chips. If you really feel like going wild, stop at the Sakonnet Vineyards and do a little wine tasting. Weighted down with goodies, pedal to Sakonnet Point at the end of Route 77 and picnic on the rocks overlooking this working harbor. In the morning hours, lobster traps are piled high as fishermen return with their day's catch. Other anglers fish off the large boulders while sailboats tack around a lighthouse that overlooks the Rhode Island Sound.

After a quick energy boost, venture back on Route 77 north, turning right on Swamp Road. Your first left brings you to a white steeple that towers over a perfectly designed village green. This is the town of Little Compton. A good alternative to snacking on the rocks of Sakonnet Point is dining at the Commons Lunch, across from the green. Here, you can try the Rhode Island specialty of johnnycakes, a thin unleavened pancake made from cornmeal.

Once satiated, continue past farmland to the road's end where you turn left, climbing uphill to Route 77. A right turn past antiques shops brings you back to Seapowet Road and the start of your journey. No doubt you will have been invigorated from a day of country and coastal riding.

Stephen Jermanok is a freelance writer who lives in Newton.

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