On the trail of Drax

Speightstown

A lazy day yesterday, and I was thankful for it. I enjoyed doing not very much during the morning whilst P&D were at work.

“At work” consists of sitting at the breakfast bar surrounded by laptops and paperwork, arranging their business affairs back in England from the sultry comfort of Barbados. This occupied the morning and left to myself I enjoyed pottering around in the garden and slightly further afield.

There’s a lovely swimming pool, not kidney shaped more of an amoeba really. It looked so inviting and I decided to take the plunge. Until, that is, I dipped a toe in the water!  Brrrr!!! Something of a shock to the system.  “I’m not going in there!” I declared to myself, “Not in a month of Sundays.”

So I took myself off down to the beach (as described yesterday, it’s only about 200 metres away, across a road.  I had the beach to myself, and out on the water there were a couple of yachts and other pleasure craft idling by. I turned south and started walking along the golden coral sand, the sea gently lapping across my feet.  I was convinced that the sea was warmer than the swimming pool.  I’d have waded in a bit beyond my ankles except that the coral rocks are numerous and sharp, and so best avoided until a properly clear sandy bit is found.

I continued walking for a couple of hundred yards, passing a rather fit (this is an understatement) man who was doing some maintenance on a dinghy/yacht (I don’t know the difference so you’ll have to excuse the lack of precise detail). I wished him a good morning and he said “Would you like to go for a sail?”.

I declined, and then instantly rather wished I hadn’t been so precipitate in dismissing the idea.  Actually I rather think I would like to do that, but I’m not sure that I’m physically strong enough to do it without risk of hurting my back.  It would be the ruination of my holiday if something went wrong there.

I continued on my way and then eventually retraced my steps, passing the yachtsman and still I thought about the idea.

Back at the house I toe-dipped again. Still bloomin’ freezing!  The sea was definitely warmer!  I came to the conclusion that the swimming pool and I were not to be intimate friends during my stay here.

I started to read one of the books I’ve brought with me, this one Clarissa Dickson-Wright’s latest: a sort of year-in-the-life affair, and rather good.

But the swimming pool was calling.  Another toe dip followed, except this time I waded in up to my knees. Still very cold in my opinion, but I was desperate to swim so I resolved on an action plan.

Back to the patio and the hot tub for a quick immersion. Considerably warmer and then emboldened I went straight down to the pool and waded into the water up to my waist, and then the final baptism of fire (or in this case, ice)!

Of course, once I was in I realised it was lovely (if bracing).  And thereafter no-one’s been able to keep me out of the pool!

When P&D had finished work and been out for some groceries, we set off on a little jaunt up the west coast to Speightstown (also known as ‘Little Bristol’).

Speightstown was formally settled around 1630 and in the earliest days of Settlement was Barbados’s busiest port. Ships laden with sugar and other commodities left Speightstown bound directly for London and especially Bristol. For this reason Speightstown is sometimes known as Little Bristol. The quaint town has now become the centre of a tourist area as well as a secondary shopping centre.colligan

The area of Speightstown was the first major port and commercial centre of Barbados. The city is named after William Speight, a member of Barbados’ first Assembly during the colonial years as well as the former land owner where the city is located. It has a long and colorful history reaching back to the 17th century when it served as one of the main ports connecting the island with the “mother country,” England. Back then Speightstown was sometimes called “Little Bristol” because of these trading connections with Bristol.

Many historic buildings dating from colonial times, including Arlington House, still remain standing in the town. Speightstown saw a lot of activity during the reign of the sugar industry and the day of the slave trade. Many slaves would have passed through this town, even if they were to be shipped on further to other islands or America.

We had lunch at a lovely beach-side bar sitting underneath palm trees watching the scrummy blue sea crashing onto the shore just yards away.

Anyone who has driven along the A31 between Wimborne Minster and Winterborne Zelston in Dorset will be familiar with “The Wall”, Stag Gate and Lion Gate. A six foot high wall, one of the longest in England, surrounds the Drax estate, Charborough Park, home of the Drax family who made their fortune on the sugar plantations of Barbados, aided not a little bit by slavery.

Here in Barbados, the Drax’s were the first to cultivate sugar cane, in 1642. Drax Hall Estate is one of only two Jacobean houses remaining in Barbados. And the estate has belonged to the same family ever since it was built. The estate is still a sugar plantation but regrettably the old house is not open to the public.

I understand the family live in rather more palatial surroundings nowadays, and that they’re in residence right now – hardly surprising given the winter weather back home!

Drax Hall

So it was fascinating for me yesterday to visit the Arlington House Museum just across the road from the bar, and learn all about the history of the island and the sugar barons, led by Drax 300 years ago. The museum is the first of its kind in Barbados, very interactive and with really good interpretative displays. It was a fascinating hour with quite a number of surprises along the way. I’d say it should be a ‘must’ for anyone visiting Barbados in the future.

We turned to Prospect following ‘Route 1’, the coast road. It felt like a fairly narrow surburban road meandering through various settlements, never more than about a hundred metres from the shore, and all the while the wonderfully blue sea in view.

After the sun set (pretty spectacular sunset across the sea) dinner followed at home, with some local friends of P&D’s joining us for champagne (imported by me, along with two haggis for Burns Night on Monday) and nibbles.  After dark I enjoyed a dip in the pool with Mark the Jamaican. I’m sure I saw the moon rise out of the water but I could have been mistaken; it was certainly memorable though.  Dale the Bajan suggested an after-dinner hot tub dip and that was too tempting to turn down; it was lovely lying in bubbling warm water staring up at the stars.

And so to bed at the end of my first full day in Barbados.

The itinerary for today is more swimming, a visit to Hunte’s Garden in the parish of St Joseph’s (the whole island is split into parishes of the Church of England) and exploring the undeveloped east (Atlantic) coast.

Hopefully tonight I’ll sleep a little more soundly than I’ve managed for the past two nights. The tree frogs are noisy!!

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