In need of a rest after travelling the United States for two years, Sandi Toksvig found herself irresistibly drawn... back to the United States. And in Cape Cod she discovered the unspoilt beauty of modern America

I lead a curious life, so it will not surprise you that a short while ago I stood on a wind farm in California chatting to the farmer. I had been there for over an hour and, needless to say (wind farming being rather a predictable activity), the conversation was flagging. The female farmer and I looked up at the turbine fans spinning over our heads and I could think of no more bon mots. "Do the machines need much looking after?" I finally managed. The woman nodded, years of cultivating the air evident in her lined face, "They need an annual service," she said, "...about once a year."

I lead a curious life, so it will not surprise you that a short while ago I stood on a wind farm in California chatting to the farmer. I had been there for over an hour and, needless to say (wind farming being rather a predictable activity), the conversation was flagging. The female farmer and I looked up at the turbine fans spinning over our heads and I could think of no more bon mots. "Do the machines need much looking after?" I finally managed. The woman nodded, years of cultivating the air evident in her lined face, "They need an annual service," she said, "...about once a year."

I had been travelling across the United States on and off for two years, writing a book about my search for old classmates from my high school days in New York. In that moment I thought perhaps I had had enough of being in that vast land divided from Britain by a common language. One month after publication I was taking a break. I was free to go where I liked, and I chose to go to America. To stay with one of the old chums, to go back again to the homeland of my childhood. The fact is, I can't keep away. As the Americans say, "Go figure".

Fortunately, Anne, the woman I was going to visit, had read my book of "friends reunited" and thought it was "hilarious". I was free to stay with her and her partner Barbara, and not worry about lawyers or hired assassins being present. "Stay at our house on the Cape," she said. How romantic, I thought. Anne e-mailed me directions. "It's in Truro. On Gospel Path. Off Snow Field. It's easy to miss. If you feel dirt under the tires then you're in the field."

This sounded impossible to me. I have been to Cape Cod before and it is a busy place of holidaymakers, artists and retired therapists from Boston. The notion that there are any back roads or dirt left had certainly passed me by on my last trip. I checked for the town of Truro in my guidebook and it didn't even get a mention. Everyone suggested you pass through John F Kennedy country in Hyannis Port at the beginning of the Cape, take Route 6 north and keep going till you hit water just off Provincetown where the eastern seaboard slips away into the ocean. No one talked of Truro, and I am not sure I should now. I am not sure I want others to go there, for the land is the genuine article of gorgeous, wild and unspoilt. A place where the world gets back to the primeval basics of sea, sand and sky.

Henry David Thoreau, in a work on the area called Cape Cod (how did he ever think of the title?), referred to the small, narrow land of Truro as the "wrist" of the cape. Lying south of the crook of the peninsula between the relaxed gay life of Provincetown and the endless art galleries of Wellfleet, Truro is 21 miles long but in some places less than half a mile wide. On the highway, visitors zip by en route to Provincetown for whale-watching or male-watching depending on their personal preferences. Yet in doing so they miss out where modern America began. The first place where the pilgrims sipped fresh water, where they found a cache of Indian corn to sustain them and first stood to view their long-anticipated new land. Only in Truro is it possible to still get some sense of what that must have been like – and for once you have to thank government interference.

About 70 per cent of the land is designated as protected National Seashore. Nobody came and put industry here, so you get the stuff of Mother Nature's best adverts – sprawling woodland, deserted white beaches and undulating hills strewn with wildflowers, berries and the red, yellow and purple of the native beach plums. Sounds good, right? OK, the downside is that you need to be determined.

I phoned Anne and Barbara, who were still in Boston. "I can't find a map with all the streets of Truro on." "No, that would be right," they replied. "Follow the street names or just follow your nose." "Right," I said, "Well, where's the centre of town?" There was a pause. "There was a grocery store..." Anne paused again, "but they tore that down."

Actually the road signs did just fine. Pamet Harbour Road, as you might hope, leads you down to the grey and still waters of Pamet Harbour. Today the small inlet is almost abandoned, but 150 years ago 500 or more boats bustled about the whaling and fishing business. They say there was so much cod in the sea then that you could reach your hand out from a boat and pluck them in for supper. Then the harbour silted up and the fish were left in peace. Now, I and the cod had the place to ourselves. I wandered inland along the Pamet River, a tidal body formed by glaciers millions of years ago, which meanders east to west across the width of Truro. The famed New England fall colours were just turning under a sky blue enough to make any artist reach for a fresh stick of sable. Bull rushes and reeds waved where once poor farmers had stood sodden in the marshes gathering cheap salt hay. You couldn't buy a souvenir if you wanted to.

