Garrison Savannah is a small town in Barbados, two miles outside the capital Bridgetown. It grew up around the military barracks which gave it its name. A name, of course, shared by the top class chaser which won the Cheltenham Gold Cup in 1991 and was runner-up in the Grand National the same year. It has been the home of horse racing on Barbados since the colonial days of 1845. The officers of the British Regiment who were stationed in Barbados, used what was then the parade ground to match their horses in races and they were later joined by the wealthy merchants and planters. These days it’s little more than a collection of hotels, a public park, the cricket ground where the likes of Joel Garner and Malcolm Marshall strutted their stuff and the racecourse. Although what more do you want? Bridgetown is a bustling coastal capital with more than its share of expensive yachts and plenty of fine shopping but also more shanty areas on its edges than it would like. If you are on the island then you probably won’t venture too far from the beach or the bar but the capital is well worth a visit, if only for half a day. As for Barbados, what is there to be said that Judith Chalmers hasn’t said a hundred times? Sun, sand, sea and seven kinds of rum. Underneath the mango tree, my honey and me, Ursula Andress popping out of the sea without so much as a bye your leave. It’s a beach lover’s paradise in the sunny Caribbean sea. It’s typically tropical.
Where To Eat
Let’s assume you are not going to spend a week or two in Garrison Savannah and instead will be holidaying somewhere else in Barbados. In which case you will probably eat at your hotel more often than not, unless you are visiting Bridgetown. There you will find a number of good restaurants, many specialising in local fare with fish dishes aplenty. The Plumbers would recommend the Rusty Pelican in Cavans Lane where you can enjoy good grub – an eclectic Creole and Mexican mix – and cold drinks while overlooking the Careenage harbour and watching the crowd amble by.
Where To Drink
There’s no shortage of bars and your choice will almost certainly be influenced by how far you have to walk to get there. And if you are getting free drinks in your hotel then why the heck would you want to go anywhere else? Our personal rule of thumb would be to avoid any bar which flies the flag of St George or is decorated with Premiership football shirts. Unless you like that kind of thing. However it may be the price you have to pay to get out of the sun and watch a live match on one of the few places with Sky telly. There’s a place in St Lawrence Gap which offers this dubious service if you can beat the time difference, get up early enough and don’t mind knocking back a cold one before the sun is over the yard arm. Whatever that means.
Where To Stay
Not surprisingly there are more than a few hotels on Barbados which would be happy to provide you with lodgings. There’s hardly much point in telling you about them here; get a brochure.
We stayed at the Barbados BeachClub
which is an all-inclusive resort hotel, about five and a half miles from Bridgetown, with surprisingly good food. All drinks are also included in your stay. Need we say more?
What To Avoid
Stick to the beaten track and don’t go wandering too far at night. Barbados is reasonably safe compared with some Caribbean islands, notably Jamaica, but use a bit of common sense all the same. If you go into Bridgetown then the previous advice is doubled. At night, give a particularly wide berth to the area around the Fairfield Street bus station. The chances are that you will stand out rather conspicuously as a tourist and you might as well write ‘target’ on your forehead with sun cream. The vast majority of the locals are extremely friendly but one or two will have their eye on your over-privileged wallet. If you are sunning yourself on the beach, and it’s likely that you will at some point, then you will soon be approached by one of the many local entrepreneurs trying to sell their wares. These principally include bananas, hats made out of bananas, coconuts and jewellery made out of coconuts or bananas. As soon as they have established that you are not the polis they will also try to sell you bags of leaves from the marijuana plant. As to whether this should be avoided is a matter of personal predilection. And the law.
Few visitors to Barbados could care less if it has any culture or not but we know you are more discerning than that. We know you want to know more than the temperature (hot), the quality of the beaches (excellent), the price of beer (reasonable) and the availability of whistling grass (plentiful). You don’t? Stuff you then. We still recommend that you hire a car and get the sand out of your undies for at least a day and explore the inner island. Check out the smaller villages, the chattel houses, the pottery shops and the rum houses. Check out Sunbury Plantation House, the Flower Forest and Holetown.
Then go back to the beach, you philistine.
Well it’s a long way to walk so we would recommend flying. It’s the only way to travel. It’s not as cheap as the number 34 bus to Ayr but it’s a whole lot sunnier when you get there. The plumbers recommend Coconut Airways
Getting To The Course
You can get there on official service buses from just about anywhere on the island and they are regular enough and reliable enough to do the job. The more adventurous should take the smaller, more crowded, noisier and infinitely more interesting ganja buses. They don’t exactly follow timetables and your missus may get sold to gangsters but you get a free whiff of mellow yellow all the way to the course. If the bus is particularly slow getting there then you can at least rest assured you won’t give a monkey’s if you lose your shirt or not. Enjoy the ride.
About The Course
Let’s just say that Ascot it isn’t. Which is fine by us. The serious punter has several options for watching the races. They can enjoy the view from the Grand Stand, Field Stand, Sir John Chandler Stand or, if they are lucky enough to get an invitation, to the luxurious corporate boxes overlooking the famous paddock bend. Needless to say we didn’t. But for ample compensation there were beers cooling on ice plus fish, chicken and burgers sizzling on open range barbeques. The track itself is a six-furlong turf oval and races range from five to eleven furlongs. The locals take their racing pretty seriously and aren’t slow to let the jockeys know if they’ve cost them a dollar or two. They also seem to like clambering up on the metal railing in the stand and loudly ‘riding’ their winner home. Or at least they did the day we were there. Maybe they had just been on the ganja bus a bit too long. Betting is on the Tote and if you can follow the form in the programme then you are doing well. You could do a lot worse than pick a nice name and cross your fingers. The day we were there, two horses with Scottish names romped home and we weren’t too proud to have backed them.
What To Wear
Well it’s usually a bit hot so leave the trench coat at home. Shorts and t-shirt are fine as the Barbadians don’t go in for much formality at the racecourse. The only ones in shirt and tie are ex-pat Brits trying to flash their cash. If you feel like dressing up then go for a pair of trousers but don’t say we didn’t warn you. Find yourself some shade, get a can of Red Stripe and watch the show.
The Travel Guide recommends: Robert Best, The Singing Plumber. Thirty-nine year old Robert, a qualified plumber by profession, lives in the parish of St. Peter and sings with St. Peter’s Church choir. He is known across the island for his fine tenor voice and by his soubriquet, The Singing Plumber.