Dornoch’s Head: A Trip Back Into Cockpit Country (April 2010)

Before I left for Jamaica on this trip, I came across a new web site called “Cockpit Country Jamaica”. It featured attractions and information about the Cockpit Country in Jamaica, that sparsely inhabited central-western region of the island that spans roughly 4 parishes.  I’ve written about the area before, and I’ve visited it from a few different approaches before.  But this site talked of a place I hadn’t seen or heard of before: Dornoch’s Head, supposedly the source of the Rio Bueno river.  A Blue Hole –  my very favorite thing to find in Jamaica 🙂

On this leg of my trip I’d be driving with my intrepid friend Nene, staying in Duncans Bay for a night or two at Jamaica Jewel. Duncans Bay is not too far from where I understood Dornoch’s to be, so I asked Cher, the hostess at Jamaica Jewel, if she knew anything about it. She didn’t, but said she’d ask around and see if she could find out where it was so we could go.  Well as it turned out she did one better – she not only found it but went to check it out in person before I arrived. (And FYI that is the kind of thing Cher and Barry do for their guests – go above and beyond to make your stay with them special).

Cher is a huge fan of fresh spring water and she’d found that Dornochs is a great source for that, so she and her husband Barry  not only joined us on the trip as guides/company, they brought several large empty bottles  to fill with water there and bring back.

We set out late in the morning (it was Sunday, and Leroy’s on the beach  in Duncans Bay had its weekly Saturday night open mic/live music/community party the night before, and of course we all went to it. So there would be no 7AM departure for us. Just the same, Barry and Cher said it was only an hour or so away.

Nene took lots of photos of the trip which is good because I was driving and took none.

This is along the new highway heading east from Duncans Bay.

Around Discovery Bay we turned inland to go into the cockpits. The road was rough but not too bad at this point.

It didn’t take long before it got pretty narrow, so much so that I had to honk pretty much every few seconds to be sure any oncoming cars would know we were there.

…or oncoming people. This gentleman confirmed for us that we were on the right road.  I don’t think anyone called this place we were heading to Dornoch’s Head, I think this man called it just “the blue hole”.

Finally we reached the road that would take us down to the hole itself. This road is described as “gravel” but is in fact really large rocks with huge ruts. Barry said we might prefer to park up by the main road (the main being the one in the photo above) and walk down, but with the water bottles and not really feeling a mile+ hike, and looking at the road from up there, I figured we could make it.

Well, we did, sort of. About a half mile down I realized I had probably made a mistake. The rocks in the road got bigger, the dropoff steeper, and there was absolutely nowhere to pull over or turn around or even get off the road.  For better or for worse we were going almost all the way down.  This is the road, though you can’t really see the rocks because the sun and shade shifting through the trees made the photo fuzzy. But I think you can see the drop on the left side.

Almost all the way down, there was a spot to pull off to the side, and that we did. We walked the rest of the way, just a hundred yards ro so, as it turned out, carrying Barry and Cher’s empty water bottles and our swimming gear.

Coming out of the woods, this is the first thing I saw:

It was perfect.

I went in the water immediately, of course, and spent the next hour swimming. It was cold – fresh spring water – but not too cold to get used to.

Off to the right side of this pool the Rio Bueno river begins its descent to the sea:

Off to the left side the spring water comes from the rock here:

I think that’s me.

When we arrived, there was a man bathing two kids. They finished up and left soon after we came. About a half hour later, a large pickup truck pulled in (THEY made it all the way down the road without having to stop early, I noted). These were some friendly folks from Montego Bay who we chatted with a bit. They’d been coming to swim here since they were small, they said. You can see their truck behind Nene, Barry and Cher.

Cher said no one was there at all when she came before, but this was a Sunday and thus the day for people to come swim. A couple of  kids came down on their bikes (how they managed that on the road I have no idea), so it was a relatively lively scene…and yet, in the middle of nowhere. No towns very close, no houses in view, no road that a tour bus or van could handle. When people talk about “off the beaten path of tourism”, I will always think of this place. But i was not at all surprised that locals knew of it and swam there…I’d be there every day if I lived nearby.

After swimming and relaxing for awhile as Barry and Cher filled their bottles, we were ready to get back on the road.  We walked the bottles up to the car 2 at a time  – they were quite heavy by now. We decided it would be best if Barry drove the car back up with Cher while Nene and I would hike up, as the bottles full of water  added a lot of weight that would make the car’s clearance a lot lower.

Nene and I did the hike, it might have been a mile, probably not much more if that. It was in the shade, and the cool of the cockpits, so not a bad hike. When I return, if I don’t have a 4WD SUV-type vehicle, I’ll probably park up top and hike in.

We passed this on the way up, a nest of something:

We rejoined Barry and Cher at the car and I thought it best for Barry drive some more as our next stop was by a friend of his’ yard that we had passed on the way in.

We enjoyed meeting Barry’s friend and his family, had a cold drink and tried, for the first time,  a breadnut shake there….I had never seen a breadnut before, have you?

We made it back to Duncans Bay well before dark and in plenty of time to enjoy Cher’s home cooked dinner…that’s okra, crab cakes, fried fish, potato salad, cole slaw and rolls. It was awesome.

It was a great day 🙂

I couldn’t tell you how to get to Dornoch’s Head. Probably best to ask Cher and Barry to take you, or ask locally.

Thoughts? Questions? I'd love to hear them!