The little-visited village of BATH stands at the edge of the John Crow Mountains. Born when a runaway Spanish slave stumbled across hot mineral springs in the late 1690s, it was discovered that the waters could cure wounds. Ironically, the same slave’s master sold the spring and some 1130 acres of land surrounding it to the British in 1699 for £400; they swiftly carved a road through the hills and erected a spa building here in 1747.
Bath Botanical Gardens
In the 1700s, Bath glittered in the colonial spotlight, but just a century later it fell from grace through a combination of political disputes and hurricane damage. A reminder of its heyday is to be found at the Bath Botanical Gardens established in 1779, adjacent to the dilapidated Anglican church. This was where many plants – including cinnamon, jacaranda, bougainvillea and mango – were first introduced to the island, but the ravages of time and Hurricane Gilbert (which levelled the village for the second time in 1988) have ensured that little remains of the carefully ordered labels. You’ll still see descendants of the breadfruit trees brought from Tahiti by Captain Bligh of HMS Bounty fame in 1793, alongside guava trees, royal palms, bamboo and crotons. The annual breadfruit festival in September commemorates the seminal event in Jamaican history.
Bath Fountain Spa
Taking the waters at the rambling old Bath Fountain Hotel and Spa remains the main attraction for visitors to the village. The spa has ten small cubicles, each with a sunken tiled bath. The water is high in sulphur and lime and, like most mineral baths, slightly (though not dangerously) radioactive – no more than thirty minutes is recommended due to the risk of dehydration.
Bear in mind that outside the hotel and spa you will most likely be accosted by a group of aggressive hustlers offering to take you to the open-air spring at the hotel’s rear; while this hot and cold “Sulphur River” is a pleasant spot (water from the two springs is diverted to the spa inside and mixed to provide a bath of a more even temperature), the unofficial “guides” most certainly are not, and their amateur massages are inevitably exorbitantly priced.
Hiking trails lead from the spa for kilometres across the Blue Mountains; the best is the Cunha Cunha Maroon trading route through the John Crow range to Bowden Pen – for a guide contact the Jamaica Conservation and Development Trust or Sun Venture Tours.