Time for a walk.

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.

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The nest still looks comfy to me.
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A rapidly disappearing Mr. Gayton.

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.

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A very vertiginous lighthouse and Mr. Gayton still at the  quick march.

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.

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This is not my idea of fun.
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I really could not believe this.

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!

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Yes,there really is an airstrip here, believe it or not.

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!

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Just imagine living here.  How wonderful and you have to get home by quad bike!

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.

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As close as I really wanted to go.

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.

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Help me please, geologists!

Here are just a couple more to give you an idea.

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You can just see the Oldenberg in her berth if you look closely.

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!

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Here is a marginally better picture of the venerable old craft.

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!

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One of the three Lundy walls.  Perfect.

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.

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A fine example of a Soay sheep.

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.

 

 

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Standard view of a Soay sheep.

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!

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I wouldn’t fancy trying to lift it!

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.

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This is the road, the only one.  Mr. Gayton striding off manfully as always.

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.

 

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Imagine this in the dark with a fog all around.  No fun at all.

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.

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The island “roundabout”.  Hardly motorway / autobahn / highway / standard but it works.

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!

 

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One of the less well preserved buildings on Lundy.

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.

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Hard to think this might have been a habitation once.

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.

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Easy walking.

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.

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Lest we forget.

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.

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A rather weatherbeaten memorial to a brave man.

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.

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VC quarry, Lundy.

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.

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Sparrow traps, would you believe?

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.

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I did not expect a carp pond here.

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.

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Sadly derelict old buildings.
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Much too far gone.
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Such a shame, the views are stunning.

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.

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Look, you can just see South Light from here!

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.

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Lundy sausages in the raw state!

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.

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Shop. post office and everything else.

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.

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Not pretty but damned useful.

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”.

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John explains how it all works.

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.

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Who posts pictures of a slaughterhouse on a travel blog?  Me!

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.

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You have been warned.

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.

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The minstrel in the gallery!

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!

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Best bangers ‘n’ mash ever.

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!

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My sadly technically ruined attempt at a bit of art but you get the idea.

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.

Stay tuned and spread the word.

I finally got there.

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.

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I never even knew his name.

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.

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What a lovely home with such a literary history.

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.

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There is always a queue.

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.

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Everything well under control.

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.

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Oldenburg by name, Old ‘n’ Buggered by popular acclamation.

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.

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Close enough to the bar.

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!

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First view of Lundy, the charmingly named Rat Island.

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.

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My kit is in there somewhere!

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).

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This is what passes for a museum.

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.

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Lundy  pier, not a bad place for a smoke.

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.

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The wonderful Marisco Tavern.

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.

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Baggage reclaim, Lundy style.  Yes, it is a black shed!

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.

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Parked in the corner away from the beasts.

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.

A trip across the county.

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.

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Some instructions just have to be obeyed.

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!

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My guitar (left of frame) enjoying the stunning Devonian coast.

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.

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I love these old signs.  Nearly there now.

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.

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End of the Tarka line, all change please.

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.

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A little short but very comfy.

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?

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Compact but very cosy.

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.

Stay tuned and spread the word.

Sailing in history to visit more history.

Contrary to all expectations the first part of this travelogue on my trip to Devon and specifically Lundy Island seems to have been successfully published and so I am going to ride my luck here and go for a second instalment.

After the wonderful experience of the previous evening, the day of 13/07/2013 dawned bright and sunny which is not always the case even in what is often laughingly referred to as the “British summer”. It may have been the sun coming in the window of my very cosy bedroom where I had improbably slept the sleep of the just or it may just have been excitement at what I knew Malc had planned for the day. Passing on breakfast which is a meal I rarely take, I showered, dressed and took off for another day which found me retracing my route of the previous day with a few slight deviations by way of interest. In fairness there are not too many ways to go. You either go downhill to the sea or uphill out of down and so down I went as I was meeting our intrepid leader in a pub which will come as little surprise to those who know me.

