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Northern Barbados – Five Reasons to Take a Tour

Barbados, Barbados - Sunday, March 1st, 2015

A few days ago we hired veteran Barbados taxi driver and guide Wayne Alleyne to take us on a tour of southern and eastern Barbados. We were so impressed that we have hired Wayne today to take us touring northern Barbados to see some of the attractions that we did not have time for then. Come along for the ride and we’ll stop at five places you shouldn’t miss in Barbados.

The Kensington Oval

Wayne picks us up at 9:00 at the Bougainvillea Beach Resort which is on the southwest coast just below St. Lawrence Gap. From here we make our way along the normally very busy coastal highway to Bridgetown, but this is Sunday morning and all is quiet in the usually bustling little city. On the north side of the city we pass the Kensington Oval a quite amazingly large structure for such a small city. It was built to host the 2007 World Cup of Cricket and has been in constant use since as a venue not just for cricket, but for concerts, political gatherings, celebrations – you name it. Unlike a lot of these purpose built stadiums, it apparently has not turned into a white elephant and remains a source of pride to the Barbadians. Here’s a picture I poached from the internet showing a match in that 2007 World Cup. It’s a very unique looking structure.

Kensington Oval
Kensington Oval

Passing by the main entrance to the Oval I ask Wayne to stop so I can get a picture of the statue out front. It is of Sir Garfield Sobers who many consider to be the greatest all round cricketeer in the history of the sport.

Statue of Sir Garfield Sobers at the Kensington Oval
Sir Garfield Sobers and the Kensington Oval

I have a special interest in this man and not just because he is one of only ten people in the Barbados National Heroes Gallery. Years ago on a business visit to Adelaide, Australia I was invited to a special dinner held the night before a test match between Australia and the West Indies. Sir Garfield was the guest of honour and he certainly was an imposing figure at the head table. Unfortunately I knew nothing about cricket and the jargon of the sport is so confusing that I might as well have been attending a dinner that was being hosted in Swahili. The one thing I did gather was that this man cast a great shadow and he continues to do so this morning.

Shadow of Sir Garfield Sobers Statue
Sir Garfield Sobers casts a big shadow

Northern Barbados – Flower Forest Botanical Gardens

We now head inland and upward via Highway 3A to our first major stop of the day, Flower Forest botanical gardens. There are a number of botanical gardens located in Barbados gully country which features severe changes in elevation, tropical vegetation and if your lucky, a green monkey spotting. I chose Flower Forest because it features not just flowers, but apparently some majestic specimen trees as well and fine views from various lookout points. Driving down a long entrance way that is so narrow two cars could not pass in most places I am surprised to see how large the building is at the bottom. It has a restaurant, well stocked gift shop, floral displays and the remnants of sugar making implements from the days that this was a sugar plantation.

Old Sugar Mill at Flower Forest, Northern Barbados
Part of the old sugar mill

Admission is $25.00 BDS or $12.50 USD which seems quite reasonable to me. We are given a plasticized map of the trails with pictures of the various flowers we might see on the back. The really good news is that we are the first visitors of the day and will have the paths to ourselves.

The paths are designed to take visitors on a loop that will include dozens of flower species, numerous huge specimen trees and several scenic look offs. The map indicates that it is usually a forty minute walk. The first thing I notice as we move away from the building is that we are in a tropical forest with the canopy far above and that the place is alive with the twittering and flitting of small birds. You can’t help looking up. This is one of the largest palm trees I’ve ever seen.

Huge palm tree in Flower Forest
Huge palm tree

You can also see that vines and creepers are everywhere. No wonder the monkeys like it here, so would Tarzan. Then as you draw your eyes downward you see the flowers everywhere – red, orange, yellow, blue, purple, white, pink and every shade in between. This really is a flower forest and here are just a few of the amazing ones we saw this morning.

The torch ginger lilies are really interesting because they go through a number of distinct phases before  fully blooming and each stage seems like a distinct species. Here is one near full bloom.

Torch Ginger Lily, Flower Forest, Barbados
Torch Ginger Lily

 

White Begonias, Flower Forest, Barbados
White Begonias

Alpinias are one of the many types of ginger lilies found here and one of the prettiest.

