The Great Outdoors: Biking the back roads of Woolwich and Wiscasset
April is one of the finest months of the year to go exploring by bicycle. Crisp, comfortable days coupled with tourist-free roads make for ideal riding conditions.
We recently enjoyed a leisurely four-hour loop trip from the Woolwich Town Hall up to Wiscasset and back, covering 24 miles of back roads with only a few of those miles on busy Route 1. Consult the Delorme Maine Atlas and Gazetteer (Map Nos. 6 and 7) for help in planning your route.
The Town Hall complex is adjacent to the outlet stream of Nequasset Lake, approximately one mile beyond the Taste of Maine Restaurant on Route 1. Here under a grove of pines adjacent to the Woolwich boat launch, picnic tables await your return for a well-deserved rest.
Use caution walking your bike across Route 1 and follow the peaceful Nequasset Road two miles north to Route 127. Route 127 is quite busy, with commuter traffic heading south to Bath, but you will only be on it for a mile. Turn right onto Route 128 and follow it through the beautiful Days Ferry Historic District, offering outstanding views out over the vast Kennebec River.
Three miles to the south towers the famous orange and white crane of Bath Iron Works beyond the graceful arch of the Sagadahoc Bridge. Many Colonial and Federal-style homes dot the riverside vale. This is one of those places that the minute you arrive you know you have entered “classic Maine” territory.
In a few yards turn right onto the Old Stage Road. You will follow this road for six miles; at the intersection with the Mountain Road it becomes the Old Bath Road and continues for another 2.5 miles to Route 1 in Wiscasset.
You will encounter three significant hills along the way, all evenly spaced apart. While not equal to the ego-crushing hills of West Falmouth, they do offer an early season challenge. You can always walk your bike up the steeper grades as needed. The countryside is a mixture of pastoral and wooded, with homes scattered along its length. The pavement quality is generally good, and there is little traffic.
The big white sign leading into Wiscasset proudly proclaims “Pettiest Village in Maine.” Turn right onto Lee Street. At the crest of an open expanse leading down to the Sheepscot River sits a very unusual building: Castle Tucker. It was built in 1807 by Judge Silas Lee, and later acquired by a local shipping magnate, Capt. Richard Tucker, who added the striking two-story porch in the front.
Down by the public boat launch facility sits another Wiscasset beauty, the stately, brick 1870 Custom House opposite Le Garage Restaurant. Check out the huge tree stump on the lawn, six feet in diameter. Elm or oak?
There are many fine eateries in Wiscasset. Sarah’s on Route 1 sits opposite a New England institution: Red’s Eats. They claim there is no larger lobster roll sold in the Northeast. Stop in now before the line of tourists winds around the block.
As you leave the river and head up hill on Route 1 note a striking white Federal-style home on the right, the Nickels-Sortwell House. There is a beautiful sunken garden on the Federal Street side of the house. The hosta and tulips are emerging, and the lilacs surrounding the walls will be dazzling in mid-May. This is a very peaceful place to sit and absorb the beauty and variety of nature.
You have three choices for the return to Woolwich. Option one: retrace your route. Option two: cycle the shortest route – the seven miles on Route 1 (the wide bike lane provides ample room to ride). Option three: for complete quiet and great scenery turn left onto the Birch Point Road (a quarter-mile before Big Al’s). Be careful of the railroad tracks at the bottom of the hill. Brake down the hill or walk.
The road eventually meets Route 144. Follow Route 144 north back out to Route 1. Continue south on Route One for 1.5 miles to the Shelter Institute Campus. Turn left onto the Montsweag Road. On the right in about 100 yards stop to admire one of the prettiest barns you will see anywhere in Maine, Pine Valley Farm. Expansive views soon open up of the hidden backwaters of the Back River, the western cousin of the Sheepscot River.
Smooth as it can get road surface, flat terrain, classic Maine salt-box homes, the headlands of Chewonki Neck and Oak Island off to the east, cardinals calling, forsythia, magnolias, and azaleas in full bloom, patches of yellow daffodils waving in the wind – you are cycling through a Downeast magazine cover. You have found it – cycling nirvana.
If you are looking for a shorter family ride instead of the hillier 24-mile loop, just cycle this road from the Shelter Institute area out toward Hockomock Bay and back, a round trip of eight miles.
At Murphys Corner you will turn away from the river and head west three miles back to the Woolwich Town Hall. This is a hilly stretch, so tarry a bit at the corner and enjoy the incredible carving of an eagle in soaring flight, created out of a massive maple tree trunk.
Enjoy a wonderful ride!