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Places to cherish New England’s autumn glory

By Taryn Plumb
Globe Correspondent / September 25, 2011

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True New Englanders know this is the best time of year. The tourists have largely dispersed, the weather is tamer, and the hills will soon flare in a pastiche of color.

But we Yankees also realize that fall is one of the last opportunities to enjoy the outdoors before daylight slowly recedes and we have to dig out the parkas and snow gear from the back of the closet.

Luckily, here we don’t have to go far to feel like we’ve done so, an added bonus in these hazy economic times.

The area is abundant with farmland, forests, meadows, seaside hideaways, and other unique spaces, including some of these lesser-traveled spots - maybe a few you didn’t know about; maybe one you consider your own private haven. (All these options, except where otherwise noted, are open year-round and are free.)

A trip back in time Situated just beyond the rumble and rush of Route 128 in Canton is an undulating historical time capsule, the Eleanor Cabot Bradley Estate.

Its centerpiece is a green-shuttered, multiple-chimneyed villa whose grandeur and grounds hint at European opulence. A brick, Georgian-style home built in 1902, the estate is set amid a flawless panorama of sprawling greens and man-made ponds, as well as several formal gardens bursting with a medley of color and featuring latticework and stone walls built with artistic flourishes.

Sitting on an expanse of 90 acres, the manor was designed and erected for Dr. Arthur Tracey Cabot, and was passed down to its namesake, Eleanor Cabot Bradley (Cabot’s niece), who bequeathed it to the Trustees of Reservations in the 1990s.

But for all its majesty, there’s a rustic quality to it, as well. Roughly 15 acres of the property is a working farm: There are a few outbuildings and a barn, as well as wandering chickens, and its emerald pastures serve as grazing grounds for llamas and goats. Also, the vegetables grown in its fields - farmed by a community-supported agriculture program through City Harvest Youth Corps - are sold both on-site and at area farmers’ markets.

All of this is open to exploration (the interior of the house is closed to the public, except for special events and rentals) as are roughly 3 miles of wooded walking trails and cart paths around the property.

All told, “it’s a wonderful hidden gem,’’ said Stephen Sloan, greater Boston regional director for the Trustees.

Landscape by design Did you know the south-of-Boston area has its own mini Central Park, of sorts?

You could consider the 89-acre breadth of Francis William Bird Park in Walpole just that; in 1925, it was designed specifically for recreation purposes. This planned landscape, also owned by the Trustees, features more than 3 miles of looped bricked and paved paths; foot bridges arching over babbling streams; well-groomed meadows; tranquil duck ponds; basketball courts; a stone amphitheater; a playground (still in progress); and park benches for a bit of respite under clusters of shade trees.

It’s “very active and busy,’’ Sloan noted.

And although it’s well known to locals, he added, it’s often overlooked by others in this area and beyond, but it offers a unique backdrop for walking, biking, or just playing and is, Sloan says, like “nothing you would imagine would be in one of these communities.’’

Down on the farms If you prefer a more agrarian experience, the Easton Sheep Pasture has resident goats, chickens, mini horses - and, of course, sheep - and its bucolic 154 acres are a draw for bird-watchers, who come to see hawks and migrating warblers.

Basically, “Anybody who’s flown over the city of Boston stops here for rest,’’ quipped Ed Hands, president of the board of Natural Resources Trust of Easton, which owns and maintains the property.

Half woodland, half open meadow, it is also traced by “gentle’’ walking trails, according to Hands. Meanwhile, it is host to a farmers’ market through mid-October and attracts crowds to its annual harvest fair (the 38th annual to be held this year next Sunday).

“Even on our busiest days, there are places you can find that are almost like the 19th century,’’ Hands noted, describing “spectacular views, rocky outcrops, forests, and a river that runs through.’’

Meanwhile, the Trustees’ Weir River Farm in Hingham is another iconic agricultural setting. A country estate dating to the early 1900s, it is home to Belted Galloway cows - more endearingly known as “Oreo cows’’ - as well as chickens, sheep, goats, and pigs. It also hosts children’s programming, Sloan said, while a 1.5-mile loop trail offers views of Hull and the harbor. (Accessing the barnyard requires a small admission fee, but everything else is free.)

Where the wild things are Then there are those who prefer a more pristine setting, the environment left to its own natural cycles. In Norwell, roughly 2 miles of trails trace the extensive, 129-acre swath of Norris Reservation, winding through nooks of white pine and oak; passing marsh and swampland, a mill pond, a herring brook and a salt marsh; and ending at a curve in the tidal North River and a weathered-clapboard boat house at its edge.

The reservation is home to hawks, kingfishers, trout, and striped bass - among many other species of finned, furred, and winged creatures - so the Trustees suggest sitting by the river to watch their comings and goings, skip stones, or just contemplate life.

“People are very busy these days,’’ said Sloan. “I think spending an hour, an hour-and-a-half, in a natural setting can be a change of pace, can help reset your clock. It’s just letting nature overwash you.’’

Another opportunity for that sort of peaceful deluge is Nasketucket Bay State Reservation in Mattapoisett.

A state-maintained property that isn’t always high on the radar screen, it is tucked along one of the south coast’s many rugged inlets.

Its 209-acre reach includes stretches of classic, craggy New England shoreline; open fields dipping and climbing into the distance; and several trails - some lined with holly trees with shiny pointed leaves clung with clumps of red berries, others overlooking Nasketucket Bay.

Rocking out For an even more immersive experience, meanwhile, Blue Hill Adventure and Quarry Museum in Quincy leads tours through the wilds of the 8,000-plus acres of the Blue Hills Reservation; along the whisking and curling Neponset River; and into many of the area’s remaining historic quarries.

Neponset paddles are led by the nonprofit through the end of October; the sluiceway has a “little current’’ and is “real easy to paddle,’’ according to Blue Hill Adventure and Quarry Museum president and executive director David Hodgdon.

Also, quarry walks - of the Bunker Hill quarry site, Swingle’s Quarry, Granite Railway Quarry, as well as the historic Lyons Turning Mill and what is believed to be the oldest furnace in the United States - are held through November, and provide both exercise and a history lesson.

There used to be 54 quarries in town; 12 have been filled in, but there are still “plenty left to see.’’ (For even more on Quincy’s rocky history, consider visiting the Quincy Quarry and Granite Workers Museum.)

Speaking not only of the Blue Hills, but of this area at large, Hodgdon said: “There are vast, fantastic resources right here in our backyard. People have wonderful opportunities.’’

Taryn Plumb can be reached at

If You Go

Finding the way

Francis William Bird Park
Washington Street, Walpole

Blue Hill Adventure and Quarry Museum in Quincy
Call ahead for events and locations: 781-326-0079

Eleanor Cabot Bradley Estate
2468 B Washington St., Canton

Nasketucket Bay State Reservation
Brandt Beach Road, Mattapoisett

Natural Resources Trust of Easton Sheep Pasture
307 Main St., North Easton

Norris Reservation
Dover Street, Norwell

Weir River Farm
Turkey Hill Lane, Hingham