Bermuda's first capital St George has some remarkable stories to tell

King's Square has changed little in the 400 years since St George was founded as Bermuda's first capital, and Sir George Somers might still recognise it. Admittedly, the Elizabethan admiral who had sailed with Sir Walter Raleigh would be surprised by the jet-skis for hire, the Wagyu burgers served at the waterfront restaurants and the English clothing shop specialising in Bermuda shorts. But the town's statue of Somers indicates he suffered far worse ordeals. It depicts him staggering ashore in pantaloons, cape and sword, having deliberately sailed his sinking ship into Bermuda's unforgiving coral reefs.

Some Shakespearean scholars believe the bard used Somers' experience as a source for The Tempest. True or not, Somers set sail on Sea Venture from Plymouth in June 1609 as the admiral of a seven-ship fleet ordered to deliver new colonists and much-needed supplies to Jamestown, the ill-fated British settlement in Virginia.

Bermudians tell the subsequent creation story as follows. Somers' fleet was separated by a hurricane. The poorly constructed Sea Venture took on water. Somers stayed at the helm for three days. In a remarkable display of seamanship he eventually drove the Sea Venture onto a reef, once he spotted what is now Bermuda. All 150 souls on board were saved (even the ship's dog).

Somers, his crew and passengers spent the next 10 months living on the remote and unique archipelago, which is much closer to Jamestown and St John's, Newfoundland, than to Somers' home port of Lyme Regis.

According to Bermudians, St George is the third oldest British settlement outside Europe, after St John's and Jamestown. And, as Bermudans also like to point out, neither St John's nor Jamestown is regarded as an international financial hub, let alone a subtropical tourist destination.

Bermuda's impressive new airport terminal will open in 2020 but, like us, most visitors arrive by cruise ship. Charles – our Bermuda born-and-raised bus driver and tour guide – has a glorious phrase to describe his homeland: "One island made of several islets and just as many bridges". It's actually an archipelago consisting of as many islets as there are days of the year. Most are uninhabited.

Unlike other mid-Atlantic archipelagos, such as the Azores, or Madeira, for example, there are no towering volcanos here. Bermuda does, however, owe its existence to an ancient volcano which rose above the Atlantic  and then eroded to form a subterranean platform where coral polyps could thrive. Hence the reefs where the Sea Venture met its end, and the porous limestone which means every drip of rainwater has to be collected – by law, Charles tells us – to the storage tanks under each house. Bermuda has no freshwater springs, rivers or lakes and there is no mains water, but the distinctive white-stepped roofs of its homes and buildings help locals harvest its plentiful rainfall.

Somers died here in St George and bequeathed his heart to St George and the rest of his body to Lyme Regis (who said explorers need to be sane?).

Like the rest of Bermuda, the town's buildings are painted in a range of pastel colours but St George's buildings are genuinely Georgian. The streets are narrow with names such as Old Maid's Lane and Shinbone Alley.

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World Heritage-listed Kings Square has what is now the Town Hall museum, which includes the words the newly crowned Queen Elizabeth II spoke when she came here for the first time. 

The old Globe Hotel, just round the corner, was a haunt of those Rhett Butler-type Confederates during the US Civil War. It's now a museum.

On Charles' advice, I take lunch with the fish burger at Wahoo's Bistro. I'm not sure if Somers had ever heard of a bistro, let alone a fish burger, but he would have approved, surely.

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CRUISE

Regent Seven Seas runs more than 20 cruise itineraries that include Bermuda. See rssc.com

Steve Meacham was a guest of Regent Seven Seas Cruises.

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