IT'S hard to be grumpy in Barbados, but I managed it. So am I a spoiled, pesky individual who would find fault in paradise? No, genuinely no. I just got rather hacked off hearing the Caribbean island constantly referred to as Little England.
Not only are there plenty of physical similarities on the east coast of Barbados to Scotland (hence it's actually called the Scotland District), but when you delve into its history there are countless strong links to north of the border. And, as we all know, nothing – well few things – irritate a Scot more than being called English.
So, since a sizeable proportion of the population has Scottish blood flowing through their veins, I politely pointed out to my new Bajan pals that it might be more accurate (and PC) to call it Little Britain.
As a break from the idyllic beach, delicious food and barrage of cocktails one normally associates with the Caribbean, I took myself off to the Barbados Museum and Historical Society, where I discovered several interesting papers that took me through the background of the "MacBajans". The first "proprietor" of Barbados was the Scotsman James Hay, Earl of Carlisle. Following the establishment of trading links between Scotland and the West Indies, Scots indentured servants were in constant demand on Barbados plantations, and many married African slaves; hence you find black Hamish MacDonalds and the like on the island today.
Three major spurs caused Scots to be banished to the island: Cromwell's victory between 1648 and 1651; the Covenanter Risings in the second half of the 17th century and the Jacobite rebellions of 1715 and 1745. There were also voluntary immigrants, as throughout the colonial period a steady trickle of Scots sought to inhabit Barbados because of the various opportunities offered by the land.
Barbados is also of special significance to genealogists, as it was the springboard for the settlement of other British colonies – notably Jamaica and South Carolina. One infamous inhabitant of Scots descent was Rachel Pringle – the illegitimate daughter of a Scottish sea captain and a local black woman, whose claim to fame is that she founded the first brothel in Barbados. That famous Scottish entrepreneurial streak strikes again.
Another link with home is the annual Celtic Festival, which takes place each spring. Pipers, dancers, choirs, a haggis night, a rugby tournament… sounds like a real home from home.
Okay, I won't pretend I spent all week leafing through dusty ancient manuscripts in the museum while it was 85 degrees of perfection outside. So what else should one not miss on the island? Well, a good start would be a trip on the Cool Runnings, a luxurious catamaran offering five-hour sails with snorkelling, lunch, hotel transfers and a free bar thrown in – well worth the 58 a head. It's great to get on the water and enjoy a rum punch, and it's a good way to see the beautiful Barbadian coastlines.
The aforementioned Scotland District, on the east coast, reminded me of Ardnamurchan. Battered by Atlantic seas (though turquoise, not the murky grey we know so well), the whole area is wild, uncommercialised and seriously beautiful. Here you find the little village of Bathsheba, huddling beneath cliffs and populated mainly by surfers.
What distinguishes Barbados from other Caribbean islands is its sophistication and infrastructure (and, come to that, the large middle class). Here you find a National Trust looking after many of the historically important buildings. Worth visiting are Morgan Lewis Sugar Mill, one of the oldest and largest surviving in the Caribbean, and Tyrol Cot Heritage Village, the former home of Sir Grantley Adams. This beautifully restored 1854 mansion, with its Barbadian antiques, is the centrepiece of an authentic chattel house village that features a market for local arts, crafts, food and drink.
The visit to the Foursquare rum distillery at St Philip is akin to a good whisky distillery tour. It's set in a beautifully landscaped park and occupies the site of an abandoned sugar factory.
The renovated St Nicholas Abbey, a Jacobean mansion dating back to 1658, is one of Barbados's most historic landmarks. There's also an 1890 steam mill, gift shop and restaurant. And don't miss the film of Barbados as it was in the 1920s, which is absolutely charming.
As a destination of only 166 square miles, but with more than 100 restaurants of every genre, Barbados is known for the quality of its food. Indeed, the range of restaurants is one of the primary reasons repeat visitors account for 40 per cent of arrivals in Barbados. If you want a really special meal, the Fish Pot, near Speightstown, is a great place to go. A favourite of Tony Blair and numerous A-list celebs, it is a relaxed beachfront location with an excellent menu and a Bajan chef who has worked in fine kitchens around the world. It has fabulous seafood, steaks, Asian fusion, creative salads, fantastic desserts and an excellent wine list – lunch costs around 80 for two.
The restaurant is attached to a cluster of luxurious suites that make up the accompanying Little Good Harbour hotel (www.littlegoodharbourbarbados.com). It offers peace, tranquillity and all the privacy of a personal villa while at the same time affording all the amenities of a hotel.
But if you prefer to lock your wallet away for the duration of your stay, Almond Beach Resorts has the monopoly on all-inclusives. It has three properties on Barbados: Almond Beach Village, with an impressive mile-long beach, five restaurants, comfortable rooms, a kids' club and all manner of land and water sports; the new Almond Beach Casuarina, which has good facilities but somewhat lacks atmosphere in the public areas and has no nightclub; and the adults-only Almond Beach Club, which has the best spa and a great location, right next to Sandy Lane, on the west coast (though service can be patchy and the beach is too small for comfort when the resort is busy). The value for money in all of them, however, is seriously good. And as a Scot, that makes real financial sense.
Fact file: Barbados
Barbados Tourism Encyclopedia (020 7636 9448, www.barbados.org)
A seven-night stay at the Almond Beach Village starts from 1,179 per person. Seven nights at the Almond Casuarina Beach starts from 999 per person. Seven nights at the Almond Beach Club & Spa starts from 1,069 per person. These prices include return international flights with Virgin Atlantic from Gatwick or Manchester, direct to Barbados, and return transfers – based on two adults sharing a standard room on an all-inclusive basis.
To book, call 0844 5573 859 or visit www.virginholidays.com/almond
For more information about the hotels, call 0871 871 2828 or log on to www.almondresorts.co.uk