Stepping on to Piel Island is to take a trip back in time in the most unexpected way. This tiny speck off the coast of Barrow-in-Furness in south Cumbria, is a microcosm of all that is special about Morecambe Bay. It’s got ancient history, abundant bird-life, friendly people, great views and one very quirky added ingredient, a King who serves a decent pint.
I recently visited this islet on one of my Morecambe Bay Days Out sponsored by local car dealership business, Pye Motors. I used Seldom Seen Map #1 The Islands of Barrow, which gives a wonderfully idiosyncratic view of the area, offering up oodles of fascinating facts and figures about this very special region of North West England.
Getting to Piel Island is relatively easy; just find your way to Roa Island, which is connected via a causeway to Rampside, about 3 miles outside Barrow on the Furness Peninsula. At low tide, it’s possible to walk across to to Piel, but only recommended with a guide. Vehicles are not allowed apart from the pub owners. The ferry (a little motor boat) runs from spring to autumn and to hail it, stand at the end of the jetty next to the Lifeboat Station and wave over to Piel! The ferryman will come over and take you off to Piel for the princely sum of £5 return.
The ferry dropped Quirky Penguin and me off outside the Ship Inn, run by Steve Chattaway, aka the King of Piel Island, and his wife Sheila. The regal title has a history dating back to the 15th century. Young Lambert Simnel landed here, his supporters claiming him to be the rightful King of England. He was quickly exposed as a fraud, pardoned and put into the service of King Henry VII. Steve told me he loves the ever-changing landscape of the island, meeting the visitors (10,000+pa) who arrive throughout the season and the abundant wildlife. “You can see sparrow-hawks, kestrels, barn owls, peregrine falcons and seals off the shore. Little Terns are nesting on nearby Foulney Island Nature Reserve.”
As I sat outside the pub nursing a half pint of ‘Piel Princess’ I could see the appeal of this little haven. Eventually, I set off to explore the island’s 50 acres, starting off at Piel Castle, a 14th century fortress built by the Abbott of Furness Abbey and now run by English Heritage (FREE entry). Seagulls wheeled round the massive stony walls and bees bumbled through rambling roses. Perched on the edge of a rocky cliff, the waters of Morecambe Bay sparkled in the summer sun. “Oh wow, this is so much fun!” shouted one of the schoolchildren who came romping through the castle grounds. They were staying on the island overnight; there is camping and B&B at the pub.
I wandered back towards the other side of Piel, overlooking the industrial landscape of mighty Barrow-in-Furness. The salty scent of the sea mingled with the scent of wild flowers with the added piquancy of grilled chicken. A yacht skidded by on the brisk breeze and a tanker was silhouetted against the blue sky. Quirky Penguin perched on a boat called ‘LumberJack’ and he really was OK – and so was I…
Back at the pub, the ferry was returning and I set off down the steps to board. The ferryman smiled as he passed me and said, “I’m just off for a cuppa at the Ship if that’s OK? Be back in 10 minutes.” No problem. I sat on a bench and let the warm sunshine work its magic. No rush, all the time in the world here. On my walk around the island, I’d come across sign reading I LOVE PIEL … it’s easy to why.
With its laid-back charm, it seems a million miles away from the bustle of the busy port of Barrow-in-Furness; a place to relax, unwind and enjoy the simple pleasures of life.
Watch this video of my trip to Piel Island
Family-run Pye Motors is a well-established local car dealership and has been in this area since the 1930s. MD Nick Payne is passionate about this part of the world and it was his idea to do a series of days out around Morecambe Bay using the Seldom Seen Maps. Find out more here about what Pye Motors does in the local community.
More #FollowPye Days Out Around Morecambe Bay
The Lancashire Coast: Cockerham to Bolton-le-Sands via Morecambe and Heysham
The Kent Estuary: Carnforth to Sandside via Silverdale and Arnside
The Cartmel Peninsula: Grange-over-Sands to Newby Bridge via Cartmel and Holker
The Furness Peninsula: Ulverston to Broughton-in-Furness
If you live in NW England or here on holiday, do make the time to visit Piel – it really is delightful and very different feel from other places in the area. You’ll need either a map or SatNav to find Roa Island where the jetty is. Make sure you stand at the end and look out towards the island for the ferry. I just sat there waiting for ages until someone told me (even tho it says to do that on the sign. And do note, the ferry only runs from spring into mid-autumn. Well-worth the trip 🙂
Never been to that island but saw the ‘King’ on local tv . It certainly fits your quirky travel theme! May get there one day …
Yes John, it’s most definitely a quirky place! I think everyone should visit it at least once, just to see how a tiny place off the coast of Barrow can feel so special 🙂