Great hikes are found in the English harbour and Falmouth National parks The book “Nelson’s Dockyard National Park Guide to Plants and Historic Sites” gives all info on the nature trails and can an be found at the Antigua Museums in the Nelson’s Dockyard and in St. John’s.
History: the Nelson’s Dockyard National Park
Nelson’s Dockyard reveals a cultural landscape that tells the exciting story of European battles for supremacy at a time when sugar was king. A natural hurricane shelter, the Royal Navy used English Harbour to maintain its fleet in the Caribbean. Nelson’s Dockyard became an important garrison, giving the Royal Navy an advantage over their main rivals, the French.
In 1784, Horatio Nelson, Captain of the HMS Boreas was stationed here to actively enforce Navigation Acts that regulated trade between English ships and enemy territories, including the United States. The enforcement of this legislation made Nelson unpopular among the planter class of Antigua and marred his four year stay on island.
Nonetheless, Nelson’s maritime history has left an imprint on this naval facility. Today it still provides safe haven for vessels and a livelihood for highly skilled craftsmen, shipwrights, and fisherfolk, descendants of the British sailors and enslaved Africans who contributed greatly to the development of this cultural landscape.
In place of warships and galleons, luxury yachts and motor vessels berth dockside. The buildings once used as officer’s quarters, workshops and storerooms have been renovated and are now restaurants, boutiques, pubs and hotels. The admiral’s house is the Dockyard Museum, exhibiting relics of the island’s earliest civilizations and of the Royal Army and Navy. And across the water, on a tiny hill, sits the beautifully restored Clarence House. Originally built as the residence of the Dockyard Commissioner, it was later used as the country home of the island’s Governors where royalty and other dignitaries have been entertained.
About the Trails
Each trail has a sign at the entrance and you can start at whichever end of the trail you desire. The paths are cleared and maintained by the Royal Tot Club of Antigua. Hiking boots are required on all trails and care must be taken near any cliff sides. All hikers do so at their own risk. If you wish to do two trails (maybe to get back to your starting point), the Jones Valley Trail followed by a return trip down the Lookout Trail is a recommended loop.
Middle Ground Trail (2 km)
Difficulty: Moderate, 100m elevation change.
Middle Ground Trail follows the crest of the hill giving you many elevated coastline views. There are multiple historic sites along the trail as well including, One Gun Battery (a small fortification), an old barracks area and Fort Cuyler. The trail ends at Pigeon Beach. The terrain is dry forest and hikers should beware of loose rocks.
Jones Valley Trail (1,5 km)
Difficulty: Easy with some boulders, 130m elevation change.
Jones Valley Trail starts on the road to Galleon Beach at the base of the hill. It follows a gulley up the hill where you see a large old dam. The path continues up the hill until you reach an old cemetery and then a cistern. You end up on the road to Shirley Heights. The terrain can be damp before the dam, but then turns into dry forest.
Lookout Trail (1 km)
Difficulty: Easy, with a few boulders, 150m elevation change.
This trail starts on the road very close to Galleon Beach. It is the shortest trail but goes straight up a hill. The main draw of this trail is to see the iconic Shirley Heights view from a new unique angle. The trail ends at Shirley Heights Lookout and the terrain is dry forest.
Carpenter’s Rock Trail (2 km)
Difficulty: Moderate to Difficult, 150m elevation change.
Carpenters Rock Trail begins at the shoreline on the opposite side of the harbour from Fort Berkely. It heads up to Fort Charlotte before continuing on to Carpenters Rock. From there you head up the hill following the rugged coastline where you visit Nanton Point, Antigua’s southern most point. Enjoy the views as you head up to the old hospital and finish on the road to Shirley Heights. The terrain is dry forest.