Bermuda: A flying visit to the home of the shorts

If you can go to New York for a quick trip, why not Bermuda? Helen Pickles enjoys tea and scones on the beach

It was a crazy idea: Bermuda for the weekend. Cost issues aside, would there be time to do much more than slap on the sunscreen, get lost on the way to the beach, and open a book, before packing and heading back to the airport?

It was a crazy idea: Bermuda for the weekend. Cost issues aside, would there be time to do much more than slap on the sunscreen, get lost on the way to the beach, and open a book, before packing and heading back to the airport?

As it happens, yes. Bermuda is so trim and compact - 21 miles long, two miles at its widest - and so easy to negotiate (smile a lot, drive on the left, speak English) that the only thing that can hold you back is the time that you get up in the morning. Flying for seven hours to find a sun-washed bar in which to enjoy a late-afternoon rum swizzle - an inflammatory mixture of rums and fruit juices - became a perfectly sensible plan. And anyway, so much about Bermuda is ridiculous: the swimming-pool-blue seas, those shorts and brogues combinations worn by the locals, the Hansel and Gretel sugar-topped houses. If people can go for a weekend to New York, I reasoned, why not here?

I arrived in a splendid thunderstorm which rumbled through the night and into the morning. The whistling tree- frogs, shy, nocturnal creatures which adore warmth and wet, pulled out all the stops to sing me to sleep. When I awoke, beach plans were hastily converted into a trip to the aquarium to gasp and shudder at Bermuda's underwater life. Surrounded by coral reefs, the island is a snorkeller's paradise: fluorescent parrot-fish, luminous-eyed triggerfish and the ghastly, slimy moray eel.

By midday the sun was out and I caught one of the jolly pink and blue buses to St George, a sleepy town at the north-eastern tip of the island. It was here that the first British settlers landed after a shipwreck in 1609. Bermuda is still a British dependency, and a colonial languor drifts around the place, from the street-names - Featherbed Alley, Old Maid's Lane - to the State House (the island's oldest building), the fake town crier resplendent in royal blue breeches and frock coat, and the cool, cedarwood interior of St Peter's Church, still lit by candle chandeliers. With its sugar-almond coloured buildings and squeaky-clean pavements, I couldn't shake off the feeling that I was on a Hollywood film set.

Much of Bermuda feels like that. My hotel, like most others, offered afternoon tea - Earl Grey, crustless sandwiches and marble cake. Hamilton, the capital, is even more stagy, with its colonnades and shutters, stately court buildings and flush of old-fashioned department stores: Trimingham, AS Cooper and Sons, Archie Brown and Son. If you can face shopping, tax-free Bermuda is an excellent place to stock up on china, crystal and cashmere.

The next day, much to the horror of Frankie, my breakfast waiter, I hired a moped. Island roads are narrow with no verges, and cars sit hotly on your tail. Instruction at the rental shop was sketchy, my helmet far too big, and the speedometer broken. But weekends are short, and as cars are restricted to one per household there are none for hire.

I spent the day exploring the south-coast beaches, the island's best. Stonehole Bay, Hidden Beach, Peel Rock Cove, Horseshoe Bay were as enchanting as their names - soft, sandy bays alternated with rocky coves. The only other people were the occasional purposeful power-walker or lonely jogger. Tired of sunbathing, I walked the limestone cliffs, weathered into fantastic sculptural forms, and marvelled at the powder-blue ocean floors below.

On the way back to Hamilton I climbed Gibb's Hill Lighthouse, the world's tallest, cast-iron lighthouse (built in 1846 in the shadow of Waterloo Bridge and shipped across) for the island-long view from the top. As the light is automated, the former lighthouse-keeper's cottage is now a tearoom serving up pure, chocolate-box Britain: all oak tables and Welsh dressers. It's a disorientating feeling, eating tea and scones at a table awash with hibiscus blooms.