Alpinia, Flower Forest, Barbados
Alpinia

There were a number of varieties of heliconias or lobster claws as they are often called. It’s easy to see why.

Heliconia, Flower Forest, Barbados
Heliconia

Another plant with an obvious name is the honeycomb ginger lily which also doubles as rattlesnake tail.

Honeycomb Ginger Lily, Flower Forest, Barbados
Honeycomb Ginger Lily

These plants look completely different when they open up as this one has.

Honeycomb Ginger Lily in full bloom, Flower Forest, Barbados
Honeycomb Ginger Lily in full bloom

But it’s not just the flowers and shrubs near the ground that are worth admiring. The Flame of the Forest trees reminded me very much of flame trees I had seen in west Africa.

Flame of the Forest Tree, Flower Forest, Barbados
Flame of the Forest Tree

About half way through the walk we come to this view of Mount Hillaby, the highest point in Barbados.

Mount Hillaby
Mount Hillaby

Returning to the canopy I find this specimen of the bearded fig tree from which Barbados got its name. In Portuguese it means ‘ bearded ones’ and as legend has it, the island was covered with these when Pedro a Campos stumbled across the island in 1536 on his way to Brazil. He didn’t stick around, but the name did.

Bearded Fig Tree, Flower Forest, Barbados
Bearded Fig Tree

Emerging from the canopy for the second time we are greeted with this view of the west coast. It gives you an idea of just how high up Flower Forest really is.

View of the West Coast from Flower Forest
View of the West Coast from Flower Forest

Next is a magnificent stand of tall palm trees.

Magnificent palm stand, Flower Forest, Barbados
Magnificent palm stand

But on closer inspection, despite this sign, I notice that a great number of idiots have carved their initials into these lovely trees.

Please don't hurt the trees
Please don’t hurt the trees

Then I realize that these same people do like to be carved on. What else are tattoos, but their own personal carvings?

As we near the end of the walk I can hear the idling of a diesel bus engine and am thankful that we got here early enough to tour the Flower Forest in peace. All told we have been here, taking dozens of pictures for well over an hour. Add this to the list of places to visit in Barbados and you might get to see the troop of green monkeys that lives around here. Post a picture of them so we can see what we missed.

Northern Barbados – Cattlewash Beach

From Flower Forest, whose small parking lot is now full, we head for that portion of the east coast that we missed on our first tour. Ascending steeply to sea level we arrive at the second of the five don’t miss attractions on today’s itinerary – Cattlewash Beach. Not surprisingly Wayne confirms that the name comes from a past tradition of bringing cattle to the beach where they could be washed to help rid them of ticks and mosquitoes. There are no cattle here today but there are a group of small boys who have climbed an enormous boulder and are cavorting about on top of it. I have no idea how they got up or will get back down. Also on top of the boulder is a bench which must afford one hell of a view, but I’m not about to attempt it. I’ll settle for admiring this beautiful beach from ground level. You can see the boys on top of the boulder if you look closely.

Cattlewash Beach, northern Barbados
Cattlewash Beach

Continuing north along the Emmy Bourne Highway we come to another beach which Wayne says is just called the east coast. It’s pretty impressive as well, but between the huge amount of seaweed and the treacherous looking waves I’ll settle for a photograph.

The Eastern Coast of Barbados
The Eastern Coast

Northern Barbados – Morgan Lewis Windmill

Not far from here we turn inland again and start an ascent to highlight number three, the Morgan Lewis windmill, one of only two operational sugar windmills in the world.  Unfortunately the interpretive centre is not open so we settle for pics. It is a magnificent structure and I’m one who can never resist a windmill.

Morgan Lewis windmill, northern Barbados
Alison at Morgan Lewis windmill

From the windmill we continue to ascend on a very narrow road which seems to have an inordinate amount of traffic on it necessitating some interesting passing negotiations by Wayne and the oncoming drivers. As we near the summit of what Wayne identifies as Cherry Tree Hill I can see why there are so many people, including local Barbadians just out for a Sunday drive. We have seen a lot of great views during our time in Barbados, but the one from Cherry Tree Hill may be the best yet. It is a sweeping panorama of the entire east coast.

