One Stone, Two Birds: Falling Edge Waterfalls & Hermitage Dam

Nestled in the community of Stony Hill, Falling Edge Waterfalls, also referred to as Bowden Hill Falls, is the centerpiece of any adventurer’s itinerary. A triple threat of sorts, it provides the holistic hiking experience; whose rewards are hypnotic and invigorating waters, with a breathtaking scenery seated on its borders. Mastering the art of inconspicuousness, Falling Edge challenges adventurers to an exhilarating and daring game of hide and seek – and it was game on for Don & Tash. So journey with us as we venture to the fall hidden in the hills.

THE JOURNEY

Salt crystals smeared the surface of my skin and clothing alike as beads of sweat escaped from my pores. Oxygen clung to the roof of my mouth in protest, despite my attempts to lead it towards my lungs. My muscles pleaded for mercy from this callous labor, but, the only choice I had was to persevere. For those of you thinking that the physical journey has already begun, you thought wrong. I am merely packing for both myself and Don… Again! Now that I’ve once again established that I have the constant misfortune of bearing the brunt of the packing, let’s get right into it.

The journey truly began after passing Manor Park; and an unbridled excitement crept in as we peered into the rear-view mirror to witness Kingston’s visibility lessening (no offense Kingston). Here we began our climb of Stony Hill, and we followed the main road until we approached Stony Hill Square. I assure you that the hustle and bustle of the square cannot be missed. Once there, be on the lookout for the Tastee Patties where you are then expected to turn right.

Truth is, Tash is very melodramatic. I barely wear clothes when going on these hikes (just a shirt and pants), so I’m not exactly sure what she is always packing. Anyway, as Tash previously mentioned, upon reaching Stony Hill Square, we take the right turn at the Tastee Patties. Be careful on this road, as it is very ‘hill-and-gully’, for lack of a better description. Continue on this road for a few metres until you reach Airy Castle Road situated on the left-hand side. Make the left here, release the gas pedal, and carefully ‘shadow di brakes’, as you aim to meticulously manoeuvre the pothole-filled road. I kid you not, these roads have not been worked on since ‘Jesus was a boy’… On that note, remember to be polite, as the locals in the community are always out and about. Also, be mindful of cars that are always parked on either side of the already narrow road. The journey continues along this route (absolutely no turn offs) until a steel bridge is passed. The road gets better from here for about a kilometre, albeit a winding spiral uphill.

A sign announcing “Falling Edge Falls” is on the right, pointing into the hills of Bowden. You are now halfway to the hiking spot at this point. I cannot urge you enough to be more careful along this stretch. The precipice to the right, the cliff to the left; and let’s not forget that those expert drivers we call taxis zooming downhill at breakneck speeds can be very daunting. This, coupled with mediocre road conditions, are not the most ideal conditions for a road trip. Drive on though, it will be worth it. You will then encounter a nice little community nestled in the hills. Churches, homes, shops, and other buildings litter the hillside, with cars perched very precariously atop these slopes. I assure you that this route is harder than any driving test they give us at the licensing depot.

Continue on this… ‘track’, and the Hermitage Dam will become visible on the right-hand side in a matter of minutes. If not, turn back, you are probably on the wrong hill and deservedly so, as my directions are impeccable. Bowden Hill Primary will then show up at a dead end. Alas, you have arrived… Not at the falls, just where you are going to park. Leave all unnecessary belongings in your vehicle, it is time to start the two-hour hike to the falls.

Two-hour hike? Talk about a liad inaccurate narrative. Yet I’m the melodramatic one. The hike can vary from around fifteen to thirty minutes; depending on whether you’re a ‘Don’ who is overly trusting of nature; or a ‘Tash’, who is sure that every chirp, hiss and growl belongs to a feral animal.

She thought she heard an alligator. Who thinks like this?

Just a reminder that in movies the brave and curious always die first! And on that note, after proceeding through the gate (or the hole in the side of the fence), follow the leftmost trail, making sure to disregard the right turn-offs popping up intermittently. Proceed with caution as the trail teeters between navigable and “try not to fall as you cross this bambooed tightrope”. I stopped numerous times, and for this, my reasons are plenty. That is, I was caught between catching my breath; investigating the source of animal sounds, as well as, admiring the lush towers of vegetation positioned on either side of us, and basking in the sun that occasionally pierced through the canopy.

The gushing of water invaded my ears, pulling me away from the hypnotic scenery as it signaled that my destination was near. This triggered a newfound strength, and I scrambled towards my aquatic savior. Here I was greeted by the aroma of food and smoke that lingered from what appeared to be a make-shift kitchen. I was greeted by scourges of mosquitoes armed with their feeding weapons (it is a MUST that you travel with a repellent). Most importantly, I was greeted by mesmeric waters pouring along architecturally baffling rocks, into a refreshing chartreuse pool. I was greeted by Falling Edge in all its splendor.