Eating out is the island's main evening activity. Competition between restaurants is fierce, so standards are high, - but so are prices. I was taken aback on my first night to find myself paying around $60 (£40) for two courses and a couple of drinks. Friends later steered me to Le Figaro, a darkly atmospheric French bistro, and to Portofino, which serves some of the freshest pasta I've ever eaten. Fish is universally excellent. I had to try the cheerful-sounding wahoo fish - a cunning fellow who can swipe the bait off a hook without getting caught - and the chowder, a stew-like fish soup spiced with rum and sherry peppers. Arguably the best fish is served at Coconuts, a restaurant halfway down the cliffs above Christian Bay. Unquestionably romantic, for an extra £20, you get champagne and a table on the beach.

On my last day, I took a ferry from Hamilton across the Great Sound to Somerset Bridge at the western end of the island,which is a great way to snoop on the private islands and their exclusive houses. Locals call this "up the country", as if were still uncolonised. Somerset Bridge is the smallest drawbridge in the world (Bermudians are fond of superlatives, as if making up for their lack of size). I walked part of the railway trail (the world's most expensive railway, abandoned after 17 years in 1948 when cars proved more practical) and met scarcely a soul as I plunged off-route into cedar-wood thickets or banks of bright purple morning glory.

At the end of the trail, I caught the bus to the Royal Naval Dockyard, the Victorian fort and dockyard that sprawls over the north-western tip of the island. Built by 10,000 British convicts, it was dubbed Britain's Gibraltar of the west. The fort is a scholarly maritime museum but, above all, I enjoyed wandering the ramparts, where huge cannons and shells lie in careless abandon.

Back in Hamilton, I hopped on the moped for one last swim at Coral Beach, a brochure-perfect curve of pink coral sand. But my abiding memory of Bermuda is of that late afternoon rum swizzle, as I sprawled across two chairs, half in, half out of the sun, a reggae version of "Killing Me Softly" pulsing in the air. Had the bartender offered me a job, I'd be there still.

The Independent travel offers: Discover a world of inspiring destinations

Travel
travel
News
Tim Vine has won the funniest joke award at the Edinburgh Festival 2014
peopleTim Vine, winner of the Funniest Joke of the Fringe award, has nigh-on 200 in his act. So how are they conceived?
News
Jamie and Emily Pharro discovering their friend's prank
video
Arts and Entertainment
Taylor Swift crawls through the legs of twerking dancers in her 'Shake It Off' music video
musicEarl Sweatshirt thinks so
PROMOTED VIDEO
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
News
Our resilience to stress is to a large extent determined by our genes
science
Travel
travel
Sport
sportBesiktas 0 Arsenal 0: Champions League qualifying first-leg match ends in stalemate in Istanbul
News
Pornography is more accessible - and harder to avoid - than ever
news... but they still admit watching it
Arts and Entertainment
The eyes have it: Kate Bush
musicKate Bush asks fans not to take photos at London gigs
News
i100
Travel
ebookHow to enjoy the perfect short break in 20 great cities
Sport
Manchester United are believed to have made a £15m bid for Marcos Rojo
sportWinger Nani returns to Lisbon for a season-long loan as part of deal
News
news
News
i100
Arts and Entertainment
O'Toole as Cornelius Gallus in ‘Katherine of Alexandria’
filmSadly though, the Lawrence of Arabia star is not around to lend his own critique
Life and Style
fashion
Independent Travel Videos
Independent Travel Videos
Simon Calder in Amsterdam
Independent Travel Videos
Simon Calder in Giverny
Independent Travel Videos
Simon Calder in St John's
Independent Travel Videos
Independent
Travel Shop
the manor
Up to 70% off luxury travel
on city breaks Find out more
santorini
Up to 70% off luxury travel
on chic beach resorts Find out more
sardina foodie
Up to 70% off luxury travel
on country retreats Find out more
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Independent Dating
and  

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

ES Rentals

    iJobs Job Widget
    iJobs Travel

    Oracle 11g SQL 2008 DBA (Unix, Oracle RAC, Mirroring, Replicati

    £6000 - £50000 per annum + Bonus+Benefits+Package: Harrington Starr: Oracle 11...