I ended up again at the harbour which was as charming as the day before and this time I had time to have a look round which provided a most fascinating history which I shall deal with in the next instalment. No, I am not setting out to be a tease but if I do not do things chronologically and with the benefit of my saved images as aides-memoire I shall be completely lost and will undoubtedly miss points of interest that I should have mentioned.

With a fascinating and wholly enjoyable experience on the quay under my belt I retired to the London Inn to meet our inestimable leader. I remember fondly the time when he was overnighting in London and I had quite deliberately taken him to a particular bar in Soho, an area I know well having lived there for a while in the 90’s, which was the well-known haunt of transvestites and transsexuals. For those that do not know London, Soho is, shall we say, fairly liberal. Frankly, the look on his face was priceless and he still reminds me of it to this day. Now it was payback time (not literally obviously) and I was in his world. Not a problem as I can get by in most situations.

Malc was a touch late and so I contented myself with a pint in the pub which was then a Wetherspoon’s but has now apparently been sold on to Yates’s, another similar multi-outlet organisation. I shall deal with the concept of Wetherspoons in another blog as it is a subject worthy of discussion. One of their many virtues is that they tend to open earlier than the 1100 or 1200 opening times favoured by more traditional establishments and this suited as the Offshore was not yet open. Malcolm had everything beautifully organised (thanks again, mate) but insisted on trotting off to check on the arrangements which were all in place and the sailing was definitely on. The rest of the party duly arrived and soon it was time for the off.

A very short wander across the road took us to the pier and the waiting vessel.

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RML 497 Fairmile, a very fine vessel.

The plan for the day was a trip on the Fairmile boat round to Dartmouth (weather permitting at it certainly was) and I was really looking forward to this as I love being on the water. I also love military history (of which more anon) and I love Dartmouth, having visited that lovely place as a teenager and more recently when I had walked a portion of the excellent South West Coast Path some years previously, as mentioned before.

Wandering down the pier (as you look seawards it is the one to the right hand side of the harbour, almost opposite the big wheel) we saw a queue of people waiting to board. This was not a problem as Malcolm had booked ahead for us and so we stepped on board the Fairmile, a most wonderful vessel. I suspect it may once have been an HMS (His Majesty’s Ship) although I am not actually sure what the current designation is but we were welcomed by a very friendly crewman and took our places on the upper deck. As I mentioned, it was a gloriously sunny day and although there was accommodation downstairs, nobody was going to sit down there on a day like this.

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One of two bars onboard – happy days indeed.

As you can see from the photos (and apologies for the quality as my camera was playing up) there is a bar on the upper deck. Indeed, there is one on the lower deck but there was no need to open it on a day like this. Everyone was on the top deck enjoying the simply stunning views of the wonderful South Devon Coast accompanied all the while by the very informative commentary from one of the crew members.

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My kind of sick bay.

So what of the Fairmile? Well, as the crew members were more than happy to explain, it was a rescue vessel in the Second World War and now sports the original designation of her wartime service number RML497 (Rescue Motor Launch 497). Effectively, she was a vessel charged with rescuing Allied pilots downed at sea and rendering medical assistance where required. Much of the then recently refurbished vessel was given over to this medical theme as one of the images here shows.

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The wonderful Devon coastline.

There really is something quite magical besides being very sobering about sitting on a deck marvelling at the passing idyllic coastline whilst thinking about some poor half-drowned and possibly injured pilot who was defending our country against fascism being plucked from the Channel by a craft such as this. It was the loss of so many pilots from ditching over water during the Battle of Britain that led to small craft like this being employed which was effectively the formation of the SAR (Search and Rescue) facility that we take for granted today. I am sure that our future King, Prince William the Duke of Cambridge, would have thoroughly approved of this vessel as he himself was an SAR helicopter pilot in the RAF during his military service. This is not ancient history as many of my aunts and uncles served in that war and one even made the supreme sacrifice. The historical distance of one generation is not great in the grand scheme of things.

