Fooled on a Hill: Antigua’s Greencastle Hill

The stones of Antigua’s Greencastle Hill are thought to be the remains of an ancient observatory. Simon Lee sets out to find them, and discovers the shortest route's not always the easiest

  • Illustration by James Hackett

My assignment was to take some photos of the megaliths on Antigua’s Greencastle Hill, the Caribbean’s answer to Stonehenge. This didn’t seem like a tall order: stroll up a hill, snap snap and roll back down.

So I left St John’s and the charms of Redcliffe Quay, the Warri players busy at their boards in the rumshops behind, and headed for the open road to Jolly Harbour. There’s nothing like a mission to make me smile, and I sailed along the jolly road positively smirking. But Antigua is not big on road signs — maybe it’s all part of the plan to discover the place for yourself — and, anyway, presumably the Antiguans know where they’re going. I stopped off in the soporific village of Ebenezer to ask for directions to the hill. Creek Bar was empty, except for a one-armed barman and some vintage Sparrow playing. With beastly cold Wadadli in hand I sang along with Benwood Dick and then made my enquiries.

The brooding barman’s response was ominous. “Many does come lookin’ but few does reach. Dat is not place for man to go alone.” Determined not to be done out of my sunny mood I asked him if there were jumbies on the hill, or maybe even a dragon or two, a wild quenk perhaps? Or, if I shouldn’t go unaccompanied, couldn’t he introduce me to a couple of
adventurous village girls?

He stared back grim-faced as Sparrow burst into Ten to One is Murder, at which point I retreated to my car before he could get on to The Congo Man, or the barman threw me out.

One Arm’s directions led me bouncing over a rough track, closer and closer to what seemed like the smooth grass dome of Greencastle Hill. I was wondering how anyone had managed to get a lawn-mower up there and do such a cricket-pitch-perfect job.

Eventually I had to turn off the rough track for an even rougher one. The old men loitering at the turning were as doubtful as One Arm. “No way up,” was the consensus. “You mean there’s no path, cable car or helicopter service?” I countered, still in
wisecracking mode.

I parked in the quarry at the foot of the hill and strode forward manfully. The grass, which from a distance looked like the close-cropped turf of Sabina Park or the Queen’s Park Oval, rose menacingly to nose level. I grabbed a handful looking
for leverage and received deep lacerations to the fingers.

Rising sheer above me was a rockface — no grass there, way to go! For mere seconds I toyed with cowardice, before curiosity and professionalism won out. This wasn’t the Dominican Republic’s Pico Duarte, all of 12,000 feet; no, no, this was just a chinksy little hill and somewhere up above were the megaliths. I was about to make a giant step in Caribbean archaeology and anthropology, how could I do the funky chicken now?

I wedged some fingers into a crack and used everything (including my teeth and the tail I wished I had) to scale the rockface. When I reached the top, giddy with vertigo and nauseous with terror, I was greeted by an ocean of razor-sharp grass, ascending at a screeching gradient. I dived in as brave as Toussaint L’Ouverture, and in half an hour threw
myself prostrate on the summit, cursing my oversight for leaving my oxygen mask behind.

The mid afternoon sun glared down on me as I looked around for the megaliths. Only grass and a few wind-blasted tree-stumps. Furious, I got down on my hands and knees, prepared to dig out those damn megaliths if necessary. I bumped my nose on a
large pink boulder hiding below the eye-line. All-you want pictures of stones?  Good. I pushed aside the grass and began snapping. After all, what’s the difference between one stone and another, I reasoned, especially if it’s a Greencastle stone.
If you’re stupid enough to call it a megalith that’s your problem, snap, snap, snap.

When the vexation had subsided, I took in the panorama of the landscape below and chilled. I was about to begin the descent when something prompted me to sneak a glance at the other side of the summit. I almost dropped the camera in shock. On the aureole of a small peak below was a perfect stone circle, apparently aligned with two pitons beyond; the axis continued across the sea to smoke-wreathed Montserrat on the horizon. Either this was pure Caribbean serendipity or these were the real megaliths and I’d just become Trinidad’s answer to Indiana Jones.

I dived into the grass again and swam towards the circle of stones, snapping like a frontline photographer. As I positioned myself for some close-ups, my film ran out and I whipped out another reel to reload. It wouldn’t work. Breathing in the best tantric fashion, I tried again. I even tried a new lithium battery. Nada. Obviously I was not supposed to take any more pictures.

I noticed the sun dropping into the sea and thought of night alone on the hill. I thought of One Arm and his gloomy comments; then I thought of the angry spirits of Amerindians, and then I didn’t think any more. I plunged off the summit back into the razor grass and crawled my way through the last two hundred feet of dense thicket back to the quarry and my car.

In the safety of my hotel room, naturally, the camera reloaded at my first attempt. I’m happy to report the pictures came out just great, and to add as a parting thought that anyone else wishing to tackle Greencastle Hill should go with a guide — there
are easier ways up, and down.