As we came into land the Antiguan sky was very different to what greeted us in India – smog and dust free. The view was as beautiful and stunning as it always seems to be. Golden sands, clear blue sea ringed by coral reefs and the setting of English Harbour where Horatio Nelson made his base in 1780 was spectacular. English Harbour which has been beautifully restored is also known as Nelson’s Dockyard. Further round in Falmouth you have the incredible Super Yachts, lots of bars and restaurants but sadly very few places to stay. The island is green and untouched with beautiful resorts around the perimeter of the island and of course the golden sands you can sink your feet into.
The following day seven of us who stayed at Jolly Beach ventured up to Shirley Heights a restored lookout and gun battery, which has spectacular views of English Harbour & Falmouth and even has a Derby winning racehorse named after it. Shirley Heights just got up to win in 1978. Shirley Heights is more than the views. Twice a week it hosts a party with huge steel band, bars and barbecues. It is rich with characters selling local memento’s and a very vibrant atmosphere. Most try to snap the glorious sunset that adds to the beautiful surroundings, a hidden gem which was about 45 minutes from our hotel, in truth it seems everywhere is 45 minutes away!
The following day I went to the Antigua Recreation Ground stadium. I have passed it so many times over the years, and it has always been locked, until today that is!
Of all the grounds that I have watched cricket in around the world, the Recreation Ground and Sabina Park in Kingston, Jamaica, are the two that have escaped me. Just walking out to the middle you can feel the history of this iconic ground. Sadly the famous double decker stand was taken down last year as deemed unsafe. Naturally the locals were somewhat upset with that decision. A ground established in 1978 held its first test match in 1981 against England where Peter Willey was the first centurion and the second was Sir Vivian Richards. A ground where there was little swing and bounce, batters certainly had the better between bat and ball.
Brian Lara famously scored 375 & 400 on this ground, in 2009 it held its last test match to the delight of the locals. As the Sir Vivian Richards stadium match (which was built for the World Cup in 2007) had to be abandoned due to a poor outfield the Rec remarkably held the test at 48 hours notice. Just walking around feeling a sense of all those legends that graced this ground and the atmosphere of the local entertainers was magical. Just standing alone in the middle visualising the music that swept around the stands and a colourful character of “Gravy” who apparently runs a hardware shop now was emotional. With short boundaries, the ground certainly has character, the old scoreboard is still standing and the stands which are named after Antiguan greats are now locked. The honours board was taken away, refurbished and placed in the Sir Vivian Richards stand which is good to see! It’s just a shame to see it in a state. The ground held test cricket for just 28 years, the stands do look like they can be restored. The deterioration has understandably upset the locals as they feel it had atmosphere and the new Sir Vivian Richards stadium is soulless and well out of town.
As I was wandering around I met James Stevens, who is head of the umpires in Antigua. After spending 20 minutes talking to him, I sensed what the Rec means to the locals. What it would mean to them to have it back! James has a vision with the help of the government and donations, he would like to return it back to its former glory, I hope he gets his wish.
The next few days we had many arrivals and a highlight for me was to meet up with so many friends from previous tours and nice to meet first timers, Our first event which is always a hit was a catamaran trip around the west coast of Antigua stopping for reef snorkelling, followed by typically Caribbean lunch of fried fish, chicken, macaroni pie & salad, with the option of hot sauce which I love!
The drinks flowed the dancing started, which I tend to leave that to others and just chatted and enjoyed the beautiful views, you can’t help but love it! Someone always says to me at that time you have the best job in the world, I look at the views and agree, and as always appreciate and enjoy those trips to the full.
Sandwiched between the two ODI,’s we had our second event at the Treehouse with a Q&A hosted by Cameron Ponsonby with Sir Richie Richardson & Sir Curtly Ambrose. This was followed by Spirited band which included the two greats of Yesteryear, Richie played guitar as did Curtly but the latter blew everyone away with his singing. He was highly entertaining – so many went away with great memories, and great comments were forthcoming days after!
We then left Antigua for Barbados and the second leg of the tour, again quite a few new arrivals and a few departures, once again sandwiched between the cricket we had another sail on two Cool Runnings catamarans from the carenage in Bridgetown. First stop was Carlisle for snorkelling and swimming with the turtles before sailing to the west coast for more swimming, late lunch and a sunset on the way back surrounded by beautiful views.
Our next event was a Q&A with Sir Gordon Greenidge & Desmond Haynes who need no introduction with a buffet based on the fish fry at Oistins which was delicious. We had some Barbadian entertainment – stilt walkers, dancers and a fire eater followed by a disco.
Some of us even had time to go horse racing at Garrison Savannah, once again a Gold Cup winner was named after it, every day in Barbados was full on as we were only there for 5 days.
Then we were off to Grenada & Trinidad for the last two legs, at Grenada we had a Q&A at Savvi’s Beach Cabana with Roland Butcher & Tim Wigmore followed by the entertaining Don Topley, and delicious food. At Trinidad we had a days sightseeing around the city.
In between the events everyone enjoyed the cricket despite West Indies just beating us.
Overall a wonderful tour and from the comments we received one word stuck out which was seamless!
Sara, Richard, Nick, Edward, Sasa and I would like to thank all those who travelled with us for making it as enjoyable & memorable that it was. I have no doubt we will see you again on another tour soon