Our time there was coming to an end. We’d slogged out the last few days finalizing the training course we were delivering, writing reports, following up on various bits of administration. I realized that we had hardly had a chance to relax and enjoy the country. One day we had managed to take a couple of hours off one afternoon and taken a walk up to Fort Charlotte. Situated at the western end of the bay, it has commanding views over the Bequia Channel and is typical of that early 19th century construction that you find in forts large and small all over the former British Empire domains. The last time I had wandered up here, on my first ever visit to St Vincent, the fort had been derelict, but now the authorities had done a wonderful job of restoration, repointed the brick work, cleaned up the pathways, removed the weeds and painted the rocks. One curious element of the fort is that although it has this wonderful vista over the Grenadines where any French ship trying to enter the harbour would be spotted hours before it could be a threat, most of the guns were pointing inland. This fort was used as a redoubt, the fortified location that the colonists would retreat to if there was a threat to their wellbeing in Kingstown. And the biggest threat in St Vincent was from the local Black Carib tribes in the north of the island. These were the ferocious escaped slaves who hid in the jungles of the interior. So the fort kept as much of a vigilant watch over the mountains to the north as the sea approaches from south, west and east.
Inside one of the fort’s many rooms was a series of paintings of one of the episodes in St Vincent’s history related to the Black Carib uprising. The style was a mixture or naive and explicit – the colours were bold and light effects emphasised, but the detail was meticulous. The murals show how in 1779 the Black Caribs, led by their chief, Chattoyér, ransacked many of the plantations and settlements across the islands; the fort was commissioned soon after to stop a repeat of this episode and was completed in 1806.
We looked out at the view, both the distant islands of the Grenadines and the little details in the immediate environs. Below the fort, nearly 600 ft below, was a outcrop of rocks. Cut in to the rock was a square shaped pool which I later learnt was used by lepers to bathe separately from the people of the nearby city. To the north west of the fort were a couple of little valleys that contained the western suburbs of Kingstown. I had only once before been down there, when I visited the Hairoun Brewery with a colleague of mine from BVI. We’d had a fascinating tour of the brewery itself, but then were left alone in the executive bar with a free tap. Hairoun lager is one of the more flavoursome of the Caribbean lagers, but draught fresh from the tap a few metres from where it was produced it was sublime. I was merry that night.