I awoke on the morning of the 20th July which promised to be another lovely day and so it proved. I was a little sad as this was my last day although the positive was that the boat does not leave until the afternoon so I had a few more hours before I had to go.
I packed in no time flat (I always travel light) and had a quick tidy up. John had been such a wonderful host I didn’t want to leave the place in gash order. A final slightly wistful look back at the quarters and quick image (shown here) and I was off towards the Black Shed of which I have spoken before. They say you should never look back, they may be right.
I knew the drill by now, and again it is interesting how quickly you can adapt to the pace and procedures of island life here.
Back to the Black Shed (mentioned previously) and I dumped my kitbag in the big wooden box on the back of the tractor. There was nobody about to tell me to do it, I just knew what the score was. I am not saying I am particularly smart as I am not but you just sort of know these things, it is difficult to explain really. Naturally, I kept the guitar with me as no baggage handler is ever getting that and I stowed it in John’s kitchen store so I could go for a final walk round the island which I knew pretty well by now.
I passed the sole postbox on the island and I would like to tell you something about the history of the postal system here which I think is interesting.
It might sound like a pretty obvious thing to suggest that you send a postcard or two to friends and relatives back home but on Lundy even this simple act takes on an added dimension. As I mentioned earlier there is only one of most things on the island and so you buy your postcard from THE shop and eventually post it in THE postbox (pictured) so what else is required? Well, a stamp obviously and here is where the interesting part comes.
The General Post Office, as it was, ceased operations on the island in 1927 due to lack of business but now Lundy stamps are one of the mainstays of the economy here. The Harman family started issuing stamps and these are accepted by the Royal Mail, as it is now called, for delivering your postcard or letter from Bideford to anywhere in the world in the same way as a normal UK stamp bearing the Queen’s head. However, there is one important thing to remember. It is customary in the UK to affix your stamp to the top right hand corner of your postcard but that is reserved strictly for Her Majesty so you must stick your special Lundy stamp to the top left corner. I believe I am right in saying that if it is a letter rather than a postcard you affix it to the bottom left. The very nice chap in the shop will steer you in the right direction as to the ins and outs of the system.
Lundy stamps, especially the older ones, have become much sought after by philatelists and fetch good prices so it really might even be worth sending yourself a postcard or two as a commercial venture. Perhaps they’ll be worth a bit in a year or two.
Speaking of letterboxes there is another pastime on the island vaguely related to that although it has nothing to do with the item pictured above.
Lundy is a place of incredible natural beauty with many excellent images online although mine are somewhat marred by equipment failure. Why then would I choose to include an image of a slightly grubby Tupperware box scribbled on in felt tip pen? Allow me to explain.
I am not sure whether to refer to it as a game, challenge or whatever else. Perhaps it is all things to all people and it is known as Lundy letterboxing. Basically, you buy a clue book from the shop and it guides you to various locations where the boxes are. You use a little rubber stamp in the box to endorse your book and prove you have been there. As well as the static clues, there are one or more “roving” letterboxes, which are known as Lundy Bunnies. As I was with a local resident for a lot of my walking, I didn’t think it would be fair to do the letterboxing as he knows where everything is but for other visitors it seems like great fun.
Speaking of the shop I suppose I should tell you a little about it here although shopping tips are not generally my forte but it is really rather easy on Lundy as you have a simple choice. You can either go to THE shop or go without! Like so much else on the island, there is only one although in fairness it is rather good. If any of you have ever seen the old British TV sitcom “Open All Hours” starring the late Ronnie Barker and David Jason you will get the idea, although Lundy Shop is bigger and carries a far wider selection. You can literally buy just about anything here from food and drink (there seems to be plenty of drink), hardware, souvenirs and, of course, Lundy postage stamps to put on your Lundy postcards also available here (see above).
The place is run by Nigel, a charming bloke who is always willing to pass the time of day and will even explain the protocol of the Lundy “puffin” stamps to you. If you are visiting the island for more than a day-trip, you can pre-order supplies from the shop and they will make up your order and even deliver it to your place of temporary residence. Fortunately, I can eat and drink just about anything but if you have any dietary needs for whatever reason then I am told that the shop can source just about anything for you from the mainland if they are given enough notice. Please do give them sufficient time though as obviously everything has to be shipped to the island either by boat or helicopter and the logistics do take time.