View from Cherry Hill, northern Barbados
View from Cherry Tree Hill

At the top of the hill there was a look off area, but it is packed with buses, vendors and photographers and I don’t think the view will be all that better than the picture above which was taken just below the look off.

Northern Barbados – St. Nicholas Abbey

Cherry Tree Hill is actually part of the St. Nicholas Abbey estate which was our fifth destination of the tour. The history of this place is quite convoluted. It was never an abbey and has no connection with any saint, let alone jolly old St. Nicholas. However, it can claim to be the place from which the city of Charleston, South Carolina was founded. It is well worth reading the detailed history of the estate as found on the website. Aside from its storied history St. Nicholas Abbey is an architectural gem, one of only three surviving Jacobean mansions in the Western Hemisphere. The other two are Drax Hall which is also in Barbados, but not open to the public and Bacon’s Castle in Virginia which is. These substantial houses date from the 1650’s and 1660’s which is just a few years younger than the Taj Mahal and quite a bit older than  Versailles.

I have been looking forward to visiting St. Nicholas Abbey since planning the trip to Barbados, but am taken aback by a couple of things right off the bat. First they charge a $40BDS admission fee ($20USD) which seems pretty steep – that’s more than the admission to Mount Vernon which has far greater historical importance and a lot more to see and do. Secondly we have arrived just behind a couple of bus tours carrying cruise ship passengers. I am embarrassed to see that one particularly loud mouthed guy with a big beer gut and a slovenly appearance is wearing a Canadian flag ball cap. I think these two factors definitely contribute to lowering my expectations of  St. Nicholas Abbey and what follows when we queue up for lunch just confirms it.

However, there is no two ways about it that St. Nicholas Abbey is a beautiful looking building and somehow Alison does manage to get a shot without any of the other visitors in the picture. That’s the guide in the background.

St. Nicholas Abbey, northern Barbados
At St. Nicholas Abbey

Only the first floor of the interior of the house is open to the public and while the antiques on display are very nice they do not strike me as particularly grander or finer than dozens of other historical houses I have visited over the years. The most interesting item to me is this hat rack featuring a bobby’s custodian helmet, a top hat and a pith helmet as well as umbrellas and a polo mallet. If one picture ever screams “British Empire” it’s this one.

Hat rack, St. Nicholas Abbey, northern Barbados
Hat rack, St. Nicholas Abbey

After a quick tour of the ground floor we exit through the back door passing the men’s washroom on the way from which the most thunderous farting I have ever heard in my life is literally rattling the walls. A few minutes later Mr. Canadian flag ball cap emerges, seemingly unaware that his unsonorous flatulation has been heard by everyone in the building. Despite this we are hungry and join the line to order from the very sparse menu at the property’s restaurant. All orders need to be placed at a counter and it is obvious that we are just about the last ones to get there. I order fish cakes and a Banks beer and Alison orders some kind of sandwich and a rum punch. We then sit at a table and wait and wait and I get up to visit Lance and Baby, two pet cockatoos and then Alison tours the garden while I wait some more and then the beer comes and then we wait some more and by the time the beer is finished the food arrives.  Good thing because I think Alison is contemplating eating the promotional material they gave us at admission.

Alison waiting for lunch at St. Nicholas Abbey, northern Barbados
Alison waiting for lunch

Whatever I am served isn’t fish cakes, but some kind of fried dough balls that at some point might have had a passing acquaintance with a fish. The friendly Barbadian blackbirds that come to our table immediately after we are served apparently know when they saw these faux fish cakes that they are in for a treat and I don’t disappoint them.

After eating what we can we finish our tour of the grounds and the most interesting thing I see are these big wheels, that contrary to CCR’s admonition in Proud Mary to ‘keep on turnin’, have definitely made their last rotation.

Big wheels, Nicholas Abbey, northern Barbados
Big wheels not turnin’, St. Nicholas Abbey

If you take anything from this to help you enjoy a visit to St. Nicholas Abbey it should be :

1. Get there early before the bus tours. 2. Don’t eat there. 3. Stay away from the men’s bathroom. Follow these simple instructions and you’ll have a better time than we did.

This is our final stop touring northern Barbados and although it ends on a bit of a sour note I would do it all again in a heartbeat.


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