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Land  Ho!  Dartmouth from the sea.

Nowadays it is a peaceful, incredibly peaceful journey that greets the visitor safe from the attentions of German Luftwaffe pilots. You travel relatively slowly along the coast with the excellent commentary as mentioned above to assist you. For the twitchers amongst you, I should mention that there is an excellent selection of seafowl to be seen and the crew are at pains to point them out. As one who does not know a petrel from a petrol pump I much appreciated this. All too soon we were disgorged at Dartmouth for an afternoon doing our own thing and what a thing we did!

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A Devonian flag flies proudly over Dartmouth.

I first visited Dartmouth in 1975 as a teenager when I still harboured ambitions of being a naval officer and a kindly careers master at my school had arranged for me to go on a schoolboy’s summer course at the Royal Naval College there. In the event, I was far too stupid to get the grades needed to attend University which was required as part of the deal but I remember that week with great affection, in similarly glorious sunshine, messing about in Royal Naval vessels and playing at sailors. Dartmouth has a long association with the Navy which continues to this day and naval officers still train here.

Many the illustrious man has passed through the hallowed portals including HRH Prince Andrew, the Duke of York who entered as a middy (midshipman) in 1979. Despite his many and continuing PR debacles, I cannot help but admire the man for eventually successfully arguing against Royal courtiers that he should be allowed to serve in the Falklands War in the early 80’s. If reports are to be believed he spent many hours flying his chopper (he was a helicopter pilot by trade like his two nephews) and sometimes as “duty target” which is a military expression meaning to deliberately offer yourself as a target to expose enemy positions or assets so that your people can neutralise them first – hopefully. I can have no argument with his position on that.

The next time I visited was many years later, in my mid 30’s, when I was walking the hugely enjoyable South West Coast Path, one of a number of long-distance walking paths in the United Kingdom which I take great delight in using and mentioned in my previous entry.

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Dartmouth Harbour.

I remembered Dartmouth as being a very aesthetically pleasing place with delightful views, attractive old buildings and a very relaxed feel to it. It was with slight trepidation, therefore, that I returned in case the place had become somehow tarnished. It is always so disappointing to go back somewhere you have fond memories of only to find it has changed for the worse but I need not have worried.

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Street scene, Dartmouth.

Although we were only there for a few hours, I re-discovered a beautiful small town, obviously geared up for the many tourists that were there that lovely sunny Summer day. I have no doubt there are other strings to Dartmouth’s bow but tourism must be high on its agenda and there is much for the visitor. It is a wonderful place and any traveller visiting South Devon really should spend some time there.

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A fine lunch for normal people.

We repaired to the rather pleasant Dartmouth Arms pub where my fellow travellers enjoyed what looked like some very fine food whilst I contented myself with a liquid lunch as I rarely eat solids during the hours of daylight. That is a long story so don’t ask but I have to say the cider was excellent as they really do know a thing or two about my preferred tipple in this part of the world.

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A fine lunch for Fergy!

Much as we were enjoying each other’s company it was by mutual consent that we decided to split up with an agreement to meet up at a particular hour in the same hostelry as it was near the quay for the return trip.  Our splitting up was not at all unusual as we were all experienced travellers with different notions of what we wished to do and it was this type of loose arrangement that made Virtual Tourist meets such a joy as they were always designed to be as non-prescriptive as possible. If people wanted to hang out together that was fine and if they wanted to do their own thing, no slight was ever intended nor offence taken. I heard a lovely expression once that trying to organise VT members was like trying to herd cats and it is true. Almost by definition we were a fairly independent bunch and on this occasion I decided to strike out solo as that is my normal and preferred way of exploring.

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I told you it was historic.  Another fine watering hole.

