Fort Scaur Park
Forts still have their uses – for walks and picnics rather than for shooting canons or guns on disappearing carriages. Because they were built to protect the island from enemies, they sit atop hills and therefore have amazing panoramic views. Fort Scaur in Somerset, Sandys Parish, is no exception and is an excellent starting point for an interesting walk. You’ll find it at the top of Scaur Hill off Somerset Road, just a few minutes west of Somerset Bridge. Walk up and round the bends of the road past casuarinas much loved by bluebirds and warblers, particularly during the winter months, and you’ll find the parking lot. Turn right and there is the fort – complete with ramparts and moat – which was built in the 1860s, 70s and 90s to defend the Royal Naval Dockyard from American invasion.
In the 1940s, during the Second World War, it was used by American 52nd Coast Artillery and was nicknamed “Cockroach Gulch.” Today, it’s an excellent vantage point for viewing Ely’s Harbour, the Great Sound and, with the help of the telescope mounted there, Fort St. Catherine and St. David’s Lighthouse. If forts interest you, you can explore the subterranean passages and the dry moat.
The park surrounding the fort is a pleasing mixture of the wild and the manicured and offers a variety of choices for walking. The fort behind you, you’ll see a gate and a grassy pathway passing a limestone water catchment – follow it and you’ll see on your right an overgrown quarry half hidden by fiddlewood and palmetto. Birds appreciate the wildness of this area: in fall and winter, indigo buntings, together with yellow-rumped warblers and palm warblers, are just some of the visitors who keep company with the resident bluebirds. Continue into the open field past a wax myrtle tree and there the sculpted bare branches of the deciduous poinciana and black ebony trees face you.
If you want to restrict your walk to the parkland, turn left and make your way up and then down the hillside dotted with palmettos and Bermuda olivewood trees, reminders of the endemic trees Bermuda’s first settlers saw. A beautiful Bermuda cedar grove offers more good bird-watching for warblers, and from the top of the hillside you have the picturesque view of Sandys’ coastline and the spire of St. James’s Church. Soon the parking lot will come into view.
However, different pathways connect with the Railway Trail allowing a much longer walk. Try one way, more leafy tunnel than path, that starts at the end of the field with the poinciana and ebony trees. It twists steeply down through Mexican pepper, milkweed, loquat trees and Surinam cherry. Allspice trees and saplings are in profusion, filling the air with pungent fragrance. Listen out for the call of the chick-of-the village or the white-eyed vireo birds that love to hide in this thicket.
Eventually, you will slither down onto the Railway Road. Look out for motorised cycles here since this is the longest part of the trail where motorbikes are allowed. Turn left and you will be able to walk all the way until the end of the trail in Somerset. (A sign post tells you it’s one mile to Somerset, nine to Paget.) Turn right and you can walk towards Southampton. A little further on are steps on the left leading down to a scenic dock that overlooks the Great Sound.
If a longer walk does not appeal, you can take another leafy, signposted trail on your right back to the fort. It rises through Mexican pepper until you see a tunnel marking the fort’s sally port, the access to what was an extensive main ditch. Go through it and the fort again is in sight.
The fort is open from sunrise to sunset. Admission is free. Restrooms are within the fort. It is advisable to wear sneakers or walking shoes if you decide to take the rocky paths to and from the park and the Railway Trail. Bus routes: Numbers 7 and 8 going to Dockyard.
Blue Hole Park
One of Bermuda’s most magical walks links the prosaically named Blue Hole Park with the Walsingham Nature Reserve in Hamilton Parish. I’s magical because its various pathways lead to hidden attractions and because while some of its trees (the poincianas, for example) are deciduous, the red mangrove thickets, olivewood and Surinam cherry trees are lush in winter.
Start the walk at the western end of the Causeway in Hamilton Parish where the park is signposted. The trail itself is half hidden. It begins by some palms to the right of the parking lot and leads into a small, shady thicket edged by the coppery leaves of a match-me-if-you-can bush. Elephant ears scrambling up casuarina trees, palms and palmettos give an exotic touch, a hint of jungle. The pathway leads to a narrow coastal road – Dolphin Drive, a reminder that once dolphin shows were held in a nearby lagoon. Turn right and red mangroves are immediately apparent on the left, their claw-like roots clutching the beach when the tide is out. Rocky outcrops reach into the water like dark brush marks in a Chinese painting.
Return to the road and turn right onto a grassy slope and you can see more red mangroves ringing a drowned sinkhole so densely you can only catch glimpses of the water. But in the fall and winter, birds such as herons, belted kingfishers and warblers are not always hidden. And even when they are, their calls are constant. Continue up Dolphin Drive and you’ll see a break in the hedge on the left, the clue to another of this park’s secrets. Walk through and you will see a cave’s entrance framed with stalactites resembling the petrified faces of ancient anteaters on a downward charge. Endemic maidenhair ferns grow out from the wet limestone. And all the while you can hear the constant drip after drip of falling water. Peer in and despite the darkness of the cave, you can see the pool inside is a rich deep blue.
Return to Dolphin Drive and keep walking until you come to a parting of the ways. For now, turn left and you will find a grassy field overlooking Castle Harbour and the airport beyond. Here are two more hidden attractions. Turn left and you’ll find two small caves, dark and deep.