As you might imagine, there is a good selection of local produce here and I can tell you that the it is very good as well as being all the thing foodies love like organic, free-range, low food mileage and so on. Even if you are only day-tripping, why not take home some local foodstuffs as well as the more traditional souvenirs?
Incidentally, I am told that the sign pictured is the only directional sign on the whole island although it is pretty irrelevant as you will not miss the shop, believe me.
I went to the bar, paid my tab and said fond farewells to those of the many new friends I had made who were there, and then set off for the walk back to the boat. I had decided that I was going to wander down the pathway rather than the main “road” that the tractor would take. I knew it to be scenic and I wanted another look and an image of the magnificent Millcombe House, which you can see here. Millcombe was originally called the villa and renamed by Martin Harman when he bought the island in 1925.
Should you wish to, this wonderful structure is available for rent as a holiday let and can accommodate up to 12 people. I can personally vouch for the beauty of the view from the front of it. Should you be interested here is a link.
I must have cut a slightly unusual figure scrambling down a fairly steep slope with a guitar case slung over my shoulders but I am no stranger to cutting an unusual figure, I have spent half my life doing it! On and down, picking up a pretty decent track and heading towards the jetty where I spied the Oldenburg waiting to carry me back to the mainland. I did try for a slightly “arty” shot of it, despite the camera problems I was having, and this is about the best I could manage.
I also passed the marker stone pictured and which I had inexplicably missed before which commemorates the landing place of T.H., so who exactly was that? One of the Harman family perhaps who are synonymous with the island. Well no, as they did not get here until years later. It commemorates the 1819 arrival of Trinity House who are the body that administer all lighthouses and lightships in the United Kingdom. Conincidentally the actual Trinity House, which is a very fine old building, is within easy walking distance of my home and will feature in a future blog entry here if I ever manage to get them all published.
I continued on down the track, had a quick cigarette on the quay, and embarked on the Oldenburg. As soon as I was on board I was greeted warmly by Glyn the purser, who I had met on the island, bought a pint and seated myself. I sat with a very pleasant couple I had met in the Tavern the night before and we continued our conversation from the previous evening. Embarrassingly, they were very complimentary about my performance and tried to get me to strike up another session on the boat but I managed to talk my way out of it. Lundy seems to have a knack of making friends out of strangers. In truth, Lundy has a knack of doing many things.
As we pulled away from the jetty, I excused myself and wandered up on deck for a last look at the place I had just had such a wonderful time. I watched with a fairly heavy heart as the island receded. Now, I have no doubt that it was either the wind, which was blowing a little, or perhaps a smut from the smokestack of the old boat but I can tell you that my eyes seemed to be watering a little.
Returning to the for’ard saloon and my delightful company, I spent a very pleasant couple of hours in conversation with a pint in front of me and soon enough, we were pulling into Ilfracombe harbour.
Back on the mainland or terra firma or the real world or whatever you wish to call it I bade a warm farewell to a couple of the crew that I had been chatting to and also my charming travelling companions before going down the gangplank and back to “the world”. Although my kitbag was promptly delivered in perfect condition, I couldn’t help but feel that I had left something behind. I had, it was a part of me.
After this fairly long travelogue how can I now summarise Lundy for those of you who have been good enough to read through it? The truth is, for a man with usually far too much to say for himself, I really don’t know.
Lundy is unlike anywhere else in so many ways. It is a place of stunning natural beauty, a huge history including some fairly mystical things, a place of extremely friendly local residents, partially driven undoubtedly by the fact that it is entirely dependent on the tourist trade for survival. It is a small, peaceful corner of the UK without many of the trappings of modern life and is in so many ways a step back in time.
