UNIQUE TERRAIN AND HISTORY
Only 50 kilometres away from Antigua and visible on most days, Montserrat is a world away in terms of its terrain, culture and history. With just under 5,000 residents the island is far less developed than many of the neighbouring islands and as soon as you arrive you will notice the distinctly relaxed and laidback attitude of its people.
Montserrat rises steeply out of the Caribbean Sea and is dominated by the active Soufriere Hills volcano which means that part of the Southern part of the island is inaccessible to the public. Like Antigua, Montserrat was first discovered by Columbus in 1493 and named in honour of the Abbey of Montserrat in Spain. Many Irish men settled in Montserrat in 1632 and since then the island has had strong links to Ireland even though politically it is an independent territory of the United Kingdom. In fact, it is known as the other ‘Emerald Isle’ for its Irish connections and its lush green scenery. Residents celebrate St Patrick’s Day and your passport will be stamped with a green shamrock as you enter the island.
Montserrat’s recent history is dominated by the explosion of the Soufriere Hills volcano in July 1995. Having laid dormant for centuries, the explosion destroyed the then capital Plymouth covering parts of the island up to 12 meters deep in mud. This and subsequent eruptions led to over half population leaving the island. Though still active, today the volcano’s movement mainly consists of ash venting rather than the explosive eruptions and pyroclastic flows which destroyed part of the island in the nineties. A new capital is now being built in Little Bay on the North of the island, whilst the volcano itself is closely watched over from the Montserrat Volcano Observatory which can be visited as part of your trip.
Montserrat like many isolated islands has many rare species which aren’t found anyway else in the World. These include the Montserrat Galliswasp which is a cross between a lizard and a snake, the national bird, the Montserrat Oriele, and the islands very own species of tarantula spider! Montserrat also shares with Dominica the Giant Ditch Frog (known to the local as Mountain Chicken which suggests what they use it for). Our expert hiking guide will give you more insight into the islands distinct fauna and possibly the opportunity to meet them.
Montserrat also has famous musical connections with numerous artists coming to record at George Martin’s Air Studios including Paul McCartney, Mark Knopfler, Elton John, Sting, Eric Clapton and Midge Ure. Martin, who has been called the ‘fifth Beatle’, worked with the famous sixties band most notably on their era defining Sgt. Pepper Album. Although he has recently passed away, Martin’s influence on the island remains including Olveston House which is our chosen accommodation on Montserrat.
From Antigua we get to the island via a short twenty-minute plane ride. The island’s airport has one of the shortest runways in the World and is only therefore accessible to light aircraft. Alternatively, there is a daily ferry service from St Johns which takes an hour and a half to get to Little Bay in Montserrat.
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On preferred accommodation in Montserrat is Olveston House.
It was originally the famous Beatles producer, Sir George Martin’s residence when on the island, but is now an enchanting guest house surrounded by beautiful gardens with views of the surrounding mountains. You are also likely to see one of the resident iguana’s as you stroll around the gardens or relax by the pool.
The accommodation at Olveston House is uncomplicated and each of the six rooms joins on to the wrap around balcony that surrounds the house. Breakfast is served on the veranda at the front of the house overlooking the tranquil gardens and pool. Evening meals are also available here or there are a couple of local alternatives available.
We have a couple of other accommodation options for you in Montserrat. The Vue Point hotel is also in Olveston and has a beautiful pool overlooking the volcano and over the coastline and the old capital of Plymouth. Rooms here have recently been refurbished and renovated ready for the upcoming Caribbean winter season.
Our second option is over on the other side of the island facing out towards Antigua and the uninhabited island of Redondo. Gingerbread Hill is run by an American couple, David and Clover, who have lived on the island for years and offers quaint accommodation with each room individually styled. As well as the guest house they also run the Hilltop Coffee House a few minutes’ walk away which self-lovely pastries as well as coffees and doubles up as a community facility for residents.
Jack Boy and Katy Hill
Long / challenging (steep sections and some rough ground with paths difficult to find)
The trail begins just above the Jack Boy Visitor Facility and rises steeply up the western slope of Jack Boy Hill. From the summit, this trail continues westward, descending steeply and climbing again until you reach the junction of the Katy Hill South and Big River trails. You will need your guide here guide as the trail becomes quickly overgrown due to almost constant moisture and it is easy to lose one’s way. Amongst the different vegetation is the unique Elfin Rainforest which is a miniature version of rainforest which is mainly below head height!
Medium length / Moderate
This trail is often wet and slippery, with dramatic cliffs rising on either side. There are several moderate gullies to cross, and some of the trails climb directly through the rocky bed of Soldier Ghaut. The actual waterfall is about 100 feet high, but only runs in the rainy season or after heavy rainfall. It is still worth the hike even when the weather has been dry! The return journey retraces the same path by which you enter.
Short / easy
This is the most popular hiking trail in Montserrat. With a trail guide, you are very likely to see and/or hear the national bird from this trail. From either direction, the trail ascends gently then steeply to the top of Lawyer’s Mountain. A short spur to a clearing at the highest point of the trail affords breath-taking views of the island to the north and south.
This trail follows a series of steep climbs and descends through a lush portion of the Centre Hills, including a formerly active agricultural village known as Underwood. This gives you an insight into the immigration that effected Montserrat after the volcano eruptions and glance into its history. The trial is also excellent for bird watching and understanding the unique flora and fauna of the island.
Medium length / easy
A hat, sunscreen, and extra water are advised for this trail as its exposed to the sun, so we make sure you start early in the day. We begin this trail at Drummonds on the dirt road leading northward from the end of the paved road and the last of the houses. We continue a dirt road then up through dry forest and open grassland. The trail slopes steeply downward to Rendezvous Bay, where you can detour for a swim so bring along swimwear. Rendezvous Beach is the only white sand beach on the island, the rest our dark volcanic sand. We then continue over the saddle towards the south, ending with a descent into the new capital of Montserrat Little Bay which replaced the old capital which was destroyed by the volcano.
Although it’s a small island with a small population there are still lots of other things to do on Montserrat. We recommend you let us organise a trip for you to the old capital Plymouth. We would love for you to hike there but now day trippers are only allowed by vehicle and we need to make prior arrangements with the authorities. There are areas you can walk in though, and it is amazing to see the remains of the buildings in what has been described as a modern-day Pompeii. It is also worth us organising a trip to see the Olveston Estate and the old Air Studios which derelict are also following the volcano and Hurricane Hugo. As with Plymouth access if by vehicle though are opportunities to walk around.
Finally, if you time your visit around St Patrick’s Day (March 17th) you can join in the island wide celebrations of their Irish routes.