Good day one and all and thank you so much for visiting my little site here.
For those that do not know me, I am to technology what a sumo wrestler is to synchronised diving i.e. I just cannot do it. I have just conjured up a mental image there that I really wish I hadn’t.
I have owned this site for about eight months now (as of December 2018) and have been working very hard trying to resurrect writings from long ago which were previously on other websites, one callously killed off by illegal corporate greed and the other by lack of interest by the owners.
Eventually I have worked out how to pin (I believe that is the techie term) this so it remains at the top of my front page. I have decided that the only way for me to make any vague semblance of sense here is to backdate the entries of my various trips to the relevant dates which may make them hard to find and so I am creating this page to assist you – hopefully! I shall keep you informed here of completed travelogues and those under construction.
Firstly, I did write for a while for a decent website called blogspot.com which I know is much used by travel bloggers. If you want a look at what was admittedly a very user friendly site and looks like not being killed off any time soon, then here is a link to my pages there. They deal mainly with my trip to the Philippines in 2012 but also with an earlier trip round SE Asia which happened to coincide with my 50th birthday shortly after I retired. There is also the beginnings of a piece on a month I spent in Malta but which I never really finished there and so it will be migrated here and a link posted in due course. Note that it is still under construction.
If you want to know about rather unusual trip which happened in 2017 when I went to meet a friend for four days (and had packed accordingly) in the Southern part of the Netherlands and flew home from Rome eight countries and over three months later then look here.
If you want to know about yet another trip that took rather longer than expected then have a look at my recent excursion back home to Northern Ireland which is detailed here. A week for a family reunion turned into two and a half months but that is the way I am.
As I mentioned above I started a blog on my trip to Malta in the blogspot site but I left there before it was finished so I propose to make that my next project here. Yes, the first few days will be unashamed cut and paste from the former site (I do not believe in wasting energy) but hopefully I can bring that to a conclusion here relatively quickly.
After that, I am very much in your hands. I have three extended trips to Canada to write up, three to Sri Lanka, another couple to Northern Ireland and a few to Scotland. I have a month on Madeira to write about and many other adventures besides. If you have anything you would like to read about, please tell me. It is all the same to me, it will all take time but this really is my last chance at writing online. If this one goes wrong then I am out of here.
Perhaps Burma, Lao or Cambodia are you your liking or maybe a great trip through a couple of the former Yogoslav Republics (Serbia and Macedonia) with some dear friends plus the briefest of side trips to Albania. Honestly, I was there for 15 hours, border to airport via Tirana. Imagine visiting a particularly secretive country where you never had a penny of the local currency in your pocket, did not speak a word of the local language and still got where you needed to be. That was Albania, proper “flying by the seat of my pants” travel and I loved it, I must go back some day. The Algarve in Portugal, Greece and Cyprus are all in the mix as well.
Please get in touch if there is anything you would particularly like to read about and I shall certainly prioritise it. As I say, if I live long enough it will all get done sooner or later and I do not really mind what order I do it in.
As for the image which heads up this page, it is not really very relevant to anything I have written here bar a passing reference to Burma. I just wanted to liven up the page with an image and this is one of my favourites to the extent I have it as a screensaver. It was taken from the grounds of the Shwedagon paya in Rangoon, Burma at sunset which is undoubtedly the best time to visit if you happen to be there. My dear Burmese friend Zin had very graciously given up her day off to show me round that fascinating city and we had had a great time. Not only do I find it aesthetically pleasing as it is one of my few half decent amateur efforts but it stands for the reason I travel, the reason I write about it and, ultimately, the reason this site exists at all.
Right, so much to do and time I got back to work so, as always, stay tuned and spread the word.
I woke well rested on the 21st to a lovely Devonian July morning. I skipped breakfast as I did in those days, said goodbye to the lovely landlady and took off into town. I had been sad to leave Lundy but had delayed the “end of trip downer” by my very pleasant day in Ilfracombe and had even planned a lateish train to eke another few hours out of it. These days, I would probably just have kept on moving but I didn’t travel like that then (well, only occasionally).
I am conscious that I have not told you much about the town. My general impression was that it was a very pleasant little North Devon seaside town with a bit of a bias towards tourism. It is a small place of some 11,000 souls and has survived over the centuries as a maritime staging post and fishing port. Like most of the fishing fleet in the UK it is diminished now to the point of extinction, more or less destroyed by EU regulation. I only hope there is enough will and money to restore the UK fleet when we get out of that appalling farrago of self-seeking, unelected, bloated Eurocrats and can again fish our own waters properly and sustainably.
As a staging post it’s major function is as the departure point for the wonderful M.S. Oldenburg (as mentioned in previous entries), the non- aerial route to Lundy which is still very popular and rightly so. It no longer serves as a place to embark British troops to go and quell the “rebellious Irish” as it has been in the past.
Times move on and for whatever reason the “modern artist” Damien Hirst seems intent on buying up the whole town even though he is not from there. He has several properties already and when I visited in July 2013 I was informed he was in negotiation to buy even more. His totally incongruous and massive statue dominates and somewhat demeans the harbour area. Still, if he can earn a reported £10 million plus for a dead animal pickled in formaldehyde he can probably afford it! Leaving the ludicrous Mr. Hirst aside (and I would), on my brief acquaintance with it Ilfracombe seems to be a pleasant enough place to spend a couple of days so what interesting things could I find?
Literally a couple of minutes down the hill from my hotel was the rather lovely Church of the Holy Trinity. It is no secret from my writings that I find cemeteries / graveyards / churchyards (call them what you will) endlessly fascinating and never pass up an opportunity to visit one if I can.
The church was originally built in the 12th century and modifications began in 1321 on the orders of Bishop Stapledon when the nave was lengthened and aisles added. This was the first of numerous alterations over the centuries resulting in the rather pleasant building you see today. Regrettably, it did not appear to be open so I had to content myself with a wander round the fairly extensive churchyard which was, after all, my primary purpose. I did, however, spot a fine example of a sundial on the exterior of the building (pictured).
It was a fascinating place and I had it all to myself, spending quite a bit of time there. I noticed an interesting thing I have only rarely seen in UK graveyards, namely the fairly anonymous gravestones with only initials and year of death given. I am guessing these must be paupers graves when there was insufficient money or family to erect a more ornate memorial. One example is given here.
With the possibilities of the graveyard exhausted another very short walk of about the distance Usain Bolt covers in less than ten seconds took me to the War Memorial and Garden of Remembrance.
I have written elsewhere about my interest in these memorials and even contribute to the excellent Imperial War Museum Inventory of War Memorials. I never pass up a chance to pause at one, take a few images for the website and spend a few moments in quiet contemplation of the many millions who have given their lives, and continue to do so, in defence of my country. In fact, and purely coincidentally, I originally composed this report on Remembrance Sunday 2013.
The memorial itself is of a not uncommon design, a column surmounted by a bronze statue of “Victory” which was sculpted by Courtenay E.M. Pollock (1877 – 1943) and was unveiled on 11th November 1924. The names of the dead of both World Wars and more recent conflicts are commemorated here.
