After another excellent night’s sleep in John’s place and a cup of his almost lethally strong morning coffee, I was up and ready to face the day. As I mentioned earlier in these travelogues, John had been kind enough to take his day off to coincide with my visit but had to return to work that day. No problem, I had more or less got my bearings by then and knew I couldn’t really get that lost on such a small island. Having had a wonderful tour of the Northern portion of the place. I had determined myself to take on the much smaller Southern portion i.e. that part South of what passes for a village.
The first port of call had to be the only Church on the island, dedicated to St. Helen(a). I have put the a in brackets as I have seen it referred to by both names.
The Church, which is Anglican, is no longer in regular use although I believe occasional special services are held here. The image of the saint here suggests Helena as the proper name but that may just be a linguistic thing as I believe the inscription is in Latin.
A rather imposing but unlocked door opened to admit me to the place and the first thing I noticed was a pretty musty smell. It is obvious this place does not get much use nor even a good airing.
The font, simple as it is and is probably expected to be, is worth a look. It is interesting to see the various forms of crosses on it as opposed to the traditional.
The interior of the building is fairly sparse, and I had created a full review on the place for another website which I reproduce here should you be interested. It was initially entitled “The Kingdom of Heaven”.
“When you approach the “village” on Lundy initially on leaving the boat, there are two buildings that dominate the skyline. Away to the left you can see the Old Light which I have mentioned before but the building that most catches the eye is the much closer St. Helena’s Church, also known as St. Helen’s. As your stay on the island continues, you become increasingly aware of it, not least as it is a very handy landmark when you wander around, sometimes off the paths.
I am certainly no expert but I did not find it architecturally outstanding, built in 1896 to the design of Gothic architect John Norton out of stone apparently salvaged from demolished cottages. This in itself is something of a precursor of the current island mentality of recycling, which I have mentioned elsewhere on these pages. What sets it apart from so many parish churches on the mainland is the stunning location it occupies. There can be few churches of any denomination in the UK with a better situation. I hope the images give some idea and, again, an apology for the standard due to technical problems with my camera.
The first thing I noticed was that the Church was open, which is not the case in so many places on the mainland for reasons as regrettable as they are understandable. I suspect St. Helena’s is never locked, Lundy is not like that.
Entering the Church, I was immediately aware of a slightly musty smell such as you get in a place that is not often used. This is hardly surprising as the it is what is called an extra-parochial building. That means, I believe, that it is a consecrated building but does not have an attendant cleric nor regular services. At time of writing the original piece in September 2013, the incumbent was the Reverend Shirley Henderson from Hartland on the mainland but as far as I am aware, there are only very occasional services held here. (An update as I edit this in September 2018 is that The Reverend Brenda Jacobs is currently the incumbent). It appears they like female clerics here which could lead me onto another whole debate about the role of females in the Christian Church but I shall refrain.
I had the place entirely to myself and I plenty of time and quietude for a look round. I must confess to being slightly surprised at the interior decoration, which I found slightly incongruous with the exterior and surroundings. It was very pleasant and with what I thought was a slightly odd style for an Anglican church as it seems to be geometric tiling. I wandered around and saw what looked like a very grand organ although I subsequently found out that it no longer functions due to the salt air having affected it. Another feature affected by decay was the peal of eight bells which were installed the year after consecration but became unsafe in the 1920’s. They were actually removed in the 1950’s but a charity appeal managed to restore them in 1994. I must say, I would love to hear them peal out over the island.
The font is worth a look as it shows various forms of a cross which are not the standard cruciform of the Christian church.
I have often noted elsewhere on websites that I am of no religious faith but I do find places of worship (of whatever persuasion) fascinating and St. Helena’s was no exception. As for the slightly obscure heading for this entry, please allow me to explain. From 1834 to 1918, the island was in the private ownership of the Heaven family and the church was the brainchild of the Reverend Hudson Grosset Heaven and funded with financial assistance by another member of the Heaven family. The island and church were therefore known locally as the “Kingdom of Heaven”. You really should visit if you are on the island.
