December 4, 2022

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Piel Island in Walney, England

An island with an extraordinary local tradition, situated just half a mile off the Furness Peninsula can be reached by ferry from Roa Island or on a guided walk across the sands at low tide.

Close to the jetty you can find the Ship Inn, which was first built in the 18th century and later extended. The landlord is known as “the King of Piel.” Tradition holds that the monarch is crowned in a ceremony thought to have been invented by a group of drinkers in the 1800s reminiscing about an uprising which started on the island in 1487. Alcohol is poured over the monarch’s head while they sit in an ancient chair holding a sword. Visitors to the pub can also participate in a ‘knighting ceremony’ where for the honour of sitting in an oak seat, they must buy a round of drinks for the entire pub! The most recent king was chosen from over 200 applicants and crowned in September 2022.

The island is a site of great historic interest. The ruined 14th-century motte and bailey castle (now managed by English Heritage) overlooks the Western shore of the island. It had important links with Furness Abbey—it was here the Abbots of Furness stored their grain and wool as well as controlling shipping and trade with the Isle of Man and Ireland. Smuggling was widely known about; In 1423, the merchants of Calais issued a petition complaining that Furness Abbey was smuggling wool from the island without paying the official dues.

Thirty years later in 1487 the island played a role in a plot to overthrow King Henry VII. Lambert Simnel and his posse of mainly Flemish and Irish troops, landed on its shores from Ireland. They claimed that he was the Earl of Warwick and as such the rightful King of England. Simnel marched off to London but was defeated by the King’s men at the Battle of Stoke on June 16th and arrived in London as a prisoner of Henry VII. It was this uprising that is thought to be behind the tradition of the “King of Piel.”

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Over the centuries the island continued to play an important role in controlling shipping entering the harbour and in 1875 a row of cottages was built for the pilots and customs administrators. At this point the land was owned by the Duke of Buccleuch. He gave it to the people of Barrow-in-Furness as a memorial for those who had lost their lives in the First World War.

The ‘King’ and his family are the island’s only permanent residents. Some of the cottages for the harbor pilots and customs officers are privately owned or used by sailors.

There is a pebble beach that offers views of the nearby seal colony on Walney Island and the offshore windfarm beyond. The island itself is a nature reserve and home to a number of seabirds, including the eider duck, herring gull, and blackheaded gull. At low tide, waders such as the red shank and shore duck can be seen.

Know Before You Go

Piel is an offshore island. There are ferries to the island from Roa island during the summer. Train station: Roose (4 miles from Roa Island) Barrow-in-Furness to Lancaster line. Roa island postcode LA13 0QN. There is car parking on the island. Please check the Piel Ferry Facebook page for up-to-date information regarding the service times and weather conditions. 

It is possible to stay overnight. The Ship Inn offers bed and breakfast, there is a bunkhouse and campsite.

Visitors can also walk across the sands with a local guide at low tide. A guide is essential as much of the coastline is dangerous due to both quicksand and tidal currents. 

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