When you combine a vibrant river, a waterfall, and a gorge with high cliffs lined with huge hemlocks, there is bound to be a legend involved.
These falls – now part of a dam and spillway for Lake Hammonasset – were once visited by a Native American woman who learned her spouse had died in battle and, overcome with sorrow, jumped from the cliffs, according to local legend. But her spouse returned soon after and, according to "Folktales of Connecticut" by Glenn E. White, "grief-stricken, the young man ran to the top of the falls shouting that if she had loved him enough to leave life rather than to live without him, he would do the same for her."
But the man survived his leap, and went on to marry another woman. "Her spirit is angry that the young man was able to forget her so easily and to marry another girl. That is why some say they hear wailing in the night near the falls," according to "Folktales."
The only sounds I heard during my visit were the north wind blowing through the ravine and my own mutterings as I marveled at the beauty of the unofficial start of the Hammonasset River as it winds its way to Long Island Sound.
A slight warning as you descend from the highway bridge to the footbridge. The graffiti is rated "R" in places, so you may want to divert the attention of youngsters with the legend. From the falls, the Killingworth Land Conservation Trust's Hammonasset River Trail begins at a former tanning mill just south of the highway bridge. The stone and concrete foundations are well-preserved and fun to explore.
The 2-mile-long, sometimes difficult trail winds along the bottom of a high rocky cliff with patches of snow and icicles still surviving the change of seasons. Surrounded by the browns and greys of early spring, patches of vibrant green moss clinging to the rocks stand out in the forest. As the babbling river slackens into a small pond, the trail winds to the top of a cliff.
The river is beautiful, from its clear, sunlit pools lined with pebbles to its assorted plunges and small waterfalls. Visitors can hop along rocks out to small islands in the middle of the river or cross back and forth from Killingworth to Madison and back again.
My favorite spot is a huge boulder that overlooks the river as it flattens out into a small pond. Wisps of wind ripple across the water and the sounds of the river echo through the forest. If you listen closely, you may also hear the wailing of a lonely Native American maiden.
The bridge over Nineveh Falls is located on Route 80 about a mile east of the rotary with Route 79. There are several pull-off areas in which to park along the western side of the bridge. Visit http://klct.homestead.com/Hammonassetrivertrailupper.html for a map.