Golden Hinde review
It's almost a shame that I have to tell you about this place because it's much better left as a surprise. People should definitely find this place by accident and not be led there by a guidebook. You can tell who's not expecting it when they're walking down the claustrophobic Clink Street, because they'll suddenly come to a stop and start fiddling in their handbag for a camera.
This is the Golden Hinde II -- a near perfect replica of the ship that carried Francis Drake around the world. This is the ship in which the Elizabethean privateer (the polite name for a pirate) sacked the Spanish treasure ships, sailed round the tip of Argentina, up the west coast of America, and got back home in time to fight off the Spanish Armada.
The original ship became so famous that people used to visit it in the same way that we're visiting this one now. It lasted for a hundred years before the weather managed to do what the Spanish couldn't (sink it), and we had to wait another 350 years for this rebuild. And I know exactly what your first thought will be: you'll be standing here thinking that it's far too small. There are passenger ferries on the Thames that are bigger than this, and it's incredible to think that Drake had a crew of 80 blokes onboard for 33 months. Imagine having to live with 80 men for three years on that tiny thing! (Luckily 24 of them died along the way, freeing up some space.) You can get some idea of what it must have been like if there happens to be a party of school kids onboard. Whenever I walk past this boat it always seems to have been hijacked by a rowdy outing of primary school teachers and their charges (the kind of charges who charge and barge around the deck like pirates).
Luckily I'm on my own today, so I can have a good look round and describe it in detail. They give you a little sheet of paper telling you a few bits and bobs about the boat before you board, but you're better off just having a wander around and exploring. Poke your nose into all the cabins and galleys. Poke your eyes through the portholes. Poke your hands into the cannons... and pretend in your head that you're a 16th-century pirate.
Whenever you see an old pirate movie they always have a very ornate dining room where the captain sits with his crew, eating meat off silver plates and dripping red wine down their front -- it has one of them as well, complete with hanging lanterns and a big-backed chair where Drake would have sat. Obviously I sat in it. If anyone deserves to sit in the captain's chair it's me. After that I turned the big steering wheel and said Yo Ho Ho a few times. I would have climbed up the rigging as well but the guy behind the desk expressly forbids you from climbing up the mast. (As if anyone is daft enough to do that!) That is probably why they don't have pirate ships these days: because they'd never get the crow's nest past health and safety. It's not wheelchair accessible. They wouldn't allow any cannonballs onboard either, in case you dropped them on your foot.
It's when you go downstairs that the ship really comes alive. The decks downstairs are five feet high -- even your kids will have to duck. You literally have to walk around like an upside down 'L', or you'll crack your head on the thick oak beams. Believe me when I say it's cramped. You practically have to crawl. And it's dark. It smells of wood. You can faint noises coming through the wooden walls outside, and people's feet creaking the timbers above your head. It's full of cannons and barrels, caskets, baskets and lanterns... heaven knows what it must have been like with all the cannonball cracks and bangs and gunsmoke going off!
I think it's worth paying the entry fee just to have a look at the downstairs decks.
Events at Golden Hinde…
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