By this time I was already in the pool below the falls. Tash takes too much time to observe her surroundings, test water depth, and all that jazz. The water was refreshingly cool. The place? Beautiful.

THE DESTINATION

Our intentions are to travel extensively, leaving our (eco-friendly) marks on the world; but it was Falling Edge that left an impression on us. What it lacked in size, it made up for in personality. This is definitely what Jamaicans refer to as being “likkle but tallawa”. I tried my best to explore all its features as much as my fears would permit. This included plunging into colder-than-I-could-bear waters, converting colossal rocks into ‘selfie’ platforms, travailing the course of the stream that escaped from the fall’s pool, as well as, admiring the fall tumbling down the hillside (I was definitely too scared to go all the way to the back of the falls). Nonetheless, whatever adventure you are looking to experience from a fall, look to Falling Edge to fulfill it… and more! After having our fill of this wonder, it was time to explore the ‘more’.

One last look as we say goodbye to Falling Edge Falls

Call it trial by error, or the sequel to the movie “Wrong Turn”, but after not one, but two wrong attempts, we found the correct trail to Hermitage Dam. Since Don is convinced that his moniker is “master navigator”, let me just add that our first misguided adventure was entirely my fault; while the second was due to the misdirection of a supposed local. Once those incidents were out of the way, we went back to where we started: Bowden Hill Primary & Infant School. Starting from scratch, we commenced our trek down the path situated to the right of the school, as opposed to the path on the left which leads to the falls. This hike was somewhat easier than the first, notwithstanding the terrifying drop to the right of us.

After approximately ten minutes, we were greeted by the dam, a true engineering feat. Selectively blind as we encountered “do not enter” signs, we mounted the platform which led us across the dam. We explored the entirety of the concrete trail which expanded to about sixty metres in length (according to my measurements), as our aim was to capture all angles of this engineering giant. From here we also observed fishing expeditions underway across the damn. Talk about a multi-purpose reservoir. If you are looking for a great view and a picturesque moment, the Hermitage Dam is the place to see.

The dam is nowhere near the Three Gorges Dam, but, any dam is an engineering feat in itself. This is a gravity dam which simply means that it is made of concrete; and it is this concrete that holds the pressure and the water in place. That my friends is what we call marvellous engineering. The physics of it is beautiful and Newton would be so proud. Sorry for digressing, Physics will do that to you… So, the dam was built in 1924 but was commissioned in 1927. Pretty young compared to her cousin, the dam at Rio Cobre. Its main use is to supply the corporate area with water from the Wag Water River. Besides this knowledge, the dam itself is simply awe-inspiring and creates some very spectacular views for us. I personally enjoyed the sunset here. Just be sure to travel with a wide-angled lens if it is that you are a photographer and want to take pictures.

Or your phone armed with Snapchat if you’re anything like me!

The narrowly enclosed walkway disallows a wide frame due to its construction. That being said, here are multiple snippets of the renowned dam.

An expedition is deemed successful after genuine laughs, encounters with magnificent landscapes, incredible photo ops, free swim lessons, and ‘Don almost drowning’ moments, to name a few. Based on these criteria, it is safe to say that our trip to Falling Edge Waterfalls and Hermitage Dam was beyond successful. On every encounter with nature, one receives more than what they sought. As we acquaint ourselves with nature, so too we discover ourselves. So challenge yourselves to be daring; to be free; to be adventurers!

Cascade Falls: Portland’s 100ft Wonder

The community of Cascade, situated on the peripheries of Portland, is home to a crown jewel. The humble district boasts one of Jamaica’s best kept secrets – a secret we have deemed to be worth sharing. Borrowing its name from the community in which it is housed, the breathtaking Cascade Falls spews over 100 feet down the mountainside. Visible from as far as the main road, pictures rarely do this towering giant justice. Fortunately, we managed to capture a few ‘worthwhile’ photos (thank God for Don’s ability to masterfully maneuver a camera). On that note, let us now delve deeper into why this aquatic titan is an invaluable treasure.

THE JOURNEY

Our journey started where ‘overly-patriotic Portmorians’ dub as the modern-day hub of Jamaica. If you guessed Portmore, then you guessed right. We abandoned the Sunshine City, adamant to defy TLC’s advise to refrain from chasing waterfalls. Don, having to only gather himself and his camera, was ready in no time. I, however, needed more time to pack a wanderer’s essentials… times two. Thankfully, by 9am, we were on our way.

