Discover Mandeville
Home |  About the City |  City Map
Accommodations |  Attractions |  Car Rentals |  Restaurants
TOURS - St. Elizabeth  |  Milk River |  Hills of Mandeville

Tour 6 - Circle St. Elizabeth

Excerpted from the book, Tour Jamaica, by Margaret Morris

From Mandeville there is a choice of routes to the beaches of the south coast:


Take the road past the West Indies Training College and through the village of KNOCKPATRICK. You will drive beneath Alpart's cable belt conveyor connecting the bauxite mines of the Manchester plateau to the lowland plant at Nain. Newport is a cool rural village. Between ROSEHALL and REST STORE you get the first glimpse of the sea and Alpart's pier at PORT KAISER. If the day is clear you can observe offshore and to the south east a coral atoll in the making on Alligator Reef. PLOWDEN with its Moravian church, school, and bauxite-pink landscape is typical of the area. Descending towards Rowes Corner via many hairpin curves, the landscape has a surreal quality with monstrous towers and outcrops of rock dwarfing cottages and cultivations.

Alligator Pond has a large fishing beach, well equipped with modern fibreglass boats plus high powered outboard engines. A good place to sample fried fish straight from the ocean or purchase fresh fish and lobster. Some boats are available for hire, price negotiable. Interesting Detour: Turn left at the Alligator Pond crossroads passing several holiday cottages and landmarks with evocative names like CUCKOLD POINT, OLD WOMAN'S POINT, GUT RIVER, CANOE VALLEY, ALLIGATOR HOLE RIVER and GOD'S WELL (see Tour 7).

These coastal waters are the preferred habitat of manatees (local name: sea cows) which come to drink the fresh water bubbling into the sea from underground springs. In Arawak times there were large manatee herds but the current islandwide population is estimated as less than 100. They are protected under the Wild Life Protection Act, but that does not stop some fishermen from killing those snared in their nets. Four manatees, rescued from fishermen are kept in captivity in the Alligator Hole river. Unfortunately, because they are all female there is no hope of a captive breeding program. Mournful-looking sea mammals, manatees may have given rise to legends about mermaids. They are extremely gentle and shy, feed on sea grasses and can grow to be 13 foot in length and 3,300 lbs in weight.

West of Alligator Pond crossing, a clear cold river enters the sea near the site of an old fort. At its mouth, Sea River resort, a 12 room hotel, belongs to the local member of parliament Derek Rochester. Further west is Alpart's Port Kaiser. Alumina, transported by private railroad from the Alpart refinery, is shipped from here.

Despite the scanty rainfall, south St. Elizabeth supplies most of the vegetables (carrots, tomatoes, cucumbers, melons, escallion, thyme, onions) sold throughout the island. The traditional thrift, industry and ingenuity of the farmers here are reflected in the small, sturdy houses dotting the hills, and the patchwork of fields neatly mulched with guinea grass - a local technique known as "dry farming". Many of the people hereabouts are light-skinned, some with blue or green eyes and are known locally as "St. Elizabeth Red Man". Theories about their origin differ. One is that their male ancestors were the crew of a Dutch ship wrecked off the coast long ago. Another that the local white planters were exceptionally libidinous and prolific.

It is farming country all the way through BULL SAVANNAH, JUNCTION, and TOP HILL where there is a monument to two children shot in a 1970s political campaign. Erected by the JLP, it is a grisly reminder of things better left unsaid in a tour book. SOUTHFIELD, where both routes converge, is a large and prosperous village.


Leaving Mandeville for SPUR TREE you pass R a residential subdivision at Hatfield boasting some elaborate residences like Rolling Hills a hilltop mansion belonging to the Hammond family, Jamaicans who made a bakery fortune in New York. This is one of Countrystyle's Bed and Breakfast listings.

At the Spur Tree cross roads there is a gas station and the small Bus Stop cafe. From the brow of the mountain, while viewing the St. Elizabeth plain for the first time, try to remember that the belching smokestacks of Alpart are vital to the island's economy. L of the main road and overlooking the lowland plant are Alpart's corporate headquarters. The Spur Tree switchback descends to a large mined-out bauxite pit that used to be the village of GUTTERS. At the T-junction near the bottom of the hill you can turn L to TREASURE BEACH via LITITZ. Almost immediately you come to the relocated Gutters, with a gas station, a few shops and JIM'S HQ, with a restaurant and a disco reputed to be the most popular in the island.

