Antigua’s Shirley Heights: View of a Lifetime Overlooking Historic Nelson’s Dockyard
It takes only a moment to recognize the beauty on Antigua, especially if you’re looking at the stunning view from the Shirley Heights lookout. I see a crescent-moon beach with sailboats bobbing in gentle harbors. From up here, a central elongated island looks like an alligator with its long back and protruding jaw. And in the distance, clouds seem to dip down and seemingly touch the peaks of a hilly and mountainous panorama.
The jagged, curving and twisting shorelines in view actually shelter Nelson’s Dockyard, the world’s only Georgian-era dockyard still in use. Royal Navy ships were once berthed within the harbors of this historic site dating back to the early 18th century. English naval legends once stationed there included Horatio Nelson and Prince William Henry who was later crowned King William IV. The dockyard includes nearby forts, hiking trails, a restaurant/hotel complex, and the Dockyard Museum.
The original sail loft pillars – columns that once supported a structure atop them used to repair sails of 18th century ships – remain today. Ships would dock inside a narrow channel and the sails would be raised into the above building through a trap door into the building to be repaired.
Betty’s Hope, Devil’s Bridge and Swimming with Stingrays
A fully intact windmill that once squeezed sugarcane stalks remains on the grounds of a historic Antigua plantation. Called Betty’s Hope, the plantation got its name when Christopher Codrington, later Captain General of the Leeward Islands, bought the land in 1674 and named it after his daughter. Today, ruins remain and a small museum includes actual artifacts – forks, pottery, horseshoes and more.
I also visited Devil’s Bridge, an arched limestone formation with blowholes shaped by crashing waves, all within a national park. It’s a natural bridge of sorts, passing over eroded shoreline. I dare not walk on it, however, as crashing waves spewing water could knock me over, with the spray making rocks slippery.
Other sights to see on Antigua include port of call St. George, with highlights including Heritage Quay, a shopaholic’s paradise; the dual-towered Anglican Cathedral dating back to 1681; the Museum of Antigua and Barbuda with artifacts ranging from 34 million year old fossils to an Arawak canoe; and Redcliffe Quay with its 19th century buildings and art galleries. Fig Tree Drive carves through a rainforest where there are no figs but instead banana and mango trees, and 1,319-foot-high Mt. Obama is also in the rainforest. Harmony Hall is an art gallery and restaurant within the great house of a former plantation.
Finally I had a chance to swim with stingrays, hopping on a boat to reach a shallow spot far out along the shoreline. The stingrays know that when the people come, they’ll be fed! They were gentle and swam alongside us, but after they were fed, they left. It was a great experience!