Bed-And-Breakfast Family Style: Plymouth BnB's Are Best Way To Be Home In History

By Karen Rubin

Kathy Lamb proudly displays a scrapbook with photos of every guest that has ever stayed in her bed-and-breakfast since she converted her home a year ago-250 in all. The enterprise that she thought she would "dabble in" took off immediately since she hung her shingle, Ellisville Harbor House, on a country road neatly snuggled between historic Plymouth, Massachusetts, 10 miles north, and scenic Cape Cod, four miles south.

With exuberant good humor and warmth that just envelops you, Kathy and John Lamb fuss over their guests just as they did in building this extraordinary home, board by board, 13 years ago for their family. John Lamb is a builder and a teacher by trade, and Kathy, an interior decorator, delights in retelling how, after they sold their first home and purchased this prime land on a hill overlooking a pond and the Cape Cod Bay, she would climb a tree to scout out where she wanted the big picture windows to be placed. For the first few months, the family actually had to "camp out" in the foundation, with a temporary shell while John built the house around them.

Bed-and-breakfasts are more than lodging. Staying in a bed-and-breakfast affords a uniquely personal experience that is completely different from staying in a commercial lodging, even an inn. It is hard to stay in someone's home, look at their family photos, chat with the family and other guests in the parlor or living room, and sit around a breakfast table without coming away feeling like more than a visitor but rather having a connection to the hosts and the place.

The Ellisville Harbor House epitomizes the best in a bed-and-breakfast. The Lambs renovated their home to accommodate guests and the result is perfection. Each guest room-exquisitely decorated with country charm and a freshness that simply feels good-is roomy with the most stunning views out picture windows; each also has its own door and terrace, magnificent private bathroom arranged with guests' comfort in mind, and (unusual for a bed-and-breakfast), its own cable television (with remote) as well as alarm clock. We also took note of the very helpful way Kathy lets guests know what to expect in a lovely framed list (since each b-n-b does things differently, it is very helpful to know when breakfast is served, for example), which eliminates the strangeness you might feel when you first arrive. Also, Kathy shows you where she has an automatic coffee maker, set to go off at 7 a.m., so guests can help themselves before breakfast, if they choose. There is also a refrigerator available for guests' use.

When we arrived after a full day of enjoying the many sights and attractions of Plymouth (Plimoth Plantation, the Mayflower II, the Wax Museum, the Courthouse and Burial Hill), it was already 10 p.m., but the Lambs were chatting with other guests (a couple from California; he was in town to do work in Boston, less than one hour away by commuter train). They graciously served us freshly prepared lobster dip (delectable), made from the lobster that John had caught the day before) and wine.

The Ellisville Harbor House has many other special features that put it in the category of "best." Besides the cozy-comfortable lodging, the Lambs have rights to a private beach on Cape Cod Bay, which opens out to the Atlantic Ocean. You can see before you the arm of Cape Cod.

In the morning (at 5:20 a.m. to catch the sunrise), I trotted out our private entrance, and went over to call Charlie, the Lambs' friendly Springer spaniel to lead me, but he had apparently already left his dog house (beautifully landscaped, I might add) or else didn't want to be roused. No matter, it was easy to find my way down the path marked with a post made to look like a New England fisherman. I noticed a batch of beach chairs available for guests to take with them to the beach. Just as the Lambs promised, there were loads of birds-swans, egrets, cardinals, blue herons (October through May, you can also see seals).

When I returned from the beach, it was time for breakfast. The guests-including a family with two children, visiting from Atlanta, and the couple from California-all sat around the dining table as Kathy and John served a delectable meal of an amazing creamy french toast, as well as fresh fruit, and a selection of yogurts and cereals.

With all the area affords to do, a family can easily spend a week here (and when it was time to leave, it was actually difficult to extract ourselves).

