When rum stopped play

He loved Barbados's great cricketers, but could the place live up to Stephen Fay's expectations?

My love affair with Barbados was unconsummated for 49 years, but when I was finally cast ashore at Long Bay on the island's south coast (all right, at the Grantley Adams International Airport) my passion was rewarded sooner than I had expected.

My taxi was taking route 2A, the main road to the west coast of the island, when we slowed down at a roundabout. It was named after Clyde Walcott. Further up the road, we reached the Everton Weekes roundabout. Hearing my faint cries of pleasure, the driver mentioned that we had bypassed the Frank Worrell roundabout on the outskirts of Bridgetown, the island's capital. They were all great cricketers in the Fifties when I was at an impressionable age; I still am, and I was impressed right away with Barbados's acute sense of recent history.

There are plenty of reasons for visiting Barbados. There is soft sand and calm blue sea on the west coast, and a desolate, wind-ravaged Atlantic coast, where Prospero would have made landfall had he been wrecked nearby. There are flamboyants and frangipani, bougainvillea, exotic ferns, hibiscus, palms and no shortage of orchids. I discovered a few more reasons after my arrival.

The cuisine can be deeply satisfying, as long as you stick to local dishes like flying fish, curried goat and "Pepperpot", a hot stew of beef and peppers. And the climate was - when I was there in late Spring - as hot and dry as the advertisements promise.

On top of all that, there is the cricket.

I had seen Clyde Walcott sweep the ball out of the Oval in 1950, and admired the way Everton Weekes accumulated runs irresistibly through those Tests, the first series West Indies had ever won in England. In 1963, I watched Frank Worrell guide his young batsmen to victory at Lord's. They were known as the "Three Ws", and all three received knighthoods. They were the formidable prelude to the golden age of another Barbadian, Sir Garfield Sobers, the most accomplished of them all.

Gary Sobers is one of 10 large portraits hung from a building on the main square by the old harbour in Bridgetown. For almost 200 years this was Trafalgar Square, and a small statue of Nelson stands in one corner. The square has been renamed National Heroes Square, and Nelson is to be removed, probably to the museum. Sobers is one of the 10 heroes. The Barbadian opposition has suggested that renaming the square and dethroning Nelson is to deny the island's history. But Nelson was no friend to black Barbadians, and the only detail that offended me was the absence of any one of the Three Ws from the list of heroes. For the time being, roundabouts will have to do.

The roundabouts were on the route to the coast road leading to Speightstown and Cobblers Cove, a hotel so far north that it is nearly off the beaten track. I approached it with strong preconceptions. Just as I expect Barbadian batsmen to be stylish and forceful, I expect the beaches to be lined with palms, the sand golden and the sea turquoise. Anything less would be a severe disappointment.

The entrance to Cobblers Cove is discreet. Reception gives way to a garden lush with tropical trees - mango, pawpaw, banana - flanked by two-storey cottages, each with a spacious sitting-room and bedroom on each floor, a balcony and a small garden at ground-level. At the end of the garden is the crenellated roof and immaculate pink walls of the old house (built 1943, but everything is relative). Inside is a sitting-room; cool terracotta tiles lead to the bar and on to the restaurant under its canvas awning.

I had changed into my trunks and walked tentatively across the grass which was dappled by the shade of the coconut trees. Beyond them I could see the beach curving north towards the headland. Here was a view that contained no surprises at all. After I had swum in the flat, warm sea, ironed out the aches in my body and the creases in my brain, I ordered a rum-punch, reclined on a chair under the palms and wiggled my toes. I had a book, but couldn't concentrate. Great expectations had been met, and it seemed churlish not to wallow.

You can learn plenty about Barbados just lying on the beach. Passing Barbadians will often reply to a greeting by calling you "brother". This is not linguistic Marxism. On the contrary; you are more likely to be a brother in Christ, for evangelical religion is mother's milk on the island. These brief conversations are possible because beaches in Barbados are truly communal - without ever being crowded or dirty. A neat trick to have pulled off.

