My Friend Colin Took me on a Great Hike and my Life was Never the Same

I started hiking with the Barbados National Trust around 2001/2002. As the Environmental & Conservation Manager for Almond Resorts Inc., I had been organizing hikes for staff and guests as part of my community activities and learned about the National Trust’s annual hiking calendar. These Sunday hikes were led by Colin Hudson and he quickly became one of the reasons why I hiked as often as I did. From that first hike until his death in 2004, I hiked regularly. After 2004 I was home less often and had fewer opportunities to hike there, plus a National Trust hike without Colin was not something I could fathom doing in the early years. 

Colin in his element, telling a story or talking about the plants and trees. Can’t see his face but it’s hard to mistake the hat and those knees 😄.

Colin was unlike anyone I’d ever met and I admired him tremendously. He was passionate about the natural environment and felt that all of us had a responsibility to be its steward. He lived what he preached and encouraged everyone he met to do the same, recognizing that all of us could be stewards in different ways. I met Colin through hiking, but because of our work in environmental conservation and protection, we frequently saw each other in various settings.

Colin and I became friends and we had friends and colleagues in common. It was in part because of his friendship and these colleagues in common that I got an inkling that I was to be awarded the Fulbright/OAS Scholarship. He was an ethical person and couldn’t tell me outright, but he kept dropping subtle hints so that I wouldn’t look for alternatives to start my PhD before the Fulbright was awarded, because he knew the policy was that if I started the degree I would become ineligible for the scholarship. We had a good chuckle about it once I was officially notified and I still remember the cheeky grin he had on his face 😊.

Whereas Hugh Cresser was my sustainable tourism mentor, Colin was my natural resource/environmental stewardship mentor. Colin, the Future Centre Trust (the non-governmental organization he established out of The Village of Hope from the 1994 UN Conference on the Sustainable Development of Small Island Developing States (SIDS)), and later Treading Lightly (another NGO he founded), were great resources for me as I implemented the greening programme at my company’s hotels. The Future Centre Trust was also the foremost NGO in the environmental movement in Barbados and helped to raise the awareness of many of us living on the island.

Some practices I learned from Colin or did a lot more because of him: reusing/repurposing e.g. old tires, boots and any kind of container for planting; experimenting with using various fruits and vegetables in baking and beverages (this was a lesson from his partner Maureen more so than Colin); the value of interpreting natural and cultural resources; walking the talk of sustainability; taking advantage of any opportunity to raise awareness about our environmental responsibility; choosing hope rather than despair in the face of environmental degradation (needed now more so than ever with the climate change mess).

Colin had a great sense of humour that I think was outmatched only by his deep knowledge of nature and local history. I really respected the latter because he was not Bajan by birth, nor did he grow up here. He came to Barbados to work and one of the contributions I remember him describing was developing a new hybrid of sugar cane. Yet there was never a time that I hiked with him that he was unable to set the historical context for where we were. He also had a knack for pointing out which plants were edible and which we could use to nefarious ends; I’ve used my knowledge of the former, but not the latter – at least not yet 😁.

On Sunday evenings when I hiked, I tended to stay close to the front of the pack with (not ahead of) Colin for two reasons: he always had something interesting to say and importantly, one never knew when he would turn off onto another track or trail. On more than one occasion, I saw people walking ahead of him who didn’t realize that they were no longer hiking the same trail he was. It was funny but I never wanted to be the one to turn around and not see the rest of the group 😄. I went to many places in Barbados and learned much about my home because of Colin Hudson and the Barbados National Trust hikes.

My t-shirt is still going strong 😊

One of the things Colin talked about a lot was the train that used to run in Barbados. Segments of the train route were incorporated in a few of the hikes offered on the annual hike calendar, but Colin wanted to do more, and envisioned a hike that would follow the train route from Bridgetown the capital, to St. Andrew along the east coast of the island. He set the plan in motion and the Great Train Hike on June 8, 2003 was the result. There was great excitement about doing the hike and it was well promoted. There was no question that I would join the train and I encouraged my sister Harry to do the hike as well.

I had never done a hike of that length before and didn’t quite know what to expect, I just knew that I was doing it. It was perhaps good that I didn’t quite know, because 24-26 miles of walking through cart roads and canefields, sand, rocks, cliff edges and more could be rather daunting. After the halfway point, it’s a lot more about mental stamina than physical stamina. I survived it, as did Harry, though my photographic essay about her experience is something she would probably like to forget (or destroy, whichever is easier).  

Harry using the stick I gave her after telling her one two many times that we were “almost there.” The first Great Train Hike was long before selfies were a thing and the only photos I have of the hike are of Harry 😁.

