We were searching for an easy walk that was free of ice. While Christmas hereabouts was not terribly white, we have had plenty of snow already in December, but once snow has been walked on, its next phase is…ice. The coast was a natural destination, and south, toward Cape Cod, rather than north was our best bet for some ice free walking.
In my upcoming book, Finding Easy Walks Wherever You Are I encourage readers to “Be willing to explore.” Taking our own advice, we headed toward the Cape. We had visited on previous bike trips the Scussett Beach State Reservation on the north side of the canal, facing into Cape Cod Bay, so we went there first. While we did not have the beach completely to ourselves, there were few other off-season visitors on Christmas day. The water in the canal was almost still. Bright sunshine reflected off the very gentle waves at the beach, and while we needed jackets, we felt almost no wind. A perfect, mild winter day’s visit to the beach.
Parking is pricey at Scusset Beach during the summer season, but off season visitors will find free parking. We stopped near the bath houses, and found a wooden walkway that got us most of the way over the dunes facing the ocean. (Handicapped beach chairs are available for those needing this aide, in the summer months, from park staff.)
Mid-day was at low tide, so we had solid footing to walk on as we headed to the mouth of the canal, and the stone jetty jutting out into the ocean. The rocks of the jetty are NOT easy walking, so I contented myself with using binoculars to look for birds. We noticed that most of them found safe haven on the opposite side of the canal on a beach we had never visited. On our way back to the car, we also spotted impressive cliffs just north of us. We left exploring the area of the cliffs for another day.
After crossing over the bridge to the south side of the canal, we followed the canal east and felt our way along 6A past the power plant until we saw signs for the Marina and Cape Cod Canal visitor’s center (closed for the season). Next to the visitor center we found penty of parking, and an easy walking path out to the beach we had spotted from the northern side of the canal.
As we walked alongside the canal out to the beach we spotted eiders, loons and a very busy merganser, too active for me to get a good photo of it.
Once we reached the mouth of the canal,
we spotted hundreds of seagulls, who clearly enjoyed feeding on nearby mussels.
Empty mussel shells littered the beach. A very few dog walks shared the shoreline with us, while one woman searched through the mussel shells hunting for shells or seaglass. Off shore were lines of eiders, preening and otherwise hanging out on this mild winter’s day.
We were losing daylight by this time. The days are short, but already promise to grow longer with each passing day as we head into winter. When we got back to the car we took another look at the map, and spotted an area just to the east of us along the shore that seemed to indicate conservation land. We were right there–and so we took just a few more minutes to drive along 6A beyond Sandwich into Barnstable and discovered Sandy Neck Beach. Offering much more than sunbathing are impressive dunes and miles of beaches, a network of trails as well as an extensive network of marshland. A nearby fish hatchery also offers more views of the marshland (an presumably winter home for many birds). We had no time to get pictures or even really explore, but it is on our short list of destinations we look forward to returning to this winter to explore.
Besides time with family, time spent finding easy walks along the shore (and yes, ice free!) was perhaps the best gift I might have received this Christmas. Best to all of you, and may you find joy in your winter wanderings.
Marjorie Turner Hollman
Marjorie Turner Hollman is a personal historian who loves the outdoors, and is the author of Easy Walks in Massachusetts, 2nd edition, More Easy Walks in Massachusetts, 2nd edition, and editor of Easy Walks and Paddles in the Ten Mile River Watershed. Just out is her latest book, Finding Easy Walks Wherever You Are. She has been a freelance writer for numerous local, regional, and national publications for the past 20+ years, has helped numerous families to save their stories, and has recorded multiple veterans oral histories, now housed at the Library of Congress. She is a co-author of the recent community history, Bellingham Now and Then.