Island Hopping off the Coast of New Hampshire...the Isles of Shoals

I'm bundled up in my favorite arm chair as I cradle my computer on my lap. As fall is presenting itself with an awe-inspiring spectrum of colors, I decided to collect the final round of summer photos from our weekend explorations in New Hampshire. The house is wonderfully quiet. I can hear the lovely "tick tock" of our new antique clock.  The rhythmic sound weaves in and out of the (not-so-lovely) sounds of Chester snoring away beside me. Looking out the windows, I see leaves fluttering to the ground and can even hear the periodic "doink" of the huge acorns as they hit the road.  Soon, every article coming up on Thyme will drip with the colors of by the day, the leaves are refashioning their fall wardrobe with cheery pinks, sizzling reds, and happy corals.

Seasonal Change...I just love being on the cusp of these transformations.  I crave it just as much as one craves juicy red watermelon on the hot days of summer, creamy butternut squash soup on the crisp days of fall, and sour cream topped spicy chili on the frigid days of those long sleepy winter months.  

Several things happened in late summer around here before the season closed out.  My SIL, Mary and our nephew, Ethan, came up from Missouri to see our new location.  They provided us with delightful reasons to head east and explore along New Hampshire's beautiful sea coast.  I had such a long list of places to see when Mary and Ethan arrived.  I couldn't choose which destinations should rise to the top of the list.  

But, I  have a cute story to tell about our small town.  That decision process was aided by the wonderful charming townspeople is a cute story of  how we came up with the idea to choose the Isles of Shoals for one of our outings during that week.

A few days before Mary arrived, Patrick and I plopped down at our tiny go-to burger tavern in town, The Local, after spending a long day working on many of our renovation projects. Since the beginning of the summer, we haven't had a working kitchen so The Local has been our hangout for many meals.

The wait staff at The Local all know us by now and we barely have to recite an actual order. Apparently we are utterly boring and predictable:  "Hi guys, grab your for Patrick...the "slightly wicked burger" for you Sarah...the  "turkey bacon apple melt?".  

 "Yes, please" we sheepishly reply.  Like I said...rather boring and predictable.
  On this visit, we were chatting with our waitress and asking her thoughts about options for day trips for Mary's visit.

We asked her if she knew any details about how to take a ferry out to the Isles of Shoals from Portsmouth, NH.  We didn't know what was involved in organizing a ferry trip.  She wasn't sure either what that entailed but said that she would see if she could find out.  

This is the part where living in a small New Hampshire town often turns into a story book scene from The Andy Griffith Show or The Waltons.  Our waitress put out the question about The Isles of Shoals, as she made her rounds, to other diners.  Before we knew it, our table swelled with locals from The Local burger tavern eager to recommend tips for a ferry trip to the islands.  Each was happy to casually sit down and give us all sorts of tidbits, advice, and recounted stories about our proposed venture.  Apparently, taking a ferry trip out to the islands is a fond memory of adults around here because it is a popular school trip for elementary ages.  

One minute, we didn't know a soul in the restaurant, except our sweet waitress, and the next The Isles of Shoals, along with recounts of childhood school trip stories,  seemed to be the topic of half of the tavern.  We ended up having such a lovely evening out.   We laughed at the stories that we heard that night. There are ghost stories to be told about some of the islands and a poet that lived as a child on another of the islands.  They locals filled our heads with descriptions of lighthouses and the bygone days of seafaring captains.  We left with feeling so happy with small town life and decided a ferry trip is a must-do!

Patrick and I looked at each other while driving home to our farmhouse and chuckled at the camaraderie that easy develops in a small quaint New England town where most people feel relaxed and friendly.  

So armed with terrific information and funny stories of ferry rides out to the islands, after Mary and our nephew arrived,  we took off to spend a day in lively Portsmouth, find the ferry dock, and sail out into the big blue to explore these tiny islands.

I crave seafood every time we are in Portsmouth.  The air has that wonderful salty smell and crisp feel.   Lobster boats, as well as fishing boats, are coming and going from the busy docks.  The crooning sound of street musicians can often be heard from Main Street. 

I knew something seafood related was going to find its way onto our dinner table at home.  I saw this recipe for salmon with hard apple cider sauce in one of my Irish cookbooks and knew seafood would pair well with apple flavors since we are surrounded right now with an abundance of apples dripping from our orchard.

Finding the ferry was quite easy.  There were signs leading us to the parking lot as soon as we approached Portsmouth.  I purchased our tickets online but tickets could be bought right at the dock as well.  We had time to grab a bite for lunch so we walked up to the main shopping area of Portsmouth and feasted on clam  chowder and lobster rolls for lunch at Surf restaurant.  

The Isles of Shoals isn't just one island, but are a string of islands that rest about 7 miles off the coast straddling the border of New Hampshire and Maine.  There are 9 islands total and 4 of them are claimed as being on the New Hampshire side of the dividing line.  They were divided years ago by two seafaring captains, one of whom was from Maine and the other from New Hampshire.  Some of the names of the islands sound like they were derived from a Harry Potter movie; Smuttynose,  Appledore, and Star.  

According to historical accounts, Captain John Smith was mapping the coastline of Maine and naming islands along the way.  He decided that this set of islands were so pretty that he named them after himself:  Smith Islands.  Later, fishermen renamed the islands "Shoals" because they thought the formation of islands look like a school a.k.a."shoal" of fish.

Our guide on the ferry boat was so engaging.  We cruised out into the ocean for about 7 miles and he never stopped filling us with tales of what island life was like from the 1600's through the American Revolution time period to the 1800's. 

I especially enjoyed hearing about the little girl who grew up as lighthouse keeper's daughter, Celia Thaxter. Celia grew up and was inspired by her childhood on the island to write beautiful poetry that would make her famous.  A small passage of her work reads:

I lit the lamps in the lighthouse tower, 
For the sun dropped down and the day was dead. 
They shone like a glorious clustered flower, - 
Ten golden and five red.

This salmon dish was one of the first real dinners prepared as our kitchen slowly became functional.  The salmon is nested on a bed of leeks and lemons and then coated in a bath of hard cider.  Because everything is wrapped in foil and poached in the oven, the salmon is soft and flavorful.  After coming out of the oven, the juices are removed and simmered on top the stove and then cream is added to make a wonderful aromatic apple-scented sauce to pour over the salmon.  

A lovely fall dish...inspired by a sea voyage and a newly acquired orchard full of apples!

Interesting links from this article:

  1. Isles of Shoals:
  2. The Local Tavern in Warner, NH:
  3. Surf seafood in Portsmouth, NH:
  4. Isles of Shoals Steamship Co:
  5. Celia Thaxter:

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