With my usual inquisitive spirit (for which read nosiness) I simply had to look up St. Helen(a) and found out that she was born of common stock, being referred to in at least one history as a “stablemaid”, and ended up as the concubine (i.e. whore) of the Emperor Constantius. She is probably best known for being Mother to the debatably bastard Emperor Constantine (accounts differ as to whether or not she actually married Constnatius) who only converted to Christianity on his deathbed. Apart from being in possession of various allegedly sacred relics of dubious provenance I can find nothing else that would mark her out for such veneration but such is the way of organised religion. Again, in the way of all things going round in cirlcles which I firmly believe in, she gave birth to Constantine in a place called Nis in modern day Serbia which I had the pleasure of visiting in 2011 and is credited with bringing a number of cats to the island of Cyprus which still has a massive population of them and boasts the St. Nicholas of the Cats monastery which I have also visited. Again, these places will feature in future blogs here if I live long enough to write them!
Having had a good look round the Church, I took off in a vaguely Southerly direction. That is one of the very many great things about Lundy, you cannot really get too far lost. You know you are lost when you get wet because you are in the sea!
Looking back, I was treated to a lovely view of the village which you can see here. I also managed some absolutely stunning coastal views (apologies again for the quality of the images) and the sense of isolation was wonderful. I also managed a lovely vista of the jetty where I had landed what seemed like so long before although it was only a few days. it just felt like I had been there forever, Lundy gets you like that.
The next thing of note I saw was South Light, one of the two lights which were built to replace the fairly ineffective Old Light, which I mentioned earlier on in this travelogue. Due to it being a working installation and apparently fenced off, I didn’t try to get near it but it was interesting to look at.
Walking on, I came upon this pleasant little pond. Now, I already knew that there was no natural water on Lundy except rainwater as there is nothing in the way of a river, stream or spring. I subsequently discovered that this was actually a test quarry pit for granite during the building of Old Light. Like the pond I had seen the previous day with my friend John, this pond has a population of carp that nobody appears to know the origin of and nobody knows how they survive with no apparent source of food. I really suspect someone is feeding them secretly but maybe it is just another Lundy oddity!
Right beside the pond is this rather odd looking thing. I took the obligatory photo and determined to discover what it was later. Well I have now so I shall explain.
This is a rocket pole, of all things. Rocket poles were used in the 19th century as a means of saving life at sea. Basically, the idea was that you fired a line to a stricken vessel via a rocket and then you could rescue survivors using it, thereby avoiding the need to launch lifeboats or whatever. I have spent much time around the various coastlines of the UK over the years and never seen the like of it but I had never seen anywhere quite like Lundy before either!
I am a firm believer in the concept of everything going round in circles and so, if I live long enough to post up all the writings that I managed to salvage from the remnants of two former commercial sites (14 years worth!), then I shall link this picture to a park in Southwest London, a British general from about 20 miles from where my remaining family live in Northern Ireland and whose grave I have visited in Canada plus the American national anthem. Go on, I know just about all of my (now) 18 readers and I know you are all smart people so work that one out!
The path seems to go on forever on Lundy. Along I wandered on a lovely day in July and was completely happy and contented, it really is an otherwordly place, it seems somewhat inconceivable that anyone could get stressed here.
Almost inevitably, I came upon Old Light again fairly soon, it really does dominate this part of the island. Again I shall reproduce a piece I originally wrote for the now sadly murdered Virtual Tourist website. I have been rummaging about in my files and found all these bits and pieces which took me literally hundreds of man hours to write and it seems like a shame just to waste them.
“The not very imaginatively named Old Light on Lundy is, as you have probably guessed, a lighthouse and is not so much a thing to do as a thing you cannot avoid. It dominates the skyline to the West of the village and is well worth a visit. Old Light has a fairly interesting history most of which was related to me by the wonderful John Gayton.
As I have mentioned many times elsewhere on these pages, Lundy is a most beautiful place but, frankly, it is a damned nuisance for shipping sitting where it does and has a most appalling record of shipwrecks, not all accidental! In the early 19th century, it was obvious that something needed to be done and so a group of Bristolian shipowners offered to construct a lighthouse if the landowners would provide somewhere to build it. This was duly done and the light was finished in 1820 to the design of one Daniel Asher Alexander, the chap who also designed the fairly grim Dartmoor Prison. As well as the lighthouse itself, which is fairly impressive, he also provided quarters for the lighthouse keepers adjacent to the light. These have been very sensitively restored and are now available as some of the excellent holiday lets which keep the island financially viable.