Ellisville Harbor House, which accepts young children (most bnb's do not) offers three rooms now, ranging in rate from $85 to $110 per room per night, including breakfast, depending upon room and season, but are building two more that will be complete sitting rooms, private bathroom and kitchenette accommodating four people (then the Ellisville Harbor House will be licensed as a "bed-and-breakfast establishment"). The Ellisville Harbor House is open year round; 508-888-3692, 888-738-BEDS, www.ellisville.com;

While the Lambs essentially renovated their home into a bed-and-breakfast, just around the bend, Elaine and Ed Frado, two retired teachers, built their Seagate Farm purposefully as a bed-and-breakfast. This stunning home, built on a hilltop of their 11-acre property, offers oceanviews from every room. Elaine has filled each room with antiques. All rooms have private baths. Guests can use a canoe on their pond, and walk down to their private stretch of beach. The room on the top floor can be combined with the common room which has a big-screen television and VCR (and collection of videos), small pool table, couches and a kitchenette, and rented as a suite (room rates range from $85-$125, the suite at $175), including breakfast. There is also a lovely living room area with big-screen television and VCR on the main floor, and a terrace with stunning views of the ocean.Seagate Farm accommodates families with older children (10 and up), and is open year-round (pictures of the Seagate with snow are incredible; guests can sled down the hills). The Frados are hoping to install a swimming pool. Seagate Farm, 296 Center Hill Road, Plymouth MA 02360-1368, 508-224-2224, 888-BNB-1620, www.seagatefarm.com.

Though only about 10 miles south of Plymouth, Ellisville was a quiet fishing village (the Lambs' home was the first new one to be built in about 200 years, John said); residents would only venture into the "big city" of Plymouth once or twice a year because it was too much trouble to hitch up the wagon. Nowadays, it is easy to get around.

Within a residential neighborhood of Plymouth, we also had the pleasure of staying at the Cranberry Cottage, owned by Capt. Ray and Nanci Reid (he was a Coast Guard captain and now takes guests out on his fishing boat; the Reids also were Ocean Spray cranberry growers). This pleasant house, which was the Reid's home before they opened their b-n-b in 1995, also welcomes families with children (our room, in the basement, was cleverly arranged with a bunk bed with a double-bed on the lower bunk and a single bed on the upper bunk, with access to a bathroom in the hall). The rooms are pleasantly furnished. A wonderful feature of Cranberry Cottage is a large (lap size) swimming pool, open in season, and an enclosed Jacuzzi, open year-round. The Reids also have their own chicken coop with a dozen chickens, and serve fresh eggs (even green ones, from Chilean chickens) as part of their breakfast. There is a small common room with television. Open year-round, rates are $70-80 per room/night. Cranberry Cottage, 10 Woodbine Drive, Plymouth, Mass. 02360, 508-747-1726, 888-796-6001, www.cranberrycottage.com.

Another wonderful bed-and-breakfast which accommodates families (with children over 12) is the White Swan, which dates from the late 1700's when it was an inn and later a farmhouse. The White Swan was once part of the famous Mayflower Inn (only recently torn down to make way for a condominium complex), a popular retreat for Boston society visited by such notables as Judge Brandeis and Henry Cabot Lodge. Gloria Swanson ate at the restaurant while performing summer stock at the Priscilla Beach theater. The White Swan, operated by Carol and Bill Vesco, is just steps away from the beach. The garret rooms (with original woodwork but new private bathrooms) are wonderfully arranged for families with a queen bed and a separate single bed (from $85); another room can be combined with a single room for a family suite ($95/double, $135/suite). White Swan, Plymouth 146 Manomet Point Road, 508-224-3759.

Plymouth: America's Hometown

Plymouth is a superb family destination. Here, history comes alive, plus there are many wonderful beaches and preserves to explore in the area-Kathy Lamb is delighted to give directions (she even provides guests with coupons and maps to attractions). Plymouth is also a superb base from which you can explore other areas within one-hour traveling radius-up to Boston (less than an hour's trip on the commuter train); down to Cape Cod; even over to Martha's Vineyard by ferry ($10 per person, and you can bring your bicycle for a few dollars more) or to Newport R.I. Accommodations in each of these places charge at least twice the rate of staying in Plymouth.

