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TOURS - Negril  |  Westmoreland |  Montego Bay

Tour 12 - To Negril from Montego Bay
Excerpted from the book, Tour Jamaica, by Margaret Morris

Ribbon development all along Jamaica's coast has destroyed many scenic drives, but the route from Montego Bay to Negril still offers stretches of sparkling seascapes on one hand and green fields and hills on the other. It also has many flat, fairly straight road sections - an irresistible temptation to most Jamaican drivers so remember, at all times, to drive defensively.

Reading, now just a suburb of Montego Bay was once a sugar port. The pier is now a jetty for pleasure boats and the small port occupied by Norma's trendy restaurant. Budhai's Art Gallery L displays the work of the epoynomous artist in residence. The Reading Reef Club, a small hotel R is the headquarters of Poseidon Nemrod, a PADI Dive centre operated by environmentalists Theo and Hannie Schmidt. Hannie is a Director of the Jamaica Conservation Development Trust and Theo is on the Local Advisory Committee of the Montego Bay Marine Park.

Approaching Great River, the National Water Commission has a large water treatment plant, built with a Japanese loan. The Great River, one of the longest in the island is the venue for the Evening on the Great River tour. Across the river, the road hugs the side of a long hill offering a fine view across the sea to Montego Bay.

Nine miles west of Montego Bay Round Hill, "not a hotel, more a way of life," appears consistently in the Harper's and Queen list of the Three Hundred Best Hotels in the World. Round Hill was created in 1953 by John Pringle, a member of an old Jamaican family who was later a successful Director of Tourism. The concept of a nucleus hotel with luxurious satellite villas owned by shareholders and built to their own design was used shortly afterwards at Half Moon and Tryall. The Round Hill, 53 acres of land almost encircled by the sea, was purchased from Lord Monson, owner of the large cattle and coconut estate. Original shareholders included broadcasting magnate

Bill Paley of CBC, Noel Coward, Oscar Hammer-stein and Gladys Cooper. The roster has changed with the years but Round Hill remains a magnet for the slightly conservative jet-set. A stellar event of the Winter Season, Round Hill's Sugar Cane Ball raises money for charities in the parish of Hanover.

Hopewell is a bustling village; the photogenic Methodist church at the cross roads was built in the1870ís. Back on the open road there are two interesting craft shacks L and a sign offering the services of Captain Steamer (snorkelling guide) just before the Old Steamer beach where the skeleton of an old coastal steamer is a reminder of the days when these boats were a vital transportation link. Captain Groome of Rio Bueno captained this one, and it was reportedly used to run guns to Cuba in the revolt against Spain.

Flint River, now a cattle property, has an old stone wharf with cannon and is one of many estates with extensive ruins of slavery-built sugar works.

Tryall Golf and Beach Club (with a beach club guarded by cannons from the erstwhile Tryall fort) is a 2,200 acre residential estate with 50 villas, a small hotel, gourmet dining rooms, manicured grounds, and a golf course which hosts the annual Johnny Walker Championship. One of Tryall's original shareholders was Governor John Connally of Texas. Current homeowners, though low profile, are representative of the financial, industrial, political, diplomatic and publishing establishments and constitute a unique and influential international colony. As Tryall's late and much lamented Managing Director Count Kenneth Diacre de Liancourt used to explain: 'We don't make any pretence you know, it's a rich man's club, its no good coming to Tryall unless you are prepared to spend money . . . there's nothing shameful in being rich, you mustn't be mean that's all.' Created in 1956, Tryall does not reflect the economic and social changes that the island has undergone since then, but the citizens of Hanover cherish considerable loyalty to this institution which employs about 500 persons year round and contributes lavishly and conscientiously (noblesse oblige) to local charities and community projects. Tryall was originally a large sugar plantation. The giant water wheel L of the road which turned the mill in the factory has been restored and is sometimes still powered by water transported from Flint River via a 2 mile aqueduct. In the 1832 slave rebellion Tryall Great House was damaged and the estate burnt. Embedded in the lawn at the entrance to the hotel is a fragment of the gravestone which commemorates the headman of the estate "shot by rebels while defending his masters' property."

