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For decades the historic town of Falmouth, founded in 1769 on Jamaica’s north coast, received very few visitors.
That changed with the inauguration of the Historic Falmouth Cruise Port in 2011, and though most cruise passengers tend to cluster near the port or are whisked away on bus tours to high-profile attractions along the coast, there’s a great experience much closer at hand: a guided walking tour of Falmouth that combines historic sights, local color and a chance to sample authentic Jamaican cooking.
Falmouth Heritage Walks Ltd. offers three tours: Falmouth Heritage Walking Tour, Falmouth Food Tour and Falmouth Jewish Cemetery. Groups are kept small, with a maximum of 12 people.
I opted for the two-hour Falmouth Heritage Walking Tour, which was led by tour guide Simone Allworthy. A standout for me was the Trelawny Parish Church, built in 1796 and constructed of limestone blocks. Edward Barrett, the great grandfather of Victorian-era poet Elizabeth Barrett Browning, was a parishioner and one of the early founders of Falmouth. We encountered living history on our visit, exchanging “good mornings” with parishioners as they exited a Sunday morning service and playing with a family of goats roaming the church grounds.
Another stop on the tour is the Falmouth Courthouse, a fine example of Georgian architecture and a still-active courthouse. I could imagine a unique morning spent inside as a case was being tried.
During the tour we passed lots of examples of late 18th century and early 19th century brick merchant houses and small timber-frame houses of the town’s freed residents. One of the oldest houses in the town is Arlen House, which was owned by a free woman of color.
“Affluent people of color and freed slaves would sometimes become slave owners themselves,” noted Allworthy.
During the tour Allworthy imparted colorful details of 19th century life in Falmouth, such as women going to great lengths to decorate their evening gowns with fireflies; the woman with the most “bling” would get the most attention. I was also surprised to learn that Falmouth had a piped-in water system ahead of New York City.
The walking tour combines history with plenty of opportunities to observe local color. For instance, we paused outside William Knipp Memorial Church to listen to the congregation sing. It sounded less like a hymn and more like rhythm and blues from the early 1960s.
As we walked, we took note of historic structures, but also got a look at the colorful facades of establishment such as Franco’s Nice Time Bar and Pepper’s Jerk Shack.
Those who opt for the food tour get the chance to sample fare from local vendors, including sugar cane, coconut water, roasted breadfruit, salted mackerel and roasted yam. They’ll also stop at a jerk restaurant for some jerk chicken then sample a Jamaican patty from the Spicy Nice Patty Shop.
While Falmouth is still a bit rough around the edges — which for me is part of its charm — the town and residents will benefit by an increased flow of visitors. I’d recommend the Falmouth walking tour for those travelers who wish to broaden their Jamaican experience beyond the sea, sand and sun resort experience.