Thursdays Special ~ Winding Our Way Round Kingsand and Cawsand With Some Pirate Tales Thrown In


The meandering streets of Kingsand and Cawsand were all but deserted when we went wandering there one winter’s afternoon. The twinned  villages fringe adjoining bays, clinging to the hillside above the Tamar Estuary in south east Cornwall. The river marks the county boundary – Devon, and the port city of Plymouth to the north, Cornwall to the south.

The communities of these rugged shores run together so it’s hard to know when you have left one and entered the other. They have always looked to the sea for a living, although these days this is more about providing seaside holidays for outsiders. The place had a determinedly deserted air during our December visit. Many of the houses are now second homes; unoccupied out of season.

Once, though, it would have been a teeming place – a thriving fishing community from the medieval period, and the centre of the pilchard trade from the early 16th century. You can still see the remains of the fish cellars, or ‘pilchard palaces’ that were built along the shore north of Kingsand. These were for the storage and processing of fish, and there’s a surviving example, the red sandstone building, on the far right of the next photo.


Smuggling was the other big business – its heyday running through the 1700s and into the 1800s. The place was a smuggler’s haven in fact – with some fifty vessels dedicated to the nefarious trade in contraband liquor.

And then there were the pirates. In 1604 one especially notorious rogue, a Kent man called John Ward,  upped the stakes of his earlier career as a privateer, and decided to join forces with the Barbary pirates of North Africa. He stole a French merchant ship off the Scilly Isles and headed for Cawsand, even then a well known centre for Cornish smuggling.  Mooring in the bay there, Ward went ashore and set about recruiting local smugglers to join his enterprise as a Barbary pirate.

The Barbary corsairs were slavers, mostly North Africans from Algiers, Tripoli and Tunis, but there were Dutch and Englishmen operating with them too. They terrorised Britain’s south west shores for 300 years, snatching people from their homes. By 1626 there around 60 Barbary men-of-war preying on communities of the Devon and Cornish coasts, and attacks were almost a daily event. A parliamentary committee of 1645 established that there were at least 3,000 English men, women and children held captive in Algiers. It was only in 1816 that combined British and Dutch forces ended their power, at which time four thousand Christian slaves were said to have been liberated.

As for Ward, he and his happy band of recruits wormed their way in with governor of Tunis, he who had made that city rich by providing a haven for pirates and taking a cut of their loot in goods and captives. Ward captured many ships, and directed his own pirate fleet. Then built himself a palace with his ill gotten gains and lived a life of drinking, gaming and swearing, to name the least of the vices he apparently indulged in. One wonders what happened to his Cawsand recruits. Did they ever go home? Ward himself gave up piracy, got married and took to raising chickens. He died of plague in Tunis 1622.

And now, after that little diversion, some more turny-twisty byways and shorelines from Kingsand and Cawsand, accompanied always by the sea’s ebb and flow on the nearby rocks, and the cries of gulls:







Thursday’s Special: winding.  Please visit Paula to see her astonishing interpretation of this week’s theme.

28 thoughts on “Thursdays Special ~ Winding Our Way Round Kingsand and Cawsand With Some Pirate Tales Thrown In

  1. It’s a shame that the villages are uninhabited outside the season – that sounds like a perfect time to visit them. I love the twists and turns in your narration and photographs, Tish. The one I am most curious about is a flower pot. What an unusual way of planting – at least to me, but I know nothing about the trade 😀 Thank you for this warm welcome and participation. I always learn something interesting and inspiring here.

    1. Ah, the flower pot. I think it’s actually a hay basket – the sort of thing that would have been in a stable on the wall above the horse’s stall. And then it’s got a coir fibre liner in it, to hold in the moisture, but it looks a little strange. And then, to cap it all, it seems to have been the object of a guerilla crochet attack. (A very genteel assault). So glad you could come for a wander with me – in words and pix 🙂

  2. What a wonderful story and photographs to wake up to with my morning coffee Tish! I really enjoyed reading your post, it was captivating to me. I love looking at the narrow streets and typical of English villages with flowers squeezed in between streets and homes and window boxes with flowers blooming. Something it just seems many people here in the US do not do. Myself being and have been an avid gardener understands.
    Your photography in this post is wonderful and reminds me of the type of village where Doc Martin was filmed. The photography of villages like this always looks so calming and serene! It makes me want to get out and take pictures of the past, small towns here that once were bustling with people, dotted over the countryside, long forgotten by time and larger cities and towns. Your post really makes you stop and think of how life used to be. Simply and wonderful post Tish!

  3. what a rich history you’ve have woven in these winding semi-deserted streets Tish (don’t get me started on the hogging of holiday homes). Had no idea about Cornishfolk taken into slavery – Roots 2 by the sound of it. Your 2nd image is a veritable painting.

  4. Your posts are a true delight. They always make me smile.
    A real Miss Tish classic, with smashing photographs to boot.
    You could easily produce a book filled with such tales and accompanying original photos.

  5. What a post! The colours in the first and last photos particularly are superb. And then there’s the colourful history told as only you can tell history. I did not know about Barbary pirates terrorising England, but then the things I don’t know about are in the multibillions, and then some. A pirate turned chicken farmer made me laugh – still piracy of a kind!

  6. Is this the Rame peninsula then Tish? I have never been there, but would like to. The villages look very much like St Ives or even Mousehole and it sounds as though they have been overtaken by the second homers too. So sad. I loved your pirates bit, I read a book a while ago about a woman from Penzance I think who was captured by a pirate and taken to live in North Africa somewhere, I can’t remember who wrote it and suspect it was fiction, but based on fact. There were a lot of dodgy characters around in those days!

    1. Yes this is the Rame peninsula. It’s an area of G’s family connections. His father came from Torpoint. It’s an area well worth exploring, and not very touristy. Lovely beaches at Whitsand Bay below Rame Head.

  7. Well it sounds like that was a scary place to live back then. I had no idea that Englanders were ever captured and sold into slavery. Plus ça change plus c’est la même chose. But oooo they look like lovely towns now.

    1. Yes, Alison. They must have been pretty scary places in the past. The corsairs plundered all across the Mediterranean apparently, and even ventured as far as Iceland, but my mind is still boggling at the thought of 60 ships off Devon and Cornwall.

  8. Seems like all these places on the coast have their very own pirate histories, this is most interesting, Tish. Beautiful impressions!

  9. I love visiting places like this in off season, but it can be a challenge, because a lot of tourist facilities shut down. Thanks for the beautiful tour, Tish.

    1. So pleased you could make it, Julie. And indeed, out of season visiting can definitely be very dodgy on the catering front, as well as much else besides. Too much shut-upness can be a bit dispiriting too.

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