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Kathryn Gillett, Elizabethan HistorianTours > Sir Francis Drake > Plymouth's Barbican Dictsrict

In Search of Sir Francis Drake
by Kathryn Gillett, Elizabethan England on Britannia

Plymouth's Barbican Dictsrict
53 Miles South-West of Exeter

Elizabethan Garden in Plymouth's Barbican District 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 three girls.

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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