Why Go To Scarborough
Scarborough, the capital of Tobago, may seem raucous, hot and dusty at first glance, but it is surprisingly attractive. The houses and roads spill down the hillside in a higgledy-piggledy manner, and the Atlantic Ocean serves as a magnificent backdrop for Fort King George, which is perched on top of the hill. As the island’s administrative centre and main port, Scarborough is a thriving town with a lively energy. It isn’t touristy, but street corners are lively with locals, while pavement stalls attract shoppers, and bars spill out onto the streets. Bacolet, a shady suburb, is home to some of Tobago’s most luxurious hotels and the secluded Bacolet Bay Beach, which was once the playground of many wealthy and famous visitors to Tobago.
Scarborough is the largest town on the island, but it is still relatively small. Commercial activity is mainly concentrated along Main Street and the port area. Exploring the town can be exhausting due to the heat, traffic, and steep climbs, but the cool breezes and the panoramic views from the elevated parts of town and the port offer a refreshing break.
The Dutch were the first Europeans to settle on the land, eventually becoming one of Tobago's most fiercely contested regions. In 1654, they navigated the treacherous harbour rocks and built a fort and a few buildings named Lampsinsburgh. Around the same time, Latvians were building their stronghold on the opposite coast at Plymouth. In 1658, the Dutch captured Plymouth, which led to the destruction of their settlement when a British fleet came to the aid of the Latvians and destroyed Lampsinsburgh in 1666. The British officially won the island in 1672 but did not maintain a presence, which allowed the Dutch to return and build Lampsinsburgh into a more substantial settlement, including houses, a single street, a church, warehouses, wharves at the harbour, and a new fort. However, during the French assault of 1677, the newly improved fortifications led to the downfall of the Dutch, as a French cannonball hit the fort's ammunition dump, resulting in a fireball that destroyed the structure and killed all 250 occupants. Nothing is left of that original settlement today, though it is still commemorated in the current name, Dutch Fort Road.
The British renamed the area Scarborough when they regained control of Tobago in 1762. They established the House of Assembly here and erected Fort King George. After a prolonged and bloody fight, the French returned to take control in 1781. Scarborough was renamed Port Louis, and Fort King George, with finishing touches added by French soldiers, became Fort Castries. The town was passed back and forth between the British and French until Tobago was finally ceded to the British in 1814.
Upper Scarborough is a bustling area located on the eastern side of the town, characterized by hilly streets and numerous shops and banks. As you move higher up the area, it becomes progressively quieter. If you follow Carrington Street towards the east from the ferry terminal, you will soon come across a junction called King's Well. This was once the main watercourse of the town but now houses an excellent Italian café. If you take a sharp left from the junction, you can leave the town along Northside Road and the Botanical Gardens. Alternatively, if you take a sharp right, you will find yourself on Castries Street, which leads to Main Street. Burnett Street, located between these two roads and with a steep incline, is one of the best places in Scarborough to shop for knick-knacks, ranging from T-shirts to lingerie.
Bacolet is a suburb located to the east of Scarborough along the coast. As Bacolet Street leads out of Scarborough, the houses become grander. Historically, the area was a popular choice for Tobago's elite, and it enjoyed high prestige during the late 1960s and early 70s. The Bacolet and Blue Haven were two luxury hotels in this area where Rita Hayworth, Robert Mitchum, and the Beatles stayed while filming movies. Bacolet Bay Beach, located in this area, was also a popular location for movies like Walt Disney's Swiss Family Robinson. The beach has a yellow sand shoreline shaded by palms and Indian almond trees. Despite being on the Atlantic side of the island, the beach has a coral reef that ensures safe swimming, although dangerous undercurrents are possible, especially in winter.
Concrete steps lead down the cliff to the beach, where a beach bar serves drinks and snacks. The Blue Haven was once part of Tobago's battlements, and a cannon still stands on the hotel's grounds. The hotel's base is surrounded by stone walls dating back to 1770, and the bay was the site of many sea battles. The hotels in the 1960s almost cordoned off the beach, but Dr. Eric Williams, the premier, intervened to keep the beach public. South of the beach, the houses thin out as Bacolet Street meets with the highway heading towards the windward coast.
Central of Scarborough
The central Scarborough area is where most of the action centres around the market and port. It can be hectic with shoppers, office workers, taxi drivers, and street vendors. To get there, take Wilson Road, usually busy with cars, and turn left onto Darrel Spring Road, then right onto Gardenside Street. You will pass the back of NIB Mall to the right and the Botanical Gardens (and a car park) to the left. The capital's market is located behind the mall and sells every tropical fruit and vegetable imaginable throughout the week, with the main trading days being Friday and Saturday. The odoriferous indoor meat section offers a mix of goat, beef, lamb, mutton and chicken, while the back section gleams with fish on ice, where stallholders attract customers by blowing on a conch shell. The friendly and absorbing scene is great for bargains and chatting with the stallholders, who can explain how to cook unfamiliar produce. For souvenirs such as knitted Rasta hats, sandals, woodcarvings, CDs, and DVDs, check out the stalls lining the busy Wilson Road and NIB Mall's western side.
Fort Street, which forks off Main Street, is steep and twisting, passing by the imposing Methodist Church and some attractive but dishevelled colonial architecture on its way up to Fort King George, one of the most prominent sights in town. If the fifteen-minute walk looks too much, you can drive and find almost always a parking space in the car park adjacent to the museum and main fort. The complex is the largest fortification in Tobago, built by the British in 1777 and initially composed of around thirty buildings but reduced to ten by an 1847 hurricane. French troops occupied it between 1781 and 1793 and built the solid stone perimeter walls. The soldiers mutinied in 1790, inspired by the French Revolution, and imprisoned their officers while razing the town below. Several signs around the complex give some background to the buildings, and you can also get a guided tour from one of the THA personnel in the Tourism division to the left of the car park at the top of the fort area.
The Tobago Museum is located in the cool confines of the refurbished Officer's Mess. It has a small but fascinating collection of idiosyncratic artefacts, displaying everything from Amerindian society to life in the nineteenth century. You can also find many pieces of Nigerian sculpture here. There's an extensive collection of pre-Columbian axe-heads, chisels, cooking ware, and talismans, known as adorns, found at Amerindian sites across the island, as well as three skeletons unearthed at Amerindian burial sites. Look out also for satirical prints depicting the exploits of "Johnny Newcome in Love in the West Indies" and a copy of the second edition of the Pleasant Prospect of the Famous and Fertile Island of Tobago by John Poyntz, the pamphlet which local legend claims Daniel Defoe used as the inspiration for the setting of Robinson Crusoe.
Old Milford Road is west of Scarborough and was the main thoroughfare through the southwest before the construction of the highway, which it now connects to opposite the Lowlands shopping mall. Now little more than a backroad, Old Milford cuts a winding and scenic route along the coast, with lovely views of the wind-whipped Atlantic peeking between the palms and houses and salt spray crashing onto the tarmac thanks to the constant ocean breeze. Around halfway along, the venerable Shore Things offers meals, drinks, and some of the best craft available in Tobago. There's an "official" beach facility by the side of the road at Little Rocky Bay, which was used as a site for horse racing before the construction of the Shirvan racetrack. But it could be a better place to swim because of the ruggedness of the coastline, the strong undercurrents, and the murky waters. At low tide, the vast swathe of compacted yellow-brown sand makes for a fabulous beach walk, while the constant wind makes this one of Tobago's top spots for kitesurfing and windsurfing. The most scenic part of the beach is adjacent to the Petit Trou car park, with its grove of swaying palm trees. Locals often park up here to eat lunch or enjoy the breeze.