The 19th September is International Talk Like a Pirate Day, which is really just an excuse for us to all exaggerate our west country accents and remember Devon’s place in history as being one of the most prominent areas of the British coast for piracy. In fact, many of the names that still strike fear in the heart of sailors even today originated in Devon and set sail from the coastlines we enjoy now.
When it comes to pirates, Devon and the rest of the south west coast were a hot bed for piracy. The traditional accent that is associated with pirates thanks to Hollywood originates in the West Country and across the county, there are regular festivals and historic events that seeks to educate others about this dark time in Devon’s history. You can find a whole host of smuggler’s caves throughout the coastline, the South West Coast Path still has the remains of the guard houses that were manned to keep an eye on approaching ships and in places like Brixham, Plymouth and Appledore, there are regular events throughout the year to remember the region’s pirates.
Though we might think of pirates as being comical characters with peg legs, hooks for hands and talking parrots on their shoulders, they were actually a fearsome bunch, no more so than the ones that would cause havoc around the coast of Devon. The Torbay was a regular target of the Barbary Pirates who ruled the waves for hundreds of years, they would sail in black ships which would sneak up on unsuspecting sailors and at coves, causing mass panic as many of the area’s residents would attempt to flee, if they were caught, they would end up being sold as slaves. That’s not all, while the region might have been under attack from some of the worst pirates on the sea, Devon was also the birthplace of a number of the world’s most infamous pirates, including the crew of the Jolly Roger.
Infamous Devon pirates include Black Sam Bellamy, who was thought to be the world’s richest pirate. He was born in Dartmoor and began his career on the sea after moving to Plymouth. Other famous pirates from this region are Edward England and John Taylor as well as those that lived in the area, even if they weren’t born there, such as Henry ‘Long Ben’ Avery and Samuel Bellamy.
While the mainland was ravaged by pirates, Lundy Island just off the coast of North Devon was a particular haven for pirates, particularly in the 1500s as it gave the more nefarious sailors an excellent view of the Bristol Channel allowing them to easily spot trading ships and naval vessels. The problem got so bad that Elizabeth 1, who was queen at the time, threatened to take ownership of the island unless the local authorities could get the issue under control. At one time, Lundy Island was the property of William de Marisco (otherwise known as William Marsh), he built a castle there and used it as his base for attacking and plundering ships travelling along the Bristol Channel before being captured by Henry III and becoming one of the first people to be executed by being hung, drawn and quartered on a charge of treason.
For a chance to celebrate Talk like a Pirate Day in authentic surroundings, why not head to Shaldon where you’ll find an old smuggler’s tunnel which is the only way you can access Ness Cove Beach, one of Devon’s most secluded and picturesque spots. The tunnel is hidden behind what is now Shaldon Zoo and descends right through the rock face into the cove, which is completely enclosed by the cliffs, making it perfect for smuggling and other nefarious activities.
Image: @nessdene on Instagram
Image: @nessdene on Instagram
Plymouth and Appledore both have museums dedicated to the region’s maritime history, detailing the lives of a number of famous sailors, as well as the pirates that terrorised the coastline, it’ll give you a chance to find out more about what life was like back then now that the usual Pirate Festivals have had to be postponed this year.
It wasn’t just pirates that lived in Devon – Sir Walter Raleigh and Sir Francis Drake were also prominent sailors living in the area. Legend has it you can even encounter Sir Francis Drake’s ghost in the county!
Will you be in Devon for this year’s Talk Like a Pirate Day? Let us know if you decide to embark on an immersive pirate experience by visiting one of the region’s museums or setting out along the South West Coast Path in search of former smuggler’s tunnels!