East Haddam - Lyme
It isn’t always easy to entertain kids of different age groups. So, when I took my kids hiking with me this time around - I wanted to make sure everyone was happy as to where we were going.
Gillette Castle surely fits the bill. At 184 acres, the estate along the East Haddam – Lyme border signifies a grand statement sitting atop the southern-most hill chain known as the Seven Sisters.
Actor William Hooker Gillette – who most famously played Sherlock Holmes on stage – built the impressive structure over a span of five years before its completion in 1919.
For my five-year-old, the presence of a true castle was mesmerizing enough to witness. But for my 11-year-old there’s always more. And, we wanted a close encounter with the river that flows just below.
That was our first stop on this carefree journey. We headed down the winding Gravel Park Trail, past the castle – which we would save for later – and worked our way down the hill. Steps help forge the way to the river. But, just take care. Some of the wooden rails that protect visitors from falling down the cliff sit in disrepair.
Once on the bottom, the kids gravitated straight for the small, sandy beach where gentle waves lazily lap the shore. It turns out to be a great place for adults and children alike. We enjoyed exploring our surroundings climbing pieces of driftwood and throwing stones into the water.
We also spotted some metal pieces breaking through the water’s surface. Could it be pieces of the land’s once notable railroad track? Most likely it’s that of the ‘Aunt Polly’ – Gillette’s famed houseboat that burned down in 1932. If you are on the river bank during low tide – you may get a better glimpse. But, that wasn’t the case during our visit.
For those in the mood for a picnic - tables and grills on the adjacent green next to the seasonal ferry station also offer visitors a place to sit back and relax. But, that wasn’t something we had in mind today.
So, we headed back up the hill and took the meandering steps to the medieval-style castle itself. For us, the highlight was the sweeping view of the river from the terrace. It holds a bit of nostalgia for me as well – seeing this was the spot I got married more than a decade ago.
The inside of the castle is of great interest too. But, the curious will have to wait until Memorial Day weekend when it opens its doors for the season. Still, the grounds are free for anyone to explore with stone arches and wooded trestles adorning the immediate vicinity.
Hitting the Railroad Trail will lead visitors along the same line as the estate’s once-running long gauge railroad. Another remnant of estate’s quirky addition is the station house – Grand Central – positioned near the foot of the castle. A goldfish pond that sits further up on the trail is also a scenic spot to check out.
Now, I may be too old to believe in fairy tales. But, these refined touches – with a castle to boot - gives this place the illusion of one. And, isn’t that enough?
Directions: Take CT-9 S to Exit 7 for CT-82 toward East Haddam/Moodus. Continue on CT-82. Turn left onto CT-154 N/CT-82 E. Turn right onto CT-82 E. Slight right to stay on CT-82 E. Turn right onto Ray Hill Rd. Turn right onto CT-82 E. Turn right onto State Hwy 431. Turn right onto Gillette Castle State Park.
Trail Distance: 1-4 miles
Trail Difficulty: Easy