| Tours > Sir Francis Drake > Plymouth's
In Search of Sir Francis Drake
by Kathryn Gillett, Elizabethan England on Britannia
53 Miles South-West of Exeter
From Canterbury, I
criss-crossed westward to Plymouth - the city that considers Drake
it's native son. Lawrence's sister, Lorna had kindly offered me a room
in her home for the few days I would be exploring the historical richness
of the area. When I arrived, Lorna was still at work, so Lawrence's
mother, Gwen, had driven across town to warmly welcome me. Lorna joined us
in time for a beautiful supper of baked chicken and 'veg' (vegetables
to this American), and we passed a lovely evening together - just us
I had a long list of things to
do and see whilst in the area. Drake was born just north of Plymouth in
the Parish of Tavistock. Later in life, after becoming a legend in his own
time as a globe-trotting mariner, explorer, and defender of the realm, he
became Plymouth's mayor - excelling at that, as well.
Poor Plymouth. It was so
heavily bombed during World War II that little is left of its
architectural heritage. Yet many buildings from Drake's day still stand
and function as public places of business in the Barbican district. Here,
a beautifully restored Elizabethan garden stands as a reminder that during
Drake's day, this part of town was where wealthy merchants lived. Now,
the buildings hold shops, restaurants and pubs of various sorts. I spent
an entire afternoon there, Lorna joining me for a memorably delicious
lunch of fish and chips.
Most of Drake's expeditions
left from Plymouth. As I stood on the quay, I could imagine Drakes'
small band of ships lifting their sails as they headed out on the top
secret mission my book will center on. Waving farewell to their loved
ones, most of the crew thought they were on a peaceful merchanting trip to
North Africa. But they would soon find out they were instead on their way
through the deadly Straits of Magellan to raid Spanish ships along the
Pacific Coast of South America. No one, not even Drake, could have
foretold the events in their adventure that would force them to
circumnavigate the globe. Instead of leaving home for a few months, some
of them would not survive, and others would not see their loved ones again
for nearly three years.
Sailors today respect the
dangers of global circumnavigation. But these were only a part of what
ancient mariners anticipated as each day dawned. What we consider to be
superstition today was then thought to be known fact.
Even though mathematicians and
Magellan had long since proven that the earth was round, some sailors
still believed a ship could become trapped in the fatal current of the
mother-of-all waterfalls - and be helplessly swept off the world's
edge into a void of no return. Sea monsters could swallow ships whole. And
the Sirens' songs were so compelling that sailors advised each other to
strap themselves to the ship, thus evading the fatal mistake of diving
into the sea to join these deadly enchantresses. Yes, I thought as I
headed back to my safe and comfortable car, it took an extremely
adventurous spirit to journey out amongst those dangers.
Next Stop: Outer Plymouth
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