Or you can continue straight on to MALVERN via Santa Cruz. You drive through pasture and farmland infrequently punctuated by landmarks like St. Andrew's Church at GILNOCK or Mr. Brown's Bar half a mile further on. The prosperity of Santa Cruz is expressed in bulky new houses encased in fantastic burglar bar designs.

St. Elizabeth has always been famous for horse breeding and Santa Cruz grew up around a livestock market. Now it is the most vibrant town in the parish, a dormitory town for Alpart, and a centre for farmers with a typical Jamaican market overflowing into the surrounding streets. In the centre of town turn L for Malvern, along the road where the livestock market is still held every Saturday. Past an entity called Chariots Entertainment Centre (Bar open around the Back) you start the climb into the Santa Cruz Mountains, reputed to have the healthiest climate in the world. There are groves of Pimento (allspice) and bracken (a temperate climate bush) either side of the winding road. You will also notice Logwood trees (fortunes were once made by selling the logs for dye, nowadays the fragrant blossoms produce the best honey) and the indispensable guinea grass. You are in the centre of MALVERN when you reach a T-junction, facing a line of small shops with L the Police Station and El Paraguas Tavern.

Malvern is an educational oasis. The BETHLEHEM Moravian teacher's college, founded in 1861 at Bethabra in Manchester soon moved to Malvern where there had been a Moravian community since 1823. (Every Sunday, the newly converted slaves walked 20 miles to church at Fairfield near Spur Tree.) Moravian missionaries were brought to the island by the owners of Elim estate in 1754 to preach Christianity to their slaves. In the hot, mosquito-ridden lowlands they were plagued by fevers and many died. The survivors relocated in the mountains. Practical Christians, the Moravians concentrated on education ("Mihi cura futuri" is Bethlehem's motto) and imparted among other things the useful skill of building cut stone water tanks and catchments. Today, the Bethlehem educational complex, partially funded by government, comprises the college, primary and all-age schools. Rev Justin Peart, Minister of the Church is an affable gentleman with the ability to deliver an enthralling history of the Moravian church and its mission in Jamaica in about fifteen minutes. Its founder, a scholar named John Hus, was burnt at the stake for heresy in 1415. He "proclaimed the priesthood of all believers" - a credo shared by genuine Rastafarians.

THE MALVERN SCIENCE CENTRE in an old estate house opposite Hampton Girls School was established by the Masthead Foundation with some support from local donors like Alcan. Its mission - to provide an information centre for science teachers, students and aspiring environmentalists - is energetically supervised by Mrs. Heidi Reidel. Exhibits in the Sun, Sea and Sand rooms cleverly relate the world of science to the physical resources and economy of the island. A small Hall of Fame includes local celebrities like Dr. Thomas Lecky, who against official disapproval pursued cross-breeding experiments to produce the Jamaica Hope, an acclimatized dairy cow; and Mrs. Beth Jacobs, a family planning pioneer. MSRC also distributes How-to literature and advice on environment friendly options like Solar Ovens and Banana Circles. Heidi, an adopted Jamaican, is also a fund of information on St. Elizabeth. HAMPTON HIGH SCHOOL and MUNRO COLLEGE were established in the late nineteenth century by a trust left by two philanthropic merchants named Munro and Dickenson. Both schools have excellent academic records. Because of location they were originally elite boarding schools, today they are government aided and cater also to day-scholars.

Visitor accommodation is nil except for a cottage at Windy Manor (turn L off the Malvern to Mountainside road). Owners Winsome and Roy Manning (an aquaculturist) are also planning cabins and campsites on their 17 acre coffee and pimento farm.

