Walking is probably the most underrated form of exercise for your health, proven to increase cardiovascular fitness and reduce your risk of heart disease and stroke. With that on mind, Elizabeth Jones curates the best of Bermuda’s parks and nature reserves where you get beauty and a workout all in one. Here, east to west, are ten of our favourites.
1. Lagoon Park
Both Heydon Drive and Craddock Road off Malabar Road will take you to Lagoon Road on Ireland Island South in Sandys Parish. Here, if you’re driving, you can park and begin to explore Lagoon Park. A small bridge gives a picturesque view of the Lagoon on one side and of the ocean and Hospital Island on the other. In fact, the two sites have a historical connection, today not readily apparent. In early maps the lagoon was marked as a bay but later, a causeway built by the British military turned it into a stagnant pool which became a magnet for mosquitos. It was therefore blamed for fever epidemics, especially the yellow fever outbreak of 1843. The causeway’s purpose was to make a shorter road to the military hospital, which once offered medical support to the British Army staff stationed in Dockyard. Many of them suffered from those epidemics. Eventually, channels were cut to release the tide. Today the pool, surrounded by mangroves, roosting places for herons and egrets, has a quiet beauty. Paths lead to other scenic spots, a creek, for example, and Parsons Bay, the park’s one little beach, not to mention the rocky coastline of Lodge Point looking out to the Great Sound. Much of the military hospital has been destroyed. Only the senior citizens’ care home, Lefroy House, remains. In view of the pandemic, it’s sobering to think it was once the isolation unit caring for victims of fevers.
2. Royal Naval Cemetary
The adjoining Royal Naval Cemetery can extend your walk in Lagoon Park and has a poignant significance during this time of coronavirus. Some 800 gravestones dot the clearing and hillsides. Most buried here did not die in action. Many died by accident, either by falling (Brian Burland’s famous novel A Fall from Aloft took its title from one of the inscriptions here: “Killed by a fall from aloft, May 23, 1871”) or by drowning. But still more died of disease. In the nineteenth century, outbreaks of fever, yellow fever and typhus, decimated whole families. For example, in 1819, two young sisters, daughters of the commissioner of Dockyard died within hours of each other, while their 26-year-old aunt died the following day. Many succumbed to the terrible 1918 Spanish Flu epidemic, which today is being compared with our own pandemic. However depressing that comparison may be, the cemetery gives you the opportunity to wander through the paths of history, on the way glimpsing the stories of people long gone before us.
3. Heydon Trust
Nothing quite beats the Heydon Trust in Sandys Parish for a peaceful walk to reduce stress and revitalise the spirit. You can either motor or walk up Heydon Drive, off Somerset Road, passing copses and arable fields. At the top of the hill on the left is a small, simple Bermudian labourer’s cottage, consecrated as a chapel during the Second World War. Until recently, Gregorian chants were sung here. Outside the chapel a tall, roughly hewn cedar cross overlooks the Great Sound and is set within a small rock garden. Walk past the garden, the chapel on your left, and follow the loop. You’ll come through a quarry garden framed by cedars and oleander and filled with locusts and wild honey plants to another empty cottage, once used as a spiritual retreat. Back at the chapel, cross the road to a small garden devoted to Bermuda’s own roses and then explore the sloping expanse of woodland and parkland of Heydon House.
4. Fort Scaur
Fort Scaur in Somerset offers a variety of hikes. Approaching it on foot rather than by bike or car increases fitness as the hill is steep. But a car park is available. The fort, complete with disappearing carriages, and built in the nineteenth century to defend the Royal Naval Dockyard from American invasion, is now a popular attraction because of panoramic views of Ely’s Harbour and the Great Sound. But it’s also possible to explore the ramparts, subterranean passages and dry moat. The parkland surrounding the fort includes an old whitewashed water catchment, an overgrown quarry, and a field and hillsides dotted with cedars, palmettos and Bermuda olivewood trees, all rewarding birdwatching spots for warblers and migrants, particularly in the fall. In the spring, wild freesias fill the air with fragrance. However, longer walks are possible since several steepish pathways through thickets of allspice, Brazilian pepper, loquat trees and Surinam cherry connect with the Railway Trail below. Turning right on the trail points you to Southampton and steps down to a scenic dock overlooking the Great Sound. Turning left allows you to follow the trail all the way to its end in Somerset.
