September 26, 2020

The Caribbean’s Little Britain: Imagine Devon in the 1950s, but with sunshine and even turtles – welcome to Anguilla


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By Gareth Huw Davies for The Mail on Sunday

Anguilla is so small you could saunter its entire length in a day.

And what an easy-going and familiar place it is. They drive on the left. The roads feel like Devon in the 1950s, with antique signs to match. You half expect to see a friendly RAC man saluting as you dawdle past.

Yet while the region is a huge draw for Brits, many take the direct flight to nearby Antigua and come no further. This speck of an island, one of six British Overseas Territories in the Caribbean, has somehow evaded our gaze.

Until now. The BBC devoted all six episodes of the latest series of An Island Parish to Anguilla, showing us what we have been missing.

The series’s brief is to focus on the insular outposts of the Church of England. And Anguilla, just 15 miles long by three miles wide, and part of the Anglican diocese of North East Caribbean and Aruba, certainly fits that profile.

I retraced the film team’s trip through what a cosy British parish might look like if moved to an earthly, rather than heavenly, paradise.

I met stalwarts in the series who make Anguilla such a friendly place. People like Mabel Gumbs, one of Anguilla’s ‘senior ladies’, who serves her famous corn soup from her street stall in the capital, The Valley.

Another stamp of familiarity in this little community of 15,000 is the ever-present Union Flag.

Anguilla shares its rare status of British Overseas Territory with such outposts as the Falkland Islands and Bermuda. The current governor, Christina Scott, made one of the most extreme career switches possible: from director of civil contingencies in the UK Cabinet Office to the Queen’s representative here.

Yet this is still a place with wild, exotic corners. Standing on a sea cliff with my guide Jackie Cestero, I had a clear view of something I’d never seen from dry land. There below us, in a secluded bay only reached by boat, was a turtle doing a gentle breaststroke.

Jackie, who runs , is one of a number of people who came here on holiday, were smitten, stayed and now inject energy and passion into local tourism.

We whisked around the island in a day, taking in the original settlements and the oldest stone constructions, built by slaves in the 17th and 18th Centuries. Our most tantalising stop was the , decorated by Amerindian settlers 2,000 years ago.

My activities could have included snorkelling over coral or stand-up paddle-boarding and surfing at Shoal Bay East, which was recently named the best beach in the Caribbean.

But I took the lazier choice – music, and the answer to the question: what do cricketers do after they retire? In the case of Anguilla’s former West Indian Test cricketer Omari Banks, pop stardom beckoned. He’s now a major musical force on the island, and we saw him perform at DaVidas Bay Side Grill on Crocus Bay.

Anguilla has resisted the assault of commercialisation: all of its glorious beaches are open to the public and high-rise hotels have been avoided.

Instead, the island has concentrated on quality – admirably demonstrated in the stylish Malliouhana hotel.

On my last evening I strolled along Meads Bay, just below the Malliouhana, for an encounter with original islanders. Two sandpipers were working the edge of the tide for their evening meal. Every time a wave broke, they speed-walked away from the advancing water, like cartoon characters. Just as their forebears have done for millennia.

I hope there will always be room for them on this easy-going island.


Authentic: Anguilla has resisted the assault of commercialisation and markets are rife

Small is beautiful: You could saunter around the entire length of the island in a day. Above, the beach at Sandy Ground village

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