THEY don't serve draught Guinness in the Ship Inn on Piel Island. But I didn't find out until after I'd been marooned by the ferryman, who also happens to be the publican. He got back into his open boat and went off to look for more customers, leaving me to contemplate a pint of Murphy's (which is a fair substitute). Within minutes he was back with another boatload, grabbed from the jetty at Roa Island half a mile away across Piel Channel. We became his virtual prisoners, because the ferry then developed 'rudder trouble' and service had to be suspended for a while.
The only other way off the island is to wait four hours after high tide and walk across the sands to the Isle of Walney. Nobody bothered. After all, a tiny island with a pub, a castle and a duck sanctuary is not a bad place to be on a sunny day. And you don't even have to pay the ferryman until he takes you back. There wasn't room for my bike on the ferry, though, so I'd left it chained to the lifeboat station at Roa where the road ends. Beyond Roa was the causeway stretching back to Furness, and beyond Furness rose the Lake District fells.
I was just looking back to see if my bike was all right when the man nearby spoke. He was from Furness. 'Have a look through them binoculars,' he said, 'and see if anyone's pinching deckchairs out of my front garden.'
You get an odd feeling of detachment on Piel Island. There are no roads: the Ship Inn stands at the edge of the turf, with the ruined castle looming behind. Lambert Simnel, the Yorkist pretender, landed here in 1487 and held his first court at the castle. The title King of Piel still remains. The ferryman, who is also the publican, is also the King of Piel. Very handy. Apparently, if I were to sit in a certain chair in the pub and buy everyone there a drink, he would be obliged to rescue me if I ever came to be shipwrecked nearby. I decided to risk it and took my drink outside.
By the time I got to the castle the sun had gone in, the scarecrow in a smallholding was wearing a cagoule, and it looked like rain. I decided to catch the next ferry back. The boat chugged up to the jetty and a few people clambered aboard. Half-way back, the ferryman collected the fares. 'Seventy-five pence,' he said. I handed it over. 'Each way,' he added, smiling grimly.
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