The White Mountains and the Notches that pass through them form a natural barrier between the North Country and the rest of New Hampshire. Driving through Franconia Notch, the interstate narrows to one lane in each direction and the speed limit drops to 45 mph as the road winds between the mountains. It is easy to see where one might get the idea that it is isolated up here – and if you are someone who needs easy access to a major city at all times, it just might be. As someone who had no desire to be in a major metropolitan area, the North Country is perfect for me.
The Notch may be narrow, but we still have a major interstate passing through it. If I need to leave the North Country, I am 1 hour and 20 minutes from world class medical care at Dartmouth Hitchcock Medical Center, 1 hour and 20 minutes from the state capital in Concord, 1 hour and 40 minutes from New Hampshire’s largest city Manchester, 2 and a half hours from Boston, 2 and a half hours from Montreal, 2 hours from Burlington, VT and 2 hours and 40 minutes from Portland, Maine. If I want to make the trip, all of those places feel pretty convenient to me. The same way people living in Boston make the easy trip up here to ski, hike or enjoy the mountains, I can make an easy trip to Boston to take advantage of what the city has to offer. There are even buses that run from Littleton to Boston if I don’t want to drive.
The thing that many don’t seem to realize is, I don’t really need to go to those any places unless there is a major medical situation or I am visiting friends and family. We have more than mountains, trees and hotels up here. I can access I everything I need on a daily basis without ever going south of the Notch. Actually, I can access everything I can think of needing without even leaving Littleton. We have a wide array of restaurants, quirky locally owned stores and big box stores when needed. We have a hospital and medical specialists. We have an industrial park full of businesses for those looking for jobs. We have theaters and opera houses for mainstream movies, plays, independent films and community events. We obviously don’t have as many museums as you would find in Boston, but our outdoor recreation is like nothing you could ever find in a major city. With the internet at my fingertips, I could easily order something online if I couldn’t find it in stores near me.
Before we moved up here, everyone told us to stay more centrally located or we would regret it. The town we rented in was in an area heavily recommended by those same people. It was an okay area, and it would be perfect for some people, but we felt so isolated living there. Technically, we were closer to everything. We were only 40 minutes from Concord, 55 minutes from Manchester, and just under 2 hours from Boston. The difference was that we had to drive to Concord for almost everything we needed. We didn’t have all of the amazing amenities that exist up here, so we were constantly driving 40 minutes or more to get to where we needed to be.
In our old town any sort of community events were very small and almost always centered around the school. Most people commuted at least 40 minutes each way to work and drove everywhere, so we rarely saw other people outside or walking around. In Littleton there is a vibrant community spirit and I am constantly finding myself in conversation with new people. This is a very walkable town and there are always people outside being active or walking from place to place. The sidewalks seemed busy even when it was -20 outside, though admittedly quieter than in warmer weather. I feel more connected and like part of a community than I have ever felt before. Isolation is the last word I would ever use to describe my experience up here. At the same time, if isolation is something that you want, you can find that too. There are plenty of remote places or connected places in the North Country, it is all a matter of what you are looking for.
This post is the second installment of a series called Myths the North Country. For more about the series or to see other posts, check out the Myths of the North Country page. Look out for the next installment next Wednesday!