Rare and insightful trip to Plymouth’s Drake’s Island for ICE members

Many in Plymouth view Drake’s Island from a distance but few are privileged to visit.

ICE members on the Drakes Island jetty
ICE members on the Drakes Island jetty

Many in Plymouth view Drake’s Island from a distance but few are privileged to visit the island, which aeons ago was an outcrop of Cornwall and originally built upon to fulfill a vow made to the papacy during the 11th century.

Earlier this month a select team of civil engineers from the Institution of Civil Engineering South West and Plymouth City Club were privileged to make the short crossing with Bob King, Development Coordinator for the island.

Visitors were able to experience the rugged charm of the site and learn about the once militia- run, Napoleonic era fort. They learned that despite rumours of tunnels to the mainland, the only evidence of passageways are within the island itself – with a network of dark channels and damp rooms which still connect abandoned batteries, artillery housing and arched stone rooms.

Known as Palmerston’s Follies, because the mid-19th century Prime Minister planned the military development of the island, but failed to appreciate the rapid advances which would ultimately make the forts obsolete - the island is set to have new life breathed into it by developers.

Bob King revealed that the development team will give the site the respect it is due.

He assured visitors that due diligence and partnership working will ensure any works undertaken are not to the detriment of wildlife or valued relationships with stakeholders.

He said: “We have a legal and moral obligation to preserve and conserve everything through consultation.”

Nothing will dramatically alter the way the island looks or its impressive skyline.”

Visitors were treated to a full tour of the tunnels, batteries and the island’s highest peaks with breath-taking 360 degree views of Cornwall, the break water and the Plymouth coastline.

The current structures which originally housed squaddies and which will be developed, not removed, were out of bounds for safety reasons.

Full plans for the island are still under consultation but include the development of casemates as rooms to show guests the history of the island, a hotel and spa.

However, it was stressed that no heavy machinery would be involved in developing the site and no new structures would be erected on top of the island in order to preserve the integrity of the historic location.

There will also be a commitment to open the island to the public for a minimum of 15 days per year.

Plymouth City Club Chair, Katy Toms spoke for all 12 visitors in appreciation of the insightful visit and the fascinating presentation on the history of the island by Mr King.