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Take a Hike with Trails & Tales

Hiking Guide (6)

For the map of this specific walk, please refer to our e-publication

Extract from Ron Beard’s Trails & Tales: The British Virgin Islands Hiking Guide

In our July issue, we offered an extract from one of aLookingGlass’s publications Trails & Tales. Since September is a quiet time of the year in the BVI, challenging residents with how best to entertain themselves, we’re offering another exciting walk that may fill the void for activity on one of your vacant weekends.

If you haven’t heard, this is the ultimate guide book to make certain you don’t get lost on the BVI’s most beautiful hikes, and absorb as much of the island’s natural environment as possible.

Author Ron Beard came to the Territory in 2011 on a two-year contract as Deputy and then Acting Chief Planner in the Premier’s Office. After several DIY hikes, he realised that there was no guidance literature on the island for this hobby. After collaboration with aLookingGlass and sponsorship from Sir Richard Branson, Henry Jarecki, Biwater International, VP Bank, and the BVI Tourist Board, Trails & Tales was conceived.

Enjoy this extract of the educational Road Town Heritage trail.

Road Town Heritage – Trail Directions

From the Cruise Pier (see Waypoint on the map) head for Admin Drive, turn left, and continue for 250 yards towards the centre of town. But before proceeding too far, look S and begin to understand how the horse-shoe shaped harbour or ‘roadstead’ was protected by Fort George, Fort Burt, and Fort Charlotte all strategically positioned on the hills rising steeply either side of its broad entrance.

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The Premier’s office and other ministries of the government are housed in the Central Administration Complex, the first building on the left as you head generally W. You may wish to turn left and walk towards the complex along the central path, noting the well-tended beds with the tiny flaming red ixora, multi-coloured bougainvillea, and stately royal palms with pearly-eyed thrashers and bananaquits flitting amongst them.

Turn right from the CAC and on to Lloyd Road, past the recently extended Marias-by-the-Sea Hotel beyond which is a collection of brightly painted huts known as Crafts Alive Village. This attraction provides accommodation for traders to sell locally crafted produce and is a worthy attempt to promote traditional skills, so take the time to explore this colourful corner. Look for locally-made wood carvings, dressed dolls, paintings, foods and drinks amongst the mass of imported ‘souvenirs’.

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Beyond Crafts Alive, turn left and continue S along Waterfront Drive past the busy International Ferry Dock with regular sailings to and from the USVI, Virgin Gorda, and Anegada. Beyond this, and on the opposite side of Waterfront Drive, enjoy the scale and colour of some of the early local commercial/residential buildings on your right, including Richardsons Rigging Services. It is interesting to note that, until comparatively recent reclamation, these looked directly over the sea.

Some 400 yards farther on, observe an uncharacteristically grand pillar and cast iron structure running parallel to the left hand edge of the road. This fence encloses Queen Elizabeth II National Park which is in the process of being transformed, from a rather barren open field, into a 4ac landscaped park on the waterfront that will surely become a popular venue for family outings in the future. Almost immediately opposite, an electric gate guards the formal driveway to Government House. The well-tended gardens and oleander hedge beyond partially obscure the imposing private residence of His Excellency The Governor, which is not open to the public. However immediately right of the main entrance is a smaller gate, giving access to Old Government House.

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The original House was trashed by a devastating hurricane in 1924 and rebuilt as the first concrete structure in the Territory, surviving for many decades. However as a result of the slow deterioration of the building, a decision was taken to construct an entirely new residence for the Governor in the gardens and this was completed and occupied in 2003. Thanks to the efforts of many, the original building was saved and converted to what it is today Old Government House Museum, devoted to explaining and commemorating the role of the Governor as the representative of the British Monarch. Clamber up some steps up and past a glorious flamboyant tree and a steep driveway, noting the grand portico-ed front entrance.

While this no longer fulfils its original purpose, look out for a well-concealed door on the left side of the building that is now the entrance to this charming Museum.

