Along Duke Street are some lovely restored buildings dating from around one hundred years ago with casuarina, frangipani, and Caribbean pine trees in the gardens. The sea is never far away with its clarity and light-blue colour being a constant feature all the way into town. There is a bank on Duke Street, which has a technologically advanced ATM with a touch-sensitive screen.
On nearby Pond Street is Her Majesty's Prison, which is open for visitors when a cruise ship visits the island. This prison held inmates for over 150 years before being closed in the 1990s, when prisoners such as Pablo Escobar's brother-in-law had found it all too easy to escape with outside help. Around a dozen cells held the male prisoners and there are fewer cells for the women. The three solitary confinement cells would have been brutally hot in the summer sun. The exercise area allowed prisoners to receive messages that had been thrown over the wall. The entry fee is $3 and the prison is well worth a visit.
The next place of interest is the Turks and Caicos National Museum. The exhibitions begin with the poetically titled "Wreck of the Molasses Reef", a heavily-armed caravel that hit the reef surrounding the islands in 1513. After the initial discovery by professional divers in the mid 1970s, the wreck was dynamited by some glory-hunters, who thought the caravel was carrying treasure, but none was ever found, which means the caravel predates the Spanish invasion of Mexico. Â The museum outlines the story of the dating of the wreck and has a number of objects from the caravel on display, with visitors being given the opportunity to guess the function of the item via a series of buttons.
The National Museum also outlines the story of salt production on Grand Turk. Between 1678 and 1964 salt was the number one export of Grand Turk and the salt pans that produced the salt can still be seen in the centre of Cockburn Town. In 1907, there were 230 acres of salt pans on Grand Turk and each acre produced 4,000 bushels of salt. One bushel contains between 75-80 pounds of salt. The role that Grand Turk played in the historic flight of John Glenn in Friendship 7 is also well documented – after splashing down Glenn first stepped ashore on Grand Turk. There's also a collection of messages in bottles from various parts of the world and a fine model of the ocean topography around the islands, showing how steep the dropoff is into the surrounding trenches. The gift shop has a fine selection of locally produced artistic mementoes of the islands.
Walking around Cockburn Town, there's a an odd assortment of modern buildings, carefully restored older buildings, and houses that will almost certainly be blown over in the next hurricane. Grand Turk was affected by Hurricane Sandy in 2012 and the Osprey Beach hotel had some of its beach front destroyed. Two blocks away from the sea, the salt pans host some fish and bird life, with egrets wading in the shallows.
There are some restaurants along Duke Street serving local specialities such as curried goat and peas and rice. Some also serve grits, which I can't really recommend. I'd always associated this ground-corn foodstuff with the southern USA, but it has percolated over to the Caribbean too. The Sandbar has great views over the sea from its bar stools.
The restaurant at the Osprey Beach produces wonderful food and I can particularly recommend the Crab and Pasta salad eaten at a table with a view over the clear light-blue sea. Two people were swimming in the sea, three were heading off to dive on the 7,000-feet wall, and three more were thinking about sunbathing in the early afternoon. Four yachts bobbed on the waves just offshore. Grand Turk doesn't have many visitors and so makes an ideal destination for those who like a quiet time under the sun with the Caribbean for company.
Written by: Julian Worker
Header photo : Cockburn Town, Public Domain