Colin passed away in February 2004, less than a year after we’d done the great train hike, and around 25 years after he started leading hikes for the National Trust. I was busy with consulting projects during that time and had been hiking less and less, but I was at home between project trips when my sister told me she’d heard a news announcement that he’d passed away. It was quite a shock and I could only imagine what Maureen and others close to him were feeling. I knew what I lost that day.

Thinking back about the years since, I don’t know if I’ve done more than one hike with the National Trust since he died. I remember doing one and feeling a sense of wrongness, I didn’t have the connection with the leader that I’d so easily made with Colin, and he didn’t have Colin’s breadth of knowledge, but it was really a non-issue because from mid-2004 onward I was away from home for most of each year and did my outdoor activities elsewhere.

Colin Hudson Memorial Great Train Hike 2020

Around a year or so ago I decided that it was time for me to do the Great Train Hike again. It had been on the annual hike calendar since 2005 and renamed the ‘Colin Hudson Memorial Great Train Hike’.  The event is now held in February instead of June, not the most convenient time of the year for me (though appreciably cooler), but doable. It’s easy to be in Barbados and work remotely, so even though I’d planned to be officially on vacation, I could still work as needed.

With my mind made up, I booked my flight last November and prepared for the Train. I’d done a 60-mile walk in September and with my ongoing hiking and spinning it was just a matter of sticking with my routine to be physically ready for the Great Train. I also reasoned that it was a one day event so unlike the 60-mile, I wouldn’t have to wake up and walk 15-20 miles on two additional days.

I asked/told my sister to do it again with me and gave her plenty of advance notice so this time she would be better prepared. Thus, at the crack of dawn on Sunday, February 16, 2020, my sister and I geared up and embarked on our 2nd Colin Hudson Memorial Great Train Hike. She was definitely better prepared than the last time, though she didn’t start training til December (there was some suffering in the last few miles). Honestly though, the longer the hike, the longer each mile becomes, so at the end of 26 miles everyone feels it.

My cousin Ras also hopped on the Train for the last third of the hike. As I said earlier, finishing the hike is more about mental stamina than physical stamina. Fortunately, about half of the hike provided amazing views of Barbados’ rugged east coast and hearing the sea doing its thing for 12-15 miles was a balm to my soul.

Bridgetown to Belleplaine and Places in Between

After several starts and stops, construction of Barbados’ train line began in June 1877 and the Bridgetown to Carrington section of the line officially opened in October 1881. It ran for a week before stopping to have more work completed. The first run on the entire line from Bridgetown to Belleplaine was in August 1883. The train transported people, sugar, molasses and other goods. Despite some periods of success, the railway seemed to be plagued by problems which included corrosion of the track along the east coast (no surprise), derailments, poor maintenance, and lack of funds. The original company closed in 1904 and a new one took over in 1905. However, this too suffered the same problems. The Government of Barbados took over the railway in 1916, but problems persisted. Passenger service ended in 1934 because of safety concerns and the railway ceased operating altogether in October 1937. Much of the railway was subsequently dismantled (Murphy, 1988; Pilkington, 2007).

Colin used to say that there were sections of railway that the train could not climb with a full load (perhaps Consett incline), so the the first class passengers stayed on the train, the second class got out and walked, and the third class got out and pushed. Stoute (cited in Murphy, 1988) noted that in all his times travelling on the train there were never second class passengers.

The Great Train Hike, like the train, passed through 6 of our 11 parishes: St. Michael, St. George, St. Philip, St. John, St. Joseph, St. Andrew.

Disclaimer: I took over 400 photos during this marathon hike and I’ve tried really hard to whittle them down 🙂

Bridgetown, St. Michael to Bulkeley Sugar Factory, St. George

Bulkeley to Three Houses, St. Philip

Three Houses to Bath Beach, St. John via Consett Bay

Bath to Bathsheba, St. Joseph

Bathsheba to Belleplaine, St. Andrew

Litter – Why oh why Don’t People Care?

I took photos of litter and dumping at various points along the way. Even participants in the Train Hike were dropping disposable plastic water bottles. I was disgusted! Of the 400+ photos I took as I hiked the 26 miles, at least 60 were of litter or dumping. We need to step up and be better stewards of our natural resources.

Just so litter isn’t the last image of the 2020 Colin Hudson Memorial Great Train Hike.

My dearest Colin, it’s been over 16 years since I last hiked with you and I missed you so much on the Great Train Hike today but I was elated to walk those 26 miles in your honour. Continue to rest well my friend.

#naturenevergoesoutofstyle #Barbados

2 thoughts on “My Friend Colin Took me on a Great Hike and my Life was Never the Same

  1. First, what a wonderful tribute to your friend, Colin! Second, those pictures are awesome! I’m sure You’re right: they don’t compare to the real thing! Third: your litter addendum reminds me of your hike in AwesomeTown last spring or summer!😉
    Thanks for sharing! I may have to join y’all next time!! 😁

    Liked by 1 person

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