Located in the hills of St. Peter, St. Nicholas Abbey encompasses over 400 acres of undulating sugar cane fields, lush tropical gullies, mahogany forests and formal gardens.
Cherry Tree Hill, located to the northeast of St. Nicholas Abbey great house, offers a commanding view of Barbados’ rugged east coast shoreline, which may have given the area special meaning to the indigenous peoples of Barbados in prehistoric times.
Amerindian artifacts have been found in the limestone bedrock, indicating that the indigenous peoples of Barbados had exploited the forests and gullies around St. Nicholas Abbey for centuries before the arrival of Europeans.
The natural passageway, which connects the east and west coasts of the island, was originally lined with cherry trees, but Sir John Gay Alleyne replaced them with Mahogany (Swietenia mahagoni) trees in 1763 to commemorate the Treaty of Paris. The first of their kind on the island, many of these original Mahogany trees stand today; the Warren Family initiated a reforestation program in 2008, planting over 130 new trees to date. Visitors are welcomed to walk along the majestic avenue and enjoy the peaceful tropical surroundings and breathtaking views of the east coast.
St. Nicholas Abbey’s 400-acre estate includes over 225 acres of sugar cane fields. Due to the decline of the sugar industry, the fields are presently being preserved & maintained for future use. Currently, 60 acres are planted and reaped annually for use by the syrup factory, and specialised cane varieties are growing in a nursery, ready for future use as the need of the syrup factory and distillery increases.
Just off the main road that leads to St. Nicholas Abbey is a small coral rubble house that has been part of the St. Nicholas Abbey property for as long as anyone can remember. The house is located in the village of Moore Hill.
In Barbados, these small coral rubble houses are frequently referred to as “slave huts” or “slave houses.”
Time and the rapid pace of commercial and residential development in Barbados have destroyed many of these houses, which were once very common in Barbados. As a result, there are only a few examples of these coral rubble houses still standing in the island. The house at Moore Hill is one of only a handful of coral rubble houses left in Barbados and its association with the slavery era makes it a national treasure. In 2010, Tropical Storm Tomas destroyed the original roof of Moore Hill House; a temporary roof is in place to preserve the structure until future restoration is completed.
In addition to the coral rubble house at Moore Hill, archaeologists have found the likely locations of other villages for enslaved workers located on the plantation grounds.
An earlier archaeological survey headed by Dr. Jerome Handler in 1987 noted the presence of large piles of stones on a ridge in the sugarcane fields northwest of the great house, which were further examined in the summer of 2009.
Archaeology students from the College of William and Mary examined this sugarcane field, located immediately to the northwest of the factory, for evidence of an earlier slave village. This sugarcane field is known as “Negro Yard” field. According to Dr. Jerome Handler, who has extensively studied the history and meaning of plantation field names in Barbados, the term “yard” was often used in association with villages for enslaved peoples who worked on sugar estates. All in all, the students dug more than 50 shovel test pits in the field and found hundreds of artifacts that seem to indicate the presence of a late 17th through mid-18th century village in the area.
The gardens feature too many species to mention by name, but notable flora and fauna include hibiscus, orchids and roses as well as citrus, mango, avocado, golden apple and breadfruit. The gardens are frequented by a resident pack of Guinea birds and Barbados’ own Green Monkeys.
Facing the great house, turn right at the entrance portico and head down the steps to see the original coral water drip.
The drip is designed to purify and cool drinking water as it passes through the coral blocks to the catchall below; made from marble lavers, its mass kept the water cool even on the hottest days.
The herb garden, located on the windward side of the house, follows a traditional English pattern popular during the 17th century, when herbs were valued for both their culinary and medicinal purposes. The garden features lemongrass, garlic, chives, aloe vera, bay leaf and an assortment of peppers used to make the plantation's own pepper jelly, served at the Terrace Café.
The prolific production of a single ancient cherry tree, located on the plantation, is used to produce a delicious cherry jam sold in the St. Nicholas Abbey Gift Shop. Other jellies, jams and products made from the plantation’s produce are also available for sale in the shop.
Behind the great house, the stable yard is home to the 400 year old Sandbox Tree (Hura crepitans), an evergreen indigenous to the Caribbean. Look closely to see the multitude of tiny, sharp spines that have given this indigenous evergreen the nickname ‘monkey-no-climb’.
The bathhouse and outhouse are on the left-hand side of the yard. The outhouse was once outfitted with a four-seated privy, quite a strange concept by today’s measure of privacy. There is also a water storage cistern connected to the well and reservoir located by the main entrance gate.
Max & Baby, two Moluccan Cockatoos (Cacatua molunccensis) or Salmon Crested Cockatoos, share a spacious bird cage located opposite the bottling building. The birds generally enjoy interacting with visitors; Baby (who came from Winnipeg) is usually very friendly and does enjoy saying 'Hello Baby'. The birds have a healthy, regulated diet; we ask that you do not feed them treats of any kind.
With a life span of over 100 years, Max and Baby will likely outlive most of us. Bred in captivity in Winnipeg and Denver, the endangered birds are protected under the CITES Convention; the rings on their legs signify that they are legal pets.
The two neighbouring macaws were kindly donated to St. Nicholas Abbey by Sir Martyn and Lady Arbib; we are happy to provide them with a new home.