To mark the 300th anniversary of the death of the notorious Blackbeard, Chris Leadbeater sets sail in search of treasures.
Gaar! Have at ye, scurvy dogs. ’Tis the ghost of pirate most hairy, Blackbeard, here. Thursday, the 22nd of foul November, is the 300th anniversary of the hour I was slain, on the island of Ocracoke in North Carolina – ending a career of pillage, plunder and not returning library books. Doth it thrill me that my death is the hook (gaar, a little pirate pun there) for this mini-feature on buccaneering behaviour? In truth, when thou hast been dead for three centuries, thou willst taketh all the coverage thou canst get. And Ocracoke is a grand place. Thou shouldst come and visiteth it: visitocracokenc.com.
The demise of the fearsome fellow known to his mother as Edward Teach – in a firefight with the Royal Navy in 1718 – has become a selling point for North Carolina, whose tourism website (visitnc.com) suggests a trail “in Blackbeard’s Footsteps”. Stops include the North Carolina Maritime Museum (ncmaritimemuseumbeaufort.com) in Beaufort, which holds artefacts rescued from his ship, the Queen Anne’s Revenge – as well as the Ocracoke hotel Blackbeard’s Lodge (doubles for £76; blackbeardslodge.com).
There is more to North Carolina than a long-deceased sailor who didn’t use a razor. Bon Voyage (bon-voyage.co.uk) sells a 10-night The Charming Carolinas road trip that visits coastal endgame Cape Fear, plus the Outer Banks (where the Wright Brothers first flew), as well as neighbouring South Carolina. From £1,925pp, with flights.
On April 26 1717, the Whydah, a pirate ship under Samuel “Black Sam” Bellamy, sank off Cape Cod. Its remains were discovered in 1984 and are on display at the Whydah Pirate Museum, Provincetown (discoverpirates.com). A nine-night Best of Plymouth, Cape Cod and the Islands odyssey costs £1,124pp via americaasyoulikeit.com.
Pirates of the Caribbean. What is it now – about 18 films, all much the same, starring whatshisface who tries to be Keith Richards. Is that still a thing? Maybe. But while the movie franchise might not be a gift to the cultural gods, it has made fine use of Dominica, which was damaged by Hurricane Maria last year, and needs some love. Responsibletravel.com offers a 16-day walking break from £1,914pp (flights extra).
The 17th-century Jamaican and British outpost Port Royal was known as “the wickedest city on Earth” owing to its population of privateers and rascals. An earthquake in 1692 destroyed much of it, but you can see traces (such as Fort Charles) near Kingston. Seven all-inclusive nights at the Beaches Ocho Rios Spa, leaving Heathrow on Jan 12, start at £2,134pp with ba.com/holidays.
The Seychelles were uninhabited in the 1720s, and used as a base by pirates. Some think the runes on the rocks of Bel Ombre Beach on Mahe were clues to hidden treasure. Seven nights at Carana Beach Resort, leaving Manchester on Feb 16, cost from £1,993pp; destinology.co.uk.
Jolly guys named Roger also needed unmonitored places for repair and recuperation in the Caribbean. The north shore of Tobago and its quiet coves provided many such locations. It still does – and Pirate’s Bay, in the north-east corner of the island, is as undeveloped now as it would have been in the skull-and-crossbones era. Seven nights at The Villas at Stonehaven cost from £1,499pp, with flights, via tropicalsky.co.uk.
Poor Sir Francis Drake. Part-pirate, part-Elizabethan explorer, and the most famous Drake on Earth for 400-odd years – until the Canadian rapper-entrepreneur-actor turned up. Still, is the Toronto Drake featured in the newly opened Tudor and Stuart Seafarers gallery at the National Maritime Museum, Greenwich (rmg.co.uk)? No, he isn’t.
The Caribbean can be a bit far with children in tow. And frankly, do your kids deserve a week of sunshine? No! Not when you can fob them off with a day at Disneyland Paris (disneylandparis.co.uk; adults from £47, three to 11s from £42), where the Pirates of the Caribbean ride is still operating. Mummy, is this Cuba? Yes, dear.