I know, I know. I did say just recently that train rides didn’t rank high on my summer activity wish list.
But when Barbara Spellacy phoned us awhile back and said she and her husband Mike were planning a trip for St. Rose parishioners down to Essex for an early lunch at the charming old Griswold Inn followed by a ride on both the Essex Steam Train and the Riverboat Becky Thatcher, we couldn’t resist.
We were right there at the church for early mass and to board our waiting bus driven, as usual, by competent and congenial Guy Racine, who has taken us on our trips for years, first with Peter Pan and now with Premier bus lines.
Since this was one of our shorter trips, we arrived in Essex in plenty of time to browse around the village and visit the inviting shops before The Griz was ready to serve us.
Over the years we have visited Essex often, eaten at the Griz and enjoyed banjo and Dixieland band entertainment in its bar.
When our family was young and later with grandchildren, we have ridden the Essex train the 13 miles along the Connecticut River almost to Goodspeed and savored the rural countryside en route. But we’d never taken the boat ride up the river so that would be a new experience.
All in all, in the soft, sunny summer weather, the whole day was a delight. Our group filled two rooms at the inn, eating early enough before their usual lunch crowd so we felt pampered and totally unrushed by the efficient staff. With good company, we relished our meal of summer salad, a hearty chicken entrée with a wonderful sauce, and a crispy apple turnover with whipped cream.
Then on to the nearby historic 1892 train station where we were assigned to our very own railroad car on the waiting train to be drawn by a chuffing steam locomotive. Windows open to cool breezes, we rocked along at a comfortable pace nearly as far as Goodspeed Landing where the train stopped, we swung around the seats in our vintage car to face the back and were pushed in reverse along our route back to Deep River Landing.
There we disembarked and boarded the three-decker Mississippi-style riverboat for a 1-¼ hour cruise up the now beautifully pristine Connecticut River past Gillette Castle sitting atop its bluff and on to Goodspeed Opera House with a young and well-informed narrator giving us information and historic tidbits along the way.
Later, the train was waiting for us at the landing to take us back to Essex. The entire train and boat trip lasted 2-½ hours and was a perfect way to spend a summer afternoon. We noticed that many families were onboard and remembered what a great family day trip an old-world adventure like that had been for us in the past.
The riverboat is available for private parties like reunions, wedding receptions and other events. Throughout the year, many special train events are held including dinner trains, a circus train, fall foliage rides and a North Pole and Santa Express.
Tickets may be ordered online from www.ESSEXSTEAMTRAIN.com