The Colin Hudson Great Train Hike is an annual event that’s held on the third Sunday in February. This 38 km (24 mile) trek traces the route of the old Barbados Railway line that ran from Bridgetown in the southwest to Belleplaine in the northeast. In the 1800’s, Barbados was one of the leading producers of sugar in the British colonies and there was a great need to transport that commodity. The primary means of transportation was horse and buggy. To get around the island which had quite a rugged interior, a new mode of transportation was needed. To facilitate the movement of goods and people, ground was broken in 1877 for the new railway. The first section from Bridgetown, St. Michael to Carrington, St. Philip, was completed in 1881. The full line to Belleplaine, St Andrew was inaugurated in 1883. This narrow-gauge railway line had 98 bridges, sharp curves and one steep incline. Success of the line was immediate. There were, however, great challenges ahead. There were derailments, portions of track were washed away by storms and had to be rebuilt, government funding dried up. With the many financial problems, changes of ownership, poor maintenance and declining passenger ridership, the railway was finally closed in 1937.

Independence Square, Bridgetown.

Leaving Independence Square, as the city still sleeps. We headed east through the streets and some neighbourhoods.

We’re about six miles in, the threat of rain is gone and we’re feeling good. Participating in this hike was a last-minute decision. I’d seen the post by the Barbados Hiking Association on social media the evening before. Twenty four miles, how hard can that be, after all, I’d done plenty of treks in the past.

We continued through the St. George valley which with its flat and fertile terrain was home to several sugar plantations. Introduced by the Dutch in the 17th century, sugar soon replaced tobacco and cotton as the main cash crop. Remnants of windmills that powered the grinding mechanism can still be spotted as you drive throughout the island. In the 19th century when sugar was still king, and windmills were no longer in use, there were about ten sugar producing factories on the island. The emergence of beet sugar in the European markets, coupled with the high production costs of cane sugar, led to the closure of many factories. Cane sugar prices had plummeted globally. Currently, there’s only one working sugar factory.

We did some street hiking near the location of the old Three Houses station. After about a half mile, we turned off into a farming area. We passed grazing sheep, old homesteads and banana trees. We’re still heading east at this point. The rich soil of the farmlands turns to scrub grass and rocky terrain. Feeling like you’re on top of a windswept plateau, I began to smell the fresh ocean air as the cliffs of Atlantic Heights came into view. The next point of interest was Consett Bay, just past the half way point. Afterwards, we head north and look forward to the beautiful sea views along the east coast.

The open space of the cliffs turned to gully as we hiked to the bottom of Consett Bay. The break from the sun was welcome as it was nice and cool in this rain forested area. That was short lived however as we went from luscious green space to open field and had an uphill climb ahead.

The Consett Bay Cut was the steepest grade along the train line. This made for an interesting scenario. Since the trains were always fully loaded with freight and passengers, the engine didn’t have enough power to make up that steep incline. The solution? The second- and third-class passengers would get off and push the train while those in first class would wonder, “what’s taking so long?”

The steep incline of the Consett Bay Cut.
Consett Bay overlook.
High point.

After the high point of Consett Bay, it was all downhill to Bath Beach. This picnic and recreational area is popular with locals and tourists. It was also the location of one of our hydration stations. A quick stop here and we’re off, back into the woods.

Remnants of railroad spikes and bridges can be seen in the Bath area. There’s been erosion here and the ocean has encroached quite a bit. I can just imagine the train, chugging along, hugging the coastline, must’ve been something special.

Another small fishing village along the way is Martins Bay. This is the area where the descendants of Scottish and Irish indentured servants settled. Brought to Barbados in the 1600’s as British prisoners of war to work the sugar plantations, these “red legs” as they were called, didn’t fare well in the tropical sun.

Leaving Martins Bay, the trail winded its way inland for a time, through heavy vegetation of sea grape, screw pine and other unnamed shrubs.

Most of the heavy vegetation is behind us at this point. The landscape now features low lying shrubs, seagrass and varying sizes of boulders. It’s really opened up now. It’s just past midday and it’s sunny and hot. On the east side of the island, you get the cooling effect of the prevailing northeast trade winds so that helps a bit. The beautiful scenery and the sound of the waves kept my mind of the pain in my now blistering feet.

Looking north, the Atlantis Hotel is around the corner.
Not the Atlantis.

Dating back to the 1800’s, The Atlantis Hotel is one of the oldest hotels in Barbados and was around when the train was running. Considered a heritage hotel, it has been refurbished but still keeps its vintage style.

Atlantis Hotel.
In front of the hotel, part of the metal rails can still be seen.

Just past the Atlantis Hotel is the small fishing village of Tent Bay. Fishermen set out in the morning as they’ve done for decades and return in the evening. Their catch is sold at the local fish market. Restaurant and hotel chefs love the fact that they can get fresh fish everyday.

At mile 20, we reach the seaside village of Bathsheba. Located in what’s known as the Scotland District, this beach town is famous for its rugged landscape, laid-back style, rustic beach cottages, tide pools and surfer vibe. The list of restaurants and bars is growing as this once sleepy beach town is now a regular stop on island tours. There are some boutique hotels as well. For those seeking a more holistic, sustainable, off the beaten path experience, there are a couple of eco lodges. Check here

Leaving Joe’s River, we entered the beach community of Cattlewash. This last section of the hike was all along the Ermy Bourne Highway aka The East Coast Road. Hot asphalt roadway, some under construction parts and not much shade, the tropical sun is really beating down on me. Four more miles and I’m home free, blisters and all.

The final few miles were done on this “under construction” roadway. It was a beautiful Sunday on no heavy equipment in the way.

Photo credit Sam Bug Guillon

A lot of tired souls and sore feet. The end of a long day. For me it was about nine hours. Stories were shared as we waited for the bus for the one hour journey back to Bridgetown.

Photo credit Andrew C Greaves

In summation, my last-minute decision to do this hike was a crazy but good decision. I thoroughly enjoyed the experience and saw a side of my home country that most don’t get to see.


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