We think of tourism as a recent phenomenon, but travellers have been voyaging for millennia, sating their curiosity about aspects of the cultural landscapes and geological formations of the regions they were visiting. Barbados was no exception to this and from the seventeenth century, travellers were visiting sites on the island that are still popular with visitors today.
Two of the most visited sites were the Animal Flower Cave in St. Lucy and Coles Cave, St. Thomas, which is connected to the well known Harrison’s Cave of today via an underwater cavern. A third attraction of yesteryear, now defunct today, was the Boiling Spring in Turner’s Hall Woods, St. Andrew.
We can get an idea of the difficulties and rewards involved in visiting these sites from the accounts of two visitors, Dr. Robert Poole (1748) and Sir Henry Fitzherbert (1825). Poole spent three months on Barbados, making very detailed observations in his journal on all aspects of Barbados’ social and natural history. Sir Henry was here for six weeks, his first visit to the island where he owned Turner’s Hall Plantation. His journal is equally fascinating, but gives a more detailed account of island society, as he had well placed relatives on the island, his great grandmother Judith Alleyne being a member of the most prominent planter family of Barbados.
Visiting the Animal Flower Cave in 1748
Unlike today, when visitors to the Animal Flower Cave enter through an artificial entrance which was cut into the cave in the twentieth century, earlier visitors had to be either lowered by rope over the cliff’s edge to the entrance of the cave or risk climbing down the cliff face.
Here is Sir Henry’s description of his visit to the cave:
“The cliff is very lofty and rocky, and so precipitous under the Sea that a King’s ship of the largest size might approach it within a few yards. We descended the Cliff with much caution and some fear; at length we arrived at an immense Cavern, into which the sea is frequently driven with great violence…..Here We pulled off our shoes and stockings and walked across a basin of water nearly knee deep. We then came to another, and smaller cavern having a beautiful clear basin, with a rocky bottom so covered with lichens of various colours as to resemble a Persian carpet of the most varied and richest dyes; and upon some of the rocks were attached under water the animal flowers. They are chiefly yellow and are a species of seas anemone and are very beautiful.”
Robert Poole, seventy-seven years earlier and being of a scientific cast of mind, as he was a medical doctor, provided a more detailed description based on his examination of specimens.
“Another Curiosity we then view’d, seem’d still nearer to approach to the vegetable Kind. When in the Water it expands itself to the bigness of the Flower called the Daisey…upon being touched, it closes up. The largest of these are about an Inch long and when cut open contain very little but Water…..I have given it the name of Sea-Polypus.”
The Animal Flower Cave today
The Animal Flower Cave was given to Cameron Burton Ward as a wedding present in the 1920’s by the owners of the Cave Plantation. His grandson Mannie Ward and his wife Sue now live there and run both the cave and a lovely restaurant and bar that hugs the cliff.
Either to work up an appetite or to walk off lunch, a stroll along the cliff is spectacular, especially on days when the sea is rough. Visitors are restricted from going down into the cave when the tides are too high and not generally due to rough seas as some people think. It’s wise to call ahead. (246) 439-8797.