Snapshots of Cliff Walk
The charm of the Castle Hill Inn is due in large part to its historic structures – the Agassiz mansion, Castle Hill Light and the Chalet – combined with its seaside setting. Guests who enjoy this elixir of New England charm will surely enjoy the Cliff Walk, on the eastern end of the peninsula that is the Bellevue Avenue and Ocean Drive Historic Districts.
Article 17 Section 1 of the Rhode Island Constitution states: “The people shall continue to enjoy and freely exercise all the rights of fishery, and the privileges of the shore, to which they have been heretofore entitled under the [Royal] charter [of 1663] and usages of this state, including but not limited to fishing from the shore, the gathering of seaweed, leaving the shore to swim in the sea and passage along the shore…”
Newport’s Cliff Walk is the ultimate expression of this sentiment, meandering along the shore of the Atlantic on the periphery of some very high-end real estate, whose owners have gone to vast lengths to accommodate this peculiar walkway.
Of course, you don’t need to know anything about the Cliff Walk to enjoy it – strolling above the sea with the waves breaking below on one side and stunning mansions on the other. The beauty of the natural setting combined with glimpses of the Gilded Age when Newport was “America’s First Resort” make it an exhilarating and one-of-a-kind experience.
It is helpful to know that the Cliff Walk has sections. From its beginning at Easton’s Beach to Narragansett Avenue, the cliff is at its highest and you walk easily along a paved path. Much of the land side is obscured by the hedges of private homes and estates. Along this stretch you will find benches and places of repose to take in the beauty of ocean, beach and lighthouse views. At Narragansett Avenue there is public parking, public restrooms and the Forty Steps, that plunge down to the wave battered rocks of the shore. It is interesting to note that this used to be the scene for impromptu dances of the many servants of Irish descent that worked in the grand houses.
From Narragansett Avenue south to Ruggles Avenue the walking remains easy except for a few flights of stairs. Here, the hedges no longer obstruct your view of the grandest of Newport’s gilded age mansions – from Ochre Court, now the administrative building of Salve Regina University, to the Breakers, built by the head of the Vanderbilt family.
You will really start to notice now how the “cottagers” came up with clever ways to divert the public on the Cliff Walk from traipsing directly across their lawns. The Cliff Walk gates of the Breakers almost seem to welcome you, though at a lower elevation than the great back lawn of the estate. Other property owners built tunnels, like the one at Clarendon Court, or installed architectural features, like the great marble balustrade at Rosecliff.
Once past Ruggles Avenue, the Cliff Walk becomes more variable and challenging – alternating between a paved path and scaling large rocks, but you don’t need rock climbing gear just good balance and sensible shoes, and remember, you have to trek back the way you came! If you complete the entire 3.4 mile course you can travel back by Bellevue Avenue, where if you are tired, you can catch the trolley back to your car. Park on Memorial Boulevard or at Easton’s Beach to begin at the beginning, or at Narragansett Avenue where there are parking meters, or if you are staying at Castle Hill Inn on our Fall Escape package, use your complimentary mansion passes to see the Breakers and park in their lot. There is also some parking to be found on Wetmore Avenue between Ruggles Avenue and Marine Avenue. At Marine Avenue (actually a dirt road that washes away in the rain) is the last exit/entryway heading south until you reach Ledge Road, where there is no parking anywhere.
The southern stretch of the Cliff Walk past Marine Avenue usually contains less people while the land and seascape become more dramatic.
Just before Rough Point, you might notice that the cliff seems just a little too perfect. Two neighboring estates recently had it re-landscaped, piling layers of boulders under the natural “façade”. Should be good until the next Gilded Age!
On either side of Ledge Road, where it meets the sea, are two interesting edifices – The Waves built by the architect John Russell Pope for him and his family and Land’s End – the one-time home of novelist Edith Wharton. Land’s End was just recently listed for sale! View the listing HERE
The Cliff Walk continues past Ledge Road and down to Bailey’s Beach. The path becomes very narrow here and you can just as easily skip it, but feel free to climb onto the rocks encircling The Waves, for wonderful parting views. Return to Castle Hill for houseguests only afternoon tea – a perfect fall delight.
The entire Cliff Walk, returning by Bellevue Avenue, will take 2 to 3 hours at a moderate pace.
For more info visit cliffwalk.com or pick up A Guide to Newport’s Cliff Walk by Ed Morris at any of the Newport Mansions stores.
– Shea C Nelson