Omward, ever onward, and the time to go was approaching but not before time for another pub visit. Again time has dimmed the memory and my inexplicable failure to take an identifiable image means that I cannot remember the name of the pub where I spent a few hours. What the images do suggest is that the establishment boasted a skittle alley, which you rarely see any more, and a rather incongruous chopped motorcycle.
My images also remind me that there were not one but three varieties of Thatchers cider on draught and I have no doubt I sampled them all. I don’t recall ever having seen the Cheddar Valley before or since.
Time waits for no man and all too soon it was time to make the slow walk to the bus and onward to the very pleasantly preserved Barnstaple railway station for the beginning of the long but uneventful trip back to London where I arrived fairly late in the evening so it was off to my own bed, leaving the pile of mail on my mat to be dealt with on the morrow.
So ends the tale of my trip to the West Country and Lundy Island. It was a wonderful week away in glorious weather with as much history, mystery, scenery, flora and fauna as you could wish for in one of the most beautiful regions of my country. Whilst all this was wonderful I always maintain that my travelling is not so much about places but about people and I had made some new friendships not to mention spending my time in the company of dear friends, some of whom I had not seen for a while or only known online hitherto.
As always and as I conclude this piece, I would most sincerely ask for any feedback on what I m trying to do here. Do I write too much? Are there too many (or too few) images? Is my writing style rubbish? Would you like more links and practical information or less on the principle you can find them for yourselves? Honestly, any and all constructive criticism is more than welcomed. I want to try to make this site as interesting as I can and I am only able to do that if I know what you like and dislike. Don’t pull your punches, I rarely do!
I do hope you have enjoyed my efforts here and I am already planning my next travelogue so stay tuned and spread the word.
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.
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.
If you have have come to this page other than by visiting the start of this travelogue, I suggest you start at the beginning as it will make a lot more sense.
If you have read the earlier sections, you will know that I had managed to get myself to Lundy in one piece, met the wonderful John Gayton who was very kindly hosting me, had a few pints in the wonderful Marisco Tavern, met a few of the locals and then retired for the night. Actually, there is not much option but to retire for the night as, even with it’s isolation and lack of police presence, the Tavern closes bang on time and then the electric goes off at midnight so there is not a whole lot to do. In truth, the place never physically closes as they lock off the bar area at night for obvious reasons but they never lock the door so that campers can shelter if the weather turns nasty as it can do at any time of year.
John had very kindly arranged his day off for the next day to show me round the island, which was decent of him. We woke at a reasonable hour (I don’t do early mornings) and after another excellent coffee we donned the boots and took off. When I say took off, I really mean it. I like to walk a fair bit, have long legs and can keep up a reasonable pace but the second image on this paragraph shows you what I looked at most of the day, namely John disappearing into the distance at a rate of knots. If you ever go walking with the man, you have been warned! We yomped across the campsite, turned right past the Old Cemetery and approached the Old Light which dominates the landscape on this part of the island. If, like me, you love graveyards, don’t panic, I shall deal with it in the next entry when I explored it in more depth.
We walked in through the open door and began to climb. Open doors are such a feature on Lundy I do believe that a locksmith would starve to death for want of business. We climbed and we climbed, I thought we were never going to stop climbing. I have mentioned many times before on various forums (fora?) that I am not good with heights and I was already starting to get a few butterflies in the stomach. The staircase itself is fairly precipitous to say the least, as you can see in the previous image. Obviously, it was built as a functional building in the 19th century and not as a tourist attraction but be aware if you do visit.
Onward and upward until we finally achieved the platform of the original light and, on an island full of oddities, one of the most incongruous things I have ever seen. Someone had dragged two deckchairs up there and placed them on the platform, as you can see.
I have no doubt that if heights do not bother you then sitting up here would be an absolute delight, the views are stunning. I did take a view and, yet again, apologies for the image quality due to technical failure. Also the guard rail features a bit but I wasn’t going to get that close to the edge!
I mentioned earlier that the main ways to get to Lundy are the wonderful M.S. Oldenburg or helicopter when the weather is inclement or the boat is laid up for winter refit. Certainly, if you are lucky enough to have your own boat you can land and moor here for a modest fee (most divers do), but there is one further alternative. If you look closely at this image, you may just be able to make out light aircraft in the middle distance. This, believe it or not, is Lundy airfield. As far as I could make out, it is a strip of grass that they mow with a load of stones up one side of it but apparently it does get some use. This is proper SOE landing in occupied Europe during WWII in the dark, in a Lysander and inevitably in a field stuff. I think I’ll stick to the boat!
Having negotiated the descent without major mishap, John took off basically Northwards. Just by Old Light we saw this wonderful old building which houses a couple of the Wardens. Apparently, the Warden in the right-hand building is Cornish. Can you work out why? Answers on a postcard please. Insofar as we had planned anything, and John and I are not really renowned for planning things, we had planned a vaguely clockwise navigation round the North end of the island, so off we went along what you can see is a reasonably well-trodden track.
We left Old Light, the original lighthouse on an island which contstitutes a serious shipping hazard. There is not going to be too much in the way of text further here, it is merely provided to show the reader some of the stunning scenery on Lundy if I can ever locate the images on my totally disordered little system! I know that stunning is a term far too frequently associated with the word scenery but, in the case of this place, it is perfectly justified. It just goes on and on and we hardly saw another person all day, even at the height of the season.
There is a real sense of wildness here and John was very helpfully giving me the “guided tour” and explaining everything. Well, at least he was when I could catch him up. I tell you, that man can move! Incidentally, this was as close to the edge as I wanted to get! There are some fascinating rock structures along this stretch as well. I know that the economy of the island was effectively built on granite quarrying and I am no geologist so I don’t know if this image depicts that rock or not. They were fascinating to look at, mind you.
Here are just a couple more to give you an idea.
I really cannot believe I have written so much on a travelogue and I am not even at lunchtime on the first full day. I really have to write less!
Lundy has a fairly hard history, it was a practical island based, as I say, on granite quarrying in recent centuries but boasting a vaguely mythical more ancient history (Christian saints, pagans etc, of which more later). It is, in many ways very prosaic as people here did not have time for romanticism or mysticism, they wanted to know where the next meal as coming from and would their home survive the next storm. This is reflected in the naming of places. Old Light is the old lighthouse, North Light is the Northern lighthouse and try to guess what South light is!
The same thing applies to the Lundy walls. This island is only about half a mile wide and is divided East to West by three walls. This allows the animals, which are all either feral o rdomesticated to be allowed to run more or less free anyway with unfettered access to a certain portion of the potential grazing. They are very imaginatively named, travelling South to North as Quarter Wall, Halfway Wall and Threequarter Wall. Hardly Jane Austen but at least everyone knows what and where they are.
If memory serves the image here was Quarter Wall and John was, as usual, over it like a mountain goat. I know he does this a lot but this was getting ridiculous, I just couldn’t keep up, especially if I stopped for a photo opportunity. Damn, I was on holiday, not signed up for basic training again!
