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TOURS - Negril | Westmoreland | Montego Bay
Tour 13 - Exploring Westmoreland
Excerpted from the book, Tour Jamaica, by Margaret Morris
The exit road past the Shell Gas Station and Police Station is normally
crowded with an assortment of traffic and littered higgedlly piggedly with
mechanic yards, tyre shops, cafes, bars, shacks and other enterprises including
R Country Western Riding stables and L Paradise Yard restaurant, creators
of Rasta Pasta and other indigenous specialties like Paradise johnnycakes.
The neat village of Sheffield is becoming a suburb of Negril. Here you
will find L Negril Hills Golf Club with a gaudy clubhouse overlooking the
Great Morass, Royal Palm forest and the abortive Nature Park built by government
and now leased to the operators of Negril Cabins. The Nature Park has boardwalks
and birdwatching towers in the swamp. Check Negril Cabins to arrange access.
Negril Spots, is a cattle and coconut estate belonging to the Jackson
family, owners of Tree House and Golden Nugget in Negril. At the junction,
a detour R leads to the villages of Revival, Homers Cove and Little Bay
where there is accommodation, Run by the Sun for the adventurous. Canefields
border the road and the view L is towards a tiny church in a sea of cane.
Salabie's Lumber Yard specializes in a local housing solutions: readymade
board houses, small enough to be transported by truck or even mule cart.
Little London, a dormitory village for workers in Negril and Frome is
heavily populated with East Indians. Their forbears were brought to Jamaica
as indentured labourers shortly after the abolition of slavery when many
of the ex-slaves migrated away from the sugar estates creating a shortage
of labour. Living and working conditions for the Indians were very bad and
many died. A number of Commissions of Enquiry did little to improve things
and in 1914 the Indian government finally prohibited further migration of
labourers to the West Indies. An early champion of the East Indians was
an Anglican minister Rev. Henry Clarke whose protest about the conditions
of the working classes and outspoken criticisms of the establishment made
him extremely unpopular with the hierarchy. (A relative of his, Robert Clarke,
was the father of Bustamante who used to warn "My name is Clarke but
don't call me so"). The Indian labourers were the first to introduce
seeds of ganja (marijuana) into Jamaica. The descendants of the East Indian
labourers (called "Coolies") are still concentrated in the sugar
belts. Much of their Hindu heritage has been maintained and aspects of it
have been assimilated into local "grass-roots" culture. More recently
a small group of higher caste "Bombay merchants" arrived in Jamaica
and control the lucrative in-bond trade.
A detour from Little London takes you through canefields to the farming
centre of Grange Hill and then to Frome Sugar Factory where there is a monument
commemorating Labour leader Bustamante and the workers for their courageous
fight in 1938 on behalf of the working people of Jamaica. The Frome factory
was built in 1939 by the West Indies Sugar Co, a subsid-iary of the British
corporation Tate & Lyle which owned 16 sugar estates in the area. The
large central factory at Frome replaced 7 smaller ones which had become
antiquated and uneconomical. Just before the opening of the new factory,
Frome was the scene of labour disturbances initiated by a strike for more
pay (at the time women were being paid 10 cents per day and men 15 cents
per day). There were also fears that the new centralized system would cause
unemployment. Canefield fires and rioting provoked police action resulting
in four deaths.
Alexander Bustamante, who had recently emerged as the champion of the
working man, rushed to the scene and attempted to mediate. A Commission
of Inquiry into conditions in the sugar industry was appointed and Busta
went on to found the Bustamante Industrial Trade Union and ultimately the
Jamaica Labour Party.
During the 1960s, when the West Indies Sugar Co. was threatening to scale
down its operation in Jamaica, the government bought them out. Thereafter
the government-owned factories lost money steadily for almost two decades.
Recently all the government sugar assets were 'privatized' and Frome, Moneymusk
and Bernard Lodge were all sold to a private consortium that includes J
Wray and Nephew and Booker-Tate (formerly Tate & Lyle). Their intention
is to spend US$40 million on refurbishing the factories and increasing production.
Frome processes all the cane grown in the parishes of Hanover and Westmoreland
and dominates the economy of the parishes. Originally this area was a patchwork
of individually owned sugar estates, many with fascinating histories. Bulstrode
was the property of Bulstrode Whitelocke, a Roundhead who helped to draw
up the charges that brought King Charles I to the executioner's block. Banbury
was owned by Colonel John Guthrie the man who negotiated with Cudjoe the
treaty that ended the first Maroon War. Cornwall was owned by Monk Lewis,
a celebrated nineteenth century author and friend of Lord Byron. Lewis's
humane treatment of his slaves astonished and annoyed his neighbours. His
Journal of a West Indian Proprietor published in 1843 remains a valuable
source book for historians. This detour will take you past George's Plain
Back on the Negril to Sav main road the swampy land around Meylersfield
is a rice growing area. The second bridge spanning the Cabaritta is known
far and wide as Big Bridge. The Cabaritta is the largest river in the parish
and rises near Cascade in Hanover. Crocodiles have long since disappeared
from its banks but the river offers good fishing and is noted for a small
fish called "Godame". Legend says that it was the last of all
creatures to be named and when the Creator called out "Who is left
? Who is that out there?" the fish replied, "God it's me"
("God, a me" in Jamaican). Godames can live out of water for several
hours, even days, if kept in a cool damp place. Crayfish (otherwise called
"janga") are found here too: boiled and heavily seasoned they
are transformed into Pepper Shrimps - a Jamaican delicacy. Pollution caused
by effluent from the Frome sugar factory frequently affects this river.
