A former teacher and charity worker from the North East of England, I love people and places and like to try out new experiences wherever possible. Capturing that 'perfect pic' is all part of the pleasure. Access issues are a particular interest.
Published February 27th 2014
A friendly island tour that packed a bit of a punch
An excursion with Ted's Tours proved to be a little different from your usual tour. For a start he liked to drive his bus with bare feet and there was a plentiful supply of Ted's own rum punch on tap for the punters, so if you feel like chilling out while you take in a slice of Caribbean culture, this is a great way to do it.
The beautiful island of Barbados is a coral island formed millions of years ago by volcanic activity and its pristine white beaches are a joy to behold.
With over 60miles (97km) of beautiful shoreline, it is a tropical heaven for beach lovers, but that's not all it has to offer.
The Caribbean jewel that is Barbados is just twenty one miles by fifteen (or if you prefer your measurements in kilometres its 34km x 24km) and is the most easterly of the Caribbean islands. Lying just 13˚ north of the equator just above Venezuela, Barbados is surrounded by the Atlantic Ocean on its eastern shores and the calm Caribbean to the west.
A couple of years ago my husband Colin and I were celebrating our Pearl Wedding Anniversary. We travelled with British Airways holidays and stayed at the Coconut Court Beach Hotel near Hastings, which has bee run by the Blades family since 1975. Ted's Tours is operated by family member Ted Blades, who took us all around this little Caribbean isle explaining what we were seeing as we took our seats aboard the bus and enjoyed the views from its windows, while the rum punch set the mood.
Ted's local knowledge and good humour made for a really good day out as he and a friend told stories and cracked jokes along the way.
We were picked up at our hotel then headed up the west coast through Bridgetown towards Speightstown. There were also stops at Cherry Tree Hill, Bathsheba and St. John's, with a final stop at Sunbury plantation house for lunch, finally returning via St. Lawrence Gap to our hotel in the Christ Church area.
The island revealed a combination of historic houses, lush vegetation, friendly people and natural beauty. This is, after all, what we came for.
Speightstown, once the busiest port in Barbados, has many historic buildings dating back to the early settlement of the island while its restaurants serve up the catch of the day and its bars offer a uniquely Bajan night out. It's golden beach is met by a long covered promenade allowing you to enjoy the view while staying out of the hot Caribbean sun. The Fisherman's Pub down on the shoreline looked very inviting.
Heading uphill to one of the highest points on the island, Cherry Tree Hill sits 850m above the Atlantic Ocean in the north of the island. Unsurprisingly, its name is thought to be derived from the cherry trees that once grew there, however, mahogany trees were introduced by the British from Asian shores in the 18th century and are still going strong there, while tall sugar cane – so prominent in the island's rum trade, grows close by and sways in the Atlantic breeze.
While there, we enjoyed tasting the raw sugar cane (which has the texture of rhubarb - but obviously not as bitter) followed by some more of Ted's rum punch and perused the local carvings and artwork set up on stalls overlooking the ocean.
We were also introduced to a Bajan Green Monkey, an indigenous species from the island whose handler was more than happy to let him run around and climb the nearby trees.
Although not absolutely green in colour, his silky silvery-grey coat did look green in certain lights and he was well camouflaged against the backdrop of the trees.
St. John's Church
A short journey led us to St. John's church, it's original building is thought to be the oldest on the island and possibly the first stone building there too. The island's churches are mainly Anglican and the regions around the island are divided up into parishes, such as St. John's, St. Philip's and St. Michael's, reflecting the religion of the early English settlers, although there are as many as one hundred different religious beliefs and denominations represented on the island.
St. John's has its own visitor centre and scenic views over the Atlantic Ocean while inside is quintessentially English in atmosphere, with plain furnishings and beautiful stained glass windows
The present day church was built in 1871 and replaced an earlier building that was destroyed in a hurricane. There are beautiful views of the Atlantic Ocean from the gardens surrounding the church and some interesting features include an early sundial and the grave of one of the last descendant in the bloodline of the Byzantine Emperor Constantine.
Bathsheba beach on the Atlantic Coast revealed wonderful rock formations carved out by the sea and inshore pools formed by coral reefs where bathers could cool down and enjoy a free spa bath as the ocean spray turns to foam as it channels through the inlets to the pools.
Bathsheba is said to have been named after the wife of the Old Testament King David who, legend has it, bathed in donkey' milk. Bathsheba, so the story goes, gained its name as the pools there are said to resemble the milky baths of the Biblical Queen.
But the beautiful beaches of Barbados weren't always prized by landowners. Being an island covered in lush vegetation, plantations had been the mainstay of the economy before the days of tourism.
Sugar cane was the main crop, bringing indentured labour and slaves to the island from the mid 1600s to tend the land and harvest the crop. The sugar trade was very lucrative, whether used and processed as sugar or distilled into rum, and the grand plantation houses are a testament to the wealth of the landowners.
Sunbury Plantation House
Our next visit to Sunbury plantation house was like stepping back in time to early colonial days, when the wealthy owners transported a little piece of home to their houses in 'the Americas'.
Dating back to 1660, Sunbury plantation house is in the parish of St. Philip and is listed as one of the Great Houses of Barbados. All of the rooms at Sunbury were open to the public. We saw a huge mahogany dining table said to be 200 years old and a grand staircase inside the house, along with other imported and quite exotic furnishings as we wandered round the house, while an indoor staircase led down to the carriage-room and former stables below, with some antique carriages on display, (like having a fleet of Rolls Royce cars in modern times) showing the level of luxury enjoyed by the inhabitants of its day.
There were extensive gardens surrounding the house and you could almost picture a scene with ladies in crinoline dresses and parasols wandering around the grounds, keeping out of the Caribbean sun. Well at least I could pretend I was lady of the manor for one day. Sunbury Plantation House also offers private function facilities for tours and parties so after a tour of the house Ted had booked us in for lunch at the Courtyard restaurant, giving us more time to enjoy the company and the liquid refreshment.
We made our merry way back via St. Lawrence Gap while it was still light having had a great day out.