Sadly, John didn’t get a chance to show me all he wanted to. I took a look at a couple of the completely precipitous paths he wanted to take me down and there was no way it was going to happen. Sorry, John, I really am but too much for me. I do not do exposed heights well and he would have ended up having to have me SARed (Search and Rescue) which would have been unhelpful all round.
We trekked on and it was then that I caught my first sight of the famous Soay sheep. I had read about them and John had told me about them so I really wanted to see some. I subsequently checked the website hyperlinked here hopefully and found out that they originated on the island of Soay which is near St. Kilda many miles off the Scottish coast. Nobody knows how they got there but research suggests they are similar to the mouflon seen in the Troodos mountains of Cyprus which I have seen and I do appreciate the similarity now. They were introduced by a chap called Harman who owned the island for a time and seem to thrive. The other species he introduced was the Sika deer (see same hyperlink for details) which was originally from Japan.
If you look at the image above, despite the technical problems, count yourself lucky you got to see the animals face. John has been trying to photograph them for some time and swears blind that they will always present their rear end to you. This was the standard view I got of them. Not attractive I know but I present it merely in the interests of honest reporting!
Onward, ever onward, still trying to keep up with John and the next thing of interest we came upon was this obvious millstone. John told me they had used it to grind up stone when they were building Old Light for making cement or mortar or whatever else. Frankly, I know nothing about building techniques, never mind Victorian building techniques, so I will pass no further comment. It was a nice looking millstone though.
I should say that I included the image of the Soay ram above because it was about the best wildlife image I got with my broken compact. I think that beast looks positively Satanic, don’t know why, it must be the horns.
Still on we go. This is what passes for a, sorry THE road on Lundy, in fact this is one of the better bits of it but on an island where the very limited number of vehicles are all terrain, why would you bother paving a road? That would be madness.
If you look closely at the image (flawed as it is) you will see a sort of cairn stone to the right of the track and possibly just another one further on to the left. John explained this to me. I have already spoken at length about the Old Light and explained that it was, to a great extent, useless. The many low clouds and frequent fogs made it completely redundant so the poor lighthousemen had to trek all the way up the coast to a place known as the Battery and fire off guns on a regular basis to warn shippping that there was a great rock here. So bad were the conditions on the island at times that it was easy to get lost even walking a vaguely designated path and so these stones were erected every 30 paces so they knew they were not disorientated and about to walk off the cliff. Hard work indeed and the stones stand as testament to what those men did all those years ago.
After having had to avoid some wonderful sights because I didn’t fancy the downward paths we eventually ended up here, at what John laughingly refers to the roundabout. Well, hardly a major junction on the M1 but it sort of appealed to me. This is as far as you go unless you want to descend to the shore yet again on a path that would scare the hardiest mountaineer. I had a quick look and decided it wasn’t for me!
By now, we had walked just about as far North on Lundy as you can go without getting wet or dead or probably both! We decided then, to turn back and come down the East Coast which would bring us back home, or more properly the pub! I am sure John knew what this place was and undoubtedly told me but I really cannot remember. I suspect it was a workers house from the 19th century.
Another relic here, another derelict dwelling, another piece of crumbling history and very very much older than that in the previous image. You find this about Lundy, it has a few hundred year old history which is really fairly well-documented and you also have a much more ancient history about which very little is known despite the best efforts of historians, archaeologists and all the rest of the specialists. Maybe that is for the best. Lundy is such a completely otherworldly place that perhaps you don’t need to understand it, you just need to appreciate it. I certainly did.
Having read up a bit on the island, this may be the “home” of a medieaval or even pre-medieaval holy man but, as I say, nobody really knows. It just sent a shiver up my spine thinking of who might have been here before. So on we go.
As always, John was heading off like a greyhound that had just seen a hare and as always your humble narrator, unfit, middle aged and trying to stop for a photo every so often, was trying to keep up. This shows what is effectively the main road and is easily walkable.
Just a quick practical word here. The track shown earlier looks easy to walk and indeed it is. However, I would suggest that if you are going to walk round Lundy you have proper boots with some sort of ankle support, it can get a little tricky in places. I don’t mean hugely expensive alpine boots, just something that will support your ankle if you go over. As you can see in earlier images, John wears just ordinary working boots, not specialist mountain boots but they give support. OK, end of safety lesson!
An easy flat walk and we came upon another place which is available for hire and I believe it does not even have electricity (I think it is the only one on the island not connected to the generator I have mentioned previously) so if you want isolation in the most beautiful surroundings this may be for you. It is called Tibbetts. It certainly ranks for “off the beaten path” with anywhere I have ever seen in the world and apparently on a clear night you can see no less than 14 lighthouses from here! It was built in 1909 as a Coastguard facility but this is as remote as it gets. John was going to give me a look round but the laundry on the line indicated it was currently inhabited so we gave it a respectful berth and walked on South. Regrettably, the image for it rather stubbornly refuses to be found in the wreckage that is my computerised filing system but the link above will give the reader some lovely professional images.
I know from looking at my maps etc. in retrospect that we were now approaching one of the places I was most looking forward to seeing on the island, the VC Quarry. For those readers not perhaps British, the letters VC mean only one thing, namely the Victoria Cross. The VC is the highest military honour available in my country and is given out very rarely and only for acts of extreme heroism and only in the face of the enemy. Civilians may be awarded the George Cross for similar acts in non-combat situations. I had researched this a bit and really wanted to see it as I do like military history and it fascinates me.
Scrambling down a fairly steep track (which terrified me, needless to say), we came upon this place. OK, it doesn’t look like much, please allow me to explain. I somehow managed to overcome my fears as I was not going to come to Lundy and not see this. This is what Lundy is about and, on a place of such peaceful beauty and tranquility, it really does strike a very jarring note, as I hope to explain.
I may have mentioned on my other entries that the island was owned for many years by the Harman family who were engaged in quarrying granite. Comes the Second World War in 1939 and the son of the Harmans, named John Pennington Harman decides that trying to stop Nazi / Italian Fascist / Japanese world domination is not a good thing so decides to enlist in the Forces. He enlists in the Queens Own Royal West Kent Regiment but not as an officer which would be easy for him given his connections. He would have been readily accepted into any Regiment with a commission, barring the Guards perhaps. No, young Harman decided he was going to join as a private soldier, a decision that strikes a chord with me.
By 1944, he was fighting in the so-called “forgotten war” in Burma / India and was awarded his VC for an act of extreme heroism in a place called Kohima. His father set up the memorial you can see as the young Harman used to love sitting here in his youth just looking at the sea. I can well understand his fascination with the sea off Lundy. My uncle Tommy was tortured to death by the Japanese in that conflict although he eventually died in Changi in Singapore, so you can see how it was a bit personal to me.
As the first photo shows, people still remember, as well they might. Storming heavily defended machine gun nests in the jungle is not a thing many men would do and I was deeply touched and felt honoured to have visited this place and it was with a slightly heavy heart and a bit of an introspective mood that we headed on down the track.
