English Harbour, Antigua’s graceful and evocative historic district, is focused on the fifteen square miles of Nelson’s Dockyard National Park. Developed as a base for the British Navy in the great age of sail, the harbour served as the headquarters of the fleet of the Leeward Islands during the turbulent years of the late 18th century. Although the dockyard was greatly expanded at that time by Horatio Nelson, it was gradually abandoned in the nineteenth century and was closed in 1889. Today Nelson’s Dockyard has been completely restored, and it is now the only Georgian dockyard in the world.
Almost all of the park’s other sites of interest overlook the harbour. The closest of these is Clarence House, a residence built for the future King William IV (1765-1837) when he served under Nelson as captain of the H.M.S. Pegasus. Further above the harbour, at Shirley Heights, are the partially-restored fortifications of the harbour’s colonial observation post; the view from Shirley Heights extends out over the harbour and far across the Caribbean to Montserrat and Guadaloupe. On Sundays the vista is enhanced by barbeque and live music at the bar there (Steel Band music from 3-6 pm & reggae from 6-9). Shirley Heights can be reached via Lookout Trail, a nature walk that rises from the harbour through a forest of trees–descending the trail is not advisable after dark or barbecue revelry.
This rambling array of gun emplacements and military buildings is best known today for the absolutely breathtaking prospect that it offers. From the Heights one can look far out over English Harbour, and on Sunday afternoons the view is accompanied by barbecue, rum punch, and the plangent strains of steel band and reggae music (Steel Band music from 3-6pm & Reggae from 6pm to 9pm). The site is named for General Shirley, Governor of the Leeward Islands when the area was fortified in the late eighteenth century. Close by is the cemetery, in which stands an obelisk erected in honour of the soldiers of the 54th regiment.
Sea View Farm Village
Antiguan folk pottery dates back at least to the early 18th century, when slaves fashioned cooking vessels from local clay. Today, folk pottery is fashioned in a number of places around Antigua, but the center of this cottage industry is Sea View Farm Village. The clay is collected from pits located nearby, and the wares are fired in an open fire under layers of green grass in the yards of the potters’ houses. Folk pottery can be purchased at outlets in the village as well as at a number of stores around the island. Buyers should be aware that Antiguan folk pottery breaks rather easily in cold environments.
Antigua Rain Forest
If you are an explorer and enjoy the outdoors, you may like to take an excursion through ‘Fig Tree Drive’. Banana trees and date palms line the winding hills. You may even see a meandering donkey or goat. There are many local fruit-huts along the way… if you enjoy fresh pineapple or papaya! Passing through local villages gives you a chance to see the ‘real Antigua’
Harmony Hall Art Gallery
Harmony Hall, in Brown’s Bay at Nonsuch Bay, is the center of the Antiguan arts community. Exhibits change throughout the year, but the annual highlights are the Antigua Artist’s Exhibition and the Craft Fair, both in November. The sugar mill tower around which Harmony Hall is built has been converted to a bar and provides its patrons with one of the island’s best panoramic views, including a fine prospect of Nonsuch Bay.