I would suggest that only a miniscule proportion of the population of the UK have visited Lundy. When I was talking to people about going there, only a small number of my friends had even heard of the place and yet it is one of the most fascinating portions of our nation. I have no doubt that there are places in the Scottish islands for example that would rival Lundy for natural beauty, interesting flora and fauna and a small, friendly community. However, I do not know of one that exists under the circumstances that Lundy does, maintaining a tourist industry to self-sustain, making a modest profit from recycling (Lundy is extremely “green”) and with the unique conditions that it has.
I know I was in a priveledged position insofar as I was hosted by one of the excellent people that live there full-time but something that was said to me several times over my short visit there was, “You either get Lundy or you don’t”. Believe me, I get it, I get it more than you can perhaps understand and I really do urge readers to go to Lundy if they ever get the chance and see if they can “get it” for themselves. Trust me, you will not regret it.
It was still early afternoon so I could not check into my digs and so I set off for a wander as I had not seen much of the town on the way out.
It was undoubtedly just fortune (those travel Gods again) that guided my steps and I certainly had no real prior knowledge of the town but I found myself outside the Ship and Pilot pub in Broad Street not far from the ferry landing point. In the words of an old Irish song that I still sing occasionally in my set, “I thought a quiet pint wouldn’t do me no harm” and so in I wandered. At that point I had genuinely not heard of the place nor read John’s glowing report on the old Virtual Tourist website obviously as he didn’t write it until two months later. Without consultation, we had both decided it was a great pub.
Walking in, I was presented with a great atmospheric old-fashioned “proper” boozer. I was greeted in friendly manner by a young man and enquired as to what ciders were on offer. He duly recited the list, indicating them in turn. OK, it is the West Country, where they pride themselves on cider you could run internal combustion engines on, but this was ridiculous. There were ciders there that would undoubtedly have stripped paint. I plumped for what appeared to be the least suicidal, well it was not even two in the afternoon at this point, I was humping a guitar case and a kitbag and hadn’t even found my digs yet. I have made that mistake before!
For the beer drinkers amongst you, there was a large selection, mostly apparently from local breweries and, as pictured, the premises had been awarded a very high CAMRA award recently (2013). For readers who may not know, CAMRA is the Campaign for Real Ale which champions proper beer as opposed to chemical keg rubbish and also real ciders.
Having declined John’s very kind offer of a professionally cooked breakfast (was I mad?), I reckoned that eating might be a good idea even though I rarely eat in the hours of daylight and I had spotted a tray of excellent looking rolls behind the bar. I opted for the roast beef and horseradish (pictured) which can never be designated at haute cuisine but that is to miss the point. This is a pub and the food offerings are merely there to soak up the drink. Not Michel Roux for sure but a damned good filled pub roll all the same. Indeed, I am sure M. Roux would have approved. Nice fresh roll, a generous portion of very tasty roast beef and a good dollop of horseradish ensured that it was devoured in fairly rapid order.
I had noticed a TV screen in the rear of the bar showing cricket. Now the sound was not loud or obtrusive, it is not that kind of place, but I fancied watching it as I like a bit of the old leather on willow. I found a spare seat and settled myself down. I have subsequently found out that this place used to have a reputation as a bit of a “rough house” but this was certainly not the case when I visited. I was engaged in very friendly and interesting conversation by a number of people as the overs mounted up and the wickets tumbled.
After several hours, I decided I had better make a move to get to my digs and bade a fond farewell to my new best friends, delightful people all. I am not worried about what this place used to be like, I speak as I find and I had found this to be a delightful place with an excellent selection of drink, nice atmosphere, friendly locals, professional staff and…… well that’s about all you need, isn’t it? Oh, not quite, the toilets were spotless as well!
I had a mental map of where I was going (no smartphones for me in those days and even now I cannot operate one) and so started heading in that direction when I came upon the sight pictured above. In stark contrast to the excellent pub I had just been in, here was the Bunch of Grapes, closed and up for sale or rent. I took the image for the Lost Pubs website which is excellent if somewhat depressing. A little research now in 2018 would suggest that it has thankfully re-opened unlike so many others.
