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TOURS - St. Thomas | Hills of Kingston | Spanish Town | Hellshire Hills | Port Royal
|Tour 2 -
From Kingston into the Hills
Excerpted from the book, Tour Jamaica, by Margaret Morris
1. JACKS HILL
Jacks Hill's active and responsible Community Council has attracted grants
from U.S. AID, C.I.D.A., and the new Environ-mental Foundation of Jamaica
for self-help and environmental projects. Current President of the Jacks
Hill Council is Douglas Aiken, owner of IVOR's. From Foxy s corner follow
the signs to Ivor great house, a small, very elegant guest house set in
an old-fashioned garden and situated on a ridge with a 360 degree view encompassing
the Blue Mountains, Kingston, the Hellshire Hills and the plains of St Catherine
and Clarendon. Ivor's small restaurant spills onto a terrace shaded by a
mango tree and thoughtfully provided with an antique brass telescope for
making the most of view. This is the perfect place for sundowner drinks.
Meal reservations must be made in advance. Hostess Helen Aiken describes
the cuisine as International with a Jamaican flavour , and interprets the
dress code of Casual elegance as jackets and ties not necessary.
You can return to the city via Skyline Drive, a panoramic but unpredictable
route that drops you out on the Gordon Town road. Turn L for more mountains
or R for the busy suburb of Papine, near the University of the West Indies.
2. NEWCASTLE AND HOLYWELL
The road follows the HOPE RIVER valley passing
L behind a high wall the celebrated BLUE MOUNTAIN INN
to a junction at The Cooperage. The name is literal: there was once a workshop
here that produced barrels for the export of rum. The coopers, rowdy Irish
labourers, were quartered a few miles up the hill at a place that came to
be known as IRISH TOWN. Turn L along the narrow
road that winds along the hillside above the Mammee River. Across the gorge
you can see the imposing backsides of mansions along Skyline Drive. In the
valley you may glimpse a small Disneyworld castle that used to be the Little
Glyndebourne Theatre. Built by the late opera singer Roma Presano and her
architect son the open ampitheatre has a magnificent setting and fine acoustics
but was seldom used.
One of the many fine houses along this road is Bellencita, the last home
of National Hero, the Rt. Excellent Sir Alexander Bustamante and is still
occupied by his widow Lady B. Their idyll began when Ms. Gladys Longbridge
applied for a job as one of Busta s secretaries and quickly became his most
valuable political aide. Lady B. remains a power in the Jamaica Labour Party.
Bamboo Lodge, now a private home and hidden from the road was settled in
1730 as Cottage Farm and may have been the first coffee plantation on the
island. The great house subsequently became a naval recuperation station.
Admiral Lord Nelson, then a 20 year old officer on the grig HMS Badger came
here suffering from fever and dysentery and was nursed by Couba Cornwallis,
a beautiful quadroon, noted healer and herbalist and mistress of then Governor,
the Earl of Cornwallis.
IRISH TOWN, a sprinkling of homes and a bar
or two is barely discernible. Turn L up an unpredictable road to STRAWBERRY HILL where Island Records impresario Chris
Blackwell has created an unique small hotel. Timber frame cottages set on
pillars encircling the hill, restaurant and pub crowning the small plateau,
a grotto swimming pool and extravagant gardens were well underway as we
went to press. Blackwell, whose planter family went from riches to rags,
recouped the family fortunes in a big way as an insightful music promoter
who discovered and marketed Bob Marley.
CRAIGHTON is a 45 acre coffee farm owned
by the Ueshima Company of Japan. High quality Blue Mountain coffee is prized
in Japan where it is blended with lowland beans to improve the flavour.
