Well! What a cracking couple of hours that was… We have spent the last few years (I moved to Plymouth in 2014) sat on all sides of the Sound overlooking Drakes Island and wondering what the place is like and on Friday we got to see it for real. When the opportunity came up, it would have been churlish to turn it down.
It must be said that the site is a “work in progress” which is an interesting take, it is early days on their project and there are lots of areas that you cant get to or have scaffolding and fences. For us, it was all part of the charm, we definitely intend to visit (probably each summer) to see how the progress is going. Right now, there are four of five main areas and the three tour guides are obviously excited about the future. Saying that, there is plenty to see and wander around, just don’t expect a visitor centre, informative plaques, a coffee shop and the normal things you’d see at a tourist attraction. It is a building site while the team get the site under control.
Getting there is easy enough, the Silver Crest goes from Mount Batten Terminal (yes, you have to wear a mask) and its a 15 minute trip across the Sound to the jetty on the island. We parked at Jennycliff and got a quick walk down to the terminal, leaving us half an hour or so to wander around the Mount Batten Breakwater.
The first part of the tour is outside the building complex that you can see from the Hoe. They will end up being the Admin centre for the hotel, stores, kitchen, restaurant etc., but were historically the Officers and (separately) Ratings quarters, Canteen and so on. The tour guides have some stories about the staff over the years and while I am sure its the 20th time they’ve been told, managed to still find them funny.
As with most of the Island, there are lots of lookout points and great views.
Further along are the remaining guns that used to protect the Sound from attack, we were told that they could reach out past the Breakwater. Theres a long convoluted tale of how the others were removed, well worth a listen! There is also a project to restore some of them for display and one of the chaps there was around in the 80s, the last time any of them were fired. Interesting!
The one at the back is 25 tonnes, not including the trailer.
Next is the Caissement area, the curved seaward facing group of rooms that would have taken a gun each and faced outwards to cover the Sound. These are the areas that are going to be the hotel rooms in the future and the views are going to be stunning!
The highlight of the tour are the tunnels that would once have been storage, communications and shelter for the gun platforms and they genuinely reak of history. The tour guides make this good fun, getting people to turn off all the lights on phones and telling ghost stories which is a giggle. There are odd rooms off to the sides which are closed off, but still lots of little nooks and crannies to explore.
After the tunnels, we went up to the top of the island, where the flagpole would have been, for a round-up of the visit, a good 20 minutes photo-taking and some more stories and information on the site. The tour guides really are enthusiastic about the project and being tour guides is secondary to other roles they have on the build. They lament the abuse the site gets which is completely fair, witness the graffiti and damage done by people coming over in the night-time and being daft. There is less history here as a result and that is a real shame. They appear to have a plan to get on top of this, but without 24 hour security it is going to continue to be a problem as they keep expanding the usable areas.
I had no idea that the rocks that can be seen at low tide and that block shipping from the one side of the island are really man-made obstacles put in place to stop incursions by enemy craft. Thats probably the “new information” win for the day!
After that we went back down to the Jetty, jumped back on the SIlver Crest and jumped off at Mountbatten Breakwater, wandered back up to the car at Jennycliff and that was the day done. The Silver Crest did go around the back of the island, which may not happen every time, so that was a treat as we had not been that close to that side of the island before.
We had a great visit, it is a building site for the most part so do not expect a polished tourist experience. On the upside, its very much a chance to see the island before it becomes one and to keep up to speed on the development. The team are great, the place is safe and clean, we were lucky with the weather and that helped a lot. If you get the opportunity, we can only recommend the experience, especially if you havent been over before.
Strava works on boats too! :o)