by Randy Bennett
St Thomas has produced Barbados’ only World Champion, is home to what is commonly referred to as the ‘Eighth Wonder of the World’, and can boast of having the island’s highest peak.
No wonder residents refer to it as the “best parish in the world to live in”. The most central of the 11 parishes, St Thomas is one of only two landlocked parishes, the other being St George in the south.
It is one of the original parishes that established in 1629 by the English settlers who landed at Holetown. Add the fact that along with St George it is the only other parish not to have a coastline, and one could argue that St Thomas is arguably the most unique parish of all.
It has undergone some major changes in recent times though, with the construction of The Walk shopping centre in Welches, adding a new dimension to the rural parish.
With the introduction of popular brands such as Cost-U-Less, I-Mart and Chefette, the location has become a hive of activity. Take a journey up to Hillaby and a bright blue mural of Barbados’ lone World Champion Ryan Brathwaite will greet you, just a short distance away from his home. Brathwaite was the toast of the country when he won gold in the 110 metre hurdles at the 2009 World Championships in Berlin, Germany.
At the age of 21, he was the youngest ever champion for the event. Area resident, Junior – that’s the only name he gave – feels like he was the one who won the medal, saying it is a day he will never forget.
“I can remember it like it was yesterday,” he told Barbados TODAY. “I was glued to my TV and I was praying for him to win a medal. When the gun went off, I just jumped up and started shouting . . . it was an unbelievable feeling when he crossed the line first.
“And to think that Ryan came from humble beginnings right here in Hillaby. He really made Barbados proud on that day,” Junior said. Almost a stone’s throw away is Mount Hillaby, the highest peak in Barbados. At 1115 feet or 343 metres above sea level, it is one of the best scenic lookouts on the island and provides captivating views of the east, west and north coasts. Just as spectacular as Brathwaite’s performance, and not too far away is one of the most awe-inspiring sights in the world, Harrison’s Cave.
The beautiful, crystallized, limestone cavern was opened in 1981 and attracts over 100,000 visitors annually. The cave underwent extensive renovations in 2006 to the tune of $84 million and was officially re-opened in 2010.
According to Reservations and Sales Supervisor and Marketing Coordinator Jo-Ann Jones, “the attraction has surpassed projections by far”. Featuring impressive displays of stalactites and stalagmites, the century old cave which was named after Thomas Harrison, the owner of the land back in the 1700s, provides up to 20 tours daily to eager adventurers and is open seven days a week.
The Cave’s Chief Executive Officer Jennifer Williams admitted while they don’t attract as many locals as they would like, they were working to change that soon. Harrison’s Cave has won several awards, including the Trip Advisor 2015 Certificate of Excellence, as well as the 2011 Caribbean Excellence in Sustainable Tourism Award from the Barbados-based Caribbean Tourism Organization.
St Thomas also boasts of several other attractions, including Welchman Hall gully – which features 150 species of native plants – and the Jack-in-the-Box gully. Joycelyn Hunte has been living in Farm Path, Hillaby, for the past 26 years.
While she readily admits to initially being a “town girl” she has no regrets about moving to St Thomas. “I love the country and I love to plant. I am a town girl that my husband brought to the country. One of the most interesting things about St Thomas is that the rain falls here every single day of the year and that is perfect for me because I am always in the garden,” Hunte said. She revealed that quite a bit had changed, but insisted St Thomas was still the best place to live.
“A lot of the older persons have gone and there is an influx of persons from the urban parts of Barbados now and they live mostly in White Hill. “We see a lot more younger people now, but it is still quiet.
It’s very peaceful and it is always cool even on the hottest day,” she noted. For Yvonne Walcott, who lives in Grand View, Shop Hill, it was a move in search of work which resulted in her relocating to St Thomas. She has been managing Walcott’s Bar and Grocery Shop since 1972.
“I had young children and I was looking for work to support them to be honest. Originally, I came from St George, but I don’t have any complaints at all about living here,” the elderly woman noted. “Out here is cool and calm.
You might just get a couple fellas using bad words, but everyone lives good together. I don’t have any issues and I don’t have any complaints.” Walcott said one of the biggest changes to the neighbourhood was the construction of a nearby housing development. When she moved here 43 years ago, the land was covered by cane fields.