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Treasure island

Harry Mount casts his golden eye over Jamaica

4 April 2007

1:33 PM

4 April 2007

1:33 PM

It was Ian Fleming’s anxiety about impending fatherhood that brought about the birth of James Bond. When his long-time lover, Lady Rothermere (formerly Lady O’Neill, née Ann Charteris), fell accidentally pregnant in 1952, the panicked 43-year-old bachelor was forced to the altar, and to the writing desk. To give his idle hands something to do, and to calm his marriage jitters, he sat down to write a book. Eight weeks and 62,000 words later, he’d finished Casino Royale.

Besides the shotgun marriage, Fleming’s other inspiration was Goldeneye, the home he’d built in Jamaica in 1946. Without his annual two months off from his day job as foreign manager at Kemsley Newspapers, he never would have written the Bond thrillers, he admitted. The place is now all high-end luxury, courtesy of its owner for the last 30 years, Chris Blackwell, the Island Records mogul who made Bob Marley and U2 (Oracabessa, St Mary, 0800 169 8025).

Your own cook brings breakfast to the shaded, sunken terrace where Fleming had his scrambled eggs and Blue Mountain coffee before his morning three hours of writing. You swim and snorkel off your own private coral beach. As night falls, you dip into your own private drinks cabinet to outdo the three strong drinks that Fleming had each evening. Afterwards, perhaps a film in the private cinema that has been slipped into Fleming’s old garage?

All fruits ripe, as they say in these parts, when things are going well. At heart, though, Goldeneye remains the simple, airy one-room villa that Fleming built. Noël Coward (who lived and died 20 minutes up the northern coast road at Firefly, another simple, airy house, open 9 a.m. to 5 p.m., Monday to Friday, 00876 997 7201) called it ‘Goldeneye, nose and throat’ for its roughing-it ways.

Fleming’s red bullet-wood desk is basic Ikea fare, its deep, broad shelves now filled with the Bond books. The enormous picture windows lie open to the sea during the day. At night, the jalousies — wooden shutters permanently fixed open to allow birds in and out — allow in the chatter of the tree-frogs and the swish-swish of the sea below.

You get even closer to the sea at Jake’s (Calabash Bay, Treasure Beach, St Elizabeth, Jamaica, 0800 169 8025), a series of beach cottages on Jamaica’s south shore. My cottage was literally within spitting distance of the sea: I spat out my morning toothpaste swill straight into the Caribbean.

The south has always been less touristy than the north, and it remains a farming and fishing area, difficult to get to via the island’s potholed roads. It means that Jake’s retains a genuine, cut-off feel to it, despite its celebrity cachet. The place is run by Jason Henzell, son of the late Perry Henzell, who wrote the gangster classic, The Harder They Come (1973), which launched the career of Jimmy Cliff. Fergie was a recent guest in my cottage — no trace of cream cakes under the bed, I’m happy to report.

Just north of Jake’s is an area called ‘Me No Sen You No Come,’ a logical enough statement. Sometimes at Jake’s, though, Me Do Sen and Still You No Come. I booked in a bicycle ride and the bicycle never arrived. And there was no soap in my room.

Still, the Jamaican art of taking things easy is the real thing, not just the stuff of ad campaigns. Neither is it necessarily marijuana-induced. Nor is it the irritating type of superior behaviour exhibited by people who put you down for bourgeois things like being on time, writing thank-you letters or for being a rhythmless honkie.

When Jamaican friendliness is combined with efficient service, like it is at Strawberry Hill (0800 169 8025,, another Black-well enterprise high in Jamaica’s Blue Mountains, the hospitality is perfectly pitched between oiliness and surliness.

Strawberry Hill is an old coffee-plantation house, all clapboard lapped by banana leaves, appreciably cooler than the capital city of Kingston down on the coast below. It was at Strawberry Hill that Bob Marley came to recuperate after he was shot in the political battles between Michael Manley and Edward Seaga in 1976. (By the way, Jamaica may be a dangerous place for activist reggae singers, Pakistan cricket team trainers and Yardies, but it’s safe enough for tourists.)

The place where Marley was shot, his old house, is worth visiting (Bob Marley Museum, 56 Hope Road, Kingston, 9.30 a.m. to 4 p.m., Monday to Saturday, 00876 927 9152) with his gold and platinum records and his old recording studio.

Marley’s old home is also on the way to Kingston’s cricket ground, where several of this year’s World Cup games are being played. The daily round-trip to the cricket from Strawberry Hill, down through the hump-backed, mangrove-choked Blue Mountains, is an enviable commute.

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