Saturday, December 8, 2012

World Heritage Sites

Up until now I've only written posts for countries I have visited outside Bermuda but tonight Viv, myself and Viv's mum Anna drove 40 minutes each way to Bermuda's very own Unesco World Heritage Site -- St. George's.

Bermuda -- divided into 8 parishes. From the top: St. George's, Hamilton Parish, Devonshire, Pembroke, Paget, Warwick, Southampton, Sandys.  Hamilton is in Pembroke Parish, Somerset is in Sandys Parish and St. George's is in ... well St. George's Parish.  

It takes that long of course as the speed limit is only 35 kph (aka 20 mph) and St. George's is just about 20 miles away from where we live in Warwick.  But why tonight of all nights?  Well it was the Bermuda National Trust's pre-Christmas Walkabout.

We've lived in Bermuda since 1985 and this is the first time we've ever attended this event.  This is what the National Trust says about the place:

St. George's is the oldest continually inhabited English town in the New World, and, after nearly four centuries, it continues its dual role as a lively town and a living museum.  In November of 2000, UNESCO designated St. George's a World Heritage Site.  It is where Bermuda's history all began and was Bermuda's capital from 1612, when the first settlers arrived, until 1815, when the new town of Hamilton became the capital.  In St. George's you are surrounded by history -- history that unfolds around each corner of the quaint narrow alleys and in buildings that have stood for centuries.

All well and true but at 35 kph, St. George's is about 10 minutes too far away as far as I'm concerned.  This is a shame as the city is really as advertised, just a step back into history.  You can visit Williamsburg in Virginia and do the full recreated time warp American-style but for the real thing, including bits that are downright shabby, St. George's is the place.

Sad to admit but I usually only visit St. George's every other year when Cup Match is held in St. George's at the Wellington Oval -- Cup Match is the annual East versus West cricket match in mid-summer and is a must visit event in anyone's calendar, by the way.  So I knew the parking which tonight with hordes of merry makers heading for the winding streets of St. George's was just as well.

Fortunately it was a beautiful clear night, not too muggy and a comfortable 70 degrees and our first stop was at the World Heritage Centre itself on Penno's Wharf -- St. George's is an enclosed harbour and has been an active port since the early days and remains so now, although the only ships that dock are the smaller cruise ships and the occasional warship on a goodwill stop.

The building itself is a converted warehouse and has been interestingly laid out with some history thrown in as well as the Sassy Saxes Quartet who were churning out some jolly Christmas tunes -- for this one night only apparently.

Turning up the hill, we turned right into Blacksmith Lane which leads into picturesque Water Street and strolled down towards the main square via the early 17th century Tucker House.  One good thing about such a small place as Bermuda (pop. 60,000) is that you keep running into people you know particularly if there are events going on and tonight was no exception.  Almost at every turn were people we knew, all of whom were in festive spirit and ready to have a good time.

The shops, bars and restaurants were open and every 50 yards or so was a band or orchestra playing cheery carols or something similarly appropriate.  It really was very nice and at the centre was King's Square really beautifully lit up.

Water Street towards King's Square, St. George's

The layout hasn't changed since the early 1600's and many of the buildings are of the same vintage -- very few of course performing the same duty as in the early days.  Walking down Water Street, straight ahead is the Town Hall; to the left is the bank building in front of which are the Stocks -- a place of punishment for wrong doers; to the right is the wharf and Ordnance Island, where boats moored and unloaded and of course the Ducking Stool -- the place where nagging wives are disciplined.  Tonight however the stocks were not in use but a stage was set up where song, dance, bands and speeches were all taking place.  But the Ducking Stool lurked just waiting for an opportunity...

Realising that with all the stopping, looking, chatting with friends and generally milling around time was moving on, we moved onto the State House, a real highlight.  Built in 1620 by Governor Nathaniel Butler, the State House is one of the oldest remaining stone English structures in the New World.  It was the earliest government building, has been a law court and in 1815 when the capital city was moved to Hamilton along with the important government buildings was rented out to a Scottish Freemason lodge (#200 if you're interested.  They meet on the 1st Tuesday after the full moon each month) for an annual rent of 1 Peppercorn.

The Old State House

The rent was set at this level on condition the lodge was left open to visitors, a unique circumstance as freemason lodges are usually kept strictly closed.  Each year the rent is paid in the Peppercorn Ceremony, an event where the Governor and all of Government turn up to receive the solemn peppercorn from the lodge's master and a host of other masons, many of whom fly in from overseas and parade around St. George's in their full regalia.  It is a ceremony unique to Bermuda and in particular St. George's.

Peppercorn Ceremony

We left St. Peter's Anglican church to last.  The church is the oldest continually used Anglican church in the Western hemisphere.  Replacing a 1612 structure constructed of wooden posts and palmetto leaves that was destroyed in a storm, the present church was built in 1615  and has been much extended in 1713 and again in the 19th century.  The first Bermuda Parliament met there in 1620, making it the 3rd oldest parliament in the world.

St. Peter's Anglican Church

History!  The entire place reeks of it.

Tonight was a magical night and has made me think twice about leaving it so long before visiting St. George's again.  This really is a special place.

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