Recently, I spent a long weekend in Newport, Rhode Island with two dear friends. Nothing was planned except a tour of the famous mansions, or cottages, as they are called by locals. The Cliff Walk, a national trail winding along the eastern side of the island, was mentioned by another friend, but was quickly dismissed because we were not adventurous types, or so I thought. The mansions tour lasted about three hours, and wanting to enjoy the glorious sunny day, my companions contemplated the Cliff Walk and a harbor cruise. They opted for the walk because of my phobia for any body of water deeper than six feet.
I read about this historic walk a while back and of course soaked in mentions of hidden dangers like sudden drops that could propel you over rugged, seventy-foot cliffs into a cauldron of Atlantic Ocean water, and poison ivy which could leave you scratching mercilessly hours after. I shared these unpleasant tidbits with my companions as we made our way to Narragansett Avenue to begin the three and a half mile walk at about midpoint.
Narragansett Avenue brings you to what is called forty steps though it’s actually forty-eight. The steps are built into the side of the cliffs and lead down to a balcony overlooking the mighty ocean. We headed south along the narrow path believed to have been carved out by hungry deer before being used by the Narragansett Indians and later, the colonists. On one side were the backyards of the opulent estates we had just visited and on the other, the powerful ocean. I felt like an insignificant penny in the midst of a pocketful of big bills. Releasing that feeling to the winds, I concentrated on the walk.
The path was paved a good bit of the way so footing was much easier than anticipated. Besides, smiling people -some jogging- and friendly dogs, there were chirping sea birds; wild flowers dotting haphazard shrubbery; magnificent views of the Atlantic; well-manicured backyards showcasing what were the summer homes of very wealthy New York barons and baronesses of the eighteenth century industrial revolution, but no poison ivy to speak of.
I did have moments of trepidation like when I wandered too close to the fences bordering the cliffs and found them too loose for my liking. Or, the two occasions I almost stepped into dog poop; at least that’s what I thought they were. The dark, eerie tunnels, Sheep point and Gull Rock, weren’t fun either. As I walked through them, I feared losing my eyeballs to angry bats for having invading their territory. Then there were those seemingly strategically-placed boulders of varying shapes and sizes I needed to cross to get beyond the last exit at Marine Avenue. But the slippery boulders did prepare me for walking the difficult last mile and a half of the trail which ended at Bailey Beach.
For all the so-called dangers, my friends and I were rewarded with spectacular displays of watery fireworks when the ocean’s waves crashed hard against the cliffs, and picturesque landscapes made more appealing when they included the Victorian architecture of the cottages. We wondered what the northern side of the Cliff Walk had to offer. We plan to find out. Seems we have a taste for adventure after all; at least in Newport, Rhode Island.