Fishing boats are moored beyond the headland, and there is a fish market up the road, but Cobblers Cove's fish is landed on the hotel's beachfront straight from the boats. The chef comes to inspect the catch of the day - barracuda, dolphin (a sweet-tasting tropical fish rather than the variety of small whale that is too nice to eat), and flying fish, a local delicacy.

Some hotels along the west coast think flying fish is too common to serve to visitors from overseas. At Cobblers Cove you can have it in sandwiches at lunchtime, but I suspect the best place of all to eat it is at a beach bar. It was to be had in the raffish Fisherman's Bar in Speightstown, but I liked this firm, strong-tasting fish best at a restaurant named after an English bank. Barclays is big in Barbados and it sponsors a park on the east coast within hearing of the pounding Atlantic breakers - keeping it spick and span. The result is Barclays Rum Punch Bar and Restaurant; it is, to my knowledge, a unique advertisement for a bank, and a fine one too. (It is also a lot cheaper than the west coast: flying fish is pounds 5.50 and a rum-punch pounds 1.40.)

Barclays gets its flying fish from the Bridgetown fish market on Princess Alice Highway, where there are piles of them, already filleted, the size of four or five good mouthfuls. They lie next to the pointed snouts of the barracuda and the fading colours of the dolphins. I prefer the fish market next to National Heroes Square. But, for me, the best reason of all for visiting Bridgetown is called the Kensington Oval; not far from the market, as it happens.

The Oval is where the West Indies play when they are in Barbados. The pavilion is named after Sobers; the stands after Weekes, Walcott and Worrell. When the Oval is full, it is very, very full; on the perimeter wall outside are food-stalls (flying fish available); and grubby bars sell enough beer and rum to make sure that sections of the crowd are heaving by mid- afternoon. I saw two one-day internationals there, and one is already famous for a riot. The crowd was safe; in this intimate, emotional atmosphere, it was the players who had reason to feel threatened.

In the fierce cauldron of the Oval, I finally consummated my affair with Barbados. To confirm it, as it were, the next day I asked a taxi-driver to take me to the cradle of the island's cricket. The driver knew where to go. He drove to Bridgetown's suburbs, where rows of comfortable, single- storey wooden houses stand on leafy streets that are still named after obscure members of the Royal Family. In 1991, the prime minister unveiled a plaque at Sir Frank Worrell's birthplace and boyhood home. It stands just outside the boundary fence of the Empire Ground, where the great man - he was the first black captain of the West Indies - learned to play. The main entrance is the Worrell Gate, a little shabbier than the Grace Gate at Lord's, but no less expressive.

Brown sheep nibbled away at the outfield while three little urchins played quietly on the square. Maybe their names all begin with W.



During June, Virgin Holidays (tel: 01293 617181) offer a seven-night stay at Cobblers Cove for pounds 899 per person (on a room only basis). This price is based on two people sharing and includes transfers and return flights on Virgin Atlantic.


For more on Barbados call the Barbados Tourism Authority (tel: 0171-636 9448).

The Independent travel offers: Discover a world of inspiring destinations

Suggested Topics
Arts and Entertainment
Gregg Wallace in Summer's Supermarket Secrets
tv All of this year's 15 contestants have now been named
The giant banner displayed by Legia Warsaw supporters last night
football Polish side was ejected from Champions League
Arts and Entertainment
Could we see Iain back in the Bake Off tent next week?
tv Contestant teased Newsnight viewers on potential reappearance
i100(and it's got nothing to do with the Great British Bake Off)
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
ebookHow to enjoy the perfect short break in 20 great cities
The Ukip leader has consistently refused to be drawn on where he would mount an attempt to secure a parliamentary seat
voicesNigel Farage: Those who predicted we would lose momentum heading into the 2015 election are going to have to think again
Arts and Entertainment
Cara Delevingne made her acting debut in Anna Karenina in 2012
film Cara Delevingne 'in talks' to star in Zoolander sequel
Mario Balotelli pictured in his Liverpool shirt for the first time
Life and Style
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
Travel Shop
the manor
Up to 70% off luxury travel
on city breaks Find out more
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

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

ES Rentals

    iJobs Job Widget
    iJobs Travel

    Business Development Manager / Sales Pro

    £30 - 35k + Uncapped Comission (£70k Y1 OTE): Guru Careers: A Business Develop...

