Lands End: Smugglers, pirates, pubs and lost cities

Last month, my boyfriend, Neil, and I went back to the UK to visit his friends and family and attend a major wedding.

Neil hails from Plymouth and is distantly related to an infamous pirate named John Thomas. Here’s JT’s grave near Penzance, which we visited 3 years ago. As you can see, it has a real live skull and cross bones etched into it, as well as a very cryptic eulogy, which basically says he was a scoundrel and an all-around bad dude who deserved to die.

Plymouth is located in the South West peninsula of England in an area called Devon. The famous “Mayflower” ship full of America’s first settlers departed from Plymouth Harbour in 1620.

This coastal area of Devon and Cornwall is the official surfing capital of the UK and boasts long stretches of beaches, quaint seaside towns and the famous and most delicious Cornish Pasty.

I recommend Philp’s Pasties in the town of Hayle for the best Cornish Pasty on the planet. You can take it to go and head to Gwithian, a lovely beach nearby. Here’s the official Philps Pasty Appreciation Facebook Group.

The tiny coastal fishing towns that dot the peninsula are seeped in mysterious history of pirates, smugglers and wreckers. It’s Pirates of the Caribbean come to life, complete with Johnny Depp. Apparently, some scenes from the movie were filmed along the coast and a few locals reported having a cheeky pint with Johnny in the tiniest of pubs.

Wreckers were notorious in these parts. When the storms weren’t working in their favour, they caused ships to wreck on shore, by strapping donkeys with lanterns to trick ships into thinking they were lighthouses. As soon as the crew perished, these vultures would scavenge every last valuable part of the ship.

Smugglers would import and export everything they could get their hands on: teas, spices, textiles, arms, booze, treasure, exotic art and the list goes on and on.

Bloody brawls and mysterious disappearances were common in these parts. Nowadays, these old towns hide their secrets in their narrow cobblestone roads, decorative pub signs, wooden window shutters and their 1,000-year-old churches.

In the 17th and 18th Centuries they were hideaways for the most badass dudes. Now many are retirement areas or tourist destinations; a much less exciting life, no doubt.

Neil and I camped overnight in a town called Sennen, which is located about 5 minutes from the Western most point of England, known as Land’s End. In typical British camping fashion, we spent the night in a field for £5. The field just happened to be beside a 400 year-old inn and pub (The First and Last Inn.).

And a 1,500 year old church!

My meal at the First and Last Inn consisted of succulent lamb shank with roast vegetables and a Cornwall-brewed Doom Bar Ale.

Inside the pub lies a preserved smuggling hole nicknamed “Annie’s Well.” The story goes that Annie was one of the Inn’s previous managers.. She reportedly turned King’s evidence against the inn’s owner, who was her smuggling agent, and made many other enemies along the way. The locals eventually got their revenge on Annie and staked her out on the beach at low tide, where she eventually drowned.

After a bit of a history lesson at the pub, we wandered 20 minutes down a country road to the official Land’s End to watch the sunset and take fun photos.

With all the touristy shops and cheesy 4D theatre closed for the day, the spot took on a more somber atmosphere. The history of the place seemed to seep through the clifftops, the lonely waves and the submerged wrecks.

As we looked out over the water toward the Isles of Silly, I couldn’t help thinking about another tale I’d heard of the area. According to the story, there is a Lost Land of Lyonesse beyond the shores of Land’s End. A land where King Arthur is believed to have had his fateful battle with his son Mordred. An entire city that reportedly sunk in November 1099AD. People have reported seeing church spires and other city ruins beneath the waves during raging coastal storms.

It seems that England too, has its own Atlantis.


Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Google photo

You are commenting using your Google account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s