2013 – Belfast to Castine – Route Digest


For riders interested in learning more about the daily routes, we are providing a route digest for each day.  This summary is a compilation of history, culture and trivia that Maine native Fred Frawley uncovered along the route, and environmental information prepared by Kate Dempsey of The Nature Conservancy.  If there is something you discover in your travels along the route and think should be added to the digest, please submit your comments to ride@bikemaine.org.

Belfast to Castine  

After setting off from Belfast, follow coastal Route 1 up to Searsport and then into Stockton Springs. These towns are working waterfront communities that host their share of summer visitors (what some refer to as “folks from away”). The road is well travelled, lined with businesses catering to the touring public, and there are plenty of interesting views along the way.

Searsport features a deep-water port on Penobscot Bay. Searsport is home to the Penobscot Maritime Museum and hosts one of the annual Maine Lobster Boat races in the summer. Those lobster boats look bulky, but seeing them race is a sight to behold.

Stockton Springs is a bit north on Route 1 and was once a bustling port.  Between 1905 and 1907, three huge wooden piers were built. The local railroad transported goods to and from the docks.  An immense warehouse held potatoes from Aroostook County until schooners coming up into the Bay could deliver them elsewhere. The harbor’s industrial era came to a premature end when wharves were destroyed in a fire in November 1924.

The route continues to hug the coast as we make our way up the west side of Penobscot Bay to the first rest stop of the day. You’ll be tempted to spend the remainder of the day here, Fort Knox and the Penobscot Narrows Bridge.

Fort Knox is a coastal granite fort built in the mid-1800s. The fort was strategically located on the narrows of the Penobscot River to protect the river valley from a British naval attack that never came. Fort Knox is one of the best-preserved fortifications on the New England seacoast. The Fort has many architectural features present only to itself, as well as a rich history behind its cannon batteries.

1. flag bridge

The Penobscot Narrows Bridge, an amazing engineering achievement, is one of three bridges in the US (the others being Zakim Bridge in Boston, Massachusetts, and Veterans’ Glass City Skyway in Toledo, Ohio) using a cradle system that carries the cable strands within the stays from bridge deck to bridge deck, as a continuous element, eliminating anchorages in the pylons. Atop the bridge is the Penobscot Narrows Observatory, the first bridge observation tower in the United States, and said to be the tallest public bridge observatory in the world. The tower reaches skyward 420 feet (128 m) and provides visitors a breathtaking view of the region, to include –on a really clear day – another glimpse of Mount Katahdin. The bridge itself replaced an older bridge (to your right as you travel north), which was dismantled an engineering feat in its own right.


The route crosses to the east side of the Penobscot River across Verona Island, once a shipbuilding village. The last vessel was built in 1905. This was the Roosevelt, which carried Robert Peary from New York to the Arctic in 1908 for his final expedition to the North Pole.

Shortly after leaving the island, you will pedal into Bucksport. Unlike many towns on our route, Bucksport continues to have an active manufacturing base. The Verso paper mill has operated since 1930. It has 4 machines with a capacity to manufacture 482,800 tons of paper annually. The factory produces lightweight coated paper used in such publications as Time Magazine and the L.L. Bean catalog.

Bucksport also features prominently in one of the oddest “ghost stories” you are likely to hear. Maine school children of many generations learned the tale and as adults went to Bucksport to see for themselves. The story goes something like this: Bucksport’s founder, Colonel Jonathan Buck, had a run-in with a local woman, whom he claimed was a witch. The unfortunate lady was publicly burned by Col. Buck, but her leg rolled out of the fire. The victim’s son, upset at the turn of events, cursed Col. Buck, promising that he would be haunted by the mother for eternity. Years later, Buck died and was buried in the middle of town and a monument/gravestone was erected in his memory. Not long after, the image of a woman’s leg appeared in outline form on the monument. Despite efforts to remove it, the image returned and is there to this day.  The monument is located in Buck Cemetery, which you will pass just after US 1 joins Hwy 15.  The cemetery is on the north side of US 1, across the street from Hannaford Supermarket.