5. Hog Bay Park
Hog Bay Park, just past the Maximart in Somerset, takes you back in time to rural scenery untouched by motorised transport or modern development. For that reason, it seems larger than its 38 acres. It is Bermuda’s third-largest park and one of the best for birdwatching. A number of paths twist and turn around potato and fallow fields, meander through thicket, and will eventually take you to the ocean’s expanse. One leads past a small thicket of silvery petrified cedar skeletons. Off one pathway is the remains of a limekiln used for burning limewash, once necessary for painting our roofs. Deserted now, it looks like a dry well. Sugarloaf Hill is a special feature since it offers spectacular views in all directions. To the west are views of Lobster Flats and the outer reefs. It’s possible to clamber down to the south shore and the rock pools, one of which was a fishpond used to store fish in the days before refrigeration. Fishing boats often glide by. Towards the horizon you can see the stakes and beacons marking Hogfish Cut. Walking here any time of the day is rewarding but in the evening the chances are you’ll enjoy a magnificent sunset.
6. Spittal Pond
Spittal Pond in Smith’s Parish has to be one of Bermuda’s best-loved nature reserves, enjoyed by joggers, ramblers, dog walkers and birdwatchers alike. It is certainly the largest. Its 64 acres offer a diversity of wildlife habitats, including limestone formations, seasonal mudflats, brackish and freshwater ponds, a dairy farm, mangrove swamps and a salt marsh. It’s also home to trees such as cedars, palmetto, bay grape, pittosporum, Bermuda olivewoods and the ubiquitous Brazilian pepper, much appreciated by bees. Join the trail from the western end and you’ll find “the Chequerboard” just before the gate to the sanctuary. It’s a flat, limestone floor scored into squares, enclosed by crags facing the ocean. Most of the year longtails zoom in and out. Continue and the trail climbs to Portuguese Rock whose initials and date, now cast in bronze, were once carved by a castaway Portuguese sailor in 1543. Towards the edge can be seen Jeffrey’s Hole, a cave where a slave once hid for several weeks. Descending from the hill, the trail hugs the pond and allows excellent viewing spots for birds, such as ducks, moorhens, herons and egrets and accidentals like avocets, black-necked stilts and northern pintails. Green herons now nest here. At the eastern end, stands of cedar and palmetto attract warblers. You can turn left on the trail before reaching the car park and wander through a leafy tunnel to South Road, a short distance from the western entrance.
7. Blue Hole Park & Walsingham Nature Reserve
Fantasy and magic and are the ideal tonic during this trying time of pandemic. Blue Hole Park and Walsingham Nature Reserve, linked by a trail, offer an escape into enchantment, thanks to a confluence of natural phenomena. Starting at Blue Hole car park, just before the Causeway opposite Grotto Bay Beach Hotel and Spa, a path leads to the trail following the mangrove-fringed coastline. Turn left and clamber over rocks to find two hidden caves filled with pools and stalactites. Retrace your steps and follow the trail a little way to a break in the hedge where you’ll find a cave’s entrance framed with anteater-shaped stalactites. The pool inside is a deep blue.
Once, Blue Hole was the venue for a Bermuda dolphin show, a favourite birthday treat for children. The two dolphins have long gone (in fact are buried in a small cemetery nearby) but the beautiful lagoon remains, the surrounding mangroves perfectly reflected in pools of light. A small bridge allows contemplation of angel and parrotfish, sergeant majors and the occasional skulking barracuda.
The trail to Walsingham threads through a tangle of dappled Surinam cherry tree thicket, allowing intermittent views of Castle Harbour on one side and of pools and lagoons on the other. One underground water-filled cave is famous for its large range of endemic ferns and animal species. Eventually, the trail comes out by Walsingham Lake, near Tom Moore’s Tavern, edged with mangroves and teeming with parrotfish, sergeant majors and grunts.
