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Tour 8 - The Hills North of Mandeville
Excerpted from the book, Tour Jamaica, by Margaret Morris

The Mandeville to Kendal highway gives a bird's eye view of Jamaica's huge red mud lake glowering beneath Shooters Hill. At the junction north of Kendal the L fork leads L to Grove Place, an agricultural research station. A detour this way takes you through citrus groves and dairy pastures to Balaclava, Appleton and Maggotty.

BALACLAVA is a pleasant village, a backwater since the closure of the railway. It has a pretty Anglican church and proximity to the huge Oxford Caves.

APPLETON ESTATE on the edge of the Cockpit Country is a privately owned sugar estate and factory, producer of famous Appleton rum. Closure of the railway has put an end to a tourism tradition - The Appleton Express from Montego Bay, but the Appleton Rum Tour, currently via bus, is still very popular.

MAGGOTTY, another rural community isolated by the closure of the railway, was once the site of magnificent waterfalls long since sacrificed for hydro-electricity. A sad and rather shabby village, Maggotty is the site of Apple Valley, a pleasant water park offering boating and fishing on a mini-lake and river swimming. Picnic areas, barbeques and campsites are also available. The owners, the Lee family, run the store and bakery opposite the entrance and operate a guest house nearby.

Or turn R at the junction north of KENDAL for SHOOTERS HILL, site of the Pickapeppa factory. Based on a secret formula, both the hot and the sweet Pickapeppa sauces are prized by gourmets all over the world. It is a stiff hike to the top of Shooters Hill but the view on clear days is magnificent. A former owner, Alexander Heron, left instructions that he was to be buried here. The current owners maintain his tomb and the original great house. Across from the Jamalcan refinery, turn left up to the hills. MIZPAH Moravian church, L overlooks the highway. It was begun in 1869 by a German minister Theodore Sonderman and completed in 1870 by Heinrich Walder, a Swiss missionary who founded the nearby village of Walderston. Here, an observatory known locally as 'The Castle' was built by an English peeress and is now the site of a workshop/home that produces decorative jigsaw craft items.

The villages of WALDERSTON, SPALDINGS, CHRISTIANA, COLEYVILLE and countless small homesteads meander across the mountains and appear to merge. You can see for miles in all directions and after dark the myriad lights twinkle through the mist like fallen stars.

At Walderston, bear left for Christiana. Hotel VILLA BELLA on the brow of a hill and set in a three acre garden, has 22 rooms and a gourmet menu that includes English High Tea. Information about places of interest including HIBERNIA, a farm offering hiking and pony trekking, is available at the front desk. They can also give you directions to BETHANY another interesting Moravian Church founded in 1835. It was in Christiana, in 1898 that an American minister called George Lopp first introduced the Irish potato to the island. His first plot is still maintained at Bethany by the Minister of the Church.

The town of CHRISTIANA is surrounded by small farmers who produce ginger, bananas, yams and the bulk of the island's Irish Potatoes. The light-skinned farmers of Christiana Bottom are of German descent. Some of their forbears fought as mercenaries for King George III during the American War of Independence and afterwards received land grants. Two turn-of-the-century cut stone buildings - the Police Station and another Moravian church - overlook Christiana's main street. If the mountain air makes you hungry, Juicibeef patties, arguably the best in Jamaica, are available at a snack shop nearby.

The road winds west through Coleyville, another farming district noted for strawberries. Past the Bryce United Church and School the road L leads to the Christiana Potato Growers store house and the GOURIE cave. At a crossroads marking the district of DUMP you can turn R for an adventurous trip skirting the Cockpit Country through ALBERT TOWN, ULTSTER SPRING and ALPS back to the northcoast at DUNCANS.

Or bear L up a hill and explore an equally unfrequented road towards CRAIG HEAD and TROY. Approaching PIKE you will spy L a gigantic golf ball looming above the peak that is 3226 feet high. This is a radar station that was established with the help of the Canadian government some years ago, reportedly for tracking illegal flights. It has now been superseded by a more functional facility at Lovers Leap, set up and manned by U.S. military personnel. Nowadays,the lone inhabitants of the Pike station are security guards and the fine for trespassing is J$20,000, but the road up to the peak entrance is good and offers interesting views including a close-up of a dry limestone forest: lush vegetation springing from bare rock. On this road you will meet pick-ups laden with yams bound for market and view an extensive patchwork of Jamaican hill farms. Troy is the destination for the long hike from Windsor in Trelawny through the Cockpit Country - just about as far into the ìinteriorî as you can get on wheels.

Heading southeast from Christiana, it is about 3.5 miles on a good road to SPALDINGS the largest town in these hills with a busy main street, a choice of banks, a large hospital and KNOX COLLEGE; a unique educational centre, the brain child of the late Rev Lewis Davidson and sponsored initially by the Presbyterian church (now the United Church of Jamaica and Grand Cayman). Davidson, a Scotsman, came to Jamaica as headmaster of Wolmer's Boys School in Kingston but his concept of education proved too revolutionary for the Wolmer's board of the day and his contract was not renewed. Knox was founded in 1940 and deliberately sited in a remote area to test Davidson's axiom that an educational institution must contribute to the development and well being of the surrounding community. Knox puts great emphasis on character building and the teaching of practical skills. Today the complex includes a Junior School, High School, Community College, farm, printery and dental clinic.

The route from Spaldings to the northcoast via BOROBRIDGE, winds through hill country and yam, cane, coffee and banana cultivations. Thence through AENON TOWN and CAVE VALLEY where the Cave River sinks to emerge miles downstream at STEWART TOWN as the Rio Bueno. Cave Valley has a busy Saturday market, specializing in the sale of livestock: goats, cows and donkeys. En route to BROWNS TOWN, about 16 winding miles away, you pass through ABOUKIR, a rural educational centre and CLARKSONVILLE, one of several 'free villages' created by the emancipated slaves with the help of Baptist missionaries.

From Spaldings, the route to the south winds through the Clarendon hills, and above and along the RIO MINHO valley (the longest river in Jamaica) between citrus orchards, through FRANKFIELD and CHAPELTON to MAY PEN. These once fertile hills, were the childhood home of Jamaican author and poet laureate Claude McKay and a continuing source of inspiration to him. Books like My Green Hills of Jamaica and Banana Bottom provide a compelling picture of rural life sixty years ago. About a mile west of Frankfield there is a famous fossil bed. Fossils here, including an extinct species of gigantic shellfish, are estimated to be between 65 and 70 million years old.

Some of these can be seen in the small museum in the Geology Department of the UWI.

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