The only problem with the light was that it was effectively pretty useless! Basically, the fog that often engulfs the place rendered it none too visible and the lighthouse keepers had to resort to firing a cannon at regular intervals to warn shipping of their presence.
Like so many other places on Lundy, they don’t lock the door so you can just wander in whenever you like. A word of warning however, the stairs are pretty steep and if, like me, you are not great with heights then you might not enjoy it too much at the top despite the stunning views. If you are not worried by the vertiginous climb and fancy relaxing and enjoying the vista, they have even very helpfully left a couple of deckchairs up there on the platform that formerly housed the light. I am glad I saw it but I don’t think I’ll be going up there again!”
Here is yet another image of this wonderful building.
Having done it the previous day, I didn’t feel the need to climb it again, so I contented myself with a few photos and then went back to the adjacent Old Cemetery for a better look.
On the way back to the Old Cemetery I saw a quad bike which seems to be the preferred mode of transport for a lot of the Wardens on Lundy. In a place without a proper paved road and a very limited amount of vehicles, it seems like a pretty good option to me.
Relatively untended and with various crosses (many of Celtic design) rising from thick grass and undergrowth, the cemetery really is a mystical place and made all the moreso when you read a little of the history of it and the attendant mythology.
Again, I shall reproduce my original tip here if the reader is interested.
“It will come as no surprise to regular readers of my travel pages but I love pottering about in graveyeards, churchyards, cemeteries, call them what you will. I find them endlessly fascinating and great sources of social history. Like just about everything else on Lundy, the old cemetery is unusual and slightly mysterious and I loved it.
It is unusual insofar as there are appear to be two distinct periods of burials, early Christian and 19th / 20th century, at least as best I could make out the stones. What happened to all the burials in the intervening period, were they all taken to the mainland? Even on an island as small as this, it really is a small plot to have had that period of use.
There are a number of early Christian stones standing here but with no graves, and it is believed they were moved here after being elsewhere, nobody really knows. They are all inscribed with Latin inscriptions (some time after the Romans had left Britain) and there are various theories about who they may have been.
Whilst researching this piece, I came upon another mystery. There was a grave here of a semi-hermit, originally of high birth, who went by the name of St. Nectan and is believed to have inhabited the island in the 5th century. I say there was a grave as the remains were eventually disinterred and moved to Hartland in Devon. However, I have read a contrary view that Nectan had lived in Hartland all the time and was murdered there and buried locally after the rather grisly scene of having walked a distance carrying his head which had been severed by a robber! Miracles were associated with his burial place there and there is no mention of Lundy at all. I am no archaeologist or historian so I won’t offer an opinion and shall as always leave it to those better qualified and to the reader to make up their own minds.
The place, as you can see, is fairly unkempt but I know the wardens have plenty else to keep them busy and it is probably not a priority. Anyway, to me it only added to the appeal. Apart from the ancient gravestones, there are many graves and memorials to members of the families that owned the island, and again I was struck by the fact I could find no marker for (ordinary) islanders. I am not actually sure how many of these stones are actual graves and how many merely memorial stones as I did read that the last interment here was 1978 and there are certainly memorials post-dating that.
Given it’s position and solitude, it certainly exudes an air of spirituality of one sort or another. You certainly should have a look round here if you are walking round Lundy”.
Onward, ever onward on a reasonably decent track and back towards the village, having completed my loop of the South of the island. Back to the village and a couple of pints of something reviving in the delightful beer garden of the Marisco Tavern. I don’t think I could have been any happier just then. I even spied something I had inexplicably missed before behind the bar, the pickled eggs!
This is going to be one of the slightly odder observations I am going to make about Lundy but it is something the visitor may easily miss and really should do. Allow me to explain.
I love eggs and I simply adore pickled eggs which have been a staple of pub snacks for as long as I can remember. Heaven knows, I have even been known to pickle my own now and again and very nice they were if I may say so myself. For those of you who do not know the concept, and there may be many, pickled eggs are basically shelled hard boiled eggs pickled in vinegar and whatever spices you fancy, I normally use black pepper, a few chillis and a couple of cloves of garlic but you can suit yourself.
