Saturday, November 18, 2017

Island Resorts

England: Piel Island – The Story of a King a Castle and a Pub

Piel Island is still ruled by a king, King Steve Chattaway, a man who shares his castle and pretty lands with all visitors, whilst maintaining some old traditions and introducing a few creative new ones. Antoinette talks with Sheila Chattaway, wife of King Steve, about how they are making Piel Island a fun and special experience for visitors.

Piel Island

Piel Island


The charming 50-acre island, located at the tip of Furness Peninsula enjoys views across the Irish Sea on a clear day to the Isle of Man and the beautiful vistas of Cumbria and the Lake District towards the mainland. Piel Island is only a short boat ride from nearby Roa Island and well worth a visit.
The king was so crowned in 1997 in the presence of an amazing 2500 visitors, when he and his wife became the 23rd owners of the island’s Ship Inn, a hotel-pub that they have since spent running and renovating.
“It’s peaceful here, but the island has different faces. It can be wild in winter but also a party island and there is plenty of space for people to camp”, says Sheila.

Knights and Kings and Enduring Ceremonies

A chair a helmet and plenty of beer

A chair a helmet and plenty of beer

Apparently Ship Inn and the tradition of the King and the Knights of Piel are closely linked. The story goes that each new landlord was to be crowned King of Piel in a ceremony in which he sat in the ancient chair, wearing a helmet and holding a sword, while alcohol was poured over his head. Sounds thoroughly credible… and sure enough, early references to it can be found in the first visitor books, which date from 1856.
“The chair still sits in the pub and is used today. Its graffiti is evidence of the ceremony”, Sheila explains.
Further proof of the importance of maintaining the ceremony and preserving the chair and helmet was found in the tenancy agreement, which included responsibility for the said items, by the end of the 19th century.
The Ship Inn serves a selection of traditional ales from local breweries and chefs make wonderful fish and meat meals using produce from Piel or local Cumbrian farms.

Murder Mysteries, Medieval Banquets and Cooking Competitions

When the tide is out, this very green and grassy island is surrounded by a wide stretch of sand. It has plenty of space to hold all sorts of events, with the added uniqueness of its old castle ruins. Creativity certainly flows through the year-long calendar of events on Piel Island.
2011 has been busy so far with the Piel Cooking Competition of monthly theme heats, in which locals bring their dishes to the bar and are awarded points for taste, presentation and interpretation of the recipes. A final “cook off” happens in September and money raised will help the Lifeboat Crew.
April saw the Easter themes of a bonnet competition and the usual fun egg hunt for children, whilst in May, King Steve knighted a new Knight of the Realm, who had rendered exceptional services to the island.

Medieval banquet

Medieval banquet

Plenty of boat races and regattas happened in the following months and will continue as long as the good weather permits up to September. The winter season programme will see weekend themes, such as a murder mystery, cooking lessons with a gourmet chef, romantic and more.
“We cater to different types of events open to the public, as well as private. We’ve done hog roasts, birthday parties and a medieval banquet”.
Sheila has seen an increase of visitors to the island each year and says that many are locals, thanks also to the fun events they offer, however many are travelers from around the world. “We also organize seal watching and fishing trips and for people wishing to camp on the island, they just need to call and make a reservation”.

An Island Steeped in History

With evidence of human habitation for at least 3000 years, the island naturally has a rich and interesting history. Visitations probably happened by Scandinavians, the Celts and later the Romans when they conquered Britain. Its deep water harbor also made it a safe place to bring in provisions, staving off famine in the early 1200s. Trade, both legal and illegal, was then established between Piel Island and some parts of Ireland in the 13th century and went on to flourish, so that by the 14th century, the castle and its defense ditches were built probably as a warehouse to keep cargo safe from pirates.

Piel Castle

Piel Castle

For many more years, the island came under threat by foreign conquerors and changed hands. Its role evolved to customs collector in the 17th and 18th centuries and in the early 19th century remained important for ships entering the harbor.

Peaceful Piel

Peaceful Piel

In 1874, the Duke of Buccleuch, who owned the castle and the Ship Inn purchased the rest of the land, which remained his until in 1919. When he was about to sell, the Mayor of Barrow requested the island be given to the town, and so a year later the request was granted and the island given to the town of Barrow-in-Furness as a memorial to those who lost their lives during the First World War. The castle is part of English Heritage, an organization that protects historic places and advises the government and others on how to best preserve England’s heritage for future generations.

Staying on Piel Island

The island has lovely accommodation at the main hotel building with en suite double rooms offering stunning views of the castle and across Morecambe Bay, and two family rooms in a converted bunkhouse, which were recently renovated. For more information about Piel Island and its room rates, see: Piel Island

*All photos are courtesy of Steve and Sheila Chattaway of Piel Island

1 comment to England: Piel Island – The Story of a King a Castle and a Pub

  • barrovian

    Piel is not a private island in any sense of the word. It was given to the people of barrow for their leisure use in recognition of their work in the shipyard and steelworks following the first world war. It is a public place and, although the chattaways attempt to charge, camping is free and unrestricted.

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