Often regarded as Jamaica’s most inhospitable region, the Cockpit Country is a hilly and dense area with limestone denudations traversing three parishes and covering over 500 square miles. The so-called “cockpits” are caused because limestone, the predominant soil in the area, does not retain water. Rainwater therefore, percolates downward through cracks and fissures, creating in time a landscape of pits and valleys. Below the surface of the Cockpit Country are hundreds of rivers, streams and caves, providing some of the best spelunking opportunities in the Caribbean? Most of the Cockpit Country was a stronghold of the Maroons from the eighteenth century, when attacks by the British forced ex-slaves to use the harsh terrain to their advantage. The Cockpit Country is still home to one of the most important Maroon communities in the island, the town of Accompong in the parish of St Elizabeth.
The Cockpit Country has the highest diversity of plants and animals anywhere on the island. It is a goldmine for birdwatchers, plant lovers and scientists with a sophisticated knowledge of the various species and a determination to withstand the humidity, the mosquitoes and the other harsh physical conditions that have kept the region free of large scale human settlement for centuries.
Clarks Town is the last major town in the northern Cockpit Country, but there is a little used road that runs from the town through the western edge of the Cockpits ending in the Albert Town area. This is an exquisitely scenic drive, as the road winds through the tiny communities of Kinloss and Barbeque Bottom, cutting through some of the most remarkable geological formation in Jamaica. The road is rarely used, and there are patches that run through completely uninhabited areas. Along the way are some of the most remarkable vistas, and if, instead of driving, you walk the length of the road, you will be sure to see many rare animals and plants, including hundreds of orchids growing wild on the sides of the hills.
At the deepest point traversable in the Cockpit Country is the minuscule hamlet of Windsor, best known for the nearby Windsor Caves and the Windsor Research Centre. In the 1700s, the Windsor Estate was part of the vast land holdings of John Tharp, who operated it as a cattle farm. The Windsor Great House was built in the late 18th century, on a site that may have been used by the British as a military base because of its strategic location on the edge of the forbidding terrain of the Cockpit Country.
Just steps away from the great house grounds is an old trail that crosses the Cockpit Country and ends at the border town of Troy in the hills of Manchester. Over the centuries, the Windsor property, and more specifically, the Windsor Great House, have passed through many hands, including those of Dame Miriam Rothschild, the internationally acclaimed entomologist who co-wrote the 1952 book, Fleas, Flukes and Cuckoos.
The Cockpit Country has been described as a life scientist’s paradise, and within this undisturbed reservoir of unquantified biodiversity there are thousands of species of plants and animals to be studied. Every year, groups of researchers come to conduct research, and much of their findings have proven pioneering at some times, mildly interesting at others. It was from extensive research conducted within the Cockpit Country that led scientists to deduce that Jamaica has the highest density of snails anywhere in the world!
The Windsor Caves are a virtual treasure chest, with huge deposits of guano, the largest bat population on the island and fascinating and beautiful formations in the limestone rock. The caves, however, are more like an inaccessible treasure chest, because to the vast majority of visitors, a trip inside the cave will not be a pleasant experience. In addition to the dangers of histoplasmosis, a potentially fatal disease resulting from infections contracted within tropical caves, the cave floors are covered in guano, making for a slippery journey! To preserve the cave and its inhabitants, entry has been limited to persons conducting research and experienced spelunkers.
Follow the sign for Windsor, you will come to a T-intersection. There is a small shack at this T-intersection and you should park next to the shack (it is run by a man named Franklin and his name is painted on the shack). If you turn left and then left again, you will eventually end up at the Windsor House. To reach the caves from where you parked the car, take the old road/trail that is next to Franklin’s shack. It will pass by a Water tower and some open fields before making a T-intersection at the forest. The right fork goes to the caves and the left fork goes through forest.
On Wednesday evenings, Mike Schwartz and Susan Koenig host the weekly “Dinner with the Biologists”. The four-course meal and discussion seminar is a relaxed and informal gathering, where the biologists share their discoveries and opinions about everything, but specifically issues pertaining to the biodiversity and conservation of the Cockpit Country.
Source: LeAntonios Vacation