Not that there aren't some retail opportunities in the area. It's not that deserted. At the Highland Lighthouse overlooking the Atlantic, you can not only get a view practically to Portugal but they also sell "furniture throws". I never did find out if that was a thing to take home or an activity. At the Truro Vineyards you can buy "award-winning Cape Cod wine" – words I never thought to put in the same sentence – or at the Whitman House pick up an Amish quilt from one of the oldest buildings in town. Sadly, Tiny Worthington, who sold fashion accessories made from fish net (as modelled in the form of a turban by the Duchess of Kent in 1936), is long gone.

Along the main road, civilisation comes to camp in small cottages which have stood beaten by the weather since the 1930s. Day's Cottages are the oldest. An endless stretch of identical white cabins with green shutters facing the sea. Each one is named after a flower, but there are some sensational local hostelries, and remembering whether you are Tulip or Peony after a night out has its own challenge.

None of that was for me. Instead I walked along the empty stretch of coastline where Marconi transmitted the world's first transatlantic wireless signal. I hired a bike and rode among the dunes and the cranberry bogs, never seeing another soul. At night I stood on the sands of the beach at The Head of the Meadow and wondered what it would be like to be a mooncusser – a looter of shipwrecks who cursed the moon for shining on his activities.

When Anne and Barbara arrived for the weekend they asked me what I had been doing. "Nothing much," I said, and they nodded. "That's about right." I was only there for six days but I came back a new woman.

I reckon I'll go again next autumn. You see, I realise that what I need is an annual service about once a year. Go figure.

Pilgrims, shakers and native tribes

By Eleanor Snow

Plymouth, Massachusetts

In 1620, the Pilgrim Fathers, a group of Christians persecuted for their separation from the Church of England, set sail from Plymouth in the Mayflower. They journeyed to the "New World" in search of a new beginning. After arriving at Cape Cod and exploring the area, the settlers chose their new home and named it Plymouth. This Massachusetts town now houses the Plimoth Plantation, a museum of the 1627 Plymouth community. Open daily April-November 9am-5pm; 001 508 746 1622, www.plimoth.org.

Canterbury Shaker village

The first Shaker village was established near Albany, New York, in 1776. The pioneers were a group of eight Mancunians under the guidance of the sect's founder Ann Lee. A few years later, a Shaker community was developed at Canterbury in New Hampshire. The Shakers sought to create a new form of Christianity, believing that celibacy, confession and hard labour comprised the only path to total redemption. "Hands to work and hearts to God" became their motto. Visitors are welcome, though summer is the time to enjoy the place to the full; the museum opens only at weekends in November, December and April, and closes for the first three months of the year. For more details of the village and tours, call 001 603 783 9511, or see www.shakers.org.

Mystic Seaport

"The Museum of America and the Sea" is the claim made by Mystic Seaport in south-east Connecticut. It was once a thriving shipbuilding centre. But by the beginning of the 20th century the age of sail had come to an end and Mystic Seaport's yards were no longer needed. However, in 1929, in the face of the Great Depression, the museum was created to preserve a sense of the maritime past.

The museum is open Nov-March 10am-4pm, and April-Oct 10am-5pm. For more information, call 001 860 572 5315 or visit www.Mysticseaport.org.

Mashantucket Pequot Tribal Nation Museum

This large museum in the heart of Connecticut details what happened to the native people of the region following the arrival of the European settlers.

The history of the Mashantucket Pequot Tribal Nation is one of extreme hardship and dramatically changing fortune. By 1856 the Pequot tribe had drastically decreased in numbers due to outside forces and illegal land sales. However, with the assistance of the Native American Rights Fund and the Indian Rights Association in the 1970s, the Pequots were able to recover the land.

The Pequot Tribal Nation Reserve is one of the oldest, continuously occupied reserves in North America. The museum is open daily 9am-5pm; 001 800 411 9671, www.Mashantucket.com.

For further information on New England, call 0870 264 0555 or visit www.discovernewengland.org

Traveller's guide

Getting there: You can fly from London Heathrow to Boston on American Airlines, British Airways or Virgin Atlantic. Fares through discount agents are running at about £225 for travel between now and the middle of December, and from January to March.

Car rental for the US: A survey conducted by The Independent this week revealed wide differences in the prices of car-hire companies. We asked for quotes for a week's rental of the smallest car, with all extras such as insurance included, picking up from and returning to Logan airport in Boston. Avis (0870 606 0100) was cheapest at £170; Alamo (0870 599 4000) cost £195; Holiday Autos (0870 400 4468) quoted £214; and Hertz (0870 590 6090) was the most expensive at £225.

More information: Massachusetts Office of Travel and Tourism: 020-7978 7429, www.massvacation.com

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