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Ahoy me boys! It's Devon boy heaven down Plymouth way says OutUK's man-overboard Adrian Gillan!

Plymouth reeks of seamen. In 1588, Sir Francis Drake allegedly downed his bowls on The Hoe - there is still a well-kept green on the very spot - before boarding The Revenge to rout the Armada. Shortly afterwards, in 1620, The Pilgrim Fathers - en route from Southampton - struck out in The Mayflower from the harbour steps, to subjugate the New World with their Puritanical strain that still holds sway.

And there must have been immeasurable frigging up rigging, humping down holds and orgies at inns over the centuries - involving cute young cabin boys, randy pirates and manly mariners. All drunk as hell and miles from home: bless their naughty nauticals!
Perhaps Plymouth's modern day gay yarn - a somewhat short tale to be true - in part reflects an eroding of this historic city's links with the sea. What's more, Bristol - which frankly is almost in Wales - has shamelessly usurped Plymouth's rightful "capital of the South West" mantle. And nearby Torquay and Exeter have much in their own right to lure lush local lads astray.

FIRST PORT OF CALL

Yet all is not sunk. The ways have not entirely grown dark to a gay local or wayfaring queer. There are still beacons shining out like harbour lights, near the Hoe and down by the old harbour. A good first port is a couple of traditional gay pubs in West Hoe: The Clarence Hotel can't in fact accommodate at all but does offer a gay-friendly haunt that truly pulls in a mixed crowd, and it's nice and close to the deceptively butch-sounding Mechanics Arms a few short streets away.

ONE SWALLOW

Next berth? Bob down to the cobbled Barbican district just above the quaint harbour - about a ten minute stroll. Avert your gaze as you drift past the newly abandoned ship that was the Old Friary pub - locals seem unsure as to whether it's scuttled for good or about to miraculously rise from the waves. A few doors yonder you'll hit against a most provocatively named pub: The Swallow. Gay-run, it wears its heart on its sleeve - even nailed to the door - is the city's queer lifeblood and is packed to the aft come weekends. Open all day, its kitchen hatches also serve up tasty homo-lashings for daytime hungers.

Now that sizeable Legends (a.k.a. 'Leg Ends') around the corner seems to have also recently pulled the plug after a dramatic descent into the abyss, Zero's is the only show in town once The Swallow has flown and cleared its throat. Back up Clarence way and open most nights, Zero's basement - a labyrinth of sofas, bars, pool tables and loos - fills up first and then overflows onto the be-mirrored ground floor dancing space. On really busy nights and holidays a floor aloft also opens.

FOOD FOR THOUGHT

Apart from snacks at The Swallow, there are no gay eateries as such but you're unlikely to have problems at the numerous trendy cafés around The Barbican and harbour. There's no gay sauna either, but ample opportunities to shiver your timbers with some outdoor cruising in the pathways and gardens along the promenade and front - as ever, take care.

In Other Words is an 'alternative' book shop just north of the railway station, which sells gay books and mags, along with unusual cards, lamps and magical crystal things. And Moorings Guest House back at West Hoe offers an overtly gay-friendly dock, mere minutes from bars and yards from sea.

Plymouth is about three and a half hours away from London Paddington by First Great Western

THE LITTLE BLACK BOOK

Clarence Hotel (31 Clarence Place, Stonehouse; T: 01752 603827)
In Other Words (64 Mutley Plain; T: 01752 663 889; Website)
Mechanics Arms (31 Stonehouse Street; T: 01752 660 716)
Moorings Guest House (4 Garden Crescent; T: 01752 250 128)
The Swallow (59 Breton Side; T: 01752 251760)
Zero's (24 Lockyer Street; T: 01752 662346)

 

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