The helpful staff will gladly show you around, point out items of note and regale you with anecdotes from the past. Amongst many interesting features there are several formal rooms furnished as they were half a century or more ago, with artefacts from a much earlier period. The old building also plays host to a comprehensive (but mouldering) library, the unique National Stamp Collection and ‘The Quaker Room’ telling the eventful story of that sect and its influence on the islands from some 250 years ago. There is also a wonderful garden laid out by Margaret Barwick wife of David R Barwick CBE, Governor of the BVI between 1982-86. She also painted the exquisite murals on the walls of the dining room depicting scenes from windows of the grand house, imagined from the past. Postcards of these rooms, books and many other local souvenirs are available at the small but perfectly formed museum shop. As you depart, look out for the two well preserved heavy cannons outside the old front door to Old Government House.

Return down the driveway and steps to Waterfront Drive, turn left and follow the green fence round left and off Waterfront Drive. Once past the gate signposted Office of the Governor, turn right along a peaceful residential street. This is the beginning of Main Street and, on a quiet Sunday, it seems to retain much of its old-time atmosphere. A few paces on the left in an attractive two-storeyed half-timbered house and, only if the doors are open, admire the craft of the joiner. Who said coffin making was a dying trade?

Note the colourful traditional timber houses opposite, especially number 39 the First Bailiff’s House, perched on brick pillar foundations to keep previous inhabitants above the high tide mark, but now almost engulfed by vegetation.

After about 75yds, look left up a cascade of steps to the original Peebles General Hospital  left  , named after its founder Major HW Peebles (Commissioner of the Virgin Islands) in 1922. The new hospital, immediately behind, is now operational after several long years of effort.

Continue on past the old steps noting the Noni tree on the left. Its fruit is processed and consumed for more traditional medicinal purposes than that which it’s common name (‘painkiller’) would have us believe. ‘The Painkiller’ is a world famous locally invented libation requiring pineapple and orange juice, coconut cream, half a flagon of rum, all topped off with some crushed ice and freshly ground nutmeg … rather yummy. Continue on past several historic structures which Dr Mitchell (Mitch) Kent will be only too pleased to tell you all about on one of his irregular but memorable Main Street walks. (Details through Old Government House Museum.)

Some 200yds past the hospital, look out for Russell Hill Road on the left and a view of the quaint little end-stop building housing offices of The Beacon . This is a reputable local weekly newspaper, published on Thursdays and essential reading especially if you want to keep track of which of the 475,000 companies registered in the BVI have gone into voluntary liquidation during the past week!

A few paces past the modern offices of Harney’s, a cornerstone of the legal establishment in the Territory for some considerable time, sits Mr Penn’s Pharmacy  . This is a substantial three-storey building with attractive arched ground floor and was once the chemist of choice on Main Street. However, squeezed by competition from elsewhere, the business has recently closed, but it is to be hoped that the new users of the handsome property will respect its heritage and maintain its fabric.

Opposite this the Eastern Caribbean Supreme Court, Commercial Division sits in judgement on issues related to alleged business misdemeanours. The new building, of the ‘eclectic’ school of design, overlooks a much older single storey building on the opposite side of Customs Street, with a few small windows covered by grilles. This is what remains of one of the Territory’s early detention-cell blocks  and, as such, may send a shiver down the spines of some of the accused that enter the Court opposite. (Incidentally, the ‘cells’ now house a hairdresser cum beauty parlour!)

Continuing along Main Street, pause in the Old Market Square, now Sir Olva Georges Plaza     which sits between the Ferry Dock right, beyond Waterfront Drive and the Old Post Office left. Sir James Olva Georges, O.B.E., M.B.E., K.B. 1880-1976, after whom the square is named, was a distinguished public servant, community leader and member of the Legislative and Executive Councils as well as the first BVIslander to be knighted for services to the Territory.

Imagine the market scene in the middle of last century, before Trust Funds replaced farming as the territory’s principal source of income and before the sea bed was reclaimed and Waterfront Drive constructed. This little square and the stretch of land beyond to the original town dock, illustrated below in the painting by respected local artist Ruben Vanderpool,   was where the bountiful produce of the land was brought by precipitous donkey-track and by locally built sloops from farms across the islands, to trade in the local market and to export to St Thomas, St Croix and farther afield.

Extract from Ron Beard’s Trails & Tales: The British Virgin Islands Hiking Guide

Contact info@alookingglass.com to purchase a copy of this book

Erin Paviour-Smith

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