About 90% of Jamaica s annual coffee production is exported to Japan. Craighton
Hall, built in 1805 has been meticulously restored. It was once a favourite
haunt of Governors Sir John Peter Grant (circa 1866) and Sir Henry Blake
(circa 1880). Tours of the house and farm can be arranged. Among the portraits
on view is one of the late chairman of Ueshima Company, Tadao Ueshima, a
benevolent magnate who was particularly fond of Jamaica, reggae, and Blue
Mountain coffee. MOUNT EDGE CAFE, about 4 miles
past Irish Town, clings to the hillside R of the road. It has a great view,
good food and drink and a very entertaining host called Michael D. Fox who
can also arrange river hiking, and mountain bike rentals. Other options
include: Bed and Breakfast, herbal remedies, and a monthly Full Moon Frolic
featuring drinks, drumming and buffet dinner prepared by Fox himself.
NEWCASTLE, almost 4,000 feet up is only 13
miles but all of ¾ of an hour from the city a steep, narrow and tortuous
climb. If your driver wants to admire the scenery without plunging into
it, it is best to select a safe lay-by, park, and get out. The air is fragrant
and the banksides beautiful with trees, ferns, ground orchids, delicate
wildflowers, and a profusion of ginger lilies. Your first glimpse of Newcastle
is likely to be the white tombstones of a military graveyard. The military
camp which clambers up the hillside from 3,500 to 4,500 feet was established
in 1841 by Major General Sir William Gomm shortly after he had quelled a
Christmas riot in Kingston which, records say, was caused by the determination
of the people to celebrate with music and drumming which at the time was
against the law . It was hoped that the troops which were ravaged by Yellow
Fever would regain their health in the cool hills.
Newcastle is now a Jamaica Defence Force rest station and training camp
where the motto No obstacle too difficult, no task too great is inculcated.
The main road bisects the parade ground on Major General Sir William Gomm
square, so you are liable to meet anything from a company in full dress
uniform getting its picture taken to raw recruits drilling like clockwork
soldiers. A recent concession to tourism is Gomm s souvenir and Coffee Shop.
Crests of regiments previously stationed here adorn the high retaining wall.
Above here are several sturdy cottages which can be rented, at extremely
modest rates from the JDF, and a store where you can purchase supplies.
The GAP CAFE 4,200 feet above sea level is
equidistant from the city and BUFF BAY, 21 miles in both directions. It
is noted for pastries and excellent Blue Mountain Coffee and has fine views
down the valley and across to HOLYWELL. The
house, set in a small garden was built in the 1930s, originally as a way
station for buggy traffic bound for the north coast. The late Sir Donald
Sangster, a former Prime Minister of Jamaica used to stay here when planning
his budget speeches and Ian Fleming is said to have written the first James
Bond book here. Just across from the Cafe is the start of the Fairy Glade
hiking trail to ST. CATHERINE'S PEAK and the
JDF camp at Newcastle.
HOLYWELL NATIONAL PARK is a forest reserve
where you are cautioned to Take nothing but photographs, leave nothing but
footprints. The Blue Mountain/John Crow Mountain National Park project maintains
a ranger station here (flying a Jamaican Flag) where you can get information.
This is an extensive park, always cool and frequently shrouded in mists.
A wide variety of vegetation includes some rare species. There are picnic
sites, barbeques, and some log cabins which can be rented. Hiking trails
originating here include the Shelter trail to the north-east, north to MOODIES GAP, north-west to the WAG
WATER VALLEY, and south-west to the Mammee River.
3. DOWN THE VALLEY TO BUFF BAY
Just beyond Holywell, heading north is HARDWAR GAP
and the other side of the mountain: 17 winding scenic miles down to BUFF BAY. At SECTION a road
leads R to SILVER HILL GAP, CLYDESDALE NATIONAL PARK,
PINE GROVE and MAVIS BANK.
A few miles further down the Buff Bay route, SPRING
HILL is the start of the Blue Mountain Downhill Bicycle Tour
you never have to pedal! The all-inclusive tour includes brunch, an introduction
to rural Jamaica, lunch, and a swim at a hidden waterfall.
