A Peaceful Path

Sometimes you just want to get away from the stresses of everyday life. No need to travel far afield

walking Roland Park's footpaths will do the trick.

Focus On The Outdoors

November 18, 2001|By Kathy Hudson | Kathy Hudson,Special to the Sun

Since Sept. 11 I have driven to the beach, flown to New York, served on jury duty downtown. I am trying to live my normal life, but with a backdrop of anxiety, there's something comforting about exploring new places close to home, sometimes very close to home.

I live and work in the Roland Park house where I was raised. I know this community intimately -- the people, the houses, the schools. The neighborhood itself feels as familiar as home, yet because of its size and landscape, a walk through it still offers me new perspectives and pleasant surprises.

This is particularly true when I gather enough energy to walk some of the 18 hilly footpaths that lace the neighborhood together. They are tucked away, mid-block, on side streets, so I feel as if I am discovering an intricate web of hidden pathways.

After a recent afternoon, I can say for the first time that I have walked all existing footpaths -- straight and sunny, long and shaded, narrow and steep.

The paths would have appealed to me as a child, but I did not know them then.

My ultra-cautious parents surely realized that if I discovered the paths, I would be out on them. The path to my school was enough for them, ditto the path beside our house where teen-agers smoked, kissed and occasionally set the hedge on fire.

These days I am often the only person on them. Even after all these years, the architecture of the neighborhood fascinates me. Everything from apartments and townhouses to duplexes, Victorian cottages and Italianate mansions exists within blocks.

The 18 paths (plus a few more that have been closed or have disappeared) were laid out at the turn of the century by the Roland Park Company as the neighborhood was developed over 30 years.

They were created to reduce walking distance from one street to the next, to the Lake Roland Elevated Railway that ran down Roland Avenue, the Baltimore and Lehigh Railway (later "the Ma and Pa") along Stony Run, and the Baltimore and Northern Railway on Falls Road.

Designed in the tradition of Frederick Law Olmsted Sr. by his sons, John C. and Frederick Law Jr., and Edward H. Bouton, general manager of the Roland Park Company, the paths were part of the Olmsted tradition of placing houses in their natural setting with roads, lanes, sidewalks and footpaths to connect them.

The Olmsteds gave the footpaths names with a distinctly country ring: Squirrel, Hilltop, Laurel, Tulip. Others are decidedly British: Audley End, Tintern, St. Margaret's, Litchfield -- names of English country houses.

More than half the footpaths are on the west side, particularly north of Cold Spring Lane, where terrain is steep. Many run north and south, up and down hills, and across ridges to connect east-west roads.

In 1991, to celebrate the community centennial, the paths were refurbished by the Roland Park Roads and Maintenance Corporation. Most are marked by cedar posts and handmade white oak replicas of the original breadboard signs. Some paths are one short block, most are two long blocks.

On them I often feel like a mountain goat climbing steep hills. Then there are the flights of cement stairs, narrow sidewalks wide enough only for single-file walkers, impossible for bikes or strollers.

Right now the canopy of shade trees -- oak, maple, linden, beech, sycamore and poplar -- is raining leaves. These leaves dress the paths in tapestries of yellow, red, orange and brown.

My favorite paths are far apart, two below Cold Spring Lane -- Kittery and Rye -- and two above -- Laurel and Hilltop. I reach Kittery Path via Kittery Lane, which runs between Alonso's and the Daily Grind off Cold Spring Lane.

This afternoon a group of toddlers gathers not far from an elm with willowy branches of yellow leaves.

At University Parkway the grass-covered, almost-hidden brick path makes me feel as if I'm headed for Oz. It carries me through the dell to the south side of the street, where I end up next to one of the grandest houses in the neighborhood, a neo-classical revival mansion where a favorite reading teacher once lived.

If I didn't know it was here, I might miss this unmarked opening of Kittery Path. It leads to Keswick Multi-Care Center, once called the Home for Incurables of Baltimore City, and to a view of the Rotunda clock tower whose chimes once marked the passing of my school days.

While Kittery is one of the longest paths, Rye Path is one of the most typical and most terraced, among the easiest to walk. I like to begin at the quiet, unmarked Somerset Road entrance between two low cement obelisk property markers.

Homeowners have planted marigolds and petunias for walkers to enjoy. I am tempted to hop the squares chalked on a flat portion before continuing downhill to University Parkway, where the path ends. A blue enamel grill sends out the inviting scent of a barbecue.

In the northwest section of Roland Park, paths are steeper and often link one to another. Laurel connects to Squirrel which connects to Hilltop.

Laurel Path, not surprisingly, is bordered by mountain laurels and rhododendron. On this path I sometimes meet students coming home from school, laden with backpacks, or shoppers carrying groceries from Roland Avenue.

If I had to pick a favorite path, it would be Hilltop. Appropriately named, it crosses one of the highest ridges in Roland Park. An understory of dogwoods has turned deep red now.

At a dog-leg that heads east, the stone house flies the American flag and there's a well-designed garden of daylilies, hosta, pale pink impatiens and an ivy arch reportedly built for a wedding. At the top of the stairs on this warm late fall afternoon, when windows and doors are open one last time, piano music floats up from a shingle and clapboard house below.

For a moment I resist heading home and sit on a cool cement step. I lean back and listen to the tissue- paper rustling of leaves still clinging to trees overhead and drink in the most soothing sounds I have heard in months.

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