    Graduate Sales Executive / Junior Sales Exec

    £18k + Uncapped Commission (£60k Y1 OTE): Guru Careers: A Graduate Sales Exe...

    Web Developer / Software Developer

    £25 - 60k (DOE): Guru Careers: A Web Developer / Software Developer is needed ...

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

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

    Day In a Page

    Ukraine crisis: The phoney war is over as Russian troops and armour pour across the border

    The phoney war is over

    Russian troops and armour pour into Ukraine
    Potatoes could be off the menu as crop pests threaten UK

    Potatoes could be off the menu as crop pests threaten UK

    The world’s entire food system is under attack - and Britain is most at risk, according to a new study
    Gangnam smile: why the Chinese are flocking to South Korea to buy a new face

    Gangnam smile: why the Chinese are flocking to South Korea to buy a new face

    Seoul's plastic surgery industry is booming thanks to the popularity of the K-Pop look
    From Mozart to Orson Welles: Creative geniuses who peaked too soon

    Creative geniuses who peaked too soon

    After the death of Sandy Wilson, 90, who wrote his only hit musical in his twenties, John Walsh wonders what it's like to peak too soon and go on to live a life more ordinary
    Caught in the crossfire of a cyber Cold War

    Caught in the crossfire of a cyber Cold War

    Fears are mounting that Vladimir Putin has instructed hackers to target banks like JP Morgan
    Salomé's feminine wiles have inspired writers, painters and musicians for 2,000 years

    Salomé: A head for seduction

    Salomé's feminine wiles have inspired writers, painters and musicians for 2,000 years. Now audiences can meet the Biblical femme fatale in two new stage and screen projects
    From Bram Stoker to Stanley Kubrick, the British Library's latest exhibition celebrates all things Gothic

    British Library celebrates all things Gothic

    Forthcoming exhibition Terror and Wonder: The Gothic Imagination will be the UK's largest ever celebration of Gothic literature
    The Hard Rock Café's owners are embroiled in a bitter legal dispute - but is the restaurant chain worth fighting for?

    Is the Hard Rock Café worth fighting for?

    The restaurant chain's owners are currently embroiled in a bitter legal dispute
    Caribbean cuisine is becoming increasingly popular in the UK ... and there's more to it than jerk chicken at carnival

    In search of Caribbean soul food

    Caribbean cuisine is becoming increasingly popular in the UK ... and there's more to it than jerk chicken at carnival
    11 best face powders

    11 best face powders

    Sweep away shiny skin with our pick of the best pressed and loose powder bases
    England vs Norway: Roy Hodgson's hands tied by exploding top flight

    Roy Hodgson's hands tied by exploding top flight

    Lack of Englishmen at leading Premier League clubs leaves manager hamstrung
    Angel Di Maria and Cristiano Ronaldo: A tale of two Manchester United No 7s

    Di Maria and Ronaldo: A tale of two Manchester United No 7s

    They both inherited the iconic shirt at Old Trafford, but the £59.7m new boy is joining a club in a very different state
    Israel-Gaza conflict: No victory for Israel despite weeks of death and devastation

    Robert Fisk: No victory for Israel despite weeks of devastation

    Palestinians have won: they are still in Gaza, and Hamas is still there
    Mary Beard writes character reference for Twitter troll who called her a 'slut'

    Unlikely friends: Mary Beard and the troll who called her a ‘filthy old slut’

    The Cambridge University classicist even wrote the student a character reference
    America’s new apartheid: Prosperous white districts are choosing to break away from black cities and go it alone

    America’s new apartheid

    Prosperous white districts are choosing to break away from black cities and go it alone