Ever since Sir Francis Drake allegedly killed time playing bowls whilst waiting for the tide to change on the Spanish Armada has Devon’s southern-most city been firmly rooted in the rugged map of British history. Indeed, that apocryphal event in August 1588 ensured Plymouth Hoe’s legendary status and is woven not only into the city’s history but also its connection to the waters that surrounds it. Saline runs through the veins of Plymouth with marine life forming a strong part of its identity.
Plymouth was one of the ports visited by the great settlers of the New World – the Pilgrims of America, as they set sail for a better life aboard the Mayflower. Their eventful journey was punctuated for a time with a few days ‘in port’ in Plymouth prior to setting sail from the Barbican back in 1620. During their stay, the 102 English Separatists left an indelible mark on the city and the Mayflower Museum helps to plot their epic voyage and story.
Devonport, the largest naval base in Western Europe has been anchored in Plymouth since 1691. Covering a vast area of 650 acres and with 15 dry docks, four miles of waterfront, 25 tidal berths and five basins, the base is hugely important to the city. The Navy continues to be a significant jewel in Plymouth’s crown, providing employment for 2,500 Service personnel and civilians but, far from allowing its naval connections past and present to consume it, the city has created a vibrant, contemporary setting for a variety of pursuits that encompass industries from the marine to the creative and foodie.
The Royal William Yard Harbour is Plymouth’s tangible evidence of the city’s naval heritage diversified. Set in Grade I and II listed former Royal Naval victualling buildings, the Yard provides a rich, historic setting for a bustling, cosmopolitan space filled with cafes, bars, restaurants, attractions and offices – with a stunning waterfront backdrop.
The National Marine Aquarium in Plymouth sits on land reclaimed from the sea. Since 1998 the aquarium has been the nation’s largest. It is home to an exciting variety of fish and sea life whilst being a big player in the world of marine conservation and research, engaged in projects that seek to tackle issues around sustainability, preservation of reefs, animal welfare and the importance of inspiring the next generation of marine scientists.
Since 1793, Plymouth has been home to its very own gin distillery, Black Friars – the oldest working distillery in England. Based in a former monastery that dates from the early 1400s, the building is protected and one of the city’s most highly prized monuments. It’s colourful history, prior to becoming a distillery includes spates as a debtor’s prison, a Non-Conformist meeting place, a billet for Huguenot refugees and a resting place for the aforementioned Pilgrims who spent their last night in England there. Visitors can take a tour of the distillery and explore its fascinating building, its history and, of course, its fantastic world famous gin!
Being by the sea, visitors to Plymouth are surely duty bound to dip their toes into the water, or dive straight in to the 1935 Art Deco lido, Tinside Pool? Open from May through to September it sparkles bright and turquoise, with pristine stripes next to the deep blue Plymouth Sound which surrounds it.
For culture vultures, Plymouth’s Theatre Royal and the Plymouth Pavilions offer packed programmes with music, comedy, plays and musicals to tickle a variety of fancies. Embracing your inner Torvill and Dean is also permissible, with a trip to the Pavilions very own ice-rink.
Dartmoor National Park sits just a short car journey from the centre of Plymouth and makes for an easy day trip. Within the Park is a tempting selection of hotels and restaurants from the Exeter and Heart of Devon Hotels & Restaurants Association. It couldn’t be easier to extend your trip with a night or two away and make the most of the delights of Dartmoor and the city of Plymouth.