Eighteen Miles

A while ago, an acquaintance of mine asked why lobster is associated with New Hampshire, when New Hampshire is hardly a coastal state. I gently, and jokingly, corrected him: “Hey, we have eighteen miles of coastline, and we’re proud of every one.”

On that number, your mileage may actually vary. It all depends how you keep score and what you count as coastline. Some sources measure it as short as thirteen miles; others include the salty waters of Great Bay and claim over two hundred miles of coastline. The latter, naturally, is way less interesting of a talking point.

But whether it’s thirteen or eighteen or something in between, we can be sure of one thing: we’re proud of every one.

Even in a world where we can travel without limitations, we judge in abstracts. Coastline is an abstract; it implies a connection to the greater world. To say a place is “landlocked” sounds like a pejorative. It suggests a limitation. With coastline, with access to water, you have access to the world, even if few of us will ever leave the state by ship.

At a more concrete level, there is great diversity in our eighteen miles of coastline, diversity that some states need a hundred miles or more to realize.

Rarely does Hampton Beach look this still and quiet. And yet this isn’t from February.

To the south are the beaches. A white ribbon of sand lines the coast from the state line through Seabrook and Hampton. The beaches themselves are only a part of the entertainment factor. Just over Hampton’s sea wall is the famed boardwalk, occupied by restaurants, shops, arcades and even a seaside concert hall, the Hampton Beach Casino Ballroom. The tiny streets reaching inland from Route 1A are lined with little seasonal homes and rentals, places for people to stay on their New Hampshire beach getaway.

The coast takes on a whole new look just a few miles north of the sands of Hampton.

If the rat race of the beaches is too hectic, travel north toward Rye. Route 1A hugs the contour of the ragged, rocky coastline. To one side, rocks taper down to the water. On the other, luxurious homes overlook the Atlantic Ocean. There are beaches here, too, but Jenness and Wallis Sands feel much more finite, without the bustle and energy of Hampton’s endless expanse. If Hampton feels more working-class, Rye certainly hints of an upper-class aspiration.

And the beaches further north are a world apart, too.

The northern limits of Rye are marked by Odiorne Point State Park, the site of countless elementary-school field trips to experience nature at the shoreline. Beyond Odiorne Point, occupying space in Rye and New Castle, is the Wentworth By The Sea resort and country club, the site of countless seaside weddings and ceremonies.

Minutes from downtown Portsmouth, you can still feel the relaxed pace of a pastoral park at the water’s edge.

The island of New Castle also touches the Piscataqua River, the flowing border between New Hampshire and Maine. As you trace the mouth of the river back, you come to Portsmouth. This is the city of the coastline, the place that, when “landlocked” indeed meant something, granted access to the rest of the world. Today, it’s where history and progress intertwine. Artifacts like the Strawbery Banke Museum live next to a vibrant, thriving downtown.

Enter downtown Portsmouth, the more metropolitan, polished side of our seacoast.

That’s our seacoast in a nutshell. Eighteen, thirteen, a hundred — the actual miles don’t matter. What matters is the diversity of experiences that await where our state meets the ocean.

And even a thirteen-mile-wide gateway is wide enough to step through.

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