SAVANNA LA MAR (the plain by the sea), otherwise know as "Sav"
is capital of the parish of Westmoreland. Founded in 1730, the town has
been inundated three times during hurricanes. In 1780 "the sea rose
and left two ships and a schooner stranded among trees," and in 1912
the schooner Lationia ended up in the middle of town. Great George Street
is the broadest and longest main street in the island stretching one mile
to the seafront and a market, ruined fort and erstwhile sugar pier. The
fort was never completed and had started to collapse into the sea by 1755.
Today it is a swimming hole. Midway to the sea is the Courthouse which boasts
a filigree cast iron fountain donated by a civic-minded planter in 1887.
Perennially dry, it hardly warrants the warning inscribed on all four sides:
"keep the pavements dry". The town's diversified economic base
comprising sugar, tourism in Negril, and marijuana has fuelled steady growth.
Several mini-shopping plazas have blossomed. Fast-food outlets, video stores,
discos, banks and furniture stores are in good supply.
Places of historic interest in Sav include Mannings High School which
was founded in 1738 with a bequest of land, 13 slaves and cattle from Thomas
Jamaica National Building Society was originally the Westmoreland Building
Society, founded in 1888 by the Rev. Henry Clarke, as part of his campaign
to assist the "small man". In 1971 it merged with other rural
building societies to form Jamaica National. Currently one of the two largest
home loan institutions in the Caribbean, JN now has its own merchant bank
and real estate company and is a major shareholder in the island's largest
Places to stay: Hendon House on the edge of town, an eighteenth-century
great house with gleaming wooden floors, a spiral mahogany staircase, modest
rates and meals on request. Lochiel Guest House is set in lush pastures
about a mile along the Ferris road. Formerly known as Heaven Below it is
a tall eighteenth-century estate house of brick and timber. It has a lush
garden and comfortable modern wing, modest rates and meals on request. Slightly
more upscale is Orchard, a mile along the Petersfield road: a sprawling,
cut stone guest house in a rural setting with a restaurant, bar, and swimming
pool. It is owned by the legendary Mother Segre (one of Negril's pioneer
hoteliers) and run by her grandchildren.
Heading north out of Sav you come to a fork in the road known as Dunbar's
Crossing. Four miles along the L fork is the village of Petersfield which
was named after Peter Beckford a rambunctious horse trader who arrived in
the island in 1660, and broke his neck 50 years later trying to quell a
riot in the Jamaica House of Assembly. He died leaving 24 estates and 4000
slaves. One of the original Beckford properties, Shrewsbury, is the source
of the Roaring River where Freedom Village, a living museum in the making
is well worth a visit. Turn L by St Peter's Anglican and drive nearly 1
mile to a cross roads where water gushes from an old aqueduct, bear R and
just before you reach the bridge turn R again. You'll know you're there
by the group of guides, snack vendors and villagers at the approach to another
small stone bridge. Just above here one source of the river surfaces quite
abruptly beside the road, joins another stream and flows beneath the aqueduct
to a filtration plant. The majestic Silk Cotton tree by the pool is at least
300 years old. Steps lead up a steep hillside to the mouth of a cave which
tunnels into the cliff face. Admission fee for the cave covers the services
of a guide. It is lighted, has many chambers and a spring. The journal of
William Beckford, a descendant of Peter's and founder of England's Academy
of Art, reveals that he used to escape from the wild parties up at the great
house and come here for spooky meditations. Craft workshops and a restaurant
in a meadow by the stream may be open by the time you read this. Among the
craftsmen here is a personable Rastafarian artist called 'Shaper'. Another
source of the Roaring River lies 1.25 miles away via a well nigh impassable
parochial road. Here you will find a large blue hole where the water bubbles
up from subterranean caverns. It is encircled by the I-tal Herb and Spice
Farm belonging to Ed Kritzler, a refugee from the New York advertising rat
race. Cottages and campsites are available for rent and there is an I-tal
restaurant specializing in herb teas.
At Dunbar's crossing, the road R to Ferris is bordered by pastures and
giant Guango trees. You will pass the Grace meat processing wazzu factory
L and R Paradise Club at the top of a driveway lined with Royal Palms. It
is available by reservation for weddings and other functions.
East of Ferris Cross there is a succession of fishing villages. Many
of the boats are the traditional cotton tree canoes first used by the Arawaks.