Sandy Bay was founded as a Baptist Free Village for emancipated slaves on the initiative of the Rev. Thomas Burchell. The playing field here is still known as Burchell Field. Jamaican parents bestow on their offspring the surname of anyone they particularly admire and Burchell is almost as popular a christian name as Manley. Haynes Printables/Haynes Jamaica Ltd., a subsidiary of the Sara Lee Corporation has a large factory here assembling garments for the U.S. market. The site was acquired from the government in a debt for equity swop. Lollipop on the Beach - with 'Food, liquor, rooms and restrooms' - is a popular stop and frequently the venue for reggae shows.

Blue Hole estate has a ruined windmill and defunct polo club, the former a relic of the days when it was a sugar estate with factory, the latter founded by a previous owner, the Hon. Willie de Lisser, Custos of Hanover and polo fanatic.

Kenilworth, a mile down a side road L is a National Training Agency. Formerly a HEART academy (the institutions name and curriculum changes with the government), Kenil-worth has some fine seventeenth-century ruins, the elegance of which has prompted theories that the structure originated as a Spanish monastery before it became a sugar factory.

At Mosquito Cove the road skirts an inlet nearly 1 mile long: spelled Miskito Cove in old maps the area may have once been settled by Amerindians from the Musquito Shore (the eastern coast of modern Nicaragua), a semi-dependency of England during the eighteenth century. Lady Nugent (wife of the then governor of Jamaica) was obliged to entertain the young king of the Miskitos, which she did with sugar plums and the children's toys and reported in her diary that she was: "obliged to send the little Musquito King forcibly to school; but not before, in his rage and reluctance, he had broken the poor orderly sergeant's watch to pieces, and scratched his face sadly."

Scenic detour: Turn L at the head of Mosquito Cove and (road conditions permitting) drive through the lush hills and districts of Jericho, Cascade, Pondside, Great Valley, Old Pen and back to Hopewell. The Baptist Church at Gurney Mount, built by Thomas Burchell in 1830 was damaged in the 1957 earthquake. The rebuilt church includes the Freedom Stone from the original. At Old Pen, turn R for Chigwell a farming community periodically submerged (after prolonged and heavy rains) by an ephemeral lake which rises from the overcharged aquifer. In 1979 half the population had to be evacuated but some die-hards moved to the hilltops and waited 9 months till the water receded).

Approaching the headland that overlooks Lucea a sign boasts "Best View, check it out" and a stall sells the inevitable cold Red Stripe beer etc. The large cylindrical tanks on the slope below are used to store molasses for National Rums Ltd., and the private beach at Bamboo Bay is the venue for the Miskito Cove picnic, a popular tour.

Lucea, busy only on market days, retains few vestiges of the elegance and importance that it once enjoyed as the capital of a flourishing sugar parish. Hugging the west of the finest natural harbour on the northcoast it is a pleasant rural town, steeped in history, as any member of the active Hanover Historical Society will tell you.

The imposing town clock atop the nineteenth century courthouse was ordered for St. Lucia but delivered to Lucea by mistake. The townspeople refused to exchange it for the more modest clock they had ordered and took up a subscription to pay the balance. The clock tower was the gift of a wealthy landowner of German extraction - hence its resemblance to the helmet worn by the Royal Guards of Germany. The thoroughly modern lions guarding the courthouse were added by the late Sir Alexander Bustamante, when the square was remodeled during the 1960s prior to being formally opened by HRH Queen Elizabeth II.

The eighteenth century Parish Church on Fort Charlotte Drive has several interesting monuments including one to Sir Simon Clarke, a gentleman of great good sense (he married an heiress) and rectitude whose grandfather was originally exiled to the island for highway robbery.

On the headland, Rusea's High School was established in 1777 with a bequest from Martin Rusea, a French refugee who 'in grateful recollection of the hospitality manifested toward him in the colony left . . . all his real and personal estate for the establishment of a school in the parish of Hanover'. Rusea's disappointed relatives disputed the will and 13 years elapsed before the school was founded. Among its famous alumnae is track star Merlene Ottey, who first learned to sprint in her home village Pondside in the hills nearby.

