Britain's best pirate experiences: events and smuggler pubs to visit
Explore Britain’s bloodthirsty pirating past, from hunting for treasure trails along the coastline to following in the footsteps of the notorious Blackbeard. Shiver me timbers, here's our guide to five of the best pirate experiences in the UK.
Shiver me timbers, here's our guide to five of the best pirate experiences from festivals and events to pirate pubs in the UK.
Britain's best pirate festivals, events and walks
The Yorkshire coastline lies less than 300 miles from the shores of the Netherlands, so it’s perhaps no surprise that the turbulent waters of the North Sea provided a useful shipping lane for trade in the 17th and 18th centuries. A fact exploited by the notorious pirate George ‘Snooker’ Fagg, captain of the ship Kent, who dominated the seas around Yorkshire during the 1770s. He and his crew pillaged large ships at gunpoint on their way into Scarborough and stashed their haul all along that part
of the coast.
Snooker’s booty may have long gone but there’s still plenty of gems to uncover by taking one of the self-guided treasure trails that lead you along Scarborough Harbour or through Robin Hood’s Bay. www.treasuretrails.co.uk
If you’d like to learn more about Yorkshire’s pirate history, pay a visit to the excellent Yorkshire Museum. www.yorkshiremuseum.org.uk
Hunt for Blackbeard’s secret scroll by following the free Blackbeard trail in Brixham. Over the course of the 2.5-mile circular walk, you’ll discover Brixham’s hidden historic sites and enjoy spectacular views. There are eight signs to look out for during your walk – keep your eyes open for the pirate symbols – and you need to spot them all in order to crack the code, which spells out the location of the notorious pirate’s secret scroll.
If you don’t know where to look when you’re walking through Bristol’s bustling St Nicholas Market and harbour, chances are, you’ll miss the evidence of the city’s long history of piracy. Some of the best places to find clues and relics of the rogues and rapscallions who set sail from this West Country city during the 17th and 18th centuries are the watering
holes dotted around the docks. But if you prefer something with a little more guidance and a little less grog, you should book yourself and your motley crew on to the Bristol Pirate Walk.
Led by the jovial Pete Martin – otherwise known as ‘Pirate Pete’ – Bristol Pirate Walks are a lighthearted yet informative way to step back in time and learn more about Bristol’s seafaring history. You’ll also have the option of donning some pirate fancy dress along the way. And dressed up or not, there’s a lot to learn.
Bristol may have only been the size of four football pitches back in the 1700s, but it was thought to be the birth place of one of piracy’s biggest names. Blackbeard, or as he was officially named Edward Teach, was born in 1680. Renowned for his formidable appearance and thick black beard, Teach turned to piracy after serving on a British warship in the War of the Spanish Succession.
Pirate Pete is a less threatening presence but no less of a character. He’ll take you to see original sailor refuges, merchant houses and the vast network of caves once used by smugglers. He’ll also introduce you to some of the pirates’ favourite harbourside pubs, including the Hole in the Wall, which – with its tiny cubbyhole window for spotting approaching press gangs – is said to be the inspiration for the Spyglass Tavern in Robert Louis Stevenson’s classic Treasure Island.
Cornwall’s rugged coastline has a long history with smugglers, wreckers and seafaring pirates, dating back to the early 17th century. Incoming ships, often carrying goods from overseas to major ports such as Falmouth and Penzance, provided a lucrative haul for local wreckers. Ships would be plundered – often brutally – and then the goods stashed in hidden coves along the bay. If you fancy a taste of this swashbuckling pirate life, Pirate’s Quest in Newquay is an atmospheric and exciting live-action experience with actors and dramatic special effects creating a sense of adventure as you learn about Cornwall’s pirating legends and history. During the one-hour voyage you and your crew-mates will escape a shipwreck, explore mystical caves, wander murky streets and pay a visit to an 18th-century tavern. But be warned: one intense scare is guaranteed… Suitable for children and adults of all ages. www.piratesquest.co.uk
Britain's best pirate pubs
If the walls of these atmospheric pubs could talk, they’d tell hair-raising tales of smugglers, pirates and wreckers plotting raids, hiding loot and running rings around the excise men, says Emma Field.
Cornwall’s notorious wreckers stored contraband in the isolated Jamaica Inn. The attached Museum of
Smuggling has a fine collection of smuggling artefacts, and there’s a memorial room to Daphne du Maurier, who turned the smuggling tales she heard here into her famous novel. www.jamaicainn.co.uk
By all accounts, smuggling was a way of life for most Scots, and it’s hard to find an old Scottish pub without smuggling history! The Stein is the oldest inn on Skye and it’s easy to imagine bootleggers enjoying its remote location and roaring fire. www.stein-inn.co.uk
It’s easy to see why The Ship was a smugglers’ haunt. It stands in the shadow of a seacliff on the edge of Old Saltburn, and the pub’s landlord from 1780 was John Andrew, also known as the ‘King of Smugglers’. Saltburn Road, TS12 1HF
In the 1730s and 1740s, The Mermaid Inn was a stronghold of the Hawkshurst Gang, one of Britain’s most fearsome smuggling rings. Members were often seen here, drinking with loaded pistols on the table, and one eye on the inn’s secret passageways. www.mermaidinn.com
This pub’s smuggling connections date from when it was known as Sully House and owned by a sea captain. It was a hub for smuggling operations, and a secret tunnel connected it to the sea. Apparently, the captain’s wife died here and her spirit still haunts the building. The ghost of a small boy has also been spotted. www.vintageinn.co.uk
Burgh Island’s tidal causeway meant that The Pilchard was something of a smugglers’ resort, protected by a natural barrier for half of the day. The inn harbours plenty of smuggling tales; Tom Crocker, an Elizabethan smuggler, was even shot by
a revenue officer here. www.burghisland.com