Tuesday, 22 October 2013


This may be hard to believe, but the diminutive Piel Island, which covers just 50 acres and lies 1 Kilometer off the tip of the Furness Peninsula, has a king.  The king's day job is landlord of the island's pub, the Ship Inn, and the royal role is passed from one landlord to the next in a ceremony which involves the new king being drenched in beer while sitting on an ancient "throne" wearing a helmet and holding a sword.  The origins of this tradition are uncertain, but it may have been started as a way of making fun of an actual event in history in 1487, when Piel Island was used as the launchpad for an invasion by one Lambert Simnel, posing as Edward VI in an attempt to seize the throne.  Simnel suffered a humiliating defeat at the hands of the army of Henry VII.

Piel Island's most impressive sight is its ruined castle, on a site originally occupied by a motte and bailey fort built by the monks of Furness Abbey, probably in order to defend an existing warehouse from the unwanted attentions of pirates and raiders.  There is a school of thought that the fort also served to keep the customs men at bay, since smuggling was rife at the time, with the abbey playing a part.  Later in the island's history, in the 18th century, customs men were permanently stationed on the island, which by then was an important trading post.  The Piel Castle which we see today was built by the monks in the 16th century, and parts of its massive keep and walls still survive, and can be visited courtesy of English Heritage.    

Piel Island can be reached on foot at low tide, or by ferry from Roa Island, which sticks out from the mainland.  It is home to many species of sea bird, and nesting birds are found on the beach.  There is a marsh pond in the centre of the island which attracts further bird species.  From Roa Island, a shingle causeway which again can only be used at low tide leads to Foulney Island Nature Reserve.  The reserve attracts birds such as dunlin, eider ducks and terns.  Seal watching trips and fishing trips can be organised through the Ship Inn. 

File:Piel Island and Castle, Barrow-in-Furness.jpg
Photo by Simon Ledingham, via Wikimedia Commons

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