West End Ramble
When in doubt, walk. Althought we're several weeks away from my favorite off-season walking months of the year; January and February, deer hunting season is almost over and the island is more or less ours again for walking. During these months,, especially February during school vacation, the island empties out and becomes the proverbial ghost town of peaceful quiet.
We're not there yet, but there's a walk you can go on right now that'll make you feel like you're the only one on the island. It's an experimental walk, one that I hope to use in my forthcoming second volume of walks, so let me know what you think of it. I suggest walking it on a Sunday or maybe a Saturday afternoon if you want to see the long-tailed ducks returning from their feeding southeast of the island.
Washington & Tennessee avenues –> North Cambridge Street Beach and back or along the bike path
Miles: 2.6 miles
Time: 57 minutes
Difficulty Rating: Cake
Madaket is tough to see if you don’t know where to look. Yeah, it’s at the southwest end of Madaket Road and that gets you right to the beach and onto Smith’s Point, but to experience her true charms, you must open yourself to her neighborhood wiles and get out to walk among her shingled features and caress her fens.
Madaket of old, the original gal where fishermen lived in shanties and cottages hug Hither Creek on the west side of Madaket Road populating this part of the West End on streets lettered A through I and named after several U.S. states. Low structures are the norm in preservation of the preservation of Madaket’s shacks and views of the creek, harbor and ocean with Tuckernuck beyond No, you are not walking in island wilderness here, although it feels that way in the blissful first two months of the year.
Exploration of this unique island architectural vernacular, cold clear glimpses of water and a new beach to discover are why you pick this walk. If hiking through population is not what walking is to you, pick another chapter.
What You’ll See
Empty houses in the colder months and stacks of shrink-wrapped boats will surround you, but without leaves on trees and bushes, you’ll not have trouble seeing Hither Creek, Madaket Harbor, Esther Island, Eel Point, Tuckernuck Island and Muskeget Island — all to the west of the lanes and avenues you’ll travel on this neighborhood ramble.
There are also several cuts through the salt marsh brush allowing you to get right down to Hither Creek to see what ducks there are on the water or catch the sunset.
Hither Creek got its name because of the two creeks feeding Madaket Harbor — Hither and Further — Hither to the east, closer to town, connects the harbor with Long Pond via the Madaket Ditch. Further Creek to the west, no longer exists because Hurricane Esther in 1961 erased it when it separated the Smith’s Point from Nantucket creating Esther Island.
On this walk, expect to see yards full of activity, adults, children and dogs on the street during the summer season and slow-moving cars grinding over mottled asphalt and dirt roads. Varied interpretations of low cottage architecture mixed with new domiciles trying to fit in with a hint of strained maritime expressionism replace your need to identify rare plants and flowers on the wilder routes in this book. Can you spot a well-done cupola, find houses with cottage corners and discern cottage from ranch-style buildings?
On the water and in the air will be sea ducks of many varieties including mergansers, mallards, black ducks, golden eyes, buffleheads and long-tailed ducks (formerly known as oldsquaws). The latter you’re likely to see tens of thousands of during the winter flying over Madaket in the late afternoon from their daily offshore feeding sessions southeast of the island. When you see these thick black streams of ducks, they are headed for Nantucket Sound where they will spend the night.
When to Go
Want the place almost to yourself? Walk in January, February and March because Madaket is quieter than ’Sconset in the colder months. If this is the time when you want to be out there, try to pick a sunny day with no wind, as the breezes off the water or barreling down the streets will chill you right back to your car.
A summer and early fall hike means you should maybe pack a lunch and bring a towel for when you reach the beach at the end of North Cambridge Street because this an excellent way to enjoy a walk with a splash in the harbor before walking back to your transportation. As with most of these walks, try this one in every season to see what there is to see depending on weather and time of year.
Go during the height of the summer and you’re guaranteed to experience all the sights, sounds and smells of Madaket Village on vacation.
Begin at the south end of Washington Avenue where it joins Madaket Road in front of the Westender restaurant. Walk north down this road and when it intersects with F Street, go left and then right. The Walter S. Barrett Pier at the end of this street is great place to see Hither Creek, take a breather or see a sunset.
The right off of F Street gets you walking on Tennessee Avenue and will shortly carry by the Maddequet Admiralty Club on the east side of the road. Follow Tennessee Avenue through this neighborhood and find the dirt part of this lane. Keep in sight of the creek on your left to the west and you’ll be on the correct route.
Tennessee Avenue will eventually form a T-intersection with North Cambridge Street where you’ll take a left to the west, but before it does, you’ll encounter two key acquisitions by the Nantucket Islands Land Bank that opened up access to Hither Creek. In June of 2008, the Land Bank purchased Nancy A. Chase’s .46-of-an-acre property at 50 Tennessee Ave. for $1.8 million and next door, Chase's neighbor, Katherine A. Ray, donated her adjoining .44-of-an-acre lot to the Land Bank. In the late winter of 2008/2009, the Land bank removed Chase’s cottage from her property and demolished Ray’s barely standing boathouse.
Creating three parking spaces for the conjoined lots, the Land Bank also shored up the boardwalk running across Chase’s section of the salt marsh, allowing sunset viewing, fishing and small boat launching.
When you’re done exploring this Land Bank property, continue on to North Cambridge Street and go left (west) on it. Follow this paved road all the way to its end at a beach on the harbor. The width of the road, about 40 feet, is the width of this beach that is open to the public and during the summer and early fall the water is plenty warm enough for a dip.
To get back, retrace your steps or, if you prefer a loop, follow North Cambridge Street out to its intersection with Madaket Road. Cross this road and go right, southwest, down the bike path to where you left your ride.
From Caton Circle at the town end of Madaket Road, go 5.4 miles to end of this road and park on the ocean side of Ames Avenue, the last right off of Madaket Road before the beach. If you’re taking the NRTA shuttle, ride the Madaket Route Bus that leaves from in front of Force Five on Union Street and get off at the last stop. If you chose to make a loop out of this walk by walking out to Madaket Road on North Cambridge Street and don’t feel like walking back to the Westender, you can catch the NRTA bus back to town at this intersection.