The Buff Bay River valley is coffee country: there are a few large farms
and hundreds of small plots. Unfortunately, the drive to increase coffee
production and foreign exchange earnings has led to considerable deforestation,
erosion, and contamination of water sources all aided and abetted by the
Coffee Industry Development Company, a government agency. Even forest reserves
have been sacrificed to coffee. The coffee farmers here all belong to the
Portland Blue Mountain Coffee Co-operative Society which advances crop loans
and purchases the coffee for resale to the government. The road winds against
the hill, the Buff Bay river far below in the valley. You will meet very
little traffic. Even in this remote district there is the usual large quota
of churches, including a Quaker mission at GREENHILL.
The road crosses the river at SILVER HILL above
MULLET HALL, and there are mountainous boulders
in the river bed below the narrow bridge. Between the villages of BALCARRES and TRANQUILLITY,
there are two suspension bridges spanning the river and an unusual three
tiered waterfall R of the road. From Tranquillity a road corkscrews eastwards
up to BANGOR RIDGE, where there is more coffee
and banksides with wild raspberries.
This alternative to the Junction route from Kingston to Port Antonio
is slower but fascinating. It was first promoted by Sir Henry Blake, Governor
of Jamaica 1889-1898, the first government official to recognize the island
s potential as a tourist destination.
4. MAVIS BANK & BLUE MOUNTAIN PEAK
From Papine the road follows the Hope River into the hills. At The Cooperage,
take the right fork to GORDON TOWN. By the Peyton
Place saloon and the Police Station turn R over the river. The narrow road
hugs the mountain providing breathtaking views and heart-stopping moments
when minibuses come dashing round the corner heading straight for you. Don
t panic, they usually manage to avoid collision. Just remember to keep well
to your left and use your horn. Already the air is cool and bracing, the
multi-coloured mountains swathed in mist, scarred by forest fires but still
partially covered with stands of Caribbean Pine.
Five miles from Gordon Town is WORLD'S END
home of Sangster's liqueurs. The hillside distillery has recently been expanded
to satisfy a growing international demand, but still retains a charming
Heath Robinsonish atmosphere. Free factory tours are available and you can
sample the liqueurs sitting on a small paved patio, complete with an ancient
cannon and a fine view of Newcastle. Personable sales manager Carolyn Ritch
presides in a tempting gift shop where you can purchase liqueurs of Wild
Orange, Ortanique, Blue Mountain Coffee, Ginger, and a coffee/orange blend
called Forget Me Not. Sangster's Coconut Rum and Gold Rum Cream are international
gold medal winners, the latter touted locally as an aphrodisiac. Their latest
product, Conquering Lion, is 111% proof white rum the strongest in the world.
At a cross roads with signpost announcing GUAVA RIDGE
a road leads uphill R towards FLAMSTEAD. A sign
at the first fork R points you to Paraiso an idyllic private home offering
Bed & Breakfast and then to the field headquarters of the Blue Mountain/John
Crow Mountain National Park. Here you can get information and advice about
exploring the mountains and the names of reliable guides trained by the
Protected Areas Resource Conservation (PARC).
Higher up the ridge Flamstead once occupied by Lord Nelson is now the
U.W.I. rest house. NOMDMI a mountain retreat
built by National Hero Norman Manley is now the home of his son, former
Prime Minister Michael Manley and Glynis, his fifth wife. Manley, still
greatly in demand as a lecturer and consultant has discovered, he says,
that There is life after politics.
Two miles straight ahead from the Guava Ridge signpost is the MAVIS BANK CENTRAL COFFEE
factory, part-owned by Keble Munn a former Minister of Agriculture and descendant
of one of Jamaica s National Heroes, the Rt. Excellent George William Gordon.
The factory produces genuine Blue Mountain coffee prized by gourmets as
the most aromatic and flavourful in the world. The pulpery is supplied by
numerous coffee farmers throughout the mountains and processes cherry ripe
coffee to green bean stage. Some of this is sold to the Coffee Industry
Board for export. The rest is roasted, vacuum packed and marketed under
the Mavis Bank and Jablum labels. The Jablum company includes Japanese shareholders.