Near Munro there are two routes down the hill. The first (turn R before the College) drops almost vertically offering spectacular views. Windswept Munro looms L above the road, living proof of an old school cheer which claims that "Munro Boys eat rice and peas, Munro boys feel mountain breeze, it makes them cold but it makes them bold". At the first crossroads the JAH BHQ bar and restaurant boasts 24 hour service - "if necessary". Turn R for Southfield, then R again at the next junction opposite the South St Elizabeth Holistic Medical Complex and you are in SOUTHFIELD, a prosperous mini-town. Past a church, turn L to LOVERS LEAP approximately 1 mile east. En route, the unpretentious Lovers Leap Guest House, Drive-In and Lounge is operated by Ms Yvonne Burton. Opposite Lovers Leap, there is a populous goat pen. From this cliff, legend says, two young slaves leapt to their death rather than be parted. The reality is a near vertical escarpment plunging thousands of feet to the sea and the view is spectacular.

So much so, that neither the adjacent army camp and radar facility nor an unfinished concrete structure littered with goat droppings can break the spell. In fact the view is enhanced by climbing to the unrailed balcony. It is possible to look down on small aircraft flying below you along the coast. A detachment of US military help to man the radar station - their mission is unspecified but locals believe that their main function is to monitor drug flights and shipments between the island and South America.

Returning to Southfield, turn L past a supermarket, bakery and ice-cream parlour heading south through "dry farming" country for Pedro Cross, where the Police Station overlooks the coast and the two Pedro salt ponds. The climate here is semi-desert, but the land blooms miraculously with the slightest rainfall. Bear left for Treasure Beach. Before you get there, turn L towards GREAT BAY. On either side, the smooth brown pastures, neatly fenced with gnarled timber and barbwire are sparsely filled with goats and sheep. There is a sprinkling of farmers homes and a line of cottages for rent around the bay. Three afternoons per week the beach is the scene of much activity when the fishing boats return from the PEDRO CAYS. The rest of the time it is almost deserted except for men playing dominoes under the thatch at Spanner Elliot's Water Hole. Fishing trips can be arranged. Price negotiable. Unofficial mayor of Great Bay is Desmond Henry, a former Director of Tourism and now eco-tourism consultant and practitioner.

TREASURE BEACH is less a village than a series of bays and coves, edged with cottages for rent. The locals, independent small farmers and fisherfolk have awakened belatedly to the economic potential of tourism as the area becomes increasingly popular. The inevitable side-effects of tourism, high prices, harassment and even crime are not unknown but still vestigial and the culprits are usually from other areas.

Places to stay: Numerous cottages and villas from basic to luxurious can be rented through Countrystyle or JAVA/Vacation Network. TREASURE BEACH HOTEL on a hilltop overlooking Frenchman's Bay (good bathing but watch the surf and the currents) has a beachside swimming pool and colourful garden shaded by Lignum Vitae and Palms. Cheerful decor, courteous service and reasonable rates.

THE OLDE WHARFE RESORT is unique among seafront hotels for its unimpeded 360 degree view including the Great Salt Pond, the plains, the mountains, Pedro Bluff, Great Bay, and Calabash Bay. If you are lucky you may even see manatees close to the rocky shore. The owner, Mrs. Sharon James Rose, says that she "hates to use the word eco-tourism" but offers something very similar. Olde Wharfe has a family oriented Jamaican atmosphere with swimming pool, sheltered beach, ironshore grotto, bird sanctuary and an old white mare called Snowflake grazing nearby.

Vegetable fields and smooth pastures line the road through NEWELL and WATCHWELL to the edge of the Black River Morass. A short detour R to MOUNTAINSIDE takes you to MISS LURíS one of the best restaurants in the south - if you like roast pork. The owner, Lurline Patrick is the retired Postmistress.

At Salt Spring, the left fork takes you to PAROTEE BEACH and the sea; take the R fork to BLACK RIVER capital of St Elizabeth. The town, with a deep water harbour but no pier is still a fairly active port. Ships are loaded by large open boats called lighters. The Black River, dark as molasses, is the largest in the island and drains an extensive wetland soon to be declared a national park. Its clear water reflects the colour of the peat lining banks and riverbed. The river's main source rises as Hector's River near Troy in the Cockpit Country and goes underground twice before resurfacing near Balaclava. Long ago Black River was an important waterway navigable for almost 25 miles upstream. Today it is used primarily for shrimping, and tourism. The uncontrolled increase in pleasure traffic is threatening the habitat of crocodiles and other species. Trips start from the bridge. On the east bank, SOUTHCOAST SAFARIS is operated by crocodile buff Charles Swaby who pioneered trips up the river through Man-grove Avenue - a fine spot to swim. On the west bank Dr. Dan Bennett's St. Elizabeth Safari offers more of less the same itinerary in pontoon craft.

