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Notes for the Soufriere - Bois Cotlette - Palmiste - Tete Morne -Soufriere hike

The route covers one of the most recently active volcanic areas of Dominica. The Soufriere Sulphur Springs are heated by water that percolates down into the earth's crust and makes contact with hot rocks. These rocks are in turn being heated by the magma chamber that lies below the Morne Plat Pay volcanic complex. This complex is made up of all the mountains south of Loubiere. They all share the same volcanic centre and this is 'live' and can still erupt onto the surface. The heated water is forced to rise back up and brings with it a number of chemicals and gases such as sulphur oxide, ferrous oxide and hydrogen oxide. 'Soufriere' is the French for a place where sulphur exists. When the French were in control of Dominica King Louis XVI ordered that sulphur baths be built here for the troops to bathe in.

The Soufriere valley runs in a semi circle from the sea on the west coast to the sea on the south coast near to Petite Coulibri. The valley wall to the east is sheer cliff in most places. This was caused by a massive collapse of the side of the Plat Pays volcano that sent the whole side of southwest Dominica plunging into the depths of the sea. In this space emerged the mountains of Morne Patate and Crabier. The last eruption of Morne Patate was c450 AD when indigenous people were already living at Soufriere. Because of the volcanoes and sulphur springs this was a sacred place for the Amerindians.


Volcanic Map of the Soufriere area. The stars show the centres of earth tremors in the area. The semi circular dotted line shows the area of the collapsed dome and the Morne Patate Crater within it.

 

Continuing up the valley from the Sulphur Springs we pass through Soufriere estate that was producing sugar up to the late 19th century and then changed crops to cocoa and limes. In the 20th century it was bought over by L.Rose and Co. and became an important producer of limejuice for export.

After passing through the valley we come to Bois Cotlette. This is one of the oldest surviving estates on the island dating from the early years of French settlement in the 1720s. It is situated at the head of the Soufriere Valley in the parish of St.Mark, standing in a valley created by the slopes of Morne Vert on one side and Morne Patate volcanic crater on the other. It was named after the Bois Cotlette tree (Citharexylum spinosum), which is common in the area. It is one of the only estates that is still in the hands of the descendants of its original owners: a combination of the Dupigny and the Bellot families who both came from France via Martinique and intermarried.

It is the best preserved example of plantation architecture in Dominica, combining buildings for the processing of coffee, sugar and limes as well as its French colonial "Maison de Maitre". It has the only existing windmill tower on the island. This was turned by wind blowing along the valley from the south east coast. Bois Cotlette produced both sugar and coffee at the same time.


Drawing of how Bois Cotlette looked at the height of its activity.

 

In the 1820s under J.B. Dupigny the estate was worked by 20 slaves who produced 2,000 pounds of sugar, 140 gallons of rum, 254 gallons of molasses and 2565 pounds of coffee. A coffee blight hit Dominica in the 1830s and 1840s and the estate struggled on with sugar alone until a different type of coffee was introduced. By the 1890s sugar production had largely been abandoned and there was a shift to growing cocoa, which along with limes was seen as being the new salvation for Dominica. The old sugar boilers were adapted to boiling limejuice and a mechanized lime crusher replaced the old sugar crushing cattle mill.

The hike up the side of Morne Vert to Palmiste estate climbs along an ancient track first followed by the Kalinago people and then cut under direction of the French. As we reach Palmiste estate we pass a small spring in the cliff around which a stone tank was built. This provided water for the estate as well at times for Bois Cotlette. Palmiste was a coffee estate and we can still see the low stone walls and coffee drying terrace as well as the ruined walls of the old plantation house.

As we walk up the ridge from the ruins we have a fine view of the south coast of Dominica looking down on Grand Bay, Geneva Estate, Stowe Estate and Pointe Carib with Bagatelle and Perdu Temp of Foundland Mountain behind. From Palmiste we walk down a zigzag path to the community of Tete Morne. This community is one of the post-emancipation villages of Dominica where people moved off the estates after 1838 and established villages on the boundaries of large estates.


Route of hike
From Tete Morne we turn west and make our way down the track back to the Sulphur Springs. The first motor vehicle to reach Soufriere traveled along this path when Walter Rock rode his motorbike from Tete Morne to Soufriere in the early 1950s.





 

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