Two Feet, Two Bucks: Miles and miles of beach to walk in northern Portsmouth

Suppose your world shrank to only places you could walk to with the assistance of public transit. After despairing over this newfound limitation, you would eventually explore this contained world and be relieved to learn you will not run out of beautiful places to visit for a long time. You will marvel at the details, at all the nooks and crannies you were zipping past in times before — if you are lucky enough to hop onto the #60.
Welcome to the fourth installment in our series of “two feet, two bucks” excursions – great places you can visit by bus between Providence and Newport. For this installment, let’s head to Common Fence Beach.

Look down at the Portsmouth shore as you ride the #60 across the Mount Hope Bridge. On either side, a sandy beach begins almost beneath you and curves off into the distance. You see no crowds, lifeguards, boardwalks, refreshment stands, benches or restrooms — just pristine beaches that are safely and easily reached from a bus stop. All are perfect for a peaceful contemplative hike. However, if you prefer eats, refreshments, some company, and perhaps a restroom with your beachgoing, Island Park Beach is for you.

Still deciding which to visit? Check the weather. Is it a day to avoid or enjoy the wind? Pheasant Beach is exposed to the west. Common Fence Beach is partly sheltered from southwesterlies and exposed to the north. Island Park Beach faces south and usually receives an onshore breeze on summer afternoons. Which bus are you about to board? West Main buses stop near Pheasant Hill, East Main trips stop near the other two.

Today’s installment details the longest, remotest hike yet, from Town Pond to Common Fence Point and back, about five miles. If that seems strenuous, just turn around whenever you please. Take an East Main bus to the stop on Boyds Lane at Anthony Road. A few yards east of Boyds on the left side of Anthony Road, enter a small gravel parking lot. A tall pole bearing an osprey nest towers over the start of a broad gravel lane leading alongside Town Pond to Mount Hope Bay. In half a mile, carefully cross the bridge on the railroad tracks and turn immediately left onto a path along the creek.

Views here extend from the graceful bridge spanning the bay entrance to Roger Williams University, the woods and fields of Mount Hope Farm, Mount Hope itself, and Fall River, Massachusetts off in the distance. From 1960 until 2020, the largest fossil fuel power generating station in New England loomed large in the distance, polluting the bay and sky. Now the site, Brayton Point, is being redeveloped to serve the installation of offshore wind turbines.

The beach varies from sand to gravel and some cobble. Birds are abundant, people are few. In a mile, you cross a small stream and arrive beside a quiet neighborhood street called Common Fence Boulevard. Between here and the unique 270 degree vista at Common Fence Point lie the wildest segments of this long beach. Out there, civilization can feel very far away.

Continuing along the beach, you soon cross another small brook. About halfway to land’s end a larger breachway blocks your progress. Unless you manage to wade across at low tide you must turn around. If you do forge ahead you can always find the path to the street from just before the point and return the easy way.

To reach Common Fence Point without getting your feet wet, step up to Common Fence Boulevard, turn left, left again at Anthony Road and walk to one of three shoreline access points. The first is at the elbow in Narragansett Road which loops to your right off Anthony. At low tide the beach is under water in front of cottages between here and the point. To make it easy, walk to the very end of the road and follow a path that begins at a fire hydrant. The point is just to your right. Go left and you may explore the sands down to the breachway mentioned above.

When you return to the Town Pond trailhead, a bonus attraction awaits you three minutes down a blacktop lane just across Boyds Lane from Anthony Road. Founders’ Brook Park features a boulder by a sparkling fresh stream thought to be the site of the first English settlement in Portsmouth. There is a monument to the signers of the Portsmouth Compact including Anne Hutchinson. It is a perfect shady place to sit and rest until the next leg of the day’s journey.

If you venture on any of the featured bus routes, let us know! Tag @motifmagri on social media.


Minutes spent standing at a bus stop feel longer than any other minutes. Fear of being stuck in place when you wanna be moving seems to be a bus travel deal breaker for most people. But modern tech plus old school habits make that fear groundless, especially on leisure outings.

  • If you use a smartphone, you routinely master things more elaborate than the Transit App. This is not the place for a detailed how-to. Just download and learn it. It shows in real time how far away the next bus is and when it will arrive at your stop. You may take advantage of this knowledge in several ways.
  • The halfway point of an out-and-back hike is, of course, where you turn around. I like to ignore the clock at least until that point. Then, it makes sense to note how long it took to walk that far, add that to the present time and find out how long after that a bus is scheduled to arrive. If you can just make it and that’s what you feel like doing, get moving! Otherwise, you have a useful idea of how much slower to go on your return. Perhaps the bus after allows the duration you want. Linger in the nice places you noticed in the first half of your hike. Twenty minutes before the finish, check the progress of yourself and your bus and adjust as needed. Spending all but the last five minutes — a margin of safety — enjoying yourself away from the bus stop becomes second nature.
  • A little flexibility about when to eat also helps you make the bus schedule work in your favor. Pack some food or route yourself past an eatery: Is there time to enjoy a meal before a convenient bus? Yes? Let’s eat! No? No problem, ride the bus and treat yourself in town!
  • The most useful habit is identifying your waiting bench before you need it: Where’s the nearest spot on the way to the bus stop where you would gladly sit even if you did not have to wait for a bus? A coffee shop or a park bench with a decent view will do. That and a reliable estimate of how many minutes before departure you need to start walking. You also gain appreciation for the kind of town where, if time permits, you are content to walk to another stop instead of waiting at one.