I was a little sombre as we walked on because my uncle had been murdered by the Japanese in the same conflict. Strange that a very quiet, peaceful and beautiful place could evoke that emotion in me. Anyway, I make no apology for including another image here and we shall wander on back to the excellent Marisco Inn now. It was a very moving site and I thank John for taking me to it.
Not far from the quarry mentioned above, we came on this place. OK, it looks a bit odd, and I had certainly never seen anything like it. As always, John explained it to me.
Lundy really has a unique structure. For example, I never knew that a sparrow would not fly over water. Did you know that? I see sparrows all the time here in London and just ignore them. However, there is a University who have introduced a colony of sparrows here (I believe it is either Warwick or Sheffield) and they have researchers here all the time. The fact that they cannot “escape” off the island means that scientists can study their nesting, breeding, feeding habits and everything else.
I would assure the reader that these “traps” are entirely harmless to the birds. These are not trappers, they are scientists and hugely interested in the welfare of their charges. Really, I spent three days trying to take an image of one of these sparows, and it was hard. Do you know know how fast they can move? Anyway, this is actually a scientific piece of equipment, trust me on this. Nothing on Lundy abuses the animals in any way, they are very strict on that. Maybe that is yet another reason why I love it so much.
Next up on the walk was what looks like an oversized pond. For a place with no natural water sorce except rainwater, this was a bit odd. What was completely mind-blowing, and I use that term advisedly, was that there was a group (school, I don’t know) of obviously sizeable and well-fed carp in here.
Now, my mate John knows just about everything about Lundy and he does not know how they got here. More to the point, how the Hell do they feed? There is no natural source of feeding for them in here. In a place that is inherently magical, this was truly mystical. Are they some sort of magical creatures? I have no idea but my best guess would be that they were introduced by the last family that owned Lundy and are kept alive by a secret “keeper of the carp”. I would love to see the manifest on the Oldenburg to see if there was any fish food listed. One way or another, it was just yet another outstanding experinece on an outstanding day. However, after a brief photo op at the pond, John was off like the mountain goat he is and I was soon panting like a wind-blown horse.
I am not being unkind here nor revealing any secrets but, for a man that smokes and drinks as much as John does, he is a bloody marvel. I thought I was still pretty fit, despite my smoking, drinking and generally dissolute lifestyle, but I was really struggling to keep up. He should have been a soldier instead of a chef! The next place we visited was actually rather sad and I am going to devote a few pictures to it here bucause I think it is worth it.
The Landmark Trust who, as I said earlier in this travelogue, administer the place as their core business, restore old buildings on behalf of the National Trust and let them out so they can “earn their keep”. They are effectively holiday lets in the most stunning places. Sadly, despite their sterling work all over the island and basically running it, this was deemed to be too far gone for repair. This was the managers / surgeons / engineers quarters and so they had the best views. They are truly indescribable so I am not going to attempt it. I am no Shakespeare, Byron or Betjeman. Just have a look and think what kind of a holiday place this would make. It appears it is just not financially viable, which is a shame.
As you can hopefully imagine, if I have done any sort of job in describing it, I was just about suffering sensory overload by now. Apart from the Robinson Crusoe gig of being on a rock in the middle of nowhere effectively, I had been wandered around this most unusual and awe-inspiring place by a guy that knew it so well. Well, that is what I travel for so it was a bit of a return to earth to see these beasts grazing. I know i keep going on about it but everything on this rock (sorry, island) is completely free range, as I believe the modern expression is. I explained about the walls earlier. I met the farmer, who is a lovely man and he has no idea where he is going to find duck or chicken eggs the next day. The fowl just lay them where they feel like it I sort of like that. Having lived in London so long, it was such a change.
The next thing we walked past was the pig enclosure. Fed effectively from scraps from the tavern and people’s domestic waste, these animals looked happy and in very good order. OK, I am not a vet, what would I know?
You see, this is the thing about Lundy, it must be the most ecologically friendly place in the world. Now, I am not any sort of eco-warrior but I like to see people not wasting things. These excellent beasts were eventually for the butchers and make excellent, and I mean excellent sausages. I shall discuss this shortly. This is proper sustainable farming, at least as I understand it.
I should say here that in all my many years on various travel websites I have probably never written a page as long as this one. I have been blessed to have visited some amazing places and hope to visit many more before I shuffle off this mortal coil but Lundy just amazed me (in the proper sense of the word) so much, I need to share this. I also wish, more than anything that my bloody camera had been working properly!
Anyway, if you have read it (for which I thank you) John had wandered me round what verges on being a place of extreme mysticism. I am not being funny. The guys that live there consider it home and which it is for them but anyone who has been there will swear to you that is it magical. I consider myself to be a fairly pragmatic and practical man, given my former professions and magical is not a word that comes easily to my lips, believe me. Lundy is magical, end of story. I swear, I walked round there and I just felt different. I can’t explain it, but I do strongly recommend anyone who reads this to go there for a day if that is all you can do or better still for a few days stay. I will put my next month’s pension on it now and I am not a gambling man. Go there and you will not be disappointed.
Over a pint or ten one evening in the Tavern, John told me, “You either get Lundy or you don’t”. I think I mentioned this before. I got it the minute I stepped ashore off the Oldenburg.
This is not Devon, this is not the UK, this is just another place entirely. Don’t get me wrong, it is not scary or anything, it is just a different and magical place in the proper sense of the word. I remember being told before, or possibly I read it, that India would teach you more about yourself than it would about India, and it did, I hope to return someday soon. Well, I think Lundy is like that. Seems ridiculous to compare the largest democracy in the world with the small Atlantic rock that is Lundy but I feel the comparison works for a “Westerner”, specifically a British citizen. In many ways you just have to leave your ideas on the boat / plane and go with it. That is what Lundy is for me.
OK, enough of my aged philosophy, the reader wishes to hear about the island.
Let’s start with a vaguely amusing thing which will hopefully give you an idea of how isolated Lundy really is. The image above is of the only shop there! Speaking of the shop, better get there in the reasonable but not unlimited opening hours as I am afraid on Lundy the concept of 7/11 does not exist.
Now, this is in no way the most attractive photo I will ever post here, however it may be one of the more important. As I mentioned, the entire island attempts to be as “green” as possible and, almost incredibly for the UK, they are actually in credit on recycling. They even make money for the charity by recycling. How good is that? I just love the concept.
OK, I never said all my images were going to be lovely. I do not for one minute suggest that these are as pleasing to the eye as my pics of rescued elephants up near Lampang nor a sunset bridge in Burma under the old regime. That is not the point, that was never the point.
I do sincerely apologise to anyone that may be offended but this is the way life is on Lundy. They do things properly. The green ethic is all-pervasive, and you either buy into it or not, specifically regarding water use. After having been walked round the resupply unit, and it was impressive, we headed on as we were getting close to “home”.
I genuinely had no idea how eco-friendly this place was. Having been there, I can tell the reader that every possibly viable ecosystem is being used. This place probably could get completely self-sufficient fairly soon! It is just a matter of the water. There is none naturally available and it is a problem. Being surrounded by sea my natural thought was desalination but I am sure this has been looked at and discounted for whatever reason.
