Having lived in York, Maine for thirty plus years, Hannah and I have access to the rocky coast of the Atlantic Ocean any time we want. It’s a little over four miles by from our home on Chases Pond Road to the York Harbor Beach. Today we take our Canadian good friend Bill Buggie into town to walk the York Harbor Cliff Walk on this Labor Day Sunday.
If you are coming from I-95, take exit 7 towards the town of York. A quarter of a mile later, turn right (south) at the lights on Route One and then left (east) onto route 1A (York Street). Wind your way through York along York Street for nearly a mile until you arrive at the St. Christopher’s Catholic Church on the right. Park at the far end of the church lot.
On this Sunday morning, we begin our cliff walk with a prelude on route 103 that goes south to Kittery. To our right is the Wiggly Bridge bordering the York River. Taking the path to the left towards the Ocean, we three walk on the gravelly harbor path, wide enough for two of us to walk side by side. Pleasantly busy on this low tide Sunday morning, we meet locals walking dogs and tourists exploring our harbor town.
Having learned a joke on the Internet this morning, I give it a shot to a couple we know. Two cannibals are eating a clown when one turns to the other and says, “Does this taste funny to you?” The joke brings both smiles and laughter; and a connection that otherwise wouldn’t have happened.
Buoyed by the positive interaction, we walk further on the harbor path which skirts mansions to our left and the summer harbor of lobster boats and small pleasure craft to our right. Within a half mile, we approach the grounds of the Stage Neck Inn with its clay tennis courts and “Members Only” pool. Beyond is the York Harbor Beach, the beach of choice for our kids and the townies of York. There are no services – no ice cream, no taffy shops, no tee shirts. Parking down the road to this beach is restricted to those who have permits. No fear. Two hundred feet up on route 1A across from the York Harbor Inn there are two hour parking spots.
At 915A on Labor Day Sunday, we enter the Cliff Walk trail just down the hill from the Hartley Mason Park. Hartley Mason himself died in 1925. The urban legend is that in his will he laid out that when the last of his grandchildren passed away, the six houses on the property would be demolished and a park created for all to enjoy. His will held up to court challenges and now a park overlooking the Atlantic Ocean is there for townies and visitor alike. It is a “go to” spot for post-wedding picture taking.
Beach goers are just beginning to claim their spots on this soon to be 80 degree humid day, marking the unofficial end of summer. Some twenty feet above the beach on the rocky cliff, the Cliff Walk Trail leads walkers in front of the cottages of York. “Cottage” is the euphemistic term for seafront mansions. Another urban legend has it that seasonal residents pay 40% of the property taxes in York. Do I hear an Amen!
Passing the private Reading Room club we walk the cliff edge that never feels perilous. In and out of tunnels of trees along the trail, we have the Atlantic Ocean at our feet. The Cliff Walk is steeped in controversy. A hardy and valiant local group is trying to keep the walk’s access open to the public. Who owns the land to the high tide mark – or is it low tide? Does what the king decreed in the 1700s still hold water? (I couldn’t resist.) The courts will decide.
We pass others on the trail and when the time is right and the people seem welcoming I favor them with my one sentence two cannibals joke. Rather than fellow walkers just smiling and stepping aside, the joke breaks the ice for a small connection and laughter.
So I encourage you to have a good joke at the ready when hiking. You may wonder what are the criteria for a good joke on the trail: Short, one you can spit out without tripping, and that people get immediately. Quick hitting and surprising.
The trail is rocky but it’s never much more than a twenty foot rise in elevation as we walk. An outcropping facing the ocean on the trail is ideal for that couple or family picture of your time in York. (See UNH Wildcats picture above.)
The cliff walk seems not much more than a half mile. The trail does abruptly end in controversy as a wealthy land owner has constructed a fence with dense bushes that keeps townies and tourists alike from hiking further, as we could do 15 to 20 years ago.
At this point there is a wide right of way away from the ocean back to route 1A. But today we just double back the way we came, having a completely different view as we go in the opposite direction.
For the most part we hike single file, but it’s easy to step aside to let others pass. In short order we are back to the York Harbor Beach that is beginning to fill up on this Labor Day Weekend.
Right near the end of our hour walk a young girl with her parents is walking in our direction. Her tee shirt says Make me smile. The Universe is just begging me to repeat my cannibals joke. With that invitation, I give it my best shot and Mom and Dad join their daughter in laughter. And truth be told, it does make her smile.