Ever since I was a child peering up at the Sagamore Bridge from the back seat of the family car as we headed off on summer vacations, I have always thought of Cape Cod as otherworldly — defined by expanses of sand and sky, feisty greenery pushing up stubbornly from arid ground, and surprise caches of kettle ponds and wildflowers. It has always surprised me that a place so near could feel so different from the suburbs of my three-season life.
As a full-time resident for the last seven years, I still find the Cape a special place, and its uniqueness begins with geology. Celebrating the Cape’s natural features and the way they have shaped life on the peninsula is the strength of “In My Footsteps: A Cape Cod Travel Guide” by Christopher Setterlund, a 12th-generation Cape Codder.
The book is organized by town and village in a continuous loop, beginning in Sandwich just over the Sagamore Bridge, then following the north shore to Provincetown, returning along the south shore through Chatham and Hyannis, and finishing on the west coast towns of Falmouth and Bourne before heading off Cape over the Bourne Bridge. Directions are given from one site to the next, with GPS coordinates, and are suitable for driving, biking, or walking. Mileage is presented in decimals, as on an odometer. Maps of sites that are off the beaten path are simple and easy to follow.
Sites include beaches, bicycle trails, parks, nature preserves, lighthouses, burial grounds, and historic homes and gardens. They range from the well-known and easy to get to, such as the magical White Cedar Swamp in Wellfleet, to those requiring significant effort, such as the Long Point Lighthouse in Provincetown, accessible after a mile walk along a breakwater followed by a mile and a half through soft sand. There are many hidden gems, particularly little-known conservation areas that capture the distinctive terrains of river, sea, and marshland. Some (but not many) seem positively obscure; the grave of Thomas Ridley (buried far from town when he died in 1776 of then badly understood small pox) hidden deep in the woods behind a restaurant in North Truro seems hardly to merit the effort required to find it.
Setterlund’s familiarity with each site is obvious. He writes in a conversational style and peppers his narrative with thoughtful observations and useful tips (beware of the electrified fence at the Long Pasture Wildlife Sanctuary in Cummaquid). He includes information for pet owners and lots of suggestions for picnic sites. His photographs add color and context.
While no such list could be comprehensive, some of my favorite spots are missing, most notably the Knob in Falmouth. There’s also an occasional (unnecessary) tendency toward boosterism, as in this addendum to the Wellfleet Drive-In description: “Whether reliving their own childhood or seeing a drive-in movie for the first time, this is an experience that visitors must try.” And while I appreciate that there’s not a lot of “directory-type” information crowding out the narrative, websites would have been helpful.
Nonetheless, this is a useful book for both newcomers and longtime vacationers to Cape Cod. And, I might add, even full-time residents.
Ellen Albanese can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.