Spittal Pond Nature Reserve
The rugged, 34-acre coastal Spittal Pond Nature Reserve (open sunrise to sunset daily, admission free), co-owned by the Bermuda National Trust and the government, has two entrances along South Shore Road. Both have parking lots and lead to the circuitous trail around the park, though the eastern entrance offers a more direct entry and faster access to some of the most dramatic viewing spots.
The Spittal Pond Nature Reserve is Bermuda’s premier nature reserve, a sprawling sanctuary that includes a valley cradling the large brackish pond, several freshwater ponds, and surrounding marsh and woodland through which meandering trails climb to spectacular outlooks over the South Shore.
Notably, Spittal Pond’s varied habitats provide a refuge for resident and migratory birds, including woodland cardinals, finches, mallards, turnstones, sandpipers, cliff-nesting longtails, blue herons, white egrets, occasional visiting hawks, and the ubiquitous yellow-crowned night herons, which devour crab populations throughout the island.
Spittal Pond’s highlights include the “Spanish” Rock—a historic carving on an exposed rocky cliff face, originally believed to have been left by Spanish mariners before the island’s colonization. The inscription, now cast in bronze, includes letters that look like “RP” (possibly for Rex Portugaliae, referring to Joao III, Portugal’s monarch) and the date 1543. Historians now think the markings were the work of 32 Portuguese castaways who escaped their shipwreck off Bermuda that year and spent time on the island fashioning a new vessel from cedar timber. Up here, atop cliffs tumbling down to frothy boiler reefs below, the flat rock face surrounded by a cedar fence gives a breathtaking view of the whole southern coastline. Assorted contemporary graffiti has been carved in the outlook’s limestone.
Just down the trail from Spanish Rock is Jeffrey’s Hole, a cave with an overhead entry hole; the cave, according to local lore, once served as a temporary shelter for an escaped slave. Another oddity, at the western end of the park, is the “Checkerboard”—a large, flat square rock surface near the water’s edge bearing crosshatch markings. Experts can’t decide whether it was crafted by human hands or the sea, which sprays over the edge and pounds the rock on stormy days.
Descending from Spanish Rock, follow a skinny coastal trail edged by prickly pears and baygrapes to a wind-battered promontory—a salt-licked plateau over the roiling surf where parrotfish can sometimes be seen nibbling the reef edges. Turning inland past a small pond where egrets nest and ducklings learn to paddle, the woodland trail is laced with banks of Kermit-green flopper plants, a succulent whose lantern-like flowers bob by the hundreds over assorted ferns and wild blossoms. Continuing past fiddlewood groves, aromatic spice trees, and sugarcane, the trail leads past a dairy farm to the western parking lot; exit onto South Shore Road and follow the grassy verge east for about 150 feet until a set of wooden steps leads under a hedged arch back into the reserve. The woodland trail continues around the large pond’s northern rim back to the east parking lot.
Hurricanes periodically send towering waves over the cliffs into the valley and pond, the salt leaving a swath of dead vegetation. Hurricane Fabian’s terrific storm surge ate away chunks of the South Shore limestone cliffs—the erosion is still very evident. Government Parks Department crews continually cull invasive species and replace them with hardy endemics like palmettos and cedars.
Spittal Pond’s steep trails and hour-long circuit restrict access to the able-bodied, but good views of the South Shore can be had from the wooded trailhead alongside the eastern parking lot. There is a portable toilet here, too.
© Rosemary Jones from Moon Bermuda, 2nd Edition