Monastery trails are a treasure in the heart of town
Monastery trails are a treasure in the heart of town
Note: I had been looking around for someone to be my guide on the trails of the Monastery Grounds, and figured who better than a woman who'd grown up on Roland Street with the 530 acres in her back yard? For anyone wondering, my spending time with Alexandra Curran isn't an endorsement of her opposition to using a piece of the land for a new public safety building, just an acknowledgement of her knowledge of the grounds.
CUMBERLAND - Every trail I've visited so far has offered unexpected, unique vistas well worth a look, but I can't help describing the Monastery Grounds as the town's gem.
History and beauty abound, with scenery changing from woodland to meadow to tranquil pond. And the varied pathways are easy for young and old to maneuver. They are not, however, marked as yet (although the town's Conservation Commission is working on it,) so I'd recommend downloading the trail map on the Cumberland Public Library's website before starting off. (www.cumberlandlibrary.org/trails.html .) There's detailed historic information, including a video of the 1950 fire's aftermath.
It was 1902 when the Cistercian Order of the Strict Observance, commonly known as Trappists, established their Monastery of Our Lady of the Valley by buying the old Abigail Whipple Homestead. The monks quarried rock on their own land to build the monastery buildings that would serve them until the great fire of 1950. Later, the Franciscan Friars of Graymoor, N.Y., would settle here for 20 years, and finally the town would acquire all the land in three parcels, in 1968 and 1972.
There is one set of marks you'll see - blue paint sprayed on the ground in some areas. That's for the McCourt Middle School cross-country team, Alexandra told me.
I asked Alexandra to show me around since it's in her back yard and she's there almost daily, she said, with her 9-year-old golden retriever.
But certainly this centrally located site isn't far from anyone's back yard - just a quick drive for nearly all of us. Pull into the library entrance off Diamond Hill Road and head toward the rear of the property near the little building that serves as the town's senior center. We were there last Thursday, July 17.
We skipped the Beauregard Loop around the library building since that's the one residents seem most familiar with.
Instead, we started off on the trail marked Nine Men's Misery on the map, and soon came upon that monument built by the monks in 1928.
The monument marks the place where on March 26, 1676, nine Rhode Island soldiers were killed by Native Americans in King Phillip's War.
A group of nine of the soldiers escaped the original Indian ambush, but were separately later captured, tortured, and killed. They were buried on the spot they were found.
Leaving grisly thoughts behind, we moved next to the beautiful meadow that features sprays of wildflowers, including white morning glory flowers that looked like scraps of paper blowing across the field.
We ran into a few walkers that day, including Pete Grumbach of Blackstone, Mass., with his grandson, Damian, and dog, Cocoa, a beagle-pug mix called a "puggle."
Grumbach is a former Cumberland resident who hasn't given up his habit of walking here. He talked a bit about the old days of Cumberland when he used to hunt rabbit and birds at the Monastery. His street, Curran Road, was still dirt, and he and his buddies went rafting - and skinny dipping - in Robin Hollow Pond.
Our trek along the Whipple Loop took us by the irrigation pond that watered the monks' crops. It's covered in a murky green, but despite that, Alexandra spotted the frogs just showing the tops of their heads. She says her dad calls her "eagle eyes," a nickname all the more obvious when she spotted two small intertwined garter snakes near the base of a rock. I would have walked past them every time - and maybe most would be happy to, too!
The Whipple Loop Trail brought us to the western side of the Monastery where it adjoins the J.H. Lynch quarry. I recalled from years ago a single chain link fence barrier along the top of a cliff there. That's been augmented by a second fence that leaves little doubt that you're about to leave the town's land.
Alexandra says deer are plentiful, and along the way back we passed a smaller meadow where Alexandra says, "Come about 6 o'clock at night and you're guaranteed you'll see a deer. They love it back here."
As proof, she pulled out a cell phone picture of a deer taken just this month.
We also walked past the monks' old quarry (it's on the aptly named Monks Quarry Trail) where they chiseled out the stone to build the monastery structures.
And we saw a couple of carved rocks lying on the ground and wondered whether they were a work in progress or part of a structure now demolished.
We did encounter a bit of a mystery: Pink ribbons are tied around a number of small trees in one area. The town's recreation department doesn't know who did it, but does say the person or group doesn't have permission.
All told, we spent about 90 minutes to cover the three main trails. Saved for another day were the lesser trails on the library's map to the north, just south of Orchard Drive and east of Glen Ellen Drive, which are two streets off Angell Road.
Take a look at that library map for more information on trails and a better understanding of the perimeter borders of the Monastery.
And see my related story above about the three parcels acquired by the town that make up these Monastery Grounds.