By Alexander Britell
Everybody knows Margaret.
Whether you’re at Saint Peter’s Bay to the south or the Fisherman’s Pub, her name immediately conjures a smiling thought of the best fish cakes in Barbados.
Most nights each week, Margaret (or her sister) sets up shop outside Jordans Supermarket in downtown Speightstown.
And whether you’re hungry or not, you can’t leave Jordans without at least one cake.
Jordans is itself a wonderful anomaly, a traditional supermarket somehow perched right at the edge of a gorgeous Barbados beach, one that turns even the most mundane of errands into a delight.
As the sun sets on the northwestern coast of Barbados, this little town is vibrant and humming, the sidewalks filled with strollers and the beaches with twilight waders.
Speightstown has long been something of a hidden-away corner of the island, a bit too far north to bask in the glow of the Platinum Coast and tucked just too far past the main coastal road to be easily noticed.
The more than 400-year-old seaport is in the parish of St Peter — and, as almost anyone in this town will affectionately tell you, is the “north,” more country than town.
In St Peter, you’re close enough to Barbados’ agricultural hub to get the best of everything, Margaret says.
“This is part of the country,” she says. “So we get the best of everything.”
On an island where the kindness is pervasive, here in the north there’s an added degree of ease and serenity, something you instantly feel on a walk down the main seaside street in Speightstown.
The main boulevard is a narrow street with three-story buildings straddling it on either side that instantly reminds of New Orleans or the most charming streets in French Caribbean towns like Grand Case and Gustavia.
Because being the oldest seaport in Barbados has its benefits.
You’ll immediately learn the history in the Fisherman’s Pub, a beach restaurant that’s been operating on this same sandy spot for 51 years, equal parts rum shop and beach restaurant, a place for flying fish and XO and “sunset lunches.”
“This is the next town that will take over,” says Clement Armstrong, whose family has owned the pub and its location here for more than 83 years.
At one end there’s the Orange Street Grocer, a gourmet eatery market that serves up pizzas, salads and a selection of fine wines.
At the other end is Juma’s, one of Barbados’ destination restaurants, an eclectically designed second-floor spot with marvelous food like duck curry, rum-infused pate, an inspired art collection and an enviable view of Speightstown’s stretch of sea.
Further down the road you’ll see the Arlington House Museum, a wonderfully preserved early 18th-century house with a range of exhibits on the town’s history, particularly the days when it had such a close trading relationship with Great Britain’s Bristol that it soon earned the moniker “Little Bristol,” a name that now adorns one of the town’s most popular beach bars.
And it’s bookended by a pair of sister luxury resorts: the spectacular Port Ferdinand luxury hotel, home to a superyacht marina and one of just two Nikki Beach outposts in the Caribbean, and the beachfront Saint Peter’s Bay, a classically elegant Barbados beach resort.
It’s that peculiar cocktail of history, architecture and community (and a pair of luxury destinations) that have all added up to turn this little town into what Armstrong calls a “hidden treasure.”
It’s also put Speightstown, as Armstrong says, at a crossroads, as the kind of destination that could become one of the next hot Caribbean beach towns.
But after an early evening cricket match, or a “bread and two” (a pair of fish cakes on bun) on the beach in front of Jordan’s, Speightstown is, well, just fine the way it is.
Margaret agrees, frying up a fresh pan of golden brown goodness.
“We in the north are good.”