BOSTON'S SOUTH SHORE
Classic New England: Five for the Road
Sunday, April 22, 2007
W hen my wife and I took two young nieces to see the Goldie Hawn-Steve Martin flick "Housesitter" some 15 years ago, one of them asked if that was a real town we were seeing on the screen.
"No," my wife answered.
"How can you tell?" the girl pressed.
"It's too perfect," my wife, the New Yorker, said. "They could only create that on a Hollywood set."
Three years later, by pure serendipity, we found ourselves living in an antique house with a wooden roof just a few miles from where the movie was filmed.
The setting is Boston's South Shore -- a string of soul-restoring, classic New England villages set along the coast between Beantown and Cape Cod. No one ever sees them. Everyone's always trying to get from the Hub to the Cape as quickly as possible on Route 3.
All the better for you. It leaves the byway nearer the coast pretty much unclogged for taking in the views of coastal New England.
Five towns in particular are feasts for the eyes. In certain ways, all are of a piece, with houses dating to the 1600s and 1700s nestled against varied shoreline -- ocean, bay, back river and cove. But each comes with its own distinctive character. It's possible to see them all in a day, but a long weekend is better for appreciating not only their attractions, but also their nuances and temperaments.
Hingham, about 20 miles south of Boston, has the tidiest look. The spine of the town, five-mile-long Main Street, is lined with proud Colonial and Victorian houses. Eleanor Roosevelt called it the prettiest Main Street in America.
Hingham has a reputation for snobbiness. True, there has been an influx of new money, but in the main, the town prides itself on its friendliness. Even strangers say hello on the street, and my wife likes to tell the story of the time she bought a bag of chips at a convenience store at noontime and the clerk admonished her, "That's your lunch?"
THE TOUR: At one point, Main Street widens to accommodate carriage roads that flank it, and almost every house set back along that stretch -- called Glad Tidings Plain-- is painted white with dark shutters. (The pristine white church sprouting the tall spire was built in 1742.) Just before you reach Hingham Square, you'll pass a string of particularly magnificent Colonial, Federal and Victorian homes.
Park and start walking. A few blocks to your right on North Street, you'll reach Hingham Harbor, which leads to Boston Harbor and the Atlantic Ocean. That stretch of trees across the water from where you're standing is World's End, a nature reserve with easy walking trails.