The Briary

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Whale watching in the Berkshires

Saturday August 6, 2011

The Briarcliff Motel

Monument Mountain is a place of spirit, mystery and legend. And it’ll fill your field of vision when you look out of any of the front facing windows at the Briarcliff. In fact the trailhead parking lot is just a New York minute from here. Whatever that means.

Perhaps the most famous Monument Mountain story is that it sparked the creation of Moby Dick, after a hike that local writers Herman Melville and Nathaniel Hawthorne took there one day. Clare and I prefer the populist version: following the kind of short, sharp shower you only see in the Berkshires, Nate and Hermie were mushrooming at the foot of the Mountain. Shortly after dining on their crop of strangely shaped fungi, their sense of perception went a little crazy: “Hermie, man, look at the summit. It’s, like, turned into the back of a huge white whale. Watch out! It’s gonna blow!”

“Must go, Nate…writer’s block…just starting…to clear…”

Disappointingly, what’s more likely is that the inspiration for the book came during a regular picnic hike attended by local writers, professionals and thinkers, during the 1850s, including Hawthorne and Melville. Another member of the group was the Great Barrington writer and lawyer, William Cullen Bryant, who paid tribute to Monument Mountain in verse.

Each year, Hawthorne, Melville and their intellectual cronies are remembered on the first Sunday in August for “the most famous picnic in American literary history.” The annual hike takes place this Sunday, August 7, at 9:30 a.m. Unfortunately the closest and coolest place to stay, the Briarcliff, will be full on Saturday, but feel free to pop in and say hi, and scope out our rooms for your next visit. Maybe even book up for your own mystical mountain experience…

The signs they are achangin’

Tuesday August 2, 2011

The Briarcliff Motel

Having managed to negotiate our first busy month with body and soul still intact, it's for sure that we need to define ourselves as 'hip, new b&b' rather than 'cheap and not very cheerful place to flop', in double quick time.

First: update the old sign, which probably dates back to when the motel was first built – it certainly pre-dates the moment when local planners deemed this spot a residential zone, thus preventing anyone from building a competitive business next door. Yay. However, it's not cool, it's not hip and it sends out the wrong signals to passing trade. It's not even true as we've consigned the previous owner's archaic 'direct dial' hub to the dumpster after handsets began to ring involuntarily in rooms at the dead of night. Creepy. But not as creepy as a local friend's b&b, which has a ghost in room 5. Anyway, having spent long enough navel-gazing about how to adapt our round logo to the space, what colour to use, what else to say, we finally have a consensus. So it's just a simple matter of a few days' signmaking and a few minutes to slide out the old sign and slide in the new.

Or is it? No. 'Modern' town planning rules mean that we'll probably have to go through two permit stages, just to change out the sign in the existing space. So it's time for Clare to clean up, don her best frock and pop into town to fall, snivelling and doe-eyed, at the feet of the town inspector...who was actually very supportive when we needed his help at the end of June.

Second: sort out the old office space. One final job as June's death knell rang out, was to tear down the clerk's counter, false wall and door that created an unnecessary physical barrier between owners and guests. A lick of paint, refectory table and a couple of benches had guests using the lobby as a hang-out space and not just to pay for their room. All of which reinforces our belief that if we build it they will come. Our contractor and architect have now laid out the floor plan for the large central area that we hope will be a cool, guests' cafe in the morning and a relaxing chill-out space in the evening. It'll mean squaring off the back of the building where the rear of the upstairs apartment now sits on posts. Sadly we'll lose the dumping ground where the previous owner serviced the mower. But what the hell, you can't have everything. It'll at least be compensated for by being able to step out of the rear doors onto a deck and stroll straight into the four+ acres of woods out back.

Although this is quite a big undertaking, it'll probably be approved quicker than the new sign.

Mention should go to a third thing that is switching perception of this place from tired motel to hip, happening b&b – the wonderful and generous reviews our guests are giving us on TripAdvisor. We can't quite believe that they're paying to stay with us AND helping to get us out there to new travellers. Thanks so much and keep 'em coming.