    Recruitment Consultant (Graduate Trainee), Finchley Central

    £17K OTE £30K: Charter Selection: Highly successful and innovative specialist...

    SQL DBA/ C# Developer - T-SQL, C#.Net

    £45000 - £55000 per annum + Benefits: Ashdown Group: Working with an exciting ...

    Sales and Office Administrator – Sports Media

    £23,000: Sauce Recruitment: A global leader in sports and entertainment is now...

    Day In a Page

    Ferguson: In the heartlands of America, a descent into madness

    A descent into madness in America's heartlands

    David Usborne arrived in Ferguson, Missouri to be greeted by a scene more redolent of Gaza and Afghanistan
    BBC’s filming of raid at Sir Cliff’s home ‘may be result of corruption’

    BBC faces corruption allegation over its Sir Cliff police raid coverage

    Reporter’s relationship with police under scrutiny as DG is summoned by MPs to explain extensive live broadcast of swoop on singer’s home
    Lauded therapist Harley Mille still in limbo as battle to stay in Britain drags on

    Lauded therapist still in limbo as battle to stay in Britain drags on

    Australian Harley Miller is as frustrated by court delays as she is with the idiosyncrasies of immigration law
    Lewis Fry Richardson's weather forecasts changed the world. But could his predictions of war do the same?

    Lewis Fry Richardson's weather forecasts changed the world...

    But could his predictions of war do the same?
    Kate Bush asks fans not to take photos at her London gigs: 'I want to have contact with the audience, not iPhones'

    'I want to have contact with the audience, not iPhones'

    Kate Bush asks fans not to take photos at her London gigs
    Under-35s have rated gardening in their top five favourite leisure activities, but why?

    Young at hort

    Under-35s have rated gardening in their top five favourite leisure activities. But why are so many people are swapping sweaty clubs for leafy shrubs?
    Tim Vine, winner of the Funniest Joke of the Fringe award: 'making a quip as funny as possible is an art'

    Beyond a joke

    Tim Vine, winner of the Funniest Joke of the Fringe award, has nigh-on 200 in his act. So how are they conceived?
    The late Peter O'Toole shines in 'Katherine of Alexandria' despite illness

    The late Peter O'Toole shines in 'Katherine of Alexandria' despite illness

    Sadly though, the Lawrence of Arabia star is not around to lend his own critique
    Wicken Fen in Cambridgeshire: The joy of camping in a wetland nature reserve and sleeping under the stars

    A wild night out

    Wicken Fen in Cambridgeshire offers a rare chance to camp in a wetland nature reserve
    Comic Sans for Cancer exhibition: It’s the font that’s openly ridiculed for its jaunty style, but figures of fun have their fans

    Comic Sans for Cancer exhibition

    It’s the font that’s openly ridiculed for its jaunty style, but figures of fun have their fans
    Besiktas vs Arsenal: Five things we learnt from the Champions League first-leg tie

    Besiktas vs Arsenal

    Five things we learnt from the Champions League first-leg tie
    Rory McIlroy a smash hit on the US talk show circuit

    Rory McIlroy a smash hit on the US talk show circuit

    As the Northern Irishman prepares for the Barclays, he finds time to appear on TV in the States, where he’s now such a global superstar that he needs no introduction
    Boy racer Max Verstappen stays relaxed over step up to Formula One

    Boy racer Max Verstappen stays relaxed over step up to F1

    The 16-year-old will become the sport’s youngest-ever driver when he makes his debut for Toro Rosso next season
    Fear brings the enemies of Isis together at last

    Fear brings the enemies of Isis together at last

    But belated attempts to unite will be to no avail if the Sunni caliphate remains strong in Syria, says Patrick Cockburn
    Charlie Gilmour: 'I wondered if I would end up killing myself in jail'

    Charlie Gilmour: 'I wondered if I'd end up killing myself in jail'

    Following last week's report on prison suicides, the former inmate asks how much progress we have made in the 50 years since the abolition of capital punishment