A Visit To A Preserve With A Cliffside View Of Long Island Sound

Many people see various animals or faces in the puffy clouds of a midsummer day. Me? I'm more of a see-things-in-rock-formations kind of guy. You know, things like the former "Old Man Of The Mountain," a jumble of granite that once stood on the side of a New Hampshire mountain.

As I wound down my visit to the 95-acre Braemore Preserve in North Guilford last week, my eyes lit up as I passed what looked to me like a giant granite dog's head. A floppy ear (craggy overhang), a beady black eye (OK, a dark piece of lichen) and a pointed snout rose out of a cliff and I swear I heard a bark echo through the forest. Names for the formation instantly entered my head, ranging from "pooch rock" to "Rover rock."

The preserve is full of interesting names. Visitors pass places like "windy ridge" and "lunch rocks" on the four miles of trails that twist and turn through the preserve. Not enough hiking for you? Braemore is next to the 650-acre Rockland Preserve in Madison, which contains even more miles of trails. Still not enough? The 50-mile Mattabessett Trail runs through Rockland, connected by the "Lone Pine Trail" through Braemore. From there you can connect to the 63-mile-long Metacomet Trail and … well, you get the idea.

The trailhead is across from the scenic Bluff Head Farm, with its old barns and views out to its namesake, a popular craggy traprock ridge rising up from the surrounding farm fields. At the trailhead, a plaque on top of a split-rail fence dedicates the preserve in memory of Dennis Reid and his "care and concern for this open space led to its preservation for all to enjoy." And a nearby granite ridge named after the conservationist should be your first destination.

The trail begins in Siefert's Meadow, which is filled with wildflowers and the autumn harbinger of goldenrod in full bloom along with Queen Anne's lace. A boardwalk takes visitors through a wet area and a difficult climb to "Ridge Junction" and a perimeter trail marked with red blazes that encircles the preserve.

I start the loop trail in a counter-clockwise direction because that's what I always do, and plus it's the quickest way to get to "Reid's View," a craggy overlook filled with wild blueberry bushes and views out to Bluff Point and Long Island Sound. Not as high or dramatic as neighboring Bluff Point, but the views across a swath of green forests and farm fields to the deep blue of the Sound is worth the short journey up a side trail marked with red blazes and yellow dots.

The remainder of the paths along the perimeter trail are filled with scrambles up cliffs and ridges. My favorite is a climb up "lunch rocks," which resemble a hike up piles of slate. Although another overlook is called "Bluff View Ridge," it is a seasonal view out to Bluff Head. A late summer view is filled with the leaves of oak trees. Another overlook is called "Windy Ridge," and as I reached the top, the forest seemed to come alive as a breeze picked up and ruffled through the woods.

The Lone Pine Trail splits the preserve in half and connects with Rockland Preserve. And, yes, a giant, can't-miss-it white pine stands in the middle of the trail. Other trails take visitors into a marshy area and along more ridges.

Braemore lies within a 600-acre preserved forest in Guilford known as "The Northwoods." The 17 miles of trails showcase the importance of land conservation in what at times can seem to be a crowded shoreline town. Just beware of giant stone dogs.

Braemore Preserve is located on Route 79 just south of the Durham/Guilford line. A parking area is located across from Bluff Head Farm. Visit http://www.ci.guilford.ct.us/board-commissions/pdf/conservation-braemoremap.pdf for a map of the trails.

Peter Marteka may be reached at 860-647-5365, at pmarteka@ courant.com or at The Courant, 200 Adams St., Manchester, CT 06040.

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