The Briary

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Sunday December 11, 2016

The Briarcliff Motel

December 11, 2016

We already have a couple of snowfalls under our belts, with more on the way this week, and soon the area will be packed with brightly-clad, ruddy-cheeked sporty types.

Here at the motel we’re keen winter sports fans, and at least once each season we’ll kit ourselves out in anorak and jeans, plus carefully selected woolly accessories, and go tubing. There’s nothing quite as exhilarating as a short ride up a travelator, hauling behind you a thick, black rubber kids’ paddling pool. Once at the top of the hill, it’s simply a matter of adopting your chosen method of sitting before gliding gracefully down one of the well-groomed, snowy lanes. Repeat until wet and cold, bored, or in need of some après tube.

WInter is when you really get a sense of the Berkshires as a year-round place. You see, there are many ski resorts in New England, including places where the mountains are higher and hairier. But the proximity of the Berkshires to New York and Boston – only a couple of hours’ drive to either – plus a vibrant enough calendar to attract visitors at any time of year, means that there's no 'resort' mentality. Our stores and restaurants open year-round – not just seasonally – and combine local hominess with a cosmopolitan mentality. No, I’m not making this stuff up. Check it out for yourselves. There’s a list below with clicks-through and everything.

Back to the snowy landscape and it’s not all about tubing, you know. Those less intrepid than ourselves have been known to strap on two milled lengths of two-by-four, grab a couple of sharpened sticks, and – head protected by a pudding basin or fruit bowl – shoot down a few ski runs. Most of our guests go to Butternut, just a few minutes from here, due to its excellent ski school, but there are several places to ski, located anything from ten to 45 minutes away, and all have good snow-making facilities. Cross-country skiing needs natural powder but four inches of compacted snow will enable this, as well as snow shoeing. Or if you just want to escape and look at nature cloaked in all its snowy glory, that's fine with us too. 

Select the personality that best describes you from the list below, and click through to the best places to go.

*  Send me to a sheer drop, my salopettes have go-faster stripes: ski butternut, catamount

*  I want to develop buns of steel and give myself license to drink hot chocolate with extra marshmallows: notchview, hilltop orchards

*  I want to get out in the winter wonderland but don't want to break anything: monument mountain, kennedy park

*  The city's full of black slush, get me out of here: triplex cinema, norman rockwell museum

*  I'm only here for the beer: brick house housatonic, moe's bar 


Can you get away during the week? If so, take advantage of our ski & stay package and if you book two or more nights we’ll even throw in a little après ski treat. We haven’t decided exactly what yet, but it definitely won’t be the cooking sherry that my Grandma kept in the cupboard for years on end, and dusted off every Christmas.

Mud, mud, glorious mud

Friday June 21, 2013

The Briarcliff Motel

The Briarcliff 'before'...

So, as you will have read, we finally took the plunge and got rid of the old look at the front of the motel. This was a leap of faith in some ways: yes we had a new design, courtesy of our guest Sam Panton from Terra Design, and we had a landscaper lined up in Tom Ingersoll, a local guy who we chose basically because he loves trees, and the local landscape, and so do we. But do you ever find when you start a project that STARTING is the hardest part? Getting everyone to commit to a price, and then to be in the same place on the same day, is not easy. But one day in early June, about two months later than we really wanted, there we were with a giant excavator parked outside the motel.

Our basic motivation was simple: we wanted to make our ‘front yard’ look like it was part of the mountain view behind it, instead of the artificially-imposed garden planted with annuals and twisted, stunted arbor vitae (‘tree of life’, how ironic) that we inherited when we bought the place. Sam’s design pictured two allées of birch trees, linking the motel and the mountain, surrounded by long grass with mown grass paths in between; a communal firepit; wildflowers; rustic outdoor dining tables; and lots of space for guests to sit and admire the view of the mountain.

The action would take place in the huge circular area bounded by our driveway. The only problem was, it was strangely humped up, with the middle around two feet above grade. We wanted it to be flat, but there was no way to know what was underneath it; our theory was that it was where they dumped the fill when they built the motel, but there was a possibility that three inches down, it was solid rock. Time for that leap of faith, and the giant excavator I mentioned earlier. Our trusty operators Seamus and Joe pitched up one morning, and began to scrape off the surface. The old, poor, turf would have to be dumped (at some expense), and we were hoping for a good six inches of topsoil underneath that we could reuse once the area was scraped out into a shallow bowl. Well, we didn’t hit bedrock, but the bad news was we had about an inch of topsoil – no more. We’d have to keep the rocky soil underneath on site, and ‘screen’ it through a giant sieve to reuse.

As the hump got flatter, a series of heaps grew in front of the motel. One rumour flying around town was that the Briarcliff had sewer problems. Someone else asked if the dirt pile was a replica of the mountain behind (we had to point out that this was not Close Encounters of the Third Kind). However, despite the noise, and the disruption, which we had to keep apologizing for, things were progressing well. Then the rain started…and just didn’t stop. We needed three consecutive dry days for us to start taking down the pile and redistributing it. We haven’t had three consecutive dry days in living memory, so the result has been deadlock and frustration. As ever, our lovely guests have kept us sane by reassuring us that nooooo, the vast ugly dirt pile didn’t bother them at all, and showing lots of interest in our ‘mood board’ showing what the new area will look like. But we became increasingly mortified that we’d taken something vaguely acceptable to most people and turned it into a mudbath.

Then, our anxious scanning of the weather forecast finally paid dividends – a whole dry week was forecast! Of course, it rained Monday, and again Tuesday morning… the dark clouds of despair began to gather around our heads. Then Wednesday was nice, and Thursday was gorgeous, and so today, Friday, we are set to screen. I haven’t been this excited since the Christmas I was five years old. Here’s hoping that our plan B, to turn the front yard into a dirt bike trail, and plan C, to open a mud-wrestling arena, can now be cancelled and we can finally turn this into a front yard to be proud of.