This image shows the abbatoir for slaughtering native beasts. However, some stupid law, and I believe it is European (I am so happy we are leaving that costly debacle), has decreed that domesticated beasts have to be sent to the mainland for slaughter whereby feral (wild) beasts can be slaughtered here. Yet another glaring example of the incompetence of the Fedrerl states of E (which is what it is, call it EEC, EC, EU, or whatever). Anyway, the native beasts are slaughtered here. I fail to see the potential lessening of suffering of the animals by this system. Can you imagine crating beasts onto a boat to go to the slaughterhouse? What are the people thinking of? Sorry, just answered my own question, they are politicians and therefore incapable of rational thought.
Back into the pub now and time for a proper look round. I happened upon this plaque amongst many others from excellent (military / police / volunteer) outfits. If you don’t know who these guys are then look them up. I shall let their record speak for themselves and I knew I wasn’t going to pick a fight in there (not that I pick fights in pubs!) These guys metaphorically really don’t take prisoners. I believe they use the island for training exes and then have a beer or ten after. I felt privileged to have been in the same place these men socialise in, these are good guys.
I even managed the time to try to be artistic, despite the failures of my camera! It really is one of the best pubs I have ever been in, and I can tell you that is amongst some serious competition!
I had considered myself to have had what was just about a perfect day but it wasn’t nearly over yet. John suggested that I should eat before the kitchen shut which it does relatively early by big city restaurant standards but it makes sense, as everything seems to do here. By this time all the daytrippers had long gone which left the longer term residents, the campers and a general hanger-on like me. Everybody knows the score as they know the power goes off at midnight, most people have been up early and walking about in the very fresh air and late night dining really is not in order, nor is it practical. I would not fancy cleaning down a professional kitchen after a busy service by torchlight!
I may have mentioned before, and John certainly know, but for such a tall man I have the appetite of a small bird and so I asked what he recommended. Don’t forget that I was literally at “chef’s table” by which I mean that I was sitting at a table with the chef on his day off and not the undoubtedly wonderful but ruinously expensive gastronomic experience offered by most top establishments these days. Without pausing for breath he told me to go for the “bangers ‘n’ mash”. For those who may read this and are not up on British culinary slang, this is nothing more than sausages and mashed potato, normally served with an onion gravy or possibly a “red wine jus” if you want to pay £20 for it in a posh place. The menu in the Marisco rather grandly described it as “trio of Lundy sausages” which I though was a bit over the top but it was done with good reason. Forget waiter service, John just wandered off to the kitchen and placed my order for me. Let’s see a Michelin starred chef doing that!
I know this is going to go on a bit about a simple plate of “peasant” food as described but it says so much about the whole ethos of Lundy. They were indeed Lundy sausages of three different types as the menu suggested and with as much as possible reared or grown here. I cannot remember the exact combinations now but they definitely featured the Soay sheep mentioned above, possibly venison, and locally reared domesticated animals. John explained everything to me as we waited for the food to arrive. Anything they cannot source on the island, they crate in from the mainland and I know John had a network of suppliers in the local mainland area who he had visited, trusted and who provided excellent produce. If you want to put your eco-warrior hat on, and I am all in favour of that, to talk of food miles, well they are minimal. Technically I suppose they are sea miles and on a vessel that is already running for the passenger side of the business so no additional carbon footprint there.
After just the right amount of time i.e. long enough for it to have been properly cooked without irradiating it to blazes in a microwave but not too long to show an inefficient kitchen out came the meal I have hopefully shown here. The lovely Katy served up and having cooked it. Memory fails now, as it does at my age, but I think I am right in saying that she was not even formally trained and had worked her way up in some pubs on the mainland. I do apologise (again) if I malign her. Let me tell you this and it was surely a thing of time, place, company, circumstance, provenance, a couple of pints of decent cider and many other factors but I defy any “star” TV chef to better that plate of food.
Some years ago, I had the absolute privilege of meeting the world renowned chef Anton Mossiman and having a drink with him in the restaurant he then had in central London before dining there. I have to say the man is a complete gentleman and such wonderful company. He had to run but told the maitre d’ to look after us (long story which I shall not bore you with for a change) and, yes, we dined on veloutes and smoked this with pickled that and hand-picked the other accompanied by champagne foams and who knows what else? It was superb and I would not have missed it for anything even if I did not understand half the menu but it would have been impractical in this place not to mention totally incongruous. You just have to get into Lundy and go with the flow as I believe the expression is. Here endeth the sermon on a plate of sausage and mash!
So, I had had my guided tour round the island, partaken of a very fine meal as laboriously described above and was feeling completely at peace with the world or at least the small portion of it that I was currently inhabiting. “Right, come on”, says John. What? It is about 2100 by this point. We had noticed as we went outside for our many smoke breaks that the day was declining into what Mother Nature seemed to be setting up for a fairly spectacular sunset which are apparently a feature here in the summer months. I suppose the lack of light or any other sort of pollution helps and he wanted to get some images of the lighthouse at sunset. He is a very keen and very good photographer. Never one to pass up an opportunity, much as the call of the bar appealed, off we went again.
Actually it is not fair to complain and we set a good pace. I got some pretty average images due to my camera malfunction but I know he got some beauties. Hopefully, some of these will give an idea of what would have been possible. It really was spectacular in the proper sense of the word and I was so glad we went. At least I have the images in my head, where they will remain as long as this ageing old brain continues to function at any sort of capacity.
Eventually back to the Tavern for a quick nightcap or three and then off home to construct the nest and lie down for a very sound night’s sleep.
Just a couple of images for you before I start off on my solo ramble round the South of this island tomorrow! Well, tomorrow duly happened as it tends to do and you, dear reader, can find it all in one piece in the next entry if I manage to post it. Of course that all presupposes that you have not lost the will to live from my inane ramblings thus far.
Day five of my trip dawned in Ilfracombe and was sunny yet again which was becoming somewhat of a habit and one I could easily get used to. I had set my alarm for once though I was up long before its rather annoying electronic insistence for today I had things to do, things I really could not afford to be late for. Much as I had enjoyed my weekend with dear friends in and around Torquay and pleasant as my brief stay in Ilfracombe had been, this was the big one as it was the day I was going to Lundy Island which was the main purpose of the trip. As I shall explain, there was one boat and one only to be caught and if I missed that then all was lost. As always I skipped breakfast and had told the lovely landlady the previous evening so she wasn’t cooking unnecessarily. I do hate wasting food. Thanking her husband for their fine hospitality I stepped out to face what I knew was going to be another good day, I could just feel it.
I swear I had not gone ten yards from the door when my eye was caught by what was to prove to be the first wonder of the day. In the UK we have “blue plaques”, although confusingly they come in many colours and designs depending on the originating authority but the vast majority are blue and either circular or occasionally oval. They are placed on buildings where famous people were born, died, stayed occasionally, lived or whatever and I am drawn to them like a moth to a flame to the extent that I seem to have an inbuilt radar which operates at the extreme edge of my peripheral vision.
