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St. Nicholas Abbey Bridgetown

6th March 2017

Beachcombing at Bath, Exploring Harrison's Cave and Lessons in Batik

    Downpours and continuous cloud didn't bode well for Meryl's horse riding session this morning. She had received a call earlier in the morning suggesting she arrive not too early as another couple joining the hack had to be picked up.
    By 9am we were retracing our route up to Coderington Theological College, and then onto the coast road towards Bathsheba. Shortly after the Bath turn-off, we bounced down the bedraggled road towards the stables turn off, then a gentle marl drive brought us to a large paddock bordered by a line of stables. Within minutes the owner, Bernard, arrived with the other two jockeys for the morning hack.
Brain and Fan Coral
    Fortunately, the rain had stopped. As the three riders tacked up, Bernard came over to chat with us. He had spotted me eyeing up all the trees in his front garden, so he proceeded to describe to me what they were, the nutritional value of the fruit they bore, and also the medicinal value of the fruit and leaves. "I don't believe in taking guns and going to war," he shouted with a beaming smile, "but I want to start a revolution by growing my own food here."
    His wife appeared with their young son. He had been off school for a week with the sniffles; yes folk in Barbados can get the sniffles. "If your child is off school for more than two days, you must take a doctor's certificate to school. I'm returning him after a week, and it will be 10 o'clock before I get him there, so there will be big trouble," she laughed.
    The three riders, Bernard, and a stable lad who used to be a jockey before retiring early with an injury, mounted up and disappeared into the trees behind the stables.
    Rex and I drove down to the beach at Bath. The waters are protected by one of the many off-shore coral reefs found around Barbados and thought to provide one of the safest places for swimming and bathing on the East Coast of Barbados, hence the name Bath Beach. The hardy Casuarina trees populous in Barbados and the strong fresh breezes provide many cool shady areas for relaxing picnics on the grassy lawns or beach.
Giant Pincers
    The beach contained small drifts of multi-coloured coral, with the odd pebble of sandstone or sedimentary rock interspersed. We sought treasures as we strolled along the sandy shore amongst the sea weed, sea grass, flotsam and jetsam. Many varieties of coral had been washed ashore; quite a lot of brain coral and multi-coloured fan coral.
    Small sandpipers comically sprinted across the sand, up and down as the waves advanced and receded. The speed at which their spindly legs moved gave them an almost cartoon appearance.
    Rex spotted the odd Land Crab disappear down the burrow he had dug. The beach was liberally peppered with thousands of holes marking the burrows.
Yellow Coastguard Lookout
    We returned back to the yellow coastguard lookout, a trademark for the island. There, a young woman attendant at the block housing public changing rooms, toilets and showers, was quietly practicing her singing, song sheet in hand, and she sang very sweetly too. She beckoned me, pointing out that Rex was trying to attract my attention. He had spotted Bernard's posse of horses appearing out of the forest. We waved as they passed by, and watched them head up the beach. The tide was in, so gallops along the beach were not possible this morning. They disappeared around a bend, but soon returned, walked up to the other end of the beach, and then disappeared back into the forest. A few folk were now frolicking in the water, presumably only possible when the tide was high enough to flood the pools or "baths".
    We took our time returning to the stables, arriving just as the riders appeared out of the trees and undergrowth. Shortly Bernard was giving everyone a coconut to drink from. As we sipped, the stable lad busied himself hosing down the horses before returning them to their stables. Bernard continued the conversation that he had broken off from before the hack. I took the opportunity to ask, "Are there any Red Legs living in this vicinity?", an appropriate question since the book I had read put them in this location.
Riders in the Surf
    "A few of the Ecky-Becky, or Poor Backras as we know them, live just below St. John's Parish Church. Another pocket live just up the coast. They've been here for at least six generations," he replied. He didn't elaborate, and I thought it more tactful not to delve down. The conversation quickly took a turn as Bernard's wife suddenly turned up; with a face tumbling with smiles she informed us she had not got into trouble at school.