At the far end of the field you’ll discover the blue hole after which this park is named. It’s a deep lagoon, more emerald than blue, home to a red mangrove thicket and once the venue of the dolphin displays. Tendrils of grey Spanish moss hang from the trees. A wooden deck allows you a close view of the water where parrot fish and sergeant majors seem to wait for food. Sometimes a barracuda slinks and skulks. And on clear days, even in the winter, the mangroves and stalactites are perfectly mirrored in the pool.
Return to the crossway on Dolphin Drive and take the road not taken. It will take you on to another field where the woodland trail to Walsingham Jungle, as it is popularly known, begins. Surinam cherry trees form a shady bower over the footpath, sunlight filtering dappled patterns on their glossy leaves and on the pale, smooth bark of their slender trunks. The soil on the trail is red and hard and caked because it has been blown across by the jet stream from dust storms straight from Africa. The trail twists on, allow
ing occasional views of Castle Harbour on the left, with hints of more pools and holes on the right. Additional pathways offer diversions. William Zuill puts it this way in his Bermuda Journey: “There are dark caverns and wooded glens . . . and there is a miniature jungle, a snakeless Eden, traversed by indefinite paths which allow one to become fascinatingly and harmlessly lost.”
Towards the end of the trail comes an optional turning to the right. Take it and you will find an underwater cave where, in summer, people can swim and snorkel. Return to the main trail, keep straight and you will come out on Walsingham Lane by Tom Moore’s Tavern, named after the Irish poet who spent some time in Bermuda earning more fame here for his poetry than he ever would in his native land. You will see a beautifully shaped hibiscus tree like a pink-flowered parasol. According to Andrew Dobson in his book A Birdwatching Guide to Bermuda, the red mangroves around the tavern are excellent for attracting “migrant warblers in the fall and holding warblers in the winter.” They are also good for cedar waxwings, American robins and Baltimore orioles.
Here, too, is an entrance to the Bermuda National Trust’s Idwal Hughes Nature Reserve where you can also see unusual rock formations, as well as Bermuda cedar and palmetto. Apparently the limestone found in the Walsingham area is the oldest in Bermuda, being about 800,000 years old and very hard. In addition, Walsingham is home to many of Bermuda’s rare endemic and native plants such as turkey berry, Bermuda bean, psilotum, roving sailor and rattle box.
Walsingham’s tidal lake, also surrounded by mangroves, is a step or so away and worth viewing for its teeming parrot fish and for barracuda.
Walsingham Lane leads on to Harrington Sound Road where you can pick up a bus either to the City of Hamilton or to St. George’s.
The larger, more dramatic Crystal and Fantasy Caves can be found on Wilkinson Avenue, which connects Harrington Sound Road with Blue Hole Hill. Admission fee for either cave is $22 per adult and $30 per adult for both caves. Two more caves can be seen at Grotto Bay Beach Resort, opposite Blue Hole Park. (No entrance fee.) While exploring the caves, be careful not to slip as the stone is always wet and slippery. Please do not break off stalactites – they grow at the rate of one inch per 600 years. Wander away from the trail and you may find poison ivy. Bus routes to and from Blue Hole Park: Numbers 1, 3, 10 and 11. Bus routes to and from Walsingham Nature Reserve: Numbers 1 and 3.
What can be better than a walk around Astwood Park on a blustery winter’s day in Bermuda? It’s true the park, off the South Road between Warwick Lane and Rocklands Road in Warwick Parish, is well known as a favourite wedding venue, thanks to its spectacular ocean backdrop and its picturesque cove framed by Aeolian limestone. And it’s true that March through September is the time for longtail watching there as these white-tailed tropic birds come swooping in and out of the coastline in a continual display of aerial courtship. Spring also offers the chance of whale watching because this is the time humpback whales pass Bermuda on their way to northern feeding grounds.
But because of its grassy expanse of cliff top, Astwood Park is where locals love to wave watch, particularly when a hurricane or an intense winter storm approaches. Even a few days before a hurricane’s winds are apparent, the sea starts its roar and the waves begin to billow. Look straight ahead and you can see wave after wave curl at its peak, then surge into a mass of foam coursing onto the rocks. Look east and west and you can see symphonies of spray follow the creamy beaches of Bermuda’s dramatic, rocky coastline.
In fact, Astwood Cove is testimony to the power of the wind – part of its cliff backdrop was gouged out by one of our hurricanes. Once you could easily access the tiny beach by walking down stone steps cut into the rock face, but rockfall now makes that difficult. Nevertheless, it’s still possible in calmer weather for the intrepid to clamber over the rocks down to the beach and, indeed, several resolute brides have negotiated the descent despite flowing wedding gowns, determined as they are for the feel of the sand and the perfect ocean photograph.
Astwood is also great for bird-watchers during the fall and winter months. The road accessing the park runs past cultivated fields in a valley. According to Dobson’s Birdwatching Guide, the crops – particularly tomatoes, thanks to their poles – attract visitors such as eastern kingbirds, flycatchers, blue grosbeaks and indigo buntings. Warblers (for example, the common yellow-throated) like the crops, too, but they are also attracted by the casuarinas on the eastern end of the park.
Other trees there include towering Norfolk pines, olivewood trees, bay grape, palmetto and cedars. Look out for prickly pear, tassel plant (Suriana maritima) and seaside goldenrod.
In addition to the park’s main entrance from the parking lot, a number of narrow pathways lead to the cliff top and the rocks overhanging the cove. Do pay attention to danger signs signalling cliff erosion and avoid standing too close to the edge of the cliff, especially in windy weather. Young children should always be closely supervised. Bus route: Number 7