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Pirates in North Devon

The whole of Devon has a rich maritime history and you can find out more about the region’s connections to piracy by visiting one of the many museums, such as Appledore’s North Devon Maritime Museum which not only has exhibitions on the various pirates that haunted the shores but also the region’s more recent history, such as the D Day preparations which took place in North Devon. 

When it comes to piracy, the south west had more than its fair share and Devon in particular was one of the targets for the fearsome Barbary Pirates who stalked the waves for over three centuries. This band of pirates would sail in black ships which would appear suddenly in the horizon and cause mass panic on land – many would attempt to flee as if they were caught they would end up as slaves. 

For a swashbuckling adventure, make sure to visit North Devon where you can find out more about the terror and intrigue that the region’s historical pirates unfurled all across the south west during the 1600 and 1700s. 

Meet the region’s best known mariners

One of North Devon’s maritime tales concerns Lundy Island and its former owner, William de Marisco (aka William Marsh). After claiming ownership of the island, he built his own castle and then set about attacking and plundering ships in the Bristol Channel and attacking the Devon coastline. He was eventually captured by Henry III on the grounds of treason and became one of the first men to be hung, drawn and quartered.  Lundy Island was a popular base for pirates from the 1500s onwards as it gave them a great vantage point as use of the Bristol channel as a shipping route increased. At one point, Queen Elizabeth I threatened to take control of the island herself if local authorities failed to keep the situation under control. 

In fact, Devon was the birthplace of several infamous pirates including those that sailed under the Jolly Roger such as Black Sam Bellamy, Edward England and John Taylor. But not all the sailors you’ve heard of were pirates, figures such as Sir Walter Raleigh and Sir Francis Drake have an association to the county, as well as those who are more nefarious like Henry ‘Long Ben’ Avery and Samuel Bellamy. 

You can find out more about North Devon’s pirate history at the many museums and events that commemorate this part of the region’s heritage. Make sure to look out for upcoming events here and to see the nation’s exhibitions. Why not embark on a trip to Lundy Island (minus the piracy of course)? Regular ferries are available to the island and you can see for yourself how the pirate captains would have lived. 

Explore at your own pace on the South West Coast Path

The South West Coast Path is one of the most popular coastal walking routes in the UK and you can find plenty of access points all across North Devon from its starting point on Exmoor all the way down to Hartland Quay. The path offers some incredible views over the coast and it was this vantage point that made it so useful for historic coast guards to spot incoming trouble. In fact, the South West Coast Path was initially created so that smugglers and pirates using the more hidden parts of the rugged coastline could be caught. As you walk along the route, you can still see some of the original coastguard homes and watch posts!

Join in a pirate trail

Because much of the region’s heritage comes from its connection to piracy, you will find that there are plenty of themed activities involving pirates for you and the family to get involved with. In various towns and villages you can follow special pirate trails to find out more about the local connections or join in with one of the fancy dress events that are held regularly. 

Discover North Devon's history

North Devon's historic attractions