I did not want to be too late checking in so I moved on and found the Lamb which had not suffered the ignominious fate of the Grapes and so it was in there for a quick pint as I knew I was close to my hotel. A decent little pub and very friendly (they seem to be terribly sociable in Devon) and, in the way of trying to keep this rather old experience fresh and keeping myself from getting lazy in my old age, a bit of research indicates that in 2018 it underwent a makeover when it was re-opened as a fine dining restaurant. It is run by a Michelin starred chef and his mate who holds the record for running round the world in the fastest time (I swear I am not making this up). Look here if you do not believe me. Not only that but the whole enterprise was bankrolled by crowdfunding which I have but a small idea about. This really is the 21st century and I am getting too bloody old for it. Still, if they retain at least a portion of what this place was like then they will have made a very good start.
Not wanting to be too late I completed the final leg to Wentworth House. I would include a link here but it appears they do not have their own site and I really do not want to promote any of the numerous booking sites that are apparently taking over the world and strangling decent little businesses on the way.
I arrived at a fine looking old building and rang the bell, to be greeted by a charming lady. I should make a small point here. For many years, seaside landladies were the butt of some pretty unflattering humour, specifically by stand up comedians, and from memory it was not all totally undeserved. I can remember having had some right old harridans to deal with in years past. I must say, however, that this group of people appear to have embraced whole-heartedly the concept that they are in the “hospitality” business and things are much changed now. On this particular trip I stayed in two establishments in Ilfracombe and one in Torquay and was greeted with the utmost civility in all of them. I submit this for the information of overseas readers who may still have the notion that British seaside B&B’s are intrinsically unfriendly, this really has not been the case for years.
I was shown to my room on the first floor and facing the main road. This did not prove to be any sort of problem as it was extremely quiet at night. About the first thing I noticed was a sort of tray affair just inside the door with a label asking you to deposit your footwear there. I do not know if this indicates that it is hiker friendly (there is some lovely walking hereabouts) or just a general thing but it was certainly no hardship to get the boots off and wander barefoot on a very decent carpet.
The rest of the room was furnished to a very good standard and I have to say the bed subsequently proved to be extremely comfortable. The en-suite was spotless and I was to find out that there was an abundant supply of hot water. The other usual facilities were in evidence, TV, tea and coffee making facilities etc. and I was very pleased with my choice.
I did notice that the establishment offers evening meals in addition to the breakfast and apparently prides itself on serving traditional British cuisine. I was heading out for the night so did not avail myself of that and indeed had told the proprietress that I would not be troubling her for breakfast as it is a meal I rarely take. I cannot, therefore, report on the quality of the food. Obviously I was travelling solo as usual and had been given this double room as single occupancy for £32 per night, which I thought was very competitive in high season (July). A check of the website shows that now (2018) it would run a bit more.
If I had one minor, and it is minor, criticism of the Wentworth it would be that it is a little way out of the main area of town and up a bit of a hill (important if you are carrying luggage and on foot) but perfectly walkable if you are not i.e. when you have checked in. Obviously this has the advantage of making it very peaceful and I was really pleased with my “blind” choice.
After a quick wash and brush up it was time to hit the town and this is where things become a bit vague. I obviously sampled a few more of the local hostelries and ended up somewhere the name and location of which are long lost to me. There was a band playing and they must have been OK or else I would not have stayed until the hour indicated on my images. I don’t tend to hang around if the band is rubbish. Almost inevitably, I got up and did a couple of numbers with them but do not even ask me what they might have been as my recollection is vague to say the least.
Leaving the mystery pub at closing time I went in search of a bite to eat as it was a long time since the roast beef roll but there was a bit of a problem.
Before I found a takeaway I managed to find another watering hole with an even later licence. At least I think they had but either way they were still open and busy. Well, it would have been rude to walk by and so that was another pint or two and by the time they threw me out of there it was very late.
The streets were more or less deserted as you can see from the image and I was not too hopeful of finding anything to eat but the travel gods were on my side again and I found Chick’n’Land in the High Street still going at 0200. Job done. Quick order of Southern fried chicken, back home to scoff the lot and a great night’s sleep in the very comfy bed. Yet again, I am sure the cleaners hated me but it was bloody tasty!
I’ll be having a wander round Ilfracombe in the next instalment so stay tuned and spread the word.