The radar started pinging and I was across the road to investigate a plaque on a modest but immaculate terrace house which turned out to be the home of Henry Williamson, author of “Tarka the Otter” amongst many other works. I had heard of the book obviously and the subsequent film although I have neither read nor seen these respectively. To my shame I could not have named the author who turns out to be a fascinating man although I shall not go into his details here as I have so much more to write about on this day and it really will turn into a complete rigmarole. I have hopefully included a link here to his appreciation society which you can have a look at if you are interested.
I made the short walk downhill to the harbour which is the usual way of things except perhaps in the Netherlands where you can probably walk uphill to a harbour! My friend John (of whom much more later) had told me that all I had to do was turn up, give my name and everything was sorted. Ordinarily I would have been a little dubious about such an arrangement but I trust the man and so I joined the rather long queue outside the ferry office and spent the time watching the fairly feverish loading of cargo onto the ferry. This involved loading a huge number of crates onto the foredeck (if there is a hold it was not used) but was obviously all in a days work for the mobile crane operator, stevedores and hands on the vessel and went incredibly smoothly.
It appears that staff on the island are allowed a number of “indulgence trips” as we used to call them in the Forces for friends and relatives and that was how it was all done. It is not a cheap trip ordinarily although I paid not one penny piece. I often wonder how I get so lucky so often, I must have done something really good in a previous life. Down then to the pier where all my kit was loaded onto one of a number of the huge crates that I had watched being loaded whilst waiting. I did ask the stevedore to be careful with my guitar which was only in a soft case and, bless him, I watched him walk it up the gangplank and stow it beside the purser’s desk so I could reclaim it when I had negotiated the gangplank. After several bad experiences I wish airport baggage handlers had the same respect for property. Having safely overseen that, it was time to board which I did without mishap.
Unless you have your own light aircraft or boat, and there are landing facilities for both on the island, you have two choices of how to get to Lundy depending on the season and the weather. There is a helicopter service all year round (weather permitting) although between March and November you have the option of a leisurely cruise on the MS Oldenburg which was the vessel I had now boarded. It is a lovely old craft which runs from Ilfracombe (as I did obviously) or Bideford on certain days, generally Tuesday, Thursday and Saturday. Bideford departures are much less common so check the timetable on the website to make sure you go to the correct place.
I had a quick look round the boat and selected a seat beside the bar (obviously) which proved to be a good move as I got into a great conversation with the purser / barman and learnt a lot about the island and the boat. Most people had elected to sit outside on the upper deck in the July sunshine which meant that the two pleasantly appointed saloons were fairly empty and I didn’t have to wait long to be served at any point.
The Oldenburg was launched in Bremen, Germany in 1958 which makes it marginally older than me and saw service as a ferry round the East Frisian islands. The Lundy Company then acquired her in 1985 to replace the former supply ship and she underwent a refurbishment at Appledore Shipyard where the original internal fixtures and fittings were retained, giving her a slightly old-fashioned but wonderfully comfortable feel. The staff on the island somewhat bawdily, rather affectionately and probably completely accurately call her the “Old ‘n’ Buggered and I know she eats a huge proportion of the island revenue with her annual winter refit. Certainly a few of the visitors to Lundy arrive by chartered helicopter for their weekends in “the Big House” which sleeps a small tribe and, occasionally and much to John’s utter chagrin their own chef but the Oldenburg really is what keeps the place ticking over. I adored her.
Should you feel hungry there is a small buffet in the aft cabin and here is an insiders tip for you. If you fancy a sausage roll, get in quick because they sell out fast as apparently they are the favourite item on the menu and I have this on the authority of the buffet steward!
The two hour sailing seemed to fly by and soon we were all on deck to catch a first glimpse of Lundy. To be honest, if I had never set foot on the island, the journey from London would have been worth it for the “cruise” alone but I had much more to do.
Having tied up, I went down the fairly wobbly gangway to the jetty and just sort of waited around whilst having a cigarette, smoking not being allowed anywhere on board and I was gasping. I was waiting for my luggage which had been crated in a large wooden box and craned onboard at Ilfracombe (except the guitar obviously).
I wandered into a hut by the jetty which seemed to be by way of a museum although it was really a small and somewhat random collection of objects thrown together, totally uncared for and with not a sinner near the place but it was vaguely interesting.
Frankly, I didn’t have a clue what was going on and more to the point I really didn’t care. It was just one of those situations where you knew nothing could go wrong. People call it instinct or “streetsmarts” or whatever and in the Forces some officer had obviously got his next rank by coining the phrase “situational awareness”. Call it what you will, you just know when things are right, when they may go a little bad, and when they are just downright dangerous. This fell very much into the first category.
I spoke to one of the shore crew and was told not to worry, just to pick it up at the black shed. What black shed? I had no idea but this was Lundy and I had already got my head round the concept that things would probably work themselves out. I may well have been a bit apprehensive at being separated from all my kit anywhere else in the world but I was already working on “Lundy time” albeit that it was an expression I had never even heard yet. My friend John was later to tell me that you either “get” Lundy within a few minutes of stepping off the boat or you don’t. I reckon I had “got” it before I ever got down the gangplank.
Next, a guy called John, who is one of the island workers, and had obviously seen my guitar case (that does not go in the cargo hold!) approached me and said, “You must be John the Chef’s mate, jump in the Landrover and I’ll give you a lift up the hill” Hmm, it appears my infamy had preceded me! Lundy is like that, everyone knows everyone else even before you get there. I shared the journey with a lovely elderly couple who were staying in one of the accommodations on the island, of which more later. They were very pleasant company and the rather tortuous journey passed quickly if somewhat hazardously with the track being barely wide enough for a vehicle in parts.
I should mention that the drive / walk from the jetty up to the “village” is quite steep although very pleasant and the Land Rover is there for people for whom it may have been a bit much like my elderly companions.
I was deposited at the Marisco Tavern, which is a wonderful establishment and as the manager told me John was busy with lunch service I did not bother him although word was obviously passed as he appeared when the crowd had died down and we went outside for a smoke and a chat. He said he would go home for the afternoon for a rest as he had to prepare shortly for evening service and this was the height of season.
I asked him about the black shed and my kit and he took me about 10 yards from the front door and across the small track that serves as the only thoroughfare on the island where there was, well, a black shed. I wandered in and collected my kitbag from the many pieces of luggage sitting around apparently totally unguarded totally unmolested. As I said, Lundy is like that. I think it must be the oddest baggage reclaim I have ever encountered but it just seems to work. He had earlier told me not to worry, it was all sorted and as I say, I trust the man.
On an island barely three and a half miles long and half a mile wide centred on a “village” you can walk from one end of the other to in the space of less than one cigarette it was a matter of about 100 yards or less from the “black shed” to his home. Home for most of the 27 permanent staff on the island revolves around a collection of pre-fabricated buildings which were long, long past their supposed use. I know some of the lads live up at the old lighthouse (accessed by quad bike so you get an idea of how remote it is) but mainly they are here. John did tell me the exact date when the buildings were due for demolition and it was frightening although they seemed well cared for and, once inside, remarkably cosy. I am sure that in the winter storms that occur here they may have a few structural defects but at this time of year it was a most homely place. Naturally for a chef the kitchen was the thing and although small and not overflowing with modern gadgets I just knew he could knock up a bloody good feed there.
