Winter Walks: The stillness of Head of the Harbor
Winter Walks – The stillness of Head of the Harbor
January on Nantucket for me equates the necessary stillness, reflection and solitude I require to make it through and, thrive during the other 11 months of year.
I find myself again during this peaceful first 31 days of the year and am able to discover my new self without all the clatter of the island distracting me. I really have time to think when I walk in the mornings, so to take full advantage of an island at rest, I tend to choose the most remote routes I can find. Typically, I find these in the island’s most rural parts where dirt roads are the norm and deserted beaches abound.
The east and sometimes west ends of Nantucket can usually be counted on for outings in such conditions, although Smith’s Point and Eel Point/North Point both draw a fair number of winter walkers. So, I favor the east end and spend considerable time there in January, February and part of March. Over the years of exploring the island on foot, I’ve made up lots of routes for my own curiosity and physical fitness needs out there, but one off-season route, Pocomo Point to Wauwinet, is a route I walk a lot and use as a basis for loops in the area and other jaunts.
Certain birds and birdcalls, and ocean sounds confirm for me that it’s winter on Nantucket even if the air temperature hasn’t cooperated these last few Januaries. Long-tail ducks taking the day off from ocean feeding in the Head of the Harbor, the far east end of Nantucket Harbor bounded by Coskata, Wauwinet and Pocomo Point, make a certain call that echoes winter to me as do the wintering common loons out on the harbor. Observing the so-called “Coatue Robins”, robins that spend their winter on Nantucket in large numbers out on Coatue in the Coskata Woods, and seeing a great blue heron that seems to reside mostly in Squam Brook on the north side of Wauwinet Road, and hearing the faint sound of small waves breaking on the outside of Coatue and the ocean side of the Haulover are all part the background noise I cherish on this walk.
The hike is simple with a few detours and or spurs possible given your time constraints. From the Pocomo Point parking area at the harbor end of Pocomo Road, walk down onto the beach and go right.
You can walk as far as you want from this point, all the way out to Coskata Pond if you’ve got the time and energy, although you’ll have to walk around the tidal Haulover Pond to reach Coskata Pond and its woods when you get out there. For this walk, you’re just following the beach, preferably at low tide.
You’ll walk along a rock- and boulder-strewn shoreline, littered so by the retreat of the Laurtentide ice sheet 21,000 years ago, the last glacier to cover part of the northern hemisphere, and the glacier that created Nantucket out of terminal moraine. A low coastal bank stretches from Pococo Point east about a half of a mile down the beach. After the opening between it and the resumption of the coastal bank just past an octagon-shaped house, keep an eye out for clay oozing out of the coastal bank.
A little further on, the last set of beach stairs you’ll find leads up to Fargo Way, a dirt road running up to Wauwinet Road. Should you have the time to climb the stairs and walk out to Wauwinet Road, you can then go left onto this road and then take your next right into Squam Swamp. Or, you can make a loop out of this walk by going right onto Wauwinet Road and then right again onto Pocomo Road in about 200 yards, following it back to its end and your ride.
If you don’t choose the stairs alternative, shortly after them you’ll find the little pond where Squam Brook ends, the north drainage of Squam Swamp where I frequently see a great blue heron, Canada geese, and ducks of several varieties seeking refuge. Also, the dark brownish tint to this fresh water draining into the harbor is rumored to have some Native American significance.
After Squam Brook and the only pier up in the Head of the Harbor, Wauwinet is your next chance for route alteration. Just past the front of the hotel, you’ll find a beach trail leading inland to the dirt Great Point Road. Go right here and you can walk past the hotel and all the way down Wauwinet Road to Pocomo Road and back to your ride, an additional two miles of walking. Go left and follow Great Point Road north and take a left at the next sand intersection to find Coskata Pond and its woods. Keep an eye out for snowy owls perched on dunes and or rooftops on your right (east).
I’ve been vague throughout this installment of Winter Walks, only giving basic route instructions and pointing out just a few of sights and sounds you may encounter on this route because rather than being your tour guide, I wanted to tease your interest and then let you make your own discoveries. To do this, get out to Wauwinet Road off of Polpis Road and from there, travel about 1.3 miles or until you reach Pocomo Road on your left. Take this road and follow it down to its end where this walk begins.