Lake Willoughby

Last summer we had plans. I had negotiated an extra week of vacation with my employer and I was going to DO things. I had spent too many summers wishing I had done more and traveled more, but this one was going to be different. Trip to New York, trip to Massachusetts’ north shore, and a small list of local festivals and events to photograph and enjoy.

Then, of course, the Covid monster had other plans for us. Okay, well we all have to make sacrifices, it’ll be fine. We’ll find our fun here in Vermont. Luckily for us, there is no shortage of nature to enjoy quarantine-free. One of these trips was a weekend at Lake Willoughby, a glacial lake resembling a Norwegian fjord in the Northeast Kindgom of Vermont.

The lake was referenced by Robert Frost in his poem “A Servant to Servants,” while Mount Hor (one of the two mountains straddling the lake, the other being Lake Pisgah) is the subject of his poem “The Mountain.” While I’m not much a fan of poetry, Robert Frost was certainly a fan of this crystal clear lake. We were as well, it was a great place to spend a couple days away from home.

Fast forward to this past summer. We had a few more options available to us, being the most immunized state in America there was more ability to mix and mingle now that 85 percent of eligible citizens were immunized. Yet we decided to come back to Willoughby to catch the peak of the Perseid meteor shower. We booked the same room at the Willoughvale Inn that we were in last year so that we could enjoy a view of the lake when we woke in the morning. The forecast was cloudy with possibilities of rain, unfortunately, so we packed some board games and plenty of room food, just in case.

We booked for two nights, our plans were to do some canoeing, some beach stuff, and to drive around the NEK and see what there is to see in the immediate area. We were in the NEK a month back, in St Johnsbury to enjoy the Fairbanks Museum and Planetarium. Willoughby is a bit north of that, and somewhat more rural (though “rural” is a description you apply by degrees when discussing Vermont towns), so the feel is a bit different. One part vacationy and one part farmy, with a smattering of hunty-and-fishy in between.

We got a lazy start to the day, because “vacation,” and drove up to Westmore, which is a town that is pretty much just the lake and a couple roads around it, as far as we could tell. Booked into the inn, we drove around to take some pictures while we still had good sunlight, then grabbed a canoe and paddled about for an hour or so. Even though I took multiple classes as a child and many attempts as an adult, I cannot swim a stroke. I seem to have zero buoyancy, but ironically I really enjoy being in and near bodies of water. There are occasions where the canoe feels like it’s about to blow over and I get a moment of panic, but it feels no different than when I’m motorcycling a little too close to the edge of a sharp corner and get that cold feeling in the stomach, but that doesn’t stop me from cycling. So I wear a lifejacket and praise my partner for putting up with my reluctance to stray too far out.

We chilled out in the room for a little bit then started figuring out the meal situation. The restaurant attached to the inn was closed, unable to staff due to post-Covid labor shortages, so we looked for food options away from the lake. We had dinner at a place called Parson’s Pub and Grill, which had more of a fine dining feel than a pub feel. I had the pappardelle Bolognese while my partner had the pork schnitzel, which I was tempted to get for no reason beyond “schnitzel” being a fun word to say. Both were delicious, both were huge. Luckily our room had a minifridge ’cause there’s no finishing this thing tonight!

After dark came the main event, why we came out here in the first place, to watch the Perseids and get drunk on French wine. We crept across the road to the inn’s private beach (which was just a lawn with a rocky shore and a dock for launching boats), set up reclining chairs and opened the Bordeaux, looked up at the sky and… clouds. Lots and lots of clouds. Bummer. Not a star to be seen, however, there were some constant flashes of lightning far off to the west so we enjoyed watching that while listening to the distant calls of loons. That plus good company and good wine, it’s fine – we’ll see what tomorrow night brings.

Next day was beach day, but first, we needed food. There was a diner in Barton called The Busy Bee that was recommended. We went and sat in easily the smallest diner I ever sat in. There was a single two-person booth, three stools at a tiny bar, and everything else was right there in the room. Dirty dishes and all. A little uncomfortably close, and there seemed to be nothing on the menu but burgers. We wanted breakfast, or at least something slightly more breakfasty than a cheeseburger. We would have left and looked for another place, but they stopped us saying “Oh we can do that, just let me know what you want to eat.” So okay, breakfast was back on. Fantastic. It was pretty basic diner fare, but honestly that was all I wanted.

The beach on the northern end of the lake is kinda unique. First off, overlooking the lake is a cemetery on a hill just across the street, as if to say “This is where we put the people who came before you who also couldn’t swim, see ya soon!” Second, drowning would be difficult, as there is a very, very long stretch of shallow water, to the point where you have to walk quite a ways from the beach just to get into waist-deep water. Mind you, this is a plus for people like me who just want to wade around. Then, there’s the ducks. Dozens and dozens of ducks who just waddle around this little beach, and who will casually swim past you in the water without a care in the world, quacking at you as they pass as though to say “Hey nice day, in’t it?”

Our view from the bedroom window

Another funny thing about this beach? Every 10 minutes or so, some local yokel in an old pick-up will gun the engine down the one-block stretch of road by the beach before hitting the stop sign. It was comically constant, one after another, local boys showing off to the beachgoers “Hey wanna see how loud I can make my truck go?” In a small town with very few thrills, I guess this was as good as it gets for them.

Second night on the beach-lawn thing did the trick. The skies opened and we got a nice meteor shower, to which we finished three bottles of wine before drunkenly wobbling back across the street around 2am. The trip was officially a success.