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Travel: Barbados has sun, crystal blue seas, rum – and the bagpipes!

O2 Beach Club in Christ Church, Barbados
O2 Beach Club in Christ Church, Barbados

Climb the slow incline to the top of Cherry Tree Hill, 850ft above the Saint Andrews Parish, to look out over a stirring, sweeping Atlantic vista, where verdant trees meet a crashing ocean, and you can see why the area gets its nickname.

This is the Scotland District of Barbados, perhaps the most Caledonian spot in the crystal-clear seas of the Caribbean.

Alright, the fields are more sugar cane than purple heather, and the midges have been replaced by the odd mosquito. Earthy, peaty whisky? Nope. Here, the locals drink refreshing – but perhaps even more potent – rum sours.

For a few days a year, this enchanting Caribbean island celebrates its Celtic heritage, which is richer than its most famous invention: golden, oak-cask rum.

Below us, across the island, hundreds of Irish, Welsh and Scots have descended on Barbados for a festival; fully bekilted musicians in 35°C heat with access to 140% proof liquor? What could go wrong?

The island has incredible features to explore © SYSTEM
The island has incredible features to explore

Away from the male voice choirs from Cardiff, fiddlers from Galway and pipers from Fife, Barbados bristles with things to do.

Moments after arriving at our hotel, highball tumblers brimming with fresh fruit juice and laced with rum are thrust into our hands, setting the tone for an island determined to show you a good time.

Our hote, the Abidah By Accra, is a tropical wonder, with balconies – and some rooms have two – gazing south-west over the beach to the cyan waters and the horizon.

Wander down to the bar and the easy-going staff of this boutique gem will gauge your mood and fix you a suitable concoction.

It’s Friday so we swing by Pat’s Place, an outdoor fish grill that looks ramshackle but is divine; Anthony Bourdain never visited but it’s exactly the type of place he’d enjoy. Flying fish is so fresh it may well have flown from the nearby ocean on to the grill to be served with mountains of rice and peas, giving drinkers a solid base with which to enjoy the beach party on a Friday night.

Stanley, the Abidah’s smooth manager, explains how locals will buy a quarter bottle of rum; when finished, one lays the bottle flat on the table. The air fills with reggae and funny-smelling cigarettes, the tables with flat bottles.

Sample the island's Mount Gay rum © Oliver Farys
Sample the island’s Mount Gay rum

The only thing that’s dry in Barbados is, perhaps, the humour, at least compared with other islands in the region. This is on display the next day with the crew of the Cool Runnings catamaran, a party skiff which takes us out the next morning for a half-day of high-jinks on the high seas. Think music, rum and swimming, amid sunken galleons, with turtles.

It’s incredible to see these cute lads up close as you snorkel but don’t follow them, the catamaran captain tells us. They’re a bit like Second World War aces, you see, in that they’ll bank and loop behind you, then nibble your toes.

We’re off to the east side of the island the next day to Bathsheba.

A week later, during the Succession finale, I spot Bathsheba as where the Roy family retreat for a get-together. Producers wanted a dramatic, beautiful backdrop and it’s clear why they brought the cast and crew here. This is a location where Atlantic waves crash off dramatic rock formations perched on white sand beaches.

We try to follow the local hiking group but they have lungs like industrial bellows and power ahead up the steep hills, leaving us panting beside a nearby domestic goat tied to a bush.

With his bleating laughter in our ears, we admit defeat and retire to the luxurious Atlantis Historic Inn nearby and the ocean-front terrace for eggs Benedict and a strong coffee. This is much more like Logan Roy; never mind that goat, in terms of breakfast, this was the GOAT – the greatest of all time.

Animal Flower Cave © 13 Degrees
Animal Flower Cave

Harrison’s Cave Eco Adventure Park is an attraction that takes you, among other activities, deep under the island to gaze at stalagmites and underground waterfalls; it’s fascinating but also a crucial opportunity to cool down away from the Caribbean sun.

After that we were back to St Lawrence Gap to mingle with the locals. The queen of Barbados is undoubtedly Rihanna but, for locals, karaoke is king. The Cove is a dive bar with patrons delivering some Bajan deep cuts: calypso numbers, reggae jams and even the odd piper, with one of the visiting bands doing a turn.

An elderly local, complete with grey dreadlocks, takes the microphone and, at 2am amid a flurry of rum-fuelled fun, delivers a pitch-perfect Green Green Grass Of Home, reminding us all of the island’s British roots in the most delightful way possible.

A moment of Celtic wonder in Barbados? It’s not unusual…


Fly direct to Barbados from Gatwick, Heathrow, or Manchester. The Abidah by Accra website is at

To keep up with the latest info for next year’s Barbados Celtic Festival, visit

For more information on what to do in Barbados, see

P.S. St Nicholas Abbey, situated on Cherry Tree Hill in Barbados, sounds like a religious site but is, in fact, a rum distillery. The former plantation dates back 350 years and these days offers tours that examine the chequered history of the plantation – and the slavery it relied on – as well as the high-quality rum it now produces.