Did Tash really just use a TLC reference? Talk about corny. Also, despite what she would have you believe, I am not only the camera man, I am also ALWAYS the designated driver. I am sure this counts for something!

The journey to Cascade was quite normal until we got to Papine. Once there, everything changed. The air was suddenly fresher and books like Jean DaCosta’s “Sprat Morrison” evoked pure nostalgia (the book is based in Papine). We then took the left at the round-a-bout in Papine Square, which led us pass the famed Skyline Drive, home of Dub Club. On the right was the winding Hope River and the road meandered along its course. We passed the old home of the coffee factory before taking the left turn leading into the Blue and John Crow Mountains (the left turn is at the government sign which demarcates that the left goes to Holywell while the right leads to Blue Mountain Peak).

My advice here? Windows down… AC off… Bask in the cool, fresh air. It is also very important to turn down whatever music you are sure to have playing in the background. The reason for this is twofold. One: to fully immerse yourself in the beauty of the mountains. Two: the roads are treacherously winding and the local drivers are ‘experts’ on these roads; so, let’s just say they are not so mindful of others plying the route.

Why am I not surprised that Don ever so subtly forgot to mention how cold it can get along the journey? But if you are anything like me, I would recommend taking along a sweater for the ride; especially in the latter months. Also, I think the onus is on me to over-exaggerate how scary the route can be. The view is breathtaking. Literally! I stopped my breath countless times as I “stared death in the face”. The narrow road, coupled with a ‘raas’ precipice, was enough to cause me to panic. Nonetheless, it was completely worth it. Our sense organs were completely consumed by nature. The hypnotic songs of birds filled our hearing devices; the damp air playfully caressed our skin; the smell of trees and a hint of rain etched themselves to our nostrils; our eyes greedily drank the mesmerizing scenery; and our taste buds danced at the taste of good ol’ country food. I couldn’t ask for more!

The journey is pretty simple from here as there are no turn offs. Drive straight into New Castle training grounds and keep going until you pass Holywell. Continue into Hardware Gap, until the little district of Cascade presents itself. Be sure to be on the look out for the bridge pictured below (unlike us, it is impossible for you to miss it). The waterfall will be visible from the road as indicated by the picture. Next on the agenda? Find suitable parking along the bridge, as this is where the journey on foot begins.

Being strangers in the area, we opted to ask a local, a more than capable guide who went by the alias ‘Buju’, to accompany us to the falls. The trail was not so obvious as it is overgrown, and frankly, not much of a trail again. Buju’s familiarity with the area came in handy as he led us through the shortest and most navigable route. The ‘hike’ was short-lived as it took us roughly five minutes to climb the hill, settling at the base of the fall.

Those five minute genuinely felt like five hours as the terrain was certainly not the easiest to maneuver. We mostly found ourselves down on all fours as we combated the steep and slippery rocks. Buju informed us that a safer and more pliable route previously existed, but was unfortunately destroyed. All in all, just proceed with caution and you will be fine.

THE DESTINATION

The mist from the cascading falls (see what I did there?) dampened the surrounding atmosphere, making it almost palatable. The water’s volume was somewhat low, which we were appreciative of, as this meant that all parts of the waterfall could be explored without fear. We were however advised that this could change in a heartbeat, with water levels rising drastically with rain. So, if you have an affinity for drowning (like me), I suggest you inquire about the weather conditions beforehand. Also, this non-commercialized natural wonder is not yet on the radars of many, so chances of you having it all to yourself are quite great.

And on that note…

The water is everything you expect from a waterfall and more! Beguiled by its beauty, you are immediately pulled in. The temperature then plays an integral role, as the coldness masterfully caresses your every muscle. This free massage therapy session is then topped off by the falls itself, whose force is the perfect technique for soothing one’s muscles. Notwithstanding, whether you choose to take a dive in its waters, or take a seat directly under the falls, or just simply take a pic; you are guaranteed satisfaction!

Despite Don’s (somewhat warped) account of the journey, as it relates to the destination, I share similar sentiments. Fear of heights, extremely narrow roads and coldness are forgotten once you are face to face with the majestic falls. I was intoxicated by its appearance and welcoming embrace; losing all sense of time. Upon arrival, all my anxiety and uneasiness were replaced by sheer admiration and excitement. Upon leaving, my appetite for excitement and adventure was filled; leaving me with a lifetime of memories.

Every new trip, every new destination and every new adventure, is a reminder of the splendor of nature and the Creator. So don’t be afraid to escape the urban hustle and bustle every now and again, and indulge in the gifts of the Earth.