When Seacoaster’s say, “Hey, let’s go for a hike,” few think about Portsmouth’s neighbor, Greenland, as a destination for rambling through the woods. But right in our own backyard is a small, but incredible trail system known as the Weeks Brick House Nature Trails, part of the Weeks Brick House and Gardens, a New Hampshire Historic Site listed on the National Register of Historic Places.
Built in 1710 by Samuel Weeks, the Weeks House itself is one of the earliest brick houses built in New England and boasts 18-inch-thick walls as well as visibly charred ceiling beams from a former fire. It has also survived two earthquakes, and repair work can still be seen where the building structure actually cracked. Based on past performance, the Weeks House should be standing strong for many, many years to come. The structure has been preserved, in part by the original descendants of Samuel Weeks, as has a portion of the original farmstead land from 1656.
In 1992, thirty-one acres were established under a conservation easement approximately half of the 60 acres originally established by the Weeks’. In 2001, an official trail system was established and the land was opened to the public and has been ever since, but based on the cars you see on any given day, not many take advantage of this natural slice of history. The conservation land is unique as it is undeveloped land abutting the Winnicut River, an important and beautiful tidal tributary of the Great Bay. The Boston and Maine Railroad also abuts the land and having been in operation since 1852 is an interesting slice of American history. Be aware – it still sees the occasional train!
The Weeks Brick House itself is just West of the property, the trails are mostly focused on nature itself, so don’t expect to see much aside from wildlife, trees, and the occasionally developed property across the river. For those of you who can’t live without external stimulus, there is even a 14-minute audio tour available to listen to via smartphone on the Weeks Brick House website. There are two primary areas to choose from, both of which start at the parking area. You can choose the left trail or the right trail, or pack them both together into one excursion. The trails are as follows:
Marsh & Hardwood Trails
A .78 loop trail from the parking area that skirts the tidal flow of the Winnicut River and circles back through a nice clear hardwood forest. Bridges are built over water crossings and the trail is, for the most part, flat, easygoing, and protected on all sides. Perfect for a quick stretch of the legs and to run your dogs.
Pine Grove Trail
The Pine Grove trail (officially .46 miles) winds its way along a tidal, marshy area that feeds the Winnicut, through pine forest and eventually reaches a great bench seat made from an old pine log that offers a perfect viewpoint over the Winnicut River and the marshy area that feeds into it. The trail spins back around to the parking area or continues on in a loop fashion back the unpaved Tide Mill Road eventually leading back to the parking area. This is a faster walk but both sets of trails can easily be combined into a mile + wander.
One can also cross the Railroad tracks at the Tide Mill Road intersection into a separate area of conservation, the former location of the Tide Mill (sawmills and gristmills) and the Town Landing (back in 1663). This area is marked as the ‘Hughes Conservation Area’ and offers the most impressive views of the Winnicut and glimpses of the Great Bay. Directly across the marsh at the edge of the river is the Portsmouth Country Club, and while developed, sets a beautiful scene – especially in winter when there is no activity save for the occasional couple on snowshoes. Trails exist but are not well used, so some element of bushwhacking may be required in summer and fall. There is also a tiny turnaround that would provide a small boat or kayak access into the Winnicut during high tide.
Perhaps the most unique feature of the Weeks Brick House Nature Trails is winter accessibility. The Weeks' trails are a perfect winter retreat when fresh powder flies, on snowshoes, cross-country skis, or just walking. The trails can ice over so be sure to bring some kind of aid to keep your feet grounded. The area is still, quiet, and peaceful and the ice that forms on the rivers from it’s up and down tidal activity is quite interesting to observe. At no time are these trails more alive than in the cold of winter, so peaceful yet so close to the hustle and bustle of Portsmouth. With fresh snow at your feet and the sounds of nature around you, if you find yourself chanting ‘Serenity Now” at work or at home, take a trip out to the trails and get you fix of Mother Nature. The best part is it's easy accessibility - perfect for a quick jaunt outside after a long day at work, or as a quick stretch of the legs for you and your dogs.
The Weeks Brick House Nature Trails are accessible off Route 33 just off Tide Mill Road, which is signed, just past Golf and Ski and before the Cumby’s. The unpaved parking area is a few hundred feet down the dirt portion of Tide Mill Road on the left, and aside from a few bumps is easily accessible by car. The trail entrance adjoins the parking lot. The trails are open all year, from dawn to dusk. In winter, the dirt road is not plowed but the trails are still accessible. Look for a map and more information on a nicely developed handout located at the trailhead.
Word of caution – there are some risks out there in the wilds. Ticks are in full force from the marsh grass and resident deer population, poison ivy is everywhere, the Railroad is active, off leash dogs are welcome, and hunters and target shooters are present on the other side of the railroad tracks so be sure to wear blaze orange in Fall and Winter (dogs especially). Be safe, be aware.
Article and Photos by Rich Collins, Greenland, New Hampshire Resident and lover of the Seacoast and the outdoors.
Copyright 2015 Thirst Productions.