Walk The Plank: Go Pirate Spotting Round London

Plastic statue of a pirate with a parrot on his shoulder.

Ahoy, matey! Avast ye, and hear what I say. If your little lads and lassies go crazy for pirates, then blow me down if I don’t have some tips for ye. Yeaaaarghh!

I’ll stop talking like a pirate now. Though I might resume on 19 September, which is the annual Talk Like a Pirate Day. 

In the meantime, here are seven places around London where your family can indulge in pirate make-believe. Remember, pirates were voyagers, so be prepared to follow the treasure (or tube) map to different parts of the capital in search of ye booty. Yo, ho, ho and a bottle of low-sugar fruit juice.

Wapping High Street

Any tour of piratical London has to start in Wapping. The riverside area was once awash with warehouses, jetties and nautical industries. Wapping was also feared by pirates. This was a notorious site of execution for anyone found guilty of the crime. The most famous example is Captain Kidd, who was hanged here in 1701 at a place known as Execution Dock (the exact location is unknown, but may have been where the Overground station now stands). Kidd is remembered in the name of a local pub, whose hanging sign displays the plunderer digging up treasure. It also depicts his gruesome end.  

Pirate Ships (Wapping)

Ships at Tobacco Dock.

Wapping’s greatest nautical treasure, though, hides in the back streets. Follow Wapping Lane, a road that runs north from the Overground station. After five minutes or so, you should spot some masts over a wall to the left. This is Tobacco Dock, home to an events complex and two slightly shabby replica ships. The Three Sisters and The Sealark are modelled after real boats. They were never pirate ships, but they do look the part, and kids love to pretend.

Golden Hinde (Southwark)

Aft of the Golden Hinde.

Our tour of ships continues with a visit to the Golden Hinde in Southwark. This exquisite replica of Francis Drake’s flagship is a short walk from the tube -- head through Borough Market and you’ll find it beside the Thames. Drake is usually painted as an explorer and adventurer, and was the first person to captain a ship all the way around the world (Magellan died en route). However, he also had his dark side -- plundering Spanish galleons and (as a young man) working on slave ships. The Golden Hinde is usually open as a visitor attraction, but is currently closed due to coronavirus precautions. You can still admire it from without, however.

Pirate Ship (Kensington Gardens)

Pirate ship at the Princess Diana Memorial Playground in Hyde Park.

Kensington Gardens is intimately connected with the Peter Pan stories -- you may have seen the famous statue of the Boy Who Never Grew Up. Captain Hook’s pirate ship can also be found in the gardens, inside the Diana Memorial Playground in the north-west corner. This absolute beezer of a play area will keep the kids occupied for hours. The pirate ship alone is replete with decks to swab, planks to walk, and mainbraces to splice (whatever that means). Older children can even climb the rigging to the crow’s nest. 

Pirate Castle (Camden Town)

Pirate Castle on the canal in Camden Town.

This curious building can be found on the Camden stretch of the Regent’s Canal. It serves a youth centre, putting on various activities including kayaking and canoeing, canal boat trips and school holiday schemes. The distinctive brown-brick, battlement-laden building was designed by Richard Siefert, better known for giving London the Centre Point and Tower 42 skyscrapers.

Maritime Greenwich

Cutty Sark figureheads on display.

Greenwich has long, historic associations with the sea. The Royal Observatory, besides its obvious role in astronomy, also packs in plenty of exhibits about navigation and seafaring. These include the famous marine chronometers of John Harrison, which were the first to measure longitude at sea. The National Maritime Museum, meanwhile, contains everything you could possibly imagine related to Britain and the sea -- including plenty of displays about pirates. Finally, the clipper ship Cutty Sark stands in pride of place on Greenwich riverfront. It’s clearly not a pirate ship, but does sport a fine collection of ship’s figureheads that wouldn’t look out of place on a buccaneer’s vessel. 

A Dead Parrot (Greenwich)

Dead parrot statue in Greenwich.

And finally… Every self-respecting pirate needs a parrot. Greenwich has one of these, too. Only it turns out to be a dead parrot. The surprising nod to Monty Python can be found near the National Maritime Museum, on the corner of Romney Road and King William’s Walk. I really don’t know why it’s there, but it feels like a surreal piece of hidden treasure on which to end this tour.

See also: More pirate craft ideas



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