    We exchanged our farewells, and headed right across the centre of the island traversing a tortuous route, the signposts leaving a lot to be desired. We zigzagged and bounced our way between huge swathes of sugar cane, banana plantations and crops of yams, sweet potatoes and cassava. Large sweeping plains were dominated by magnificent planters' houses, all the agriculture here being on a much grander scale compared to the coastal fringes. Small villages were centred on neatly kept churches, each one seeming to be of a different denomination.
    It took a while, but we eventually reached our destination of Harrison's Cave situated at 700 ft. above sea level. A large, featureless car and coach park greeted us, and the grand entrance building, whose interior was the size of a huge cavern, was equally featureless; lacking in the niceties of a cafe where one could buy a simple coffee or tea, just a cold drinks dispenser. The building was surprisingly almost empty; I presumed a tour had just departed.
    A small ticket office propped up one end of this building, and here a handful of folk were gathered, though the process of selling tickets seemed to have ground to a halt. An American woman at the counter was glowering at the woman on the other side. The American woman's son stood next to her, bored out of his mind. Her husband lurked in the far reaches of the cavernous hall. The woman burst into a tirade, "We booked the 1pm tour months ago. Look, here is the confirmation!" she shrieked, thrusting a document under the eyes of the long suffering lady behind the counter.
Harrison's Cave
    "I'm sorry, the 1pm tour was full when you turned up. You will have to wait until the 2pm tour which will depart in 40 minutes," replied the woman behind the counter in a calm voice. Judging the worn out expression of her face, she had been trudging through this conversation for some time.
    "We can't wait until the 2pm tour, the tour lasts an hour, and we have get back to the ship which departs at 4pm!" cried out the American woman. Her husband sauntered back onto the scene, with a resigned expression on his face due to either the fact that they would have to forego the tour, or perhaps that his wife would be giving him earache for the rest of the day. "How can you be so stupid as to double book when we had already booked months ago. I want a refund!" continued the American lady.
    "I'm sorry, we will not refund you, but you can take the 2pm tour," replied the woman behind the counter with gentle, measured tones and the patience of a saint.
    At that the American woman stormed off cursing, dragging her son behind her. Hubbie meekly followed at a safe distance. The cab journey back to their cruise ship would have been colourful and entertaining for the driver.
    The process of getting onto the tour was a little haphazard, various walking options were on offer, but we were told the only one we were going to get today was a ride down the cave on an electric tram. No dramas. We descended to a valley bottom, or to be more exact a gully floor, via a lift, and after a disorganised wait, we joined about twenty others to watch a ten minute film about the cave's history and formation.
    In the early 1700s, much of the land in the area was owned by Thomas Harrison. It's not clear whether Harrison ever entered the cave that bears his name. The caves were first mentioned in historical documents in 1795. Several expeditions ventured into Harrison's Cave during the 18th and 19th centuries. However, because the natural entrances to the cave were hard to get to, and the cave's inside passages presented many challenges, exploration rapidly ground to a halt.
More of Harrison's Cave
    No serious exploration of the cave was done until 1970, when Danish speleologist and engineer, Ole Sorensen, assisted by two young Bajans, Tony Mason and Allison Thornhill, was commissioned by the Barbados National Trust to make a survey and map the cave. Sorensen immediately recognised the potential of the cave and recommended that it be landscaped and developed. Four years later, the Barbados government started developing the cave with a view to creating a show cave and attraction, drawing on scientific, artistic, technological and geological resources. The work involved digging tunnels that could accommodate trams, improving lighting and diverting of underground streams. The cave was opened to the public in 1981.
    Suitably informed, we all piled into a couple of electric trams coupled up to each other, amazingly made in Britain. Our vehicles then transported us through the entrance to the cave, the Boyce Tunnel, named in honour of equipment operator Noel Boyce, the first member of the construction team to break through the bedrock and into the natural passageways of Harrison's Cave.
    Our tram took us down a manmade roadway through the cave system, passing the unusual stalactite and stalagmite formations and curtains formed by the calcium-rich water constantly dripping throughout the galleries. Streams of crystal-clear water appeared out of holes in the cave walls, and dropped into deep emerald pools before disappearing off again into the bowels of the cave.