We sat over a glass of very good wine (being a chef he is somewhat of a connoisseur and even his afternoon everyday tipple seemed a bit special even to one with such an uneducated palate as myself). We caught up as we had not seen each other for a while and got the logistics sorted. His home was a one double bed affair suitable for a singleton or a couple, of which there were a few on the island. Idyllic certainly but, shall we say, testing. It is very hard work there and you would have to be in a relationship as strong as the rock that is Lundy is to even consider it.
One bedroom meant obviously that I was dossing in the living room. I know we are very good mates but………… Anyway, the sofa I was sitting on was extremely comfortable but probably about a foot and a half short for my absurdly lanky frame. This was no bother. A seasoned road warrior like myself merely scanned the room, noted a couple of chairs and quickly calculated that there were more than enough cushions to provide a comfy nest which proved to the case later on. In truth, sleeping on a firm surface (doesn’t get much firmer than a floor) is actually good for my rather dodgy back which I have mentioned elsewhere on this site. OK, it is not the firmest available with that dubious honour being shared equally between a bath and a pool table, both of which I have done and sworn on the few things I hold sacred never to do again. I told you I live a fairly obscure lifestyle!
I should take a moment to tell you about John now. Apart from being a very well-respected contributor on a travel website that set the benchmark for all others (Virtual Tourist), John is a dear friend, experienced traveller, drinking buddy, excellent chef and all round good guy. I would go so far as to count him amongst my best friends in the world and like most of the best friendships, especially of travellers like us who are, by very definition, pretty nomadic, we will have not contact for months on end and then one or another of us will pop up out of the gloom to regain comms.
John and I have been friends for a long time and I know his CV which is pretty impressive to say the least, including 5* London hotels but that was never his thing albeit he can do it with his eyes closed. He much prefers smaller places and even ran his own “gastropub” before the term had ever even marched onto the pages of the broadsheet newspapers in the UK. The fact that he hosted me in his home (along with several other people from all over the globe at various times) shows you what sort of man he is.
I should mention here that for personal reasons John is now (as of 2018) back on the mainland “rattling those pots and pans” and I strongly recommend that if you can winkle him out (I’ll bet he does amazing things with winkles) then go wherever he is chef now. You will not be disappointed. I know he started in the kitchen at St. Andrew’s Golf Course, the home of golf, during one of the Open Championships preparing food for the world’s golfing elite and all the attendant hangers-on. Sounds like a baptism of fire to me. I know he has “saved my bacon” (if you will pardon the culinary pun) on several occasions when I have been required to cook, often in a campervan (RV) in the middle of nowhere and a quick mail on our old website along the lines of, “John, I have ingredients x,y and z and don’t want to do them just the usual way” would inevitably elicit a brilliant recipe, cooking things in manners I would never have considered. He’s that kind of guy.
I was also run through the house rules which were pretty simple i.e. use as little water and electric as possible. There is no mains electric supply from the mainland so it is all provided by a generator for which the fuel obviously has to be transported which is not cheap. There are no natural sources of water, save rainwater and in the very occasional drought conditions we encounter in UK water has to be shipped from the mainland which again is crippling expensive and eats into the finely balanced economy of the place.
This was fine as my time in the Forces mean I can shower in about three minutes flat, even turning off the water between the wetting, soaping and rinsing phases. At a push I can make do with a flannel and a small basin of water. I learnt in a hard school where even lukewarm water was a luxury.
Regarding the electric, the generator which supplies it all is turned off about midnight until about sunrise. I am not sure whether the larger accommodations have their own genny but a word to the wise is to charge up things like camera batteries when you can in the day / evening and do not rely on the usual overnight charging. Believe me, you will have more than enough use for the cameras. Obviously powerpacks are useful but do plan ahead.
Those were effectively the standing orders and they were no problem at all to me. Frankly, if you are looking for a 5* hotel experience with room service of foie gras at three in the morning, a jacuzzi and a swimming pool then you are in the wrong place as it really is not that sort of gig. What you do get makes up for that tenfold if not more.
John had to return shortly to the kitchen as he had evening service to prepare for and it is ludicrously busy at that time of year. I contented myself with another smoke and a stare out the back window onto a field he had told me constitutes the island campsite if you want to go on a bit of a budget. I must be honest here, as I always try to be in my travel writing, and say that as wonderful as Lundy truly is, it is not a cheap option. In fairness, the money made is ploughed back into running what is a fairly costly enterprise with the upkeep of merely keeping the place inhabited is phenomenal. I’ll deal with the campsite and the Marisco in future entries to try to balance out the content per entry but I did notice that at that point the “beasts of the field” outnumbered the tents about ten to one. There was one tent, although that was to change later in my stay and, well, at least ten beasties although I didn’t actually count them.
I allowed myself a bit of a relax which took no effort at all. I have heard “hippies” and younger people using and expression which is “blissed out”. Forget that. I was on a perimeter walk somewhere on the far side of blissed out. This is not hyperbole and I obviously cannot convince you completely of the veracity of the statement. I can only say that you have to be there to understand what it is about and my usual description of Lundy as a “magical, mystical place” isn’t too far from the truth of the matter.
I gathered myself and took off back to the pub which must have taken all of a minute. I scored myself a pint of very well-kept West Country cider (what else) and went out the back to sit on the little bench to have a smoke, that particular pleasure being denied me in public places now. It was no hardship as the quite enclosed little “yard” affords the most amazing view over a steeply sloping meadow, past the “Big House” which was the former residence of the owners of the island and out onto an ever-changing sea with not even a glimpse of the further shore even on a bright day. I really was in the back of beyond.
I should explain the logistics a little here. All the daytrippers leave on the Oldenburg in late afternoon so by the evening the only people left on the island and are the staff relaxing after a hard day’s work (and it is hard physical graft here) or those who are staying in some of the various accommodations. The former seemed to gravitate towards me with them all seeming to know who I was not to mention most of my life history and in a manner that John had been talking. Of the latter group I met some charming people who all appeared to “get” Lundy as I did and many of whom were on return visits. The evening passed quickly and very pleasantly and eventually John came out with service over and the kitchen cleaned down. A quick couple of pints and a few smokes before closing and it was time to head back the short distance to his place in the pitch black.
I know I have somewhat skimmed over details of certain things but, as I say, I wish to balance out the entries and this one has almost inevitably run to heroic proportions already. Back home and another bottle of very decent wine opened there was more chat until the lights went out. He had not told me about the power situation before but it was a matter of lighting his rather powerful torch and carry on. We didn’t stay late as John was in full high season mode with a small staff, a tiny kitchen and had to start early. He took off, I constructed the nest I had planned earlier and fell quickly into a very deep sleep which is a blessing for one like me with a sleep disorder.
