As we entered New Hampshire for the first time, I noticed something. Although only just over the border of the Connecticut River, it seemed very different from Vermont. Much more low key, more "country" somehow, although equally rural. Vermont is chocolate box rural New England, with tonnes of farm stands, country stores selling delicious cured ham and maple syrup, idyllic looking log-cabin homes. In northern New Hampshire you seemed more likely to find a ramshackle general store selling tins of food (and the odd pitcher of maple syrup), with a sign telling you where to register your deer.
In New York, you register your car. In New Hampshire, you register your deer.
There were signs of run-downness - boarded up holiday cabin parks, which had once obviously been pristine, lined the highway. Clearly, although popular for ski-ing, northern New Hampshire isn't so much of a summer holiday destination as Vermont, which everyone loves. But that doesn't mean that it doesn't have anything to offer.
There was so much to do: for a start, the White Mountains contain literally hundreds of beautiful hiking trails, many leading to gorgeous waterfalls and lakes. We bought an excellent book: Best Hikes with Children in Vermont, New Hampshire and Maine
which told us where we could realistically hike with the boys, detailing the terrain, things to look out for and even games to play on the way. The Littleboys surpassed themselves, doing a demanding five mile hike one day (note to self/The Doctor: even though you yourself can run five miles in under an hour, climbing up slippery boulders and fording streams for five miles with small kids actually takes about four hours) and not even complaining.
We hiked to the beautiful Arethusa Falls with the boys.
If you like mountaintop views, the White Mountains are also excellent. There are many ski resorts where you can take chairlifts, cable cars and gondolas up to the top, even in summer, and admire the views. You can also take the Mount Washington Cog Railway to the top of the Northeast's highest mountain, which famously boasts the highest windspeed ever recorded (and man, was it windy up there). Combining trains and mountains is a sure-fire hit for small boys.
The Mount Washington Cog Railway.
What else? You can visit gorges, swim in lakes, canoe or kayak, or (and this is the part the boys loved most) visit a waterpark for the day. While I wouldn't say there are hundreds of great restaurants, we managed to identify a couple, and visited them both twice - they were incredibly child-friendly as well as offering delicious food. Fabyans Station, near the Cog Railway, even has a model railway which goes round the walls of this former station building, while Rosa Flamingo's in Bethlehem had excellent food for both adults and children - and most importantly, crayons.
We stayed in a cabin on a KOA campsite - a good option for those who don't have a tent (or in my case, don't enjoy sleeping in one much). You get a bathroom and a proper bed, but there's no kitchen so you still cook outside. Inside, it's fairly cosy (two small boys rampaging can get a bit much on a rainy morning) but in the end we didn't spend much time there; even at the campsite, we were usually outside or at the pool. All meals were outdoors (the boys loved having breakfast al fresco) and surprisingly fearless chipmunks often appeared to eat up our crumbs. We spent one particularly memorable evening playing a family game of Junior Monopoly outside in the darkness, lit only by a camping lamp. And luckily, the mosquitoes, the bane of our life in Long Island, were virtually non-existent.
Lake swimming near Cannon Mountain.
The holiday nearly ended before it had started on day one, when Littleboy 2 managed to fall backwards and put his hand on the metal casing of the campfire pit (despite numerous warnings to stay away from the fire). This necessitated a trip to the local ER, and a lot of panic, but to be honest I thought it was going to be much worse than it turned out to be - the burn didn't hurt him after the first night, and it healed so quickly that he was swimming again by Day 4. When quizzed, he says that losing his toy turtle in a waterfall a few days later was "much worser" than the burn incident. However, I will be even more vigilant now about children and fires - even if you think they know not to go near it, give them a torch and a Scooby Doo game to play and all common sense goes out the window.
All in all, it was a successful trip and I'd recommend New Hampshire to any family looking for outdoorsy fun in a beautiful region of the US. You could get there easily from London (fly to Boston and it's a few hours away). And if you fancy having a look at maple-sweet Vermont too, it's just a quick trip over the border.