Guarding the bay is Fort Charlotte, named for King George III's consort and one of five forts built in the 18th century to protect the island's northwest coast from the French and pirates. (Others were at Point, Tryall, Round Hill and Montego Bay.) The battlement has positions for 20 guns and 2 massive George III cannons on rotary carriages remain. During the 18th century Lucea was a busy naval base and among famous maritime characters to visit here was Horatio Nelson. A sailor called Bligh, later notorious for his ironfisted command of the ship Bounty, also came to Lucea to visit relatives who had an estate nearby. It was at Fort Charlotte that Bligh first met a young officer named Fletcher Christian, the man destined to lead the mutiny on the Bounty against him. Bligh is best remembered for introducing both the breadfruit and the ackee to Jamaica.

These and other fascinating historical anecdotes about Lucea were unearthed by Evangeline Clare, founder of the Hanover Historical Society and wife of the local member of parliament Ben Clare. She is also the creator, fundraiser and curator of a site museum at the old police headquarters (turn towards the sea by the St.s Philip and James Catholic Church). Perched on a breezy cliff the museum features eighteenth-century dungeons embellished with an illustration of slaves on the treadmill. It has an intriguing collection of artifacts, a re-created Arawak dwelling, mini-garden, snackbar and clean washrooms. The caretaker, Mr Thompson, is cordial and informative.

At the entrance to Fort Charlotte is an interesting and somewhat poignant craft workshop: all the workers are handicapped. One member of staff, Roy Manning, who lost both legs in a train accident, has won gold and silver medals in the Wheelchair Olympics. He once traveled right around the island in his wheelchair - a feat that took him 22 days.

West Palm on Fort Charlotte Drive is the only hotel in town. Clean and comfortable, it is popular with local businessmen.

Animal Hill, which overlooks the square got its name because the families who settled it all had animal names: Mares, Steers, Lyons, Foxes, Hogges, etc.

As you leave Lucea, heading for Negril there are L some factories and a housing scheme and R a modernistic courthouse and goal, then Long Acre on the Rocks a seafront restaurant and nightclub and frequent venue for reggae shows.

Now begins a succession of mangrove shrouded coves, once the haunt of pirates and sometimes still used by ganja runners. There are cottages and rooms for rent at Lances Bay. At Cousins Cove (so called because it was originally part of the dowry of an heiress who married her cousin) there is an Arawak cave, artifacts from which can be seen at the museum in Lucea. According to signs on the roadside it also boasts a Business Association one of the members being Friday who advertises snacks and snorkelling at the bend where the canoes are beached.

Interesting detour: At Davis Cove turn L and travel a short distance to Blenheim, birthplace of Sir Alexander Bustamante. His father, Robert Clarke was an overseer on the estate. The Jamaica National Heritage Trust has rebuilt the thatched farm house in which the family lived and a memorial ceremony is held here every year. 'Busta' - possibly the best loved and certainly the most colourful of all Jamaican political figures - was an adventurer who fought in the Spanish civil war and took many jobs all over the world before returning to Jamaica, setting up as a money lender, and entering politics at the age of 50. He was the founder of the Bustamante Industrial Trade Union and then of the Jamaica Labour Party and Jamaica's first Prime Minister. A rallying song of his supporters 'We shall follow Bustamante till we die' illustrates the trust and unquestioning loyalty that he inspired. Busta used to boast that he was a man of mixed blood. On other occasions he would assert that he was 50% Irish, 50% Jamaican and 10% Arawak. Another anecdote describes a staid reception for Commonwealth Prime Ministers at Buckingham Palace when everyone was at his most punctilious. Except Busta, who seeing the young Queen Elizabeth diffidently approaching his group, turned towards her, opened his arms wide and called "Hello Honey". Her Majesty, protocol forgotten, moved smilingly into his avuncular embrace.

Green Island village straggles along a long bend in the road. You can turn L here for a drive through sugar cane country and past Dolphin Head, at 1789 feet the highest peak in western Jamaica, to Grange Hill, Frome Sugar Estate and Savanna-la- mar. Green Island has a large secondary school and an establishment named Mandela Green (for South African Freedom fighter Nelson Mandela) which offers restaurant and bar, live entertainment and a Raving Reggae Disco.

Rhodes Hall Plantation offers horseback trail rides around the large estate and has about one mile of more or less deserted beachfront.

Orange Bay is becoming a dormitory community for Negril. The reef offshore here, once diverse and spectacular is now affected by spreading algae and facing longterm pollution from an on-shore garbage dump.

The beginning of the Great Morass on your L heralds your approach to Negril Harbour, better known as Bloody Bay. Negril begins here - or in your head.

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