The river that was given up or lost in the 1692 earthquakeSunday, June 24, 2018
My long distance journeys nowadays are usually on the north-south link of Highway 2000 — pardon, the Edward Seaga Highway — between Mammee Bay and Kingston. The road cuts through the mountains offering impressive views of the Moneague countryside; takes you on a steep ride across the Mount Rosser/Diablo range; allows a wide angle view of the Ewarton/Linstead basin; and for a brief, few miles serves up a feast of orange groves to the right and to the left; before descending the St John's Mountain range.
As you come down to 'earth' you enjoy glimpses of Kingston and the Liguanea plains and views of distant Port Royal as the road corners down to the toll booth at Caymanas.
Sometimes, if time allows, I return via the old road to reduce expenses, as well as to renew former contacts and experiences enjoyed on the Bog Walk road. These include taking a surreptitious look at the famous Pim Rock — Yes, it's still there — negotiating Flat Bridge, checking out my Bog Walk vendor friends, the Ewarton Bakery, Faith's Pen rest stop, and a giving a 'big-up' to the sugarloaf pineapple sellers as I approach the Moneague lake area.
The Bog Walk road has less traffic now, but is still kept busy, mainly by the taxis and buses that must serve the villages along the way — Kent, Ewarton, Dam Head, Angels, Linstead. The road was built in the mid-18th century mainly by slave labour. The plantations in the area were obliged to provide one slave out of every 50 to work on the River Road Bridge (now Flat Bridge), as it was first named, and the road which our forefathers called the Sixteen Mile Walk.
Tourism interests may well want to give some attention to the Bog Walk Gorge, the beauty of which was attracting travel writers and tourists as early as the 16th century, and is undoubtedly Jamaica's first tourist attraction.
Famous historian Edward Long mentions the gorge in his History of Jamaica written in 1794. Long tells us that the two mountains on each side of the road joined together in the “violent shake of the 1692 earthquake that destroyed Port Royal”. The massive deluge that resulted blocked the passage of the river, and forced it to seek another passage through the adjacent savannahs and woodlands.
According to Long, it was nine days before the people could find any relief from the devastation, so much so that they considered removing to other parts of the parish, concluding that their lost river had disappeared into the earth, like Port Royal.
The travel stories of the day even found themselves in the famous Lady Nugent's Journal of 1802. Lady Nugent's husband, General Nugent, was governor of Jamaica during the Napoleonic Wars, and her personal diary gives us close-up impressions of the quality of life enjoyed by high-society folk in those early colonial days.
Apparently society folk would often take moonlight walks through the gorge to enjoy its natural beauty and to party.
“We would dress by candlelight,” wrote Lady Nugent, “and then set off with an immense party of friends to see for ourselves. We entered the walks and found the most beautiful, picturesque and romantic scenery I ever saw or could imagine.”
Let's keep an eye on the gorge; it has history, scenery and legends that could make it a major tourist attraction and income earner in these modern times.
It provides one of the most scenic routes in Jamaica with its towering rock face reaching hundreds of feet high. The railway tunnel famously known as '3/4 mile' that bores through the cliffs just outside of Bog Walk is the longest tunnel on the main line.
Bog Walk also has a junction with a spur line to Windalco Ewarton, eight miles north. It has historical connections: The Sligoville village, seen away to the right on leaving Bog Walk, was named after the 2nd Marquis Sligo (a former British governor) and was the first free village founded after Emancipation.
Recovering Bog Walk's tourism potential should also make room for a restoration of that part of the railway line, as the spur leads to Riversdale before ascending the gorge of the Rio d' Oro, (all Spanish occupation territory), and then halts at Troja and Taja, both names adding a little African heritage to the story.
The train then passes through a record seven tunnels between Troja and Taja, a testimony surely to the architectural and construction skills of the British. It also goes by Richmond and Highgate (chocolate bearing centres) and then turns east at Alban, where it runs beside the sea along a beautiful stretch of the coast to Port Antonio.
These routes bring back memories as, in my youth, I often took the train from Four Paths to Troja to spend time with my aunt, Ivy Codling (nee Hamilton), and can remember a Sunday School picnic which took us by that same route to Port Antonio.
Our village believed in travelling, and we must be forever grateful to our elders who saw to it that although we were locked inside the interior, regular church outings took the entire village, whether you belonged to the Congregational Church or not, to Kingston, Montego Bay, Jackson Bay, Dunn's River, Palisadoes, the Maze in Hope Gardens, and other places where it seemed man had not yet been.
But, back to Bog Walk, which has another interesting piece of history on which it can rest its claim for a share of the tourism pie.
In 1898 work started on a hydroelectric power plant on the Rio Cobre near Bog Walk. The plant (1,500 horsepower) was completed the following year and used to power Kingston's tramway system (until then the tram cars were hauled by pairs of mules).
Tragedy struck in June 1904 when 33 workers died while cleaning the huge water pipe feeding the power station. It was a tragedy that rocked Jamaica, and the ruins of the plant can still be seen on your right as you round the corner after leaving Kent Village on the way to Spanish Town. The plant, one of the earliest in the western hemisphere, was closed later that year.
There is another point of interest on the approach to Spanish Town, where Jamaica's original “Golden Table” is said to have surfaced repeatedly in a spot in the river between Angels and the river dam. Clinton Black, in his Tales Of Old Jamaica, records the story of the 24 steers and six screaming slaves who were dragged under the water at that spot as they tried to harness the legendary table on the instructions of a plantation owner.
So the river road is not without its fair share of superstition. On a certain day at noon, legend has it that the Flat Bridge is a gathering place for the ghosts of the departed slaves who died during its construction.
So when you next see the sign, 'Flat Bridge closed, take Barry or Sligoville', take it — for more reasons than one.
And the message of this story is, don't throw out the old for the new. Whenever you have the time, take it and motor down the roads less travelled. You will find a wealth of history and legend free from politics that you never dreamt existed.
Lance Neita is a writer and public relations consultant. Send comments to the Observer or firstname.lastname@example.org.