Drive on the wild side

We are sitting in a traffic jam in the middle of the Barbados countryside. A strip of road between two sugarcane fields is not the kind of place you expect to find yourself bumper to bumper. Though that's not exactly what is happening here. Our progress is impeded by a crowd of spectators awaiting a car rally.

We are sitting in a traffic jam in the middle of the Barbados countryside. A strip of road between two sugarcane fields is not the kind of place you expect to find yourself bumper to bumper. Though that's not exactly what is happening here. Our progress is impeded by a crowd of spectators awaiting a car rally.

Rally cars have been burning rubber on Barbados's tarmac roads since the Fifties, when two friends decided the island's terrain was perfect for the sport and set up the Barbados Car Rally Club. Today, drivers from across the world come to this unlikely venue to compete in a race programme that sees action every weekend.

Our driver eases his Land Rover through the throng, keen to continue on our own unusual journey - we are going on safari. Lion and elephant may be off the agenda but this tour promises to take us to the wild side of Barbados - the rugged east coast.

Our tour began at Gun Hill, one of a chain of signal points built across the island by the British colonists after the slave revolt of 1816, and now preserved for visitors by the Barbados National Trust. Once out of the gridlock we restart this visual history lesson.

Continuing south, we pass Villa Nova, one of the island's finest great houses. Cut from coral stone and owned by a succession of dignitaries, these days it is a luxury hotel. Onwards past another pink-painted signal point, The Cotton House, which reopened to the public a couple of years ago, to St John's Parish Church, with its pulpit carved from local wood and cliff-edge graveyard. Its graceful gothic lines serve as a reminder of the power of the Anglican church, the state-sanctioned religion, in the 17th century, when this island was one of the richest pieces of ground on earth.

But our driver wants to show us more of the landscape and dips away from the coast to climb the limestone slope at Hackleton's Cliff. Bouncing across the top, we hold onto our sunhats and look west over the rugged hills of Scotland, so named by homesick Scottish indentured labourers in the 17th century, who gathered the sugar crop in the years before slaves were brought here from West Africa. Scotland is this gentle, undulating island's most dramatic landscape - once a tropical jungle, Barbados's forests were chopped down to make room for sugar production.

We zigzag down to Bathsheba and stop for a drink at a rum shop by the sea. A laid-back village with a sweep of golden sand, Bajans have holidayed here for almost a century. But soon we are pressing on to Morgan Lewis Sugar Mill, the only survivor of the hundreds of windmills that once processed Barbados's precious sugar cane, now a working museum.

The driver calls time on our history lesson. Next stop, the beach.



Island Safari, Bush Hall Main Road, St Michael, Barbados (001 246 429 5337; www.barbadostraveller.com). An Adventure Safari costs adults B$129 (£34) and children aged 3-12 B$90 (£24), including pick up, drinks, snacks and lunch. For further information, contact the Barbados Tourism Authority (020-7636 9448; www.barbados.org)

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