    As we travelled through the 2.3Km long caves, out tram stopped at certain points allowing the guide to point out various features, or for us to alight from the tram and get close up to the formations. One main area of the caves is a huge cavern, termed "The Great Hall", measuring over 15m in height. After the "Great Hall" the tram stopped at "The Village", where some of the formations have joined together to form columns after thousands of years. Other stopping off points along the tour included "The Chapel," "The Rotundra," and the "The Altar." Our tour's end point was a walk alongside a spectacular 40 feet waterfall which plunged into a deep pool below.
Yet More of Harrison's Cave
    All too soon we were back on the surface bathed in the warm sunlight. It was too late to visit the nearby Welchman Hall Gully or the Flower Forest. Instead Rex took us on a rather magical mystery tour to the Earthworks Pottery and Gallery. Earthworks is a production pottery, established in 1983 by Goldie Spieler, and now run by her son David. Using a red clay, the pottery produces a functional line of tableware as well as vases, lamps, desk and bathroom accessories. Everything is hand-finished and hand-decorated with underglaze colours.
    I made straight for the pottery manufacturing area as soon as we arrived. Wandering down aisles of slip casting moulds, I stopped to have a chat with a lady dipping a batch of pots into a clear glaze. Further down I passed a couple of large commercial kilns before stumbling across a pug-mill gently pulping a batch of recycled clay and regurgitating it into a long rectangular slab of uniform consistency. A young fellow cut off a length from the slab and loaded it onto a trolley already containing a dozen other slabs. I had a long chat with the young fellow, and he opened up one of the kilns for me. He soon gathered I had some ceramics experience, so we got into a more in depth conversation and he seemed to appreciate having somebody to discuss his profession with him; a very helpful and friendly young man.
    I thanked the lad, and went off to find Rex and Meryl, who I quickly located in the Batik Studio. They were chatting to Hendy, a resident artist. Henderson Reece was born in St. Michael, Barbados, and is mostly a self-taught artist but had some formal training at The Barbados Community College. Initially, Hendy, as he is affectionately called began painting with oils and water mediums. For the past 34 years he has been working extensively with Batik medium. He is well known among art lovers and for his fresh, vibrant and delightful Batik creations. He exuded enthusiasm for his craft, describing his art as a delight in what he sees and feels, and he attempts to portray his feelings through his art. His inspiration is drawn from the beautiful Caribbean environment, the landscape and its people, the forms and colours that he sees in nature. He gave us a quick run-down on the processes and techniques involved in Batik, pointing out that he also ran one day courses throughout the year. This pricked Meryl's ears up; watch this space.
    Up a flight of stairs and we were in The Wall Gallery, a fine art and craft gallery dedicated to showcasing local artist and craftsmen. Meryl admired a couple of the paintings, but the prices were not cheap. The lady in charge of the gallery seemed to me to have an Irish accent. "Where abouts in Ireland do you come from?" I asked.
    She laughed out loud, giving me an incredulous look at the same time. "I came from Trinidad. My father was Irish, and moved to Trinidad when I was three years old." She went on to discuss the various accents across Barbados, making the comment that the U.K. has many accents too. Meryl pointed out that I came from Cumbria, noting that my accent could be difficult to follow at times. "Oh, one of my nephews lives in Aspatria in Cumbria," she said. "He does not know the difference between a brush and a broom." That made me think for a bit.
    "A broom uses twigs as the sweeping element, and is also used by witches in England," was my offering.
    "That's what my nephew says too," she laughed. She sidled up to me and whispered, "Don't you wish you had a beard like that?" she asked. I turned around to spot a young man sporting a very bushy beard. I wasn't sure whether she approved and thought I ought to have one too, or whether she disapproved.
    "At one time I did have a beard, but nowadays I prefer to keep my hair and beard to such a length that I can wash, dry and comb it all in under 7 seconds," I replied, which she thought funny. We shared a few more laughs with the lady before departing.
    The rush-hour traffic on our journey back to base was a nightmare. At a supermarket stop I tried to withdraw cash from an ATM. It just refused my cards, great, and I decided not to retry in case it swallowed them completely; not a good prospect when that happens in a foreign land.
    It was lovely to return to Mike's bungalow for a bucket full of tea, followed up by a beer or two of ice cold beer and a spaghetti Bolognese.

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St. Nicholas Abbey Bridgetown
Last updated 27.4.2017