If you are staying around Plymouth and fancy a really interesting day out, head for the winding cobbled streets and historic harbour of the Plymouth Barbican. Most tourists browse the shops, dine at one of the quaint pub restaurants and cross the footbridge to the Aquarium, but they walk right past the real gems.
Plymouth Gin Distillery
This white-washed building on historic Southside Street is the source of all Plymouth Gin, which is distributed the world over. Guided tours of this fascinating distillery run throughout the day and include some educational gin tasting before being neatly steered into the souvenir shop.
Like the surrounding area, the Plymouth Gin Distillery goes back centuries. The original Dominican Order monastery was built in 1431, hence the name Black Friars Distillery by which Plymouth Gin is also known. It is said that some of the Plymouth Pilgrims spent their last night on British soil in the monastery before boarding the tiny Mayflower just yards from the door and sailing off to America in 1620.
The guided tours takes visitors around this remarkably small distillery, showing the different stages of gin production, from the crushed juniper berries to the massive stills. It is a fascinating behind-the-scenes tour, highlighting not just the gin-making process, but also life in the Barbican over the past centuries. By tradition the naval officers were supplied with gin, guaranteeing Plymouth Gin a steady trade. The tour finishes in a tasting room where guests are offered tasters of the various smooth Plymouth Gin products, including sloe gin.
If you want a souvenir of your tour, pick up a bottle of Plymouth Gin in the shop and note the lovely label which shows the Plymouth Mayflower on it ‐ now you know why! It is said that when the ship is no longer afloat, it's time to get another bottle!
A stroll further along the street will bring visitors to the Dartington Crystal Glassworks which has fascinating glass-blowing demonstrations and great views across the harbour and its locks. Fishing boats, tour boats and luxury yachts can all be seen coming and going in this busy marina.
Around the back of Dartington Glassworks is another local secret ‐ Captain Jasper's. Famous for its yard-long breakfast baguettes (known as Big J's) washed down with a pot mug of tea, Captain Jasper has fed countless hungry fishermen, locals and visitors-in-the-know since 1978 from his landmark take-away hut on the waterfront. It doesn't need a sign ‐ you can smell the bacon and sausages half a mile away! Help yourself to condiments from a series of gadgets, smile at the corny signs and enjoy a feast for less than â‚¤3.
Further along the waterfront is the Hoe, said to be where Francis Drake was coolly playing bowls when the first ships of the Spanish Armada were sighted. Nowadays it is a pleasant green park to stroll and sit, with wonderful views across Plymouth Sound to the breakwater watching the naval warships manoeuvre the tricky channel around Drake's Island.