One of the most important functions at the factory is coffee tasting. This
is done by rapidly drawing coffee into the mouth along with a gulp of air
the idea being to coat the taste buds with a fine mist rather like an aerosol
spray. Factory tours are available by appointment.
At the Guava Ridge junction turn L for PINE GROVE
a small hotel and coffee farm owned by lawyer and radio talk-show host Ronnie
Thwaites and his wife Marcia, who runs the farm and is responsible for the
lovely garden. There is a spacious, cedar panelled restaurant (famed for
Marcia s sweet potato pudding) and the Blue Mountain Bar facing the Peak.
Unfortunately a view which could be spectacular is marred by the towering
telephone antenna which serves the area. On the wall is a framed advertisement
from the Daily Gleaner of April 10, 1897 asking What s the matter with Blue
Mountain Coffee . . . ? Why it's alright, only hard to get. It's the best
in the world: 5 lb bag 6 shillings, 10 lbs bag 12 shillings and 20 lb bags
24 shillings. Today's price is considerably more than that. Tours to the
Peak can be arranged at Pine Grove and may include a brief over-night stop
at Abbey Green, a cottage at the foot of the trail. Starting the climb at
2:30am means you can be at the summit in time for sunrise.
A small organic farm at MIDDLEMIST above
Pine Grove produces fresh herbs and specialty vegetables for hotels. The
farmers, Pam O'Gorman, Audrey Cooper, and Joan Tucker are three of Jamaica
s leading musicians.
From Pine Grove, head to CONTENT GAP. From
here a short but fairly strenuous walk will take you to CHARLOTTENBURGH,
a small coffee farm owned by the Bitter family.
When the farm was established by T. Samuel Kuckhalm in 1781 it was noted
for growing peaches, apples and vegetables in high perfection . In the mid
1800s the mahogany panelled great house became the mountain retreat of the
Anglican Bishop. It is furnished with antiques (including claw-foot baths)
and has a garden full of agapanthus lilies. There is no access by car, so
supplies are toted in by Winsome and Warren, two donkeys. Tours of the house,
farm and garden are available: a guide will meet you at Content Gap and
a bamboo walking stick is provided for the trek. You will lunch in the garden
overlooking the city and meet friendly Jamaicans like housekeeper Miss Ella,
farm manager Gladstone Morgan, hiking trail branches left and takes you
down to Gordon Town.
From Content Gap you can continue on to ST. PETERS
and SILVER HILL. At the Silver Hill Gap, dwells
Brother Wolfe, a mystic shopkeeper who sells vegetables and excellent coffee
beans. The road to Clydesdale is not enticing but the scenery lures you
on. CHESTERVALE was formerly a government vocational
training camp. The new owners plan an eco-tourism development.
At CLYDESDALE NATIONAL PARK there is a forestry
plantation and small nursery. There are two cottages that can be rented,
and hostel type accommodation in an old coffee factory. The waterwheels
and aqueduct are still in intact.
Beyond Clydesdale, it is a rough jeep drive or a 2 hour hike to CINCHONA BOTANICAL GARDEN
at an elevation of over 5,000 feet. The garden, the air, and the views compensate
for the torture of getting there. The house overlooks a small formal garden
a variety of trees tower above lilies, ferns, rhododendrons and ground orchids.
You can see north to St. John's Peak, (6,332 ft), east to High Peak (6,812
ft) and Blue Mountain Peak (7,402 ft) south to the little village of Wesphalia
and the valleys of the Yallahs, Clyde and Green rivers and southwest to
the city. Cinchona was established in 1868 as a plantation of Assam tea
and cinchona trees, whose bark was used to produce quinine for the treatment
of malaria fever. The project was not profitable and the place was subsequently
transformed into an English Garden with a variety of imported trees, flowers
and vegetables including cork, oak, rubber, eucalyptus, tree ferns, cypress,
pecan, and peach.
