We headed to Berlin/Clinton the first of the New Year, to celebrate #MAfirstweekhikes, and after seeing the crowds of cars at the Francis Street entrance of Forty Caves, in Clinton, we headed over to Berlin to the back side of the property, where we found only two other cars parked at the entrance on Allen Road. This is a Sudbury Valley Trustees (SVT) property, and we recently joined SVT for two reasons: 1) to support their work conserving open space in the Concord, Assabet, and Sudbury watersheds between Boston and Worcester; 2) to obtain a copy of their publication 42 Walks West of Boston, 2nd edition. We plan to visit more of these wonderful properties in the future, and having a physical copy of their guide book is a great tool in helping us find our way to sometimes difficult to locate trails. ( My book, More Easy Walks in Massachusetts, includes several SVT trails, as well as numerous others in the Upper Charles, Neponset, Sudbury, Concord, and Assabet River watersheds).
The caves of Forty Caves area appear to be more crawl spaces than real underground caves, deep crevices between glacial boulders, alongside a stream that runs through the property.
The trails we walked on appear to have been recently marked, and easy to follow. To #avoidcrowds we used the more western entrance, but from our reading, the eastern entrance is more level and easier to walk on. I had difficulty navigating several spots quite near the stream, where the land slopes down steeply. We often have me wear a small fanny pack with webbing that fits around my waist, a handy strap for walking partners to help me up more challenging spots, or slow my descent down steeper trails.
We encountered no ice on the trail, surprising for January in New England, but welcomed. This is a wet area with a lot of low-lying puddles. We visited this area in summer years ago as mosquitos did their best to eat us alive! On this January visit mosquitos were not a problem, so we were able to stroll at our leisure. If you choose to visit in warmer months, be sure to wear plenty of insect repellent!
Being unfamiliar with the trails, we were unsure if we’d need to retrace our footsteps, or if we would find our way across the stream, which is wider than I can jump after recent rains. I do not jump well. Lucky for us, years ago a farmer laid a stone wall, at least several very large stones, across the stream, which we used to cross back over to complete a loop. Once over the stream we stopped and enjoyed a trail lunch (crackers and cheese and an apple), perfect for the mild day.
Much of the walk was level, very easy walking, but visitors need to be prepared for some impressive ups and downs along the trail. My favorite part of this visit was simply sitting alongside the stream and listening the the sound of burbling water as it cascaded downhill towards a nearby level area where it spreads out and pools, before emptying into the Assabet River. We intend to return to explore other trails nearby, as long as trails are clear of ice.
Winter is here, so take care dressing in layers, be sure to throw a headlamp into your pocket if you head out after lunchtime, check weather reports before you go, let others know where you are going and when you plan to return, and carry extra layers of clothing with you in a small backpack. Tuck a snack, and small water bottle into that pack. Bring a printed map of the area you are visiting. Make sure your cell phone is fully charged, while not depending on it to give you guidance along the trail. If you are unsure of what you should bring with you, start slow, plan short outings, and know that you can always head back out another time. Happy trails!
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.