In contrast to the barren northcoast seas, fish are still plentiful off
the southcoast although the fishermen have to go further and further out
to maintain their catches. Goods offered for sale along the coast road include
fresh fish, boiled lobster, limes, hammocks and fruit. At Cave the main
road crosses over a pretty mountain and there is a fine view west towards
Bluefields is believed to be the site of Oristan, the earliest Spanish
settlement. It is a matter of recorded history that a group of colonists
was landed here by Juan de la Costa, a pilot and map maker who sailed with
Columbus on his earliest voyages, and that the settlement on the southcoast
predated Sevilla la Nueva. In the age of the buccaneers the safe anchorage
and never failing stream at Bluefields made it a refuge and supply base
for ships. It was here, in 1670 that Henry Morgan mustered his fleet and
sailed off to sack Panama.
Climbing the hill towards Bluefields bay there is L a photogenic small
church and R three luxury seafront villas available for rent. The long narrow
Bluefields beach is always crowded on weekends and holidays. There are a
variety of snack and craft stalls but minimal sanitary facilities. Bluefields
House a short distance L of the main road opposite the Police station is
still closed as we go to press. In 1844 Philip Henry Gosse, the famous British
naturalist made his base here to research the books Birds of the West Indies
and A Naturalist's Sojourn in Jamaica. Further up the same road a former
great house, Oristana, is the home of British artist William Fielding, known
for his elegant water colours of Jamaica's architectural heritage. On the
same headland and advertised opposite the police station, Shafston Great
House is approximately 2 miles inland with a stunning view and wild woodland
setting. Road access is almost impossible and unless its format has changed
recently, this hostelry is not for anyone with any pretensions to respectability.
Approaching Belmont and beside the Ocean Edge pub and restaurant is the
headquarters of the vibrant Bluefields People's Co-operative Association
created by Terry Williams with the support of a 'core' group of local leaders.
Terry, a former football star and sportsmaster in London is a repatriated
Jamaican and committed environmentalist. The B.C.P.A. has attracted foreign
funding and its next project centres around a model farm and agro forestry.
B.C.P.A.ís mangrove nature trail is open to visitors.
Belmont has a fishing beach, cottages and rooms for rent and a brand
new Inn called Closer to Nature. Jah Calo's roadside craft shop advises
Walk, Ride and Drive with Care and offers hand-painted T-Shirts and interesting
woodcarvings. Friendly Jah Calo is a Rastafarian member of the Ethiopian
Orthodox church. He can also arrange snorkeling, birdwatching and boat tours
to Black River with his friend Errol .
Auchindown, a cattle and pimento estate is owned by popular talk-show
host Ronnie Thwaites, a man of many parts: lawyer, Catholic deacon, coffee
and livestock farmer, deep sea fishing entrepreneur and embryonic tourism
investor with plans for a restaurant and golf course, beach park and villa
hotel. Archaeological treasures at Auchindown include the ruined seventeenth
century castle and an Arawak midden. The beach and wetland opposite Auchindown
is scheduled for a large hotel to be called Beaches to be developed by Sandals
magnate Butch Stewart. As we went to press the project appeared to be on
hold - much to the disappointment of local landowners but also to the relief
of environmentalists and local fishermen who fear the impact of mass tourism.
In the nearby village of Culloden, Natania's Guest House on Parker's
Bay is a small jewel: verdant garden, pristine seafront, airy architecture,
and pleasant restaurant. The owner, Peter Probst, a 'refugee' from New York
via Negril is still a partner in Rickís Cafe. He is also in partnership
with Ronnie Thwaites to create a 7 acre beach park on the east of Parkers
Bay plus a hotel and villa complex and 'affordable' town expansion on the
hills overlooking it.
Whitehouse, a thriving village with a seaside housing scheme began to
boom with rumours of impending tourism development. Traditionally, its economic
base is fishing. The fishing beach here is the largest on the island and
has more than 60 boats. The best fishing grounds are 80 miles offshore at
the Pedro Banks. The beach hums with activity every morning as wives, children
and higglers await the return of the fishermen or bargain in the adjoining
market. Sad to say, the National Resources Conservation Authority and the
Fisheries Department appear to be fighting a losing battle to control the
overfishing and reckless harvesting of conch and lobster on the Pedro Cays.
South Sea park is a residential subdivision dotted with ornate homes
many sporting the ultimate status symbol - a satellite dish. Accommodation
options here include South Sea View guest house on the water's edge.
Scott's Cove is the place to buy fish and bammy. Bammy is a large thick
pancake made from cassava. Soaked in milk and then fried, it is the traditional
accompaniment for highly seasoned fried fish. Cassava was the main food
crop of the Arawaks and bammy is one of their few legacies. The young vendors
do not believe in the soft sell but rush the car thrusting their wares through
the window and jabbering at you. Don't be scared; they are friendly. The
women stay on the beach and do the cooking. Cold drinks are on sale. The
cove itself is hidden from the sea and almost landlocked. It is here that
Spanish ships used to unload supplies for Ysassi and the few Spanish colonists
who remained to fight the British.
Scott's Cove marks the boundary between the parishes of Westmoreland and St. Elizabeth (see Mandeville section).
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