The road from Clydesdale continues to TOP MOUNTAIN,
and then to HALL'S DELIGHT at 4000 ft., then
down to 1500 feet where you cross the YALLAHS
river and enter MAVIS BANK. At the crossroads
beside the church you can enquire about hiking guides, or about renting
mules or a jeep. This is the starting point for three hiking trails including
two routes to the Peak via the PENLYNE CASTLE.
MAVIS BANK, just a mile or two below the
Mavis Bank Central Coffee Factory, is more easily reached from Guava Ridge.
From here you can tackle the mountains in St Thomas if you have access to
a spunky vehicle or better still a four wheel drive. At the crossroads by
the church turn R and proceed towards Mahogany Vale, passing a large Secondary
Vocational School. At the bottom of a steep valley you turn L to ford the
Yallahs river. The high footbridge here is a good vantage point for picture
taking. The road to HAGLEY GAP is narrow and
more than usually prone to landslides, but kept in some sort of shape by
the efforts of local residents and the Blue Mountain/John Crow Mountain
National Park Project.
The HAGLEY GAP square is probably as close
as you can get, without a four-wheel drive, to the start of the Blue Mountain
Peak trail. Accommodations en route to the peak include: WHITFIELD
HALL (7 miles from the Peak) is a coffee farm. The house overlooks
a lawn with picnic tables and can sleep up to 30 persons. Also available
are meals, cooking facilities, bed linen and campsites. WILDFLOWER
LODGE, is a small hostel offering meals. ABBEY
GREEN has two self catering cottages with cook and helper.
You are almost there when you get to PORTLAND GAP,
a rest stop with a PARC Ranger Station, water, a bunkhouse that can sleep
30, campsites and wild fuschias. There is shelter four walls and a roof
at the Peak. The climb to the Peak reveals extensive deforestation including
the loss of primary forest. Land has been cleared for cultivation on precipitous
slopes as high as 5000 ft. C.I.D.Co (Coffee Industry Development Company)
and F.I.D.Co. (Forestry Industry Development Co.), both government agencies,
were allocated former forest reserves for planting coffee. Other culprits
are private coffee farmers, timber pirates, charcoal burners, squatters
and ganja growers. The PARC project is hoping to reverse this trend by education
and involving local residents in agro-forestry.
5. INTO ST THOMAS.
The tiny HAGLEY GAP post office, with swirling
mists and gossiping mountain matrons is a photographer s gem. Proceed down
hill and ford the NEGRO RIVER where villagers
may be doing their wash. You are now driving along the side of the mountain
to another fording. In summer the banksides are littered with fallen mangoes.
The next village WOBURN LODGE
has a picturesque little Anglican church and has benefited from a Rotary
International program to establish self-help projects in rural villages.
After leaving Woburn Lawn, you begin driving along a spur of the mountains
and within a mile you come to a promontory which offers a spectacular view.
Take a minute or two to try and trace the route you have just traversed
and marvel at your own skill and daring, then try to plan the next move.
Turning L at the BETHEL GAP junction will take you to the postcard pretty village of CEDAR VALLEY nestled beside the Negro River. From here you can follow the Negro River valley via SERGE ISLAND, where there is a large dairy farm and milk factory, down to the coast near MORANT BAY. Or you can return to Bethel Gap and turn R for WILSON'S GAP a fine place for a picnic with a panoramic view of the St. Thomas coast and Palisadoes. From here the road descends steeply to Richmond Vale where you turn R and drive above the Negro River Valley and then cross the Shooting River where it joins the Yallahs at Ramble near the start of the Yallahs pipeline. Drive down the valley to Llandewey (you know you re there when you pass the Wild West Tavern) and then turn R for Cambridge Hill and then to the coast. The vegetation is now dry and scrubby and there are views R of Kingston and Palisadoes. You will emerge at ELEVEN MILE opposite the Twice as Nice Lounge. Turn R for Kingston.
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