I’d done it, I had finally made it here after years of talking about it and quite frankly I was not sure if I had entered some sort of parallel universe. I had been to some amazing places all over the world but this was just somehow different. Don’t ask me to explain, it just was.
Stay tuned and spread the word.
P.S. I have just noticed that I had a complete travelogue written for this day which I somehow managed to save from the excellent Virtual Tourist website despite the best efforts of the appalling TripAdv*s*r (don’t want to give them the traffic) and yet I have spent many hours effectively repeating it without the benefit of more recent recollection. I told you I was technophobic! I’ll try to find the rest of it for the next post which hopefully will not take me the two or three days this one has.
I have so far written less than double digits of posts on my brand new website here and have probably made a liar of myself on about half of that small number.
My problem is that I promise faithfully to be brief and I do start off with the best intentions but the road to Hell is paved with them as we were told when children. Inevitably, I end up getting side-tracked and writing a tome that would not disgrace Tolstoy on amphetamine. When writing historical posts I usually begin by looking at my images for that day as an aide-memoire and that process for this day, 15/07/2013 reveals a day of uneventful travelling South to North which should produce a novella as opposed to the sagas I have been churning out previously.
It was a Monday morning which is a time of slight depression for the majority of the working masses but is of no consequence to me in my happily retired state and the weather gods were obviously conspiring with the travel gods to give me a really good run. Fourth morning of my trip, fourth morning of utterly glorious weather and my spirits could not have been higher. Showered, dressed, my meagre possessions packed and my guitar slung over my shoulder I headed downstairs, pausing only to deposit the key and a potential confrontation with my landlady as to why I did not wish to eat her breakfasts (I do not do breakfast) and out to face the day.
I had a bit of a decision to make as I had to be in Barnstaple that evening for onward journey to Ilfracombe and then to my ultimate destination of Lundy island the next morning by ferry. Although it is not so far as the crow flies, and remember I was only travelling in one English county, it still takes about two hours on two stopping trains with a change at Exeter St. Davids but again no problem. I knew I could not check into my B&B until late afternoon so the decision to make was to head off early or have a day in Torquay and go later. I decided on staying for a while as I had grown very fond of the place in my few days there.
Even with the guitar I was travelling fairly light and so it was no problem on the downhill run back into town to revisit some of the places I had been over the weekend. I was greeted warmly in them all but in a couple I was obviously recognised and asked relevant questions like, “how was the trip to Dartmouth” or else the more standard, “Usual, Sir?”. This pleased me no end and presented a number of possibilities. a) I had spent far too long in these places and chatting to the staff, b) I am so physically noticeable (6’5″, long hair, beard etc.) that people remember me, c) they are exceptionally professional bar staff or d) any or all of the above. You decide. As happy as I had been in the morning, the addition of a few pints of fermented apples never hurts and it was a borderline euphoric Fergy that made his way to the station with still enough of what wits he has to get there in decent time. The rather poor image shows a sign I saw in one establishment and was an order I felt strangely compelled to obey!
I was sad to leave Torquay as I had enjoyed it much more on this trip than on my previous visit where I had breezed through it in a few hours. I promised myself to return and, although I have not fulfilled that vow, I shall in the fullness of time. As I mentioned, the trip to Barnstaple is a mere 48 miles (77km.) so do the maths yourself but whilst it can never be termed an express service it is most remarkably scenic and runs for a portion of its route alongside the sea, separated from the water by no more than a fairly narrow pebble beach. I hope the image here, which I tried to “artistically frame” in the train door, gives an idea. The whole line is semi-officially known as the “Tarka Line” and more of that famous otter in the next post.
Remarkably for the rail system in the UK we arrived on time and I alighted at the adorable Barnstaple station complete with the old heritage rail sign you can here as opposed to the soulless corporate versions they have now. Job done and the day was ticking along nicely.
Thinking ahead I decided to head straight to Ilfracombe which is what I did in good order. I knew all too well the perils of further pub visiting at that point and Barnstaple could well have been my downfall. The reason I was in Barnstaple at all was that there has been no train to Ilfracombe since 1970 when it was closed for commercial reasons as the car saw it off and so a short and comfortable bus journey was required.
I wanted to divest myself of my kit and was conscious of not inconveniencing the people in the B&B so I restricted myself to a quick one or two before heading there to be greeted by a note on the front door stating that they had had to pop out briefly but if I went to see Mrs. X at number Y across the road she would sort matters out. I did so and a charming lady showed me into her immaculate home, offered me a brew which I declined and made a quick ‘phone call which brought my hosts in double-quick time to show me to my very clean and tidy twin room with ensuite bathroom.
The room was obviously a partitioned larger room on the first floor of a Victorian / Georgian house and was not particularly spacious but what do I need? From any sort of accommodation I require a clean and comfortable bed, some hot water for my ablutions with added bonuses being a bit of peace and quiet and the absence of cockroaches, rats or other annoyances. Yes, I am a man of simple tastes and I have slept in some places that I would not wish on my worst enemy which undoubtedly assists me on my travels both financially and in terms of choice.
The bed was very comfy, if a little short for my 6’5″ frame, but I do not expect landlords to spend a fortune on custom-made oversized beds on the off-chance that a lanky brute like me or taller may walk in the door. I have accustomed myself to all sorts of sleeping conditions and indeed, at age 58, I have recently spent three very happy) months sleeping on a tiled floor which presented no problem at all. Yes, there is a blog in that when I get the time). The water in the shower was hot both evening and morning and of vermin there was a marked absence! In short, it was very clean, tidy, warm, friendly, convenient for my destination and the town, totally devoid of road noise in a quiet side street, what more did I need?
I could enter now into an entire discourse about the various options available to the traveller in the UK where accommodation options are not cheap but, on the novella principle outlined above, I shall refrain and save it for another post.
A quick sluice down and I was off to sample the nearby “fleshpots” of an Ilfracombe basking in the still warm rays of a declining sun. I am running out of synonyms for delightful and charming here so I shall say that it was very likeable which is appropriate in terms of the town which I liked very much. In terms of “fleshpots” I am sure they once existed as they do in any town with a maritime connection but I didn’t find any although whether they no longer exist or because I did not have the requisite local knowledge I could not possibly say. No, before you get the wrong idea, I was not looking for what the late Terry Pratchett so wonderfully described as “ladies of negotiable affection” but merely places with a bit of an edge.
What I did find was a few very decent pubs, at least one of which had been recommended to me by John Gayton who I mentioned in an earlier post here and who will feature heavily in future submissions. My images show me that I was back home a little shy of the witching hour (midnight) which is unusual for me but I had much to do on the morrow.
I do hope I have adhered to my self-imposed brief of novella vs. saga here. Believe me, I really have tried and have omitted much in the arguably laudable interests of brevity. Again, I am very much finding my way and would appreciate any sort of feedback. Do you wish to hear all my often tangential musings on my rambles or would you just prefer me to stick to a strict recitation of events? I am entirely in your hands as I want this to be as enjoyable an experience for you as it can be given my obvious limitations. Having decided, against all logic, to start this site, I really want to make it the best my abilities allow.