Plymouth is, according to the various guides, a 'must do' stop in New England. The cradle of the nation, the place where the famed pilgrims built their settlement and joined with the Indians in the first Thanksgiving. Little remains of the early town, the oldest elements are probably at least a hundred years after that original, 1620, landing.
That, however, has not stopped the entrepreneurial inhabitants from making the most of their history. This is 'pilgrim-ville' in all respects from the moderately tacky to the truly inspirational.
The tacky end of things is the usual cafes, t-shirt shops and so forth but, kept fairly low key, the town manages to rise above this. Somewhat more conspiratorial is the approach to the 'Plymouth Rock'. We read about the rock where the pilgrims first stepped ashore, now enclosed in a grand granite portico as a symbol of the foundation of a nation. We arrive to find a large granite portico, for sure, all columns and mock-greek solidity, but surrounded by scaffold and fencing - it's being repaired. Fear not, for in the plywood walls surrounding the construction there is a perspex window through which you can see the famous rock. When we first walked by, there was a queue - to look at a rock - so we went to read the information sign.
Where we discover that this rock might be, but probably isn't, the place where the Pilgrims stepped ashore. It wasn't claimed as such until a hundred and forty years after the event, when the town wanted to build a dock or something there and someone said 'no, you can't, that rock is where the forefathers landed on our fair soil'. Sounds like a bit of nimby response to a local planning proposal if you ask me. But it worked (even though they first landed thirty miles away at Provincetown) and the rock is now revered.
Eventually we see it. We glance, can't remember if we even took a photo. 'It's just a rock' says Issie, disappointed. Yep.
The pilgrims, you may remember, came over on a ship called the Mayflower. In the 1950's, some crazy British chap had the idea of building a 'replica' and sailing her over as a gift to the nation. Despite some fairly negative responses in the press (my favourite was "sail the Atlantic in a wooden ship without engines - you'll never make it!") it actually got done and the Mayflower II is docked in Plymouth and still sails sometimes. Since few details survive about the original ship she's more inspired guesswork than replica but still very interesting. We enjoyed touring the ship, where they had knowledgeable guides and some people role-playing the captain and sailors. This is a more true to life representation of the story, where we begin to find out that only about half of the passengers were the religious 'pilgrims', others were along for the adventure and opportunity.
Landing in Provincetown, at the tip of Cape Cod as the snow begins to fall, it must have been tempting to stay put and it seems many argued to do just that but luckily for them some tougher souls insisted on exploring further and found the site for Plymouth with running streams and higher ground which gave the colony a fighting chance of survival. It's hard to imagine the debate, argument and bickering that must have characterised their first weeks in this place, although spending a few days with our kids recreates it fairly well.
The day after, we took the bus a couple of miles out of town to visit 'Plimoth Plantation', I'll write another entry about that.