8. Ferry Point Park
A walk-in Ferry Point Park on St. George’s Island is the perfect antidote to feelings of rock fever and claustrophobia during this time of travel restrictions. One of our largest parks, its 63 or so acres seem even more spacious because a section of the Railway Trail running through them continues along the picturesque coastline beyond the boundary. Whalebone Bay here is the only beach in Bermuda where traces of volcanic ash can be detected, revealing our island’s geological origin. On a hillside nearby is the cemetery created for the men who died serving in the 2nd Battalion of the Queen’s Royal Rifles and were buried in 1864. Woodland paths trail around Lovers Lake, set in a hollow surrounded by mangroves and by fern-filled hillsides.
The park also connects us with our colonial beginnings and early form of transportation. Two ruined forts can be seen—Burnt Point Fort on Ferry Point, first built sometime in the seventeenth century, and an eighteenth-century fort on Ferry Island, above an old slipway. Ferry Island, named after Bermuda’s first horse ferry taking passengers to Coney Island, is accessed by a small bridge from which, June to October, you can watch marine worms glow, two to three days after a full moon, starting exactly at 56 minutes after sunset. Across the way is the circular Martello Tower, which you can climb for panoramic views.
9. Walking the Cut
The Town of St. George is famous for its picturesque walks down walled streets and alleys, but if you’re up for a more strenuous and fortifying experience, then why not start from Duke of York Street, walk up Barrack Hill and onto Cut Road. Following the coastline, the road is named after the Town Cut, which opened in 1917 after seven years of dredging to widen the natural channel between St. George’s Island and Higgs Island. As a result, larger cargo and passenger ships could safely enter St. George’s. Eventually you will reach Gates Fort, named after Sir Thomas Gates, who was aboard the Sea Venture, shipwrecked nearby, and who subsequently became governor of Virginia. The fort, originally built in 1612, offers a splendid and intimate view of ships entering the Cut. If you’re exceptionally lucky, you might just see Bermuda’s own Spirit in full sail negotiating the channel. Around the point and close by is Alexandria Fort, named after King Edward VII’s wife. The neighbouring Buildings Bay was where Sir Thomas Gates supervised the building of the Deliverance from the wreckage of the Sea Venture. Cut Road turns into Barry Road which takes you up to St. Catherine’s Fort, dating back to 1614, and round to Tobacco Bay, once famous for the Gunpowder Steal and now much loved for excellent snorkelling. Government Hill takes you past the Unfinished Church, a romantic Neogothic ruin, and back to town.
10. Cooper’s Island Nature Reserve Salt Marsh Trail & Boardwalk
A walk to and along Clearwater Beach in St. David’s is always rewarding but exploring the Cooper’s Island Nature Reserve Salt Marsh Trail and Boardwalk will make it even more special. You’ll see its sign opposite the beach, marking a network of trails, forbidden to traffic. One takes you to an extensive boardwalk over a restored salt marsh. In autumn, you can observe shore birds such as sandpipers, plovers and killdeer while the pond itself reveals killifish, endemic to Bermuda but not so easily seen elsewhere. The main trail, winding in and out of woodland and grassy spaces where indigo buntings and visiting warblers can be seen from autumn through winter, eventually hugs the coastline. Its main charm relates to the beautiful views it allows of Nonsuch Island, with its beach and dock, as well as Castle Island with its ruined stone forts built in the early years of the settlement. Wildflowers abound, including the endemic Bermuda bean, mimosa and a profusion of purple morning glory vines. The wildness of the trail is set against the sparkling green and blues of the ocean. The trail comes out by Well Bay, opposite Long Bay after the main gate to the Cooper’s Island Nature Reserve. Now you can continue past the beaches on your right and up to the old NASA tracking tower, now ingeniously converted into a little museum and wildlife watch tower. From the open balcony, you can watch our rare and endemic cahows returning in October and staying for their mating season till March. May their tribe increase!