Monday, 29 October 2007

What I Loved About Nevis

Charlestown, Nevis. June 2007

Being born a West Indian means that I am less likely to sucuumb to the palm trees, blue sea, white sand, standard tourist pitch. The Caribbean islands are so much more complicated than the tidy packages presented by clever marketing. Nevis and St Kitts caught my attention with their startling topography (both islands live with central mountain peaks as dominant features), but also I was captivated by the tangible air of history that lends both islands a sense of depth that is the bounty of most diehard travellers.
Some of my favourite places.

Montpelier Estate has a rich and colourful history. It is where Admiral Horatio Nelson married the widow Fanny Nisbet. When Lady Di visited in 1992, she stayed at one of the simple cottages with the boys and would have enjoyed the splendid view of the broody mountain as well as the lovely afternoon breezes. The cut stone windmill is still one of the most striking features on the property, dating back to 1794. It is now run by the charming Hoffman family and their two gorgeous labradors, Calypso and Rudder.

This is the restored Bath Hotel which has the distinction of being the first spa in the West Indies. In its prime, it was a literal hot spot for visiting gentry. Guests that visited include Admiral Horatio Nelson and Samuel Taylor Coleridge.

The hot springs that bubbled out of the ground were the main attraction and they were thought to have tremendous restorative powers. When I visited in June, it was hard to imagine the buzz and excitement that must have once filled this grey cut stone building that now has the mundane duty of housing government officials.

Montravers estate would have been decadent even in its time. It is in ruins now but was one of the grandest estates of the region in the 18th century. When we visited on a hot,still June afternoon, we were initially confused when we saw the sign below.
Was this the great house? No, apparently this was the "cottage" that sat below the great Baobob tree. Further inland and in through the remains of a cut stone gateway, we came upon the real thing. This time there was no mistake because there are not many three storey ruins knocking around the countryside. Walking around the space was eerie with many of the walls still standing, but it was hard to get a proper perspective. In its day, it was said to have a sweeping staircase that could accomodate the hooped skirts of three ladies walking abreast. This is also where three camels were imported and housed.

There are a LOT of historic churches in Nevis (and St. Kitts). If you are a history buff and love cemetery reading, this is the island to visit. On a visit to the local potters, Newcastle Pottery, potters Almena and Dan were hard at work and this scene caught my eye.
I did not get a chance to visit St James Windward Church, which is best known for its black crucifix, one of three in the Caribbean. I did stop by the St Thomas's Lowland Church which is striking on the bluff overlooking the Western coast of Nevis with St Kitts in the distance.

St Thomas's Lowland Church was first built in 1643 and has tombstones dating back to the mid 1600s.
I fell in love with this loom. Could it be that I have never seen a loom before? That may explain some of the charm.
We use the coalpot quite frequently in Trinidad but I had never seen it used with a clay pot. Of course, it makes perfect sense but I still wonder if the food will stick. It seems to be perfect for a "big soup" or "sancoche" as we say here.