But you may be completely content to just enjoy Plymouth. Indeed, there is so much to do in the area: whale watching on the Capt. John Boats, deep sea fishing, golfing, biking or roller blading on the Cape Cod Canal, a paved path about seven miles long; a visit to the Water Wizz waterpark in Buzzard's Bay, and of course, attractions that bring history so vividly to life: Plimoth Plantation (take advantage of the new 17th-century period luncheons, "Out of the Ordinairie"; 508-746-1622, www.plimoth.org), the Mayflower II (a full-scale replica of the ship that brought 102 Pilgrims, Pilgrim's Hall (with actual artifacts brought on the Mayflower), the 1749 Court House (there is even a dismantled gallows upstairs); First Church and Burial Hall, Plymouth National Wax Museum (astonishingly realistic displays which bring critical events seemingly to life) and some amazing historic homes, like the 1667 Howland House (the only house left standing in Plymouth where Pilgrims actually lived); and the 1640 Sparrow House.

There are also some wonderful ways to take in the historic attractions: Colonial Lantern Tours (a fabulous nighttime "ghost tour" is my favorite); Plymouth Rock Trolley Tour (with unlimited on/off so you can visit attractions); Splashdown Tour (an amphibious WWII-vintage truck drives around town and then into the water); and delightful harbor cruises on the Pilgrim Belle paddlewheeler.

Complete lodging packages affording a selection of attractions, as well as visitor information, are available from Destination Plymouth, 225 Water Street, Ste. 202, Plymouth, MA 02360, 800-USA-1620, www.visit-plymouth.com

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Bnbs: Home Away From Home

If you have ever harbored a fantasy of living in a house overlooking the ocean or in a historic home, staying at a bed-and-breakfast (bnb) can make that happen.

Bed-and-breakfasts provide the most personal experience you can have as a traveler, literally living in someone's house. It is amazing how quickly you move from being a total stranger to a member of the family (even with the other guests, with whom you will likely share breakfast or enjoy an evening's discussion in the parlor).

Usually, bnbs are operated by a couple who fall in love with a grand home-a Victorian mansion, for example-and to be able to afford it as retirees or, possibly to be able to work at home while raising young children, they open their home as a bnb. Increasingly, though, some people are building their homes from the ground up as a bnb-which means the guest rooms will likely be larger with private bathrooms, and with other guest amenities likes swimming pools and Jacuzzis.

This is Martha Stewart-meets-Barron Hilton. The people who opt to open their homes as bnbs are people who love home-making and cooking (they all pride themselves in the breakfasts they serve) and see these as creative endeavors. They also love people. As Kathy Lamb of Ellisville Harbor House said, she grew up in a rather "sheltered" existence but having a bed-and-breakfast, she gets to meet people from all walks of life and all parts of the world.

Many of the bnb owners also tend to love antiques (particularly Victorian dolls) and to have a lot of delicate things around. But, because bnbs are typically residential homes and not commercial establishments, there is less privacy (as a guest, you are apt to feel a little shy when you first arrive). Also, bnbs, being cozy and intimate are pitched as a romantic getaway or geared mainly to adults who appreciate being able to read a book sitting in a rocker on a porch, or combing the countryside for antiques. For these reasons, most bnbs do not accept children under 12 and many do not even accept children of any age.

The ones that do, though, afford an extraordinary travel experience, enabling children to really get a sense of a place. It is the difference between seeing a place through a glass window, and really becoming a part of the neighborhood. The people who open their homes as bed-and-breakfasts usually have strong ties to the community.

While the proprietors are extremely hospitable and welcoming, you do need to be considerate and respectful of the home you are invading, as well as the other guests. Even if a bed-and-breakfast is amenable to accommodating families with young children, you should not even think of staying in a bnb with an infant who tends to cry in the night, or a toddler who at the stage of pulling everything down.

Every bnb is unique-no two are the same. Many, now, have websites where you can see pictures of the property and even the guest room you would be staying in. You should be open and honest about your children and determine whether the place is suitable for your family and what you want to do.

Locating BnBs

There are many reservations services and guidebooks. But availability changes all the time. The best way to locate a bed-and-breakfast suitable to your needs is to ask the local tourist bureau (they often have lists and can make personal recommendations); there may be a local associations of bnbs-very often, like in Plymouth, Massachusetts, the bnb association members help each other and will be wonderful about directing you to a place that is well suited to your family and your needs if they are not or if they are already booked. Often, their websites can be found through the visitor bureau website.

This article was previously published on FTN in 1999.

2001 Travel Features Syndicate, a division of Workstyles, Inc. All rights reserved. E-mail questions or comments to FamTravLtr@aol.com.

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