There aren’t many places where you can walk and see a five-star resort, a Spanish American fort, a historic lighthouse, a five-mile-long ocean beach and possible celebrity sightings, all on one walk, but in Watch Hill you’ve got them all. You might ask why I’d suggest going to the beach in winter – here’s my answer: there are not many people there. That’s right; you can walk all over Watch Hill and have the place practically to yourself.
If you like a relaxing walk visiting all these locations in one walk might be a bit much. We can break the walk up into a number of shorter strolls. The most strenuous of all the routes is out to the end of Napatree Point where the ruins of the Spanish American War era, Fort Mansfield, built in 1901 guard the approaches to Long Island Sound. It’s about three miles round trip to the end so if you’re a little out of shape or the weather’s iffy perhaps turn around after summiting the large sand dune.
This dune is clearly visible from the parking area past the yacht club and gives a spectacular 360-degree view of the whole area. There have been a few Snowy Owls sighted out on Napatree so keep an eye out. This walk is doggie heaven unless your pup decides to take a swim and then you have to load them in the car.
Another option is to go through the village and go up the hill by the Flying Horse Carousel. Park on Larkin Hill or continue to the top and take a right down the lane to the Watch Hill Light. Senior citizens can park at the lighthouse even in the summer but I prefer to park on the street and walk down the lane.
The historic Watch Hill Light was built in 1856 and there is a small museum, only open in the summer, which contains the Fresnel lens that used to guide the many ships that passed. This is a great place to sit and watch the ocean. If Fido is with you this is a great spot to let him run around on the large grassy area.
If you’d rather just walk on the beach, the path down to East Beach is just to the left of the big iron gate at the top of Larkin Hill. If you see security guards at the gate Taylor Swift might be in residence. Be careful if there is snow or ice, this path is a little steep in places. When you reach the end of the pathway, you’ll be on what is considered one of the greatest beaches on the east coast. Walk a little way to the left and the Ocean House appears; if you are cold or thirsty this is your oasis.
The original Ocean House was built in 1868 and was the last of the large Victorian hotels in Watch Hill. It was demolished in 2005 and a new hotel was constructed in 2010 retaining much of the original form and appearance.
For those of us who are really lazy and walking in the cold is not that appealing park in the lot by the Watch Hill Yacht Club which overlooks the harbor and watch the sunset. You don’t even have to get out of your car. It’s also fun to walk around the mostly deserted village. When I first moved to Westerly 25 years ago there was nothing open in Watch Hill in the winter but now a few hardy real estate offices stay open year round.
So there you go; no crowds, sweeping views, the sound of crashing waves, the crisp ocean air and a little history. What could be better?