I like eggs so much I have even eaten balut in the Philippines. Again, for the unitiated, balut is a partially fertlised hen’s egg which you crack the top off to reveal a semi-formed chicken foetus which you then liberally dose with chilli vinegar and eat. Sounds pretty awful I know but it tastes gorgeous and is a national delicacy.
Anyway, back to Lundy and the pickled Lundy duck eggs. Well, that is an absolute must do for me. I had seen a few ducks wandering about, free range like just about everything on the island and I had spoken to the farmer who rears them. I love duck eggs on the odd occasions I can get them fresh as they are far tastier than chicken eggs in my opinion. I paid my 60 pence, applied a bit of white pepper (must always be white pepper for pickled eggs, never black) and bit into it. I don’t want to start gushing here but I have never tasted a pickled egg like it, it was superb. A beautiful pickling mix, wonderfully tasty egg and the yolk was even ever so slightly soft, not dry and powdery as is so often the case with the commercial varieties.
I am not expert on many things but I do know a thing or two about pickled eggs and you really should try them. I didn’t notice if they were available in the shop for you to take home or are merely for local consumption. Pickled egg heaven!
Whilst enjoying my pint and a smoke in the most wonderful beer garden, I actually managed to do something I had been attempting for days.
I know it is never going to win Wildlife Photographer of the Year but I am very proud of the image above. I mentioned in an earlier portion of the piece that there is a colony (if that is the right collective noun) of sparrows on the island which are invaluable for ornithological research and I had been trying for days to get a picture of one of them. Two problems arose. One, I was only using a little compact camera and secondly, have you ever seen a sparrow sit still for more than about three seconds? If you think of moving towards one (even at a distance), they are off! So here it is, my one and only Lundy sparrow image. Thank you so much Mr. or Mrs. Sparrow.
Back into the Tavern and I simply had to have another one of the beauties called Lundy pickled eggs. Well, that was dinner sorted for the evening.
The day was winding down nicely but as always it was not over yet. During a lull in dinner service, John popped out of the kitchen and asked me, in his delightful Scottish way, when I was going to get that f***ing guitar out of the case. It was my last night on the island and I hadn’t played a note yet, probably to the great relief of the drinkers in the Tavern. It was the last opportunity I would have and I had dragged the thing all the way here so it made sense and I popped across the main street to the other side of the village which was a round trip of about 200 yards, if that, and returned with my beloved Tanglewood. I do own guitars that are supposedly better and certainly more expensive than this baby but they are all gathering dust in my flat. I love this thing so much, battered and bruised as it undoubtedly is. Any guitarist of any standard, including my appalling one, will tell you the same. You just get one and it feels right. This one (bought in an emergency where I had limited funds and was going to tour Scandinavia with my Takemine laid up in the sick guitar hospital) is a case in point.
By this point I had had enough throat oil / Dutch courage (pints of cider) inside me and so out it came, quick tune up and I took off on one of the stranger gigs I have played and believe me there have been some strange ones. The gig itself was not odd as I ran through some of my fairly limited repertoire, it was just the location and the vibe of a group of people who had all chosen to be “stranded” in this beautiful and remote spot. Obviously everyone present “got” Lundy as I did and the vibe was superb, any musicians reading this will understand, you just know when it is “right” and this was as right as it was ever going to be.
I was lucky in that one of the group of divers who were camping out the back of where I was staying turned out to be a very competent guitarist so we ended up sharing the musical duties and it turned out to be a great night. I would include the one image I have of the man, whose name I regrettably never learnt, but it really is too awful due to my refusal to use flash, even in the dark in late night pubs.
Perhaps the highlight came late in the piece when John, having finished for the evening, persuaded the affable bar manager to join him in a rendition of “Flower of Scotland” which was memorable to say the least. The bar closed bang on time as always although we did play on for a bit but quit just before midnight to allow everyone to get home before the power went. For my last evening on Lundy it was a cracker and John and I took off for a nightcap and then to my makeshift bed on the floor for another great nights sleep. This really had been some trip.
I get off the island in the next instalment so stay tuned and spread the word.