On the east coast of Barbados lie its greatest treasures that hold the secrets to its past.
Ragged shorelines, sculpted by relentless Atlantic winds and waves, give way to long stretches of uninhabited beaches. In most parts it is a desolate place, but one rich in unrivaled natural beauty.
In the north east corner stands the stunning St Nicholas Abbey: a Jacobean house billed as the last remaining 17th-century house anywhere in the New World. Neighbouring this is the Morgan Lewis Sugar Mill, the last working windmill in the western hemisphere.
Further south along the east coast is The Crane hotel. Built in 1887 it is the oldest operating hotel in the Caribbean, and those 126 years of operation are also, coincidentally, how long it would take to save up and holiday there. Apparently they do a budget friendly brunch…
But it is to the north of the renowned Crane resort that brings us to the most legendary edifice of them all. Most recently a hotel until destroyed by fire, the castle was formerly home to Samuel Hall Lord: the original pirate of the Caribbean.
Probably the most illustrious pirate on the island, Sam amassed a great wealth for himself through luring ships onto the coral reefs that frame Barbados’ coastline.
The locals will happily regale you with tales of Sam and his pillaging, which oddly enough is never spoken about in any voice other than that of pride and admiration. Sam seems to have been quite the charmer, and I have yet to come across or hear word that his work was little more than (albeit slightly disruptive to his victims) a gentle plundering. There seems to be no account of violence, which stumps me a little as I find it hard to believe that pirating on a charm offensive is less work than clubbing someone.
Legend has it that Sam hung lanterns high in the coconut trees around his estate to lure passing ships into thinking they were the lights of Bridgetown Port, knowing they would then make their way to the coastline and run aground. Once the ships lay grounded on the coral reefs in front of his castle, he would board and relieve them of their riches.
Many of the treasures are believed to have been stowed in a network of tunnels located under the beach and the castle, but these tunnels have never been traced. Or at least if they have been unearthed it was never made public. I simply cannot think why…
For Sam, the plundering and stealing gig turned out to be quite the lucrative trade, and in 1820, his Georgian style castle was built.
After his death, the castle was acquired and transformed into the Sam Lord’s Castle hotel. As a hotel it changed hands on several occasions, before finally being acquired by CLICO, a global insurance company.
Shortly after investing in the property, CLICO Barbados ran into financial difficulties and the renovation once promised (estimated at $320m) would never proceed. After waiting on a proposed government buyout, on the 20th October 2010 Sam Lord’s castle burned to the ground.
There is much anger surrounding the cause of the blaze, with many fingers pointing towards CLICO as the body responsible for the overall demise and subsequent destruction of Sam Lord’s.
The charred remains of this magnificent building remain accessible to the curious, ideally those with solid health and life insurance, as its crumbling facade and disintegrating floor makes it a dangerous place to explore. Inside, a safe lies opened, and burnt out drapes still hang from its walls. From inside the grounds, you can feel the vibrations from the Atlantic, as it thunders against the cliffs.
A brick table cuts a lonely figure down on the castle’s beach, and eerie apparitions form in the leaves of the countless aloe vera plants that encase the grounds. I am no believer in ghosts or ghouls, but one snap of a twig under this deserted ruin would have me running for the exit with the same pace and precision as if someone had yelled out “happy hour!”.
One of the most significant pieces of Barbadian history, it is also claimed that Sam Lord’s transition from castle to hotel was the first in the movement which saw many European castles follow suit. To think that such a landmark has been left to ruin is incredibly saddening.
As the sun shines through its crumbling walls, it is hard to believe that this tired, collapsing structure, was once the decadent home of Barbados’ most notorious pirate.