The route turns inland after Bucksport, as you head “down east”, which is how Mainers refer to this part of the state (extending north to Canada).  You will soon be seeing the first of the blueberry barrens that you will come to know well.  You will pass through Orland, the birthplace of William Tilburg Clark, who wrote the classic Western “The Oxbow Incident.” Clark moved from Maine to Reno, Nevada, so it’s unlikely he got much inspiration from his hometown. Nevertheless, Orland and the smaller towns in Hancock County on the way to Blue Hill feature forests, farms and small ponds.

Blue Hill is a great sport to rest and the setting is idyllic. The route has taken you back to the water, but it’s not Penobscot Bay any more — this is the Atlantic Ocean. Blue Hill Bay rolls in front of you, making it easy to understand why many people call Blue Hill their “escape from New York”. Blue Hill has a thriving arts scene and there are more than a few recording studios and artist workspaces cleverly disguised as farm buildings. Although lobstering survives in Blue Hill, it has been known for a century as a retreat for musicians and artists.  At the Town Landing, also known as Emerson Park, you will find one of the Schoodic International Sculpture Symposium pieces, “The Window of the Sea Wind” by Hitoshi Tanaka of Japan.

Onward from Blue Hill, the route hugs the Atlantic Coast. Maine is distinguished by the many mainland peninsulas that jut out into the ocean giving it more coastline (about 5,500 miles) than any other state in the lower forty-eight, to include California which has less than 900 miles of ocean coast.  The route takes you out and back along the Blue Hill Peninsula, offering ocean vistas, quaint towns and friendly folks. Watch for side roads leading from the ocean side of the route, of which many; lead to one or more homes hidden from view.

Sedgewick and Sargentville extend the route down the peninsula and (almost) into the Atlantic. Sedgewick itself is partly mainland, and partly an island. At Sargentville, look to your left, and you’ll see Little Deer Isle and Deer Isle, thriving coastal communities connected to the mainland by bridge.  We head inland here, passing Caterpillar Hill on the right. This is also an area of blueberry fields, working fishermen, and artists living and working along the Coast.

3. IMG_1089

Finally, you will reach Bagaduce Falls a perfect spot to take a break. The falls, driven by coastal tides, provide a reversing waterfall effect, which is a favorite of kayakers.  The Bagaduce River is one of only a few places in Maine where horseshoe crabs are known to breed.  And although the river is only about 12 miles long, it is one of the most productive estuaries in Maine because of its narrow constriction and broad coves.  The tidal fluctuations within its protected waterways provide excellent conditions for a productive shellfishery.  The intertidal flats beyond the Narrows include more than 1000 acres of habitat for soft-shell clams, marine worms, and other invertebrates.  Waterfowl and wading birds flock to this critical habitat to feed, breed, and rest here during migration.

Continue north, up and around the Bagaduce River, before heading south into Castine. As the crow flies, you are only a few miles from Belfast, where the day started, but now you are on the other side of Penobscot Bay.

Castine is a lovely fishing village, nestled on the coastline, with a view into the Atlantic. Castine is one of the oldest communities in North America.  It has been occupied continuously since the early 1600s as the site of numerous trading posts, forts, missions, and permanent settlements of France, Holland, England, and colonial America.  Before 1613, and during the course of its long history, Castine has also been home to several nations of Native Americans.  Castine has existed as a town since 1796 and is named after Baron Jean Vincent d’Abbadie de St. Castin, a French nobleman and adventurer who established a trading post in the 1670s.  Few places in New England have had a more tumultuous history than Castine—which proclaims itself the “battle line of four nations.”

Castine looks much like it did a century ago—except for the Maine Maritime Academy. The Academy is a public post-secondary college and nautical training institution with approximately 800 students. The academy is one of a handful of maritime training institutes in the U.S. and its graduates travel the world in commercial maritime pursuits.  Enjoy your time in Castine exploring all that the academy and the village have to offer.


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