TRAVEL REVIEW: Porches on the Towpath, An Ideal Creative Retreat or Quiet Escape
“Just a little, please,” I answered, immediately regretting it. The fresh squeezed orange juice was unusually delicious and I wished so badly that I requested the full glass.
I’d arrived at Porches on the Towpath, an enchanting New Hope Bed and Breakfast that left me feeling as if I were transported to a European village, the afternoon prior. It was a writing retreat, or so I called it. Just fifteen minutes from my home yet another world altogether.
By late August, I was spent. My work-from-home husband and our two spunky elementary aged children all mixed into one house made for a tense summer. I found it hard to write, focus, study astrology or even think straight. I’d finally cracked under the pressure of another long summer and no one I lived with was getting the best version of me.
When your work is creative work, there’s no real container for it. It’s like a blob of my seven-year-old daughter’s slime that fell splat on the floor – oozing in numerous directions. It’s challenging to contain for many reasons, especially because you never really know when an idea will arrive.
We artists must be vigilant observers, open and receptive. On call for ideas around the clock.
I found that container at Porches – if only for two short, glorious days.
“That’s the best spot,” said Lisa smiling at me as I drank my morning coffee on the porch of the main house. Lisa, the owner of Porches, gives off an easy cool vibe that you want to be near, but I bet you’d be in trouble if you messed with her. She was busy preparing the breakfast for all twelve guest rooms as I enjoyed my caffeine lazily.
I was reading Writing the Memoir by Judith Barrington in the Best Spot. It was my sister’s book and she loaned it to me. Of course, the joke was on me since I was reading instead of actually writing on my writing retreat.
Sometimes I laugh at all the nutrition books I read and how very many cookies I eat. It made me think of that. I wasn’t fully awake yet, so I allowed the indulgence. I’m a junkie for the written word. All types – pamphlets, toothpaste bottles, philosophy…you name it, I’ll read it.
Once the breakfast tables on the wraparound porch were set and I selected mine, the included breakfast unfolded as a delightful delivery of fresh surprises. First, it was the adorably tiny glass bowl with homemade yogurt, so smooth and tart, topped with Lisa’s own granola, the perfect toasted combination of nuts, oats and dried cranberries.
It was so exciting each time the staff came onto the porch kindly asking each table, “Fresh croissant? Fresh croissant? Fresh croissant?”
Um, yes! My insides leapt but I was calm and cool when they finally approached my table with a very respectable, “Yes, please.” Then I smiled.
It wasn’t just a fresh croissant though, it was accompanied by homemade apricot and/or cherry jam (both, please!) and followed by fresh, local baked peaches from Solebury Orchards. I felt indulgent and sad for my loving husband home with the kids alone.
He loves baked peaches.
So, I ate them in his honor.
As I sat on the open-air porch parallel to the scenic Delaware Canal State Park, the breeze and serenity mitigated the subtle construction hum and way too early in the morning rock and roll music at the site in the distance.
A family of four with a newborn and toddler made their way past my table after their morning stroll along the canal and I startlingly felt as if a large piece of me was missing.
What had I forgotten?
I knew well what dining out was like with small kids and I used to be good at it prepared with my tricks and games. Now I was grateful to be alone because my parenting patience was at an all-time low. Call it a byproduct of pandemic parenting. Call it an introspective person who was starved for alone time. Call it whatever. My frustration with bickering kids was intolerable – for both them and I. And I started to loathe myself for only wanting to be alone.
I wondered if I should be spending more time with my family – to work out these kinks – or if solitude was the antidote necessary. We are by no means perfect, but as a family of four, we generally have a good deal of fun together.
Somewhere in the heat of the summer, we became all prickly and pokey with each other. As the parent who spends the most time with the children, I started to feel terrible about my role in it all and realized that without my weekly yoga classes for the past year and a half and no retreats on my calendar, I was not caring for myself in ways that would trickle down as beneficial.
A creative’s work can be both nowhere and everywhere, elusive at times. Sometimes I feel like I’m chasing ghosts or just collecting scraps of papers with ideas on them to showcase in a science fair “Someday.” My brain gets foggy and clogged without time and space to sit with ideas and massage them into being. When I don’t create the space for this, my family suffers too because they get a dissatisfied, frustrated partner and mother.
On the second morning when I came down to the main house kitchen to get my coffee and settle into the Best Spot, Lisa and I had a chat as she carefully crafted homemade coffeecake. Just by being in the same room as her you can tell that she is the kind of woman who has a plethora of stories – stories you’re dying to hear. She mentioned how she’s travelled all over the world and attended cooking school in Europe and likes to change her career every ten years.
When I mentioned to Lisa that I was an astrologer, she smiled, as most people do with that adorable and eager What-can-you-tell-me? look in their eyes, and happily said, “I’m a Taurus.”
I said, “Of course you are,” with her hands crafting beautiful Venusian cake and her harmonious, goddess-like presence potent. We chatted a bit more before I made my way to the Best Spot with a steaming mug.
Although I was doing the work I’d come to do while also savoring quiet walks and amazing breakfast, it took everything in me not to just drive back home and announce my return. Isn’t it funny how when all we want is peace and quiet, we miss our people so much that it hurts when we are away?
I fought the urge, knowing full well that any retreat I’ve attended has been more than beneficial to not just me but my whole family. So I stayed.
The three separate lodging buildings offer an array of options for travelers from far and near. It’s the kind of spot where you can park your car and leave it for the whole stay. Down a hidden gravel alley, the sight is like a long-awaited exhale once you arrive.
A short walk to the end of Fisher’s Alley puts you in the heart of New Hope and at the foot of the bridge with the option to walk into Lambertville, NJ.
Should you prefer a nature outing, there is the option to pick up the fifty-eight-mile canal towpath right from the property. Opportunities to explore along the canal are endless.
I stayed in the Gatekeeper’s House (Room 10) and found it to be cozy, clean and unhaunted. It is rather small inside, suitable for a single traveler but you may want a larger room if you are not alone. The outdoor porch on this second-floor room was shared with friendly neighbors but was large to feel as if we each had more than enough room.
While at breakfast I asked around to see what other rooms were like. I met a woman from Philadelphia who started coming to Porches after work conferences to unwind. She recommended an upper room in the main house, and also enjoyed Room 10 on a previous solo visit.
With a garden to wander on premises, direct access to both the Delaware Canal State Park and all that New Hope has to offer, Porches is an ideal spot for a relaxing getaway or creative retreat - even if you read more than you write.
Oh, and they keep a candy jar in the dining room of the main house. I brought a few pieces home for the kids, and it blew their minds. They fully support my next solo retreat at Porches.
**Editor's note: This trip took place in August 2021. : )-
Photo credits: Marjorie Cottrell