The west end of the island is a rural area full of sleepy villages, small farms and fishermen's coves. Except for the Royal Naval Dockyard, which was home to a small part of the British Royal Navy for 130 years and is now a tourist attraction with shops, restaurants and a museum, not much has changed over the years. Not even a brief brush with Hollywood altered the west end's quaintness. According to my brochure, "Somerset Village looks much the same as it did in 1962, when it was featured in That Touch of Mink starring Cary Grant and Doris Day."
On my return trip to Elbow Beach, I ride over Somerset Bridge, reputedly the smallest drawbridge in the world, with a 22-inch opening, just wide enough for the mast of a sailboat. As I'm crossing, a big pink bus speeds over the bridge planks, bouncing Whistling Dixie like a basketball on a hardwood floor. Though a bit rattled and shaken, I am still unscathed.
My next venture is to the Crystal Caves, which were discovered in 1908 by two boys who were searching down a hole for a lost cricket ball. Instead they found a crystal cathedral of stalactites and stalagmites, and a sparkling blue lake, nearly 100 feet underground. All that Alice, of Wonderland fame, found when she chased a rabbit down a hole were a few crackpots at a tea party and a madcap Queen of Hearts who had a penchant for croquet.
"The boys never did find the cricket ball," Colin, a tour guide, tells a group of visitors. He points out the odd shapes that stalactites and stalagmites have taken over the course of centuries. "Jesus Christ is on the left," he says. "A French poodle sitting up is on your right. There's a totem pole. Looks like organ pipes there. Tombstones of a cemetery. See the reflection in the pool? Looks like the Manhattan skyline."
Perhaps there are more curious things to see on Bermuda than the first tennis court ever built in the Western Hemisphere, but being a fan of such things, I have saved this trip for last.
Supposedly, the tennis court is at a house called Clermont, somewhere along Harbour Road on the main island. It was on this court in 1874 that Mary Outerbridge, a young woman from New York, learned to play the game while vacationing here. (Lawn tennis was invented in 1860 in England and later was brought to Bermuda.) As the story goes, Outerbridge returned to the U.S. with rackets, nets and balls and had the Staten Island Cricket and Baseball Club construct a court on its grounds. Thus, Outerbridge helped to introduce tennis to the U.S.
As I ride along Harbour Road, I assume that I will run smack into a giant billboard that reads BIRTHPLACE OF TENNIS IN THE WESTERN HEMISPHERE. But I am deluded by my American sensibilities; this is not Graceland, I remind myself.
Bermuda is an island of understatement. Though the country is invaded by a horde of visitors, primarily American, on a daily basis, it is largely untouched by the tackiness of tourism. As a litmus test of sorts, I combed the island all week for a shirt that read MY AUNT WENT TO BERMUDA AND ALL SHE BROUGHT HOME WAS THIS LOUSY T-SHIRT. I didn't find one. (The kitschiest gift I purchased was a Sounds of the Night cassette tape, featuring a band of four whistling frogs-John, Paul, George and Eddy.)
Anyway, after several trips up and down Harbour Road, I find no billboard, no sign of Clermont and no one who even knows the Clermont address. After nearly colliding with another scooter while making an illegal U-turn—however, I am still unscathed!—I pull to the side of the road, park my scooter and start searching for clues on foot.
Like a Mormon on a mission, I go from door to door until at last I discover a small sign, the size of a moped license plate, lodged in a hedge, CLERMONT, it reads. Behind the hedge is a majestic house, painted the color of a clay court, and behind the house—at the very site of the first tennis court in the Western Hemisphere, at the exact spot where the godmother of American tennis hit her first forehand—there is a...croquet lawn?