The UK’s Piel Island is looking for its new king

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Piel Island from Roa Island, Barrow-in-Furnace, Cu
Piel Island, seen from the harbour of Roa Island in Barrow-in-Furnace, Cumbria, England. (Getty)
  • The tiny Piel Island in the United Kingdom is looking for a new king.
  • The job involves running a pub, and looking after the island, notable for the ruins of a castle from the 1300s.
  • It means a lot of isolation, and being doused in beer.
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Piel Island needs a new king.

The Barrow Borough Council, a local government on the western coast of England, has started the process to find a lease-holder for the Ship Inn, a pub on the tiny island it says is popular with day-tripping visitors.

That lease includes maintaining a toilet block, and looking after the grounds of the island, which includes the picturesque ruins of a castle built in the 1300s.

The job would likely start in April.

The previous leaseholder bailed early, in May 2021, council documents show. Local councillors volunteered their time to do painting and other maintenance, and a Piel Island Pub Company was set up to run the site for a few months in 2021, in order to better understand the costs involved, the council said. Now it wants "a suitably experienced operator", ideally on a 10-year lease.

But running Piel Island comes with a couple of complications, The Guardian reported. The person in charge of the pub is traditionally crowned "King of Piel" in "a ceremony involving a rusty sabre which concludes with buckets of beer being poured over their head", reported the paper's correspondent for the North of England, Mark Brown.

Any other person who sits on the throne by mistake must buy drinks for everyone.

Running the island will mean long stretches of isolation, particularly during winter months, when Piel is largely in hibernation. 

Piel Island from space.
A satellite view of Piel Island. (Google Maps)

Local historians believe the island was visited first by Celts, then by Romans, in a history that spans 3,000 years.

In 1919 the Duke of Buccleuch tried to sell the island, but the mayor of Barrow intervened, and the island was ultimately handed to the town as a memorial to those who died in the First World War.

It was originally named Foudray or Fotheray, from the Old Norse for "fire island", likely after a burning beacon used to guide boats. The modern name is thought to come from a fortification built by monks in 1327, in the form of what is known as a peel or pele tower.

Between April and September, a £5 (R80) ferry ticket will take you to the island, where you can have a drink or meal at the inn. Camp sites are also available at the equivalent of R80 per tent per night.

(Compiled by Phillip de Wet)

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