The town's somnolent charm is enhanced by old buildings and a historic Anglican parish church of rosy brick. A neglected mineral spa to the west of town, once a favourite place for King Leopold of the Belgians, continues to await rescue.

Places to stay: Cottages along Crane Road and Parottee beach are available for rent through Countrystyle, or JAVA/Vacation Network. Hotels and guests houses include: PORT OF CALL and BRIDGE HOUSE along the coast road east of town are both noted for good food. WATERLOO GUEST HOUSE on the coast-road west of town has a comfortable new wing. This old Victorian mansion was the first house in Jamaica to get electricity when the original owner, a Mr. Leyden, installed a lighting plant so that he could air condition the stables of his racehorses. INVERCAULD HOUSE, a restored Victorian mansion plus its modern mirror image, replicated in concrete is clean and comfortable. HOTEL PONTIO overlooks the sea on the western edge of town.

The Black River and its many tributaries meandering across the plains of St. Elizabeth have contributed to the formation of THE GREAT MORASS - a huge area of freshwater swamp dotted with islands and covered with lush wetland vegetation including stands of majestic palms. The road north to MIDDLE QUARTERS skirts south west of the morass. Unsuccessful attempts to develop this area date back to 1783 when the British government decided to settle some loyalist American refugees here. Local opponents to the scheme gleefully reported that even a settler whose name was Frogge found the area too damp, so the scheme was abandoned. More recently there have been unsuccessful attempts to extend rice production and a successful project to introduce fish farming. Jamculture has a large fish and shrimp farm at Barton Isles. To date, however, the most lucrative crop is illegal - marijuana (ganja); hence the sporadic activity on several unofficial airstrips constructed in the morass during the 1970s.

At Middle Quarters, vendors squat on the roadside with baskets and plastic pails of hot peppered shrimp. Some of the shrimps come from the adjacent wetland streams but most of them are imported from Big Bridge in Westmoreland. The design of the bamboo crayfish pots is of African origin and centuries old. One mile from Middle Quarters a road leads L to the beautiful YS Falls.

Back on the main highway you travel to LACOVIA through photogenic BAMBOO AVENUE, a cool green tunnel three miles long formed by bamboos arching from both sides of the road. Midway there is a JTB reststop with washrooms and snacks. The farmland either side is leased to Appleton estate and grows cane and mangoes.

LACOVIA, the longest village in the island, sprawls on both sides of a bridge over the Black River and was the site of a battle between the Spanish and British in 1655. Lacovia's famous tombstone beside the gas station marks the site of two ancient tombs now covered by the road. One legend says that the tombs are those of a British and a Spanish soldier who were chosen by their respective armies to do battle in single combat but another legend claims that the duel was over a lady. Both duelists died and one of the seconds got the girl. The remaining tombstone, relocated by the roadside, commemorates one Thomas Jordan Spencer aged 15 and the engraved Coat of Arms on it connects the lad with the family of Winston Churchill and Princess Di.

An interesting crop in these parts is the Cashew. The slow growing trees produce gourmet nuts encased in a hard shell at the tip of the fruit that make a delectable preserve and heady liqueur.

Possible detour: Turn L at the gas station for MAGGOTTY, APPLE VALLEY PARK and APPLETON ESTATE. Or continue north through SANTA CRUZ, then GUTTERSwhere you start the climb up Spur Tree Hill and back to Mandeville.

Go-Jamaica Discover Jamaica Daily Gleaner
Go-Jamaica Discover Jamaica Gleaner Online

• Copyright © The Gleaner Company Limited, all rights reserved.
• E-mail to report problems or request assistance.