A tiny dot on the map near the middle of the North Atlantic, Bermuda the oldest Overseas Territory of the United Kingdom. The 100 or so islands that make up the archipelago lie closer to North America, which exerts a strong pull, but despite this mix of influences, the island has its own unique story. Here are 5 things you should know about this offbeat place:
1. In the years between discovery by Juan de Bermúdez in 1503 and the first colonisation attempts in 1607, Bermuda was often called the Isle of Devils, and reputedly inhabited by spirits and ghouls. This superstition may have been fuelled by the calls of nocturnal seabirds, like the Bermuda Petrel (Pterodroma cahow), known locally as the Cahow. Bermuda’s only endemic bird, it was thought to have become extinct shortly after colonisation as it was easily caught, and quite tasty. However, a small population was discovered in 1951, nesting in the rocky isles of Castle Harbour, giving it the status of a Lazarus species, one that was found to be alive after being considered extinct for some time.
2. I‘d always thought I’d had a pair of Bermuda shorts as a kid, but it turns out I was wrong. My neon pink and yellow knee-length shorts, with a print of palm trees and nautical charts (it was the 80s, and that was acceptable back then), were actually board shorts. The terms aren’t interchangeable; neither are Bermuda shorts the same as cargo shorts, cut-offs or baggies. Genuine Bermuda shorts are far more formal, made from wool-blend fabric or cotton twill, and when teamed with knee socks, and a blazer and tie, are the everyday working attire of Bermuda’s business men. White Bermuda shorts, at regulation length, and knee-socks, are part of the uniforms worn by the British Royal Navy in tropical locations.
3. Bermuda shorts, albeit in more casual fabrics, are also considered appropriate dress by many golf clubs. Which is handy, as Bermuda has the greatest number of golf courses per square kilometre anywhere in the world; seven 18-hole courses for a land area of 56km². I’ve also seen it claimed that the island has more golf courses per head of population than anywhere else, but as a Scot, that seems to me like a pretty big brag for a tiny wee island. So, as it was a quiet day when I wrote this, I crunched a few numbers:
- Population of Scotland = 5.295 million (source Google)/ number of golf courses = 578 (source Scottish Golf Union) = 1 golf course per 9160.89 people
- Population of Bermuda = 65,024 (source Google)/ number of golf courses = 7 (source Bermuda Golf Association*) = 1 golf course per 9289.14 people
Nice try, Bermuda, nice try.
*10 clubs are listed, but one appears to be repeated 4 times.
4. Many of the buildings in Bermuda are painted in cute pastel shades, with a few in more daring neon colours, but almost all have a distinctive pitched whitewashed roof. This isn’t after a particular fashion, or the result of keeping up with the Jonses (or even the Zeta-Jonses!), but serves a valuable purpose. The island has no freshwater rivers, lakes or springs, and fresh drinking water is not supplied by the local authority. Instead home-owners must collect rainwater falling on their roof, and store it in underground cisterns. The whitewash contains lime, which ensures the water is sanitised, and the colour makes it easy to remove dirt and debris from the roof. The roof of a building must also be sturdy enough to withstand the gale-force winds that can occasionally batter the island.
5. The Bermuda Triangle is a notorious area of the North Atlantic, roughly corresponding with the sea area between Bermuda, the east coast of Florida, and the islands of The Bahamas and Puerto Rico. A number of ships and aircraft are reputed to have disappeared mysteriously within the triangle, although a report by Lloyd’s of London states that this is not the case. Things allegedly lost in the Bermuda Triangle include: several aircraft, including a DC-3 carrying 36 passengers; the crew of a five-masted schooner, the Carroll A. Deering, which ran aground off Cape Hatteras; two lighthouse keepers on Bimini, Bahamas; the USS Cyclops (AC-4), and all of 309 crew, the largest non-combat loss of life for the US Navy; and Barry Manilow’s woman.