Sunday, 5 August 2012

The Cog Railway.

Up early and away from Pinestead Lodge as the sun rose over the mountains to Bretton Woods for our trip up Mount Washington on the famous steam powered Cog Railway.

The journey looks impossible. The gradient of the track, at times steeper the 1 in 3, the hissing and pouting of the old engine and the perilous narrow gauge all make you feel, as you stare up towards the clouds swirling around the summit, that you are heading off on a mighty adventure.

It takes about an hour to get to the top, but some of the reflective beauty and potential solitude of leaving civilisation behind is lost by the cacophony of recorded voice over narrative cutting in and out of the speakers and constant shoving of fellow passengers, diving around the wooden carriage to take photograph after photograph. Some are videoing the entire 3 mile an hour journey, providing their own commentary for good measure, occasionally widening out the shot and encouraging the rest of passengers to holla, hoot and wave.Have we mistakenly boarded the world's slowest roller coaster? It's the loudest train I've ever been on!

Still if you can tune it all out the spectacle is quite something. Soon we are above the tree line and, for the first time since arriving in the States, cold. By the time we pull into the summit station 6,288ft in the air visibility is down to a few yards. We hurry indoors avoiding the exhausted and scornful stares from those who've trudged up the hiking trails, to the highest cafe this side of the Mississippi for a warm cup of coffee.

Even up here the American desire to entertain and inform is everywhere. A full list of the hundreds of climbers who've died on the Mountain proves an attraction placed, as it is, next to a big sign: I've made it up Mount Washington - home to America's worst weather - underneath which thumbs up, smiling tourists record their presence.

Before long it's time to head back down. The brakeman skillfully turning the wheels, allowing us to reach speeds of up to six miles an hour as we drop back to the car park and souvenir shop at the foot of the mountain.

We head off to the pretty town of Jackson to see their beautifully preserved covered bridge and look for an opportunity to go swimming underneath the town falls, but, with the heat of the day back on us, it proved impossible to find a parking space within striking distance and so we drove on to the Kancamagus Highway, which cuts a breathtaking path through the white mountains. Again the bathing pools and picnic spots were chockablock full of weekenders and so we contented ourselves with the scenery and drove on.

By nightfall we'd reached our final stop Laconia on the shores of Lake Winnipesaukee. Tomorrow we begin the long journey home.

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