I remembered from my one afternoon of “liberty” as a teenager that the Royal Naval College occupied a commanding position on a hill overlooking the River Dart from which the town takes its name and it is still there looking as majestic as my possibly rose-tinted brain remembered it. I briefly contemplated a walk up to it but my memories of the previous climb, admittedly somewhat clouded by scrumpy (a notoriously potent cider common to the West Country), deterred me a bit. Even if I had slogged up that hill again I was never going to get past the gates as the security situation in July 2013 was fairly tense with off-duty Fusilier Lee Rigby of the Royal Regiment of Fusiliers having been murdered in broad daylight by two Islamic terrorists not far from where I live in London not long before. I decided to keep to the relative flat topography of the town centre and see what I could find which turned out to be quite a bit.

I adopted my standard exploration technique, which I apply worldwide, of no map, no electronic assistance (I didn’t have any and still cannot use it even if I did) and just walking and seeing what I can find. Navigation in Dartmouth was pretty simple in comparison to some places I have been. Keep going downhill and you would come to the river. After that it was just a matter of walking along it until you found the quay again. A very low tech theory I know but it worked beautifully.

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Entrance to the Royal Avenue Gardens, Dartmouth.

Wandering around on this most beautiful of summer days which even the huge number of other visitors could not mar I chanced upon the Royal Avenue Gardens, entered by way of the rather splendid wrought iron arch you can see pictured. I found it absolutely delightful although a little research whilst composing this piece has revealed that like my shut down B&B and sold on regular pub in nearby Torquay things have changed from that halcyon day not so very long ago. Four years later, almost to the day, a report in the local newspaper tells a very sorry tale indeed. Have a read here.

 

I do hope they have rectified the situation in the intervening nine months to time of writing as the Gardens really are worth preserving. I would have thought that a local authority so dependent on tourism for revenue would have done better but they are probably too busy awarding themselves expenses increases and funding ludicrous politically correct schemes.

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Royal Avenue Gardens, Dartmouth.

Whilst the main gardens were indeed a joy there was a “gem within a gem” in the form of the Veale / Savill garden which was an unexpected and very satisfying find. As I increase the content in this blog, readers will notice that I have a great interest in military history of all periods and this extends to memorials, war graves and the like. This is not a morbid fascination at all but, as an ex-serviceman myself, I feel that the sacrifices made by generations before us should be remembered and it will be a theme I shall return to frequently.

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War Memorial, Dartmouth.

Obviously, before visiting the Veale / Savill garden I spent a few moments in quiet contemplation looking at the well-tended war memorial here and wondering just what the effect of the loss of so many young men would have meant to such a relatively small community. Like everywhere else, it must have been colossal. Regrettably it never seems to end and there is an addendum in the form of a small stone at the foot of the main memorial which commemorates those who have been killed since WWII. They were a sailor who was killed in China in 1949, a Scots Guardsman in Korea in 1950 and a “tankie” (member of the Royal Tank Regt.) in Afghanistan a mere four years before I stood in front of his memorial stone. It certainly gave me pause for thought.

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War Memorial, Dartmouth.

The Veale / Savill garden commemorates a most remarkable act of heroism during the First World War. In the charnel house that was the Battle of the Somme in 1916 an officer of the Devonshire Regiment, Lt. Eric Savill, lay wounded in no-man’s land merely yards from the German lines. Pte. Theodore Veale of the same unit ventured out no less than five times under heavy enemy fire (virtually point-blank) until he finally rescued his officer. During this action he recruited volunteers (one of whom was sadly killed) and lugged a light machine gun out to cover his comrades as they dragged the officer back to the relative safety of the British lines. For his outstanding heroism he was very rightly awarded the Victoria Cross (VC) which is the highest military valour award available in the UK and may only be awarded for actions performed “in the face of the enemy”. He was presented with his medal by King George V in 1917.

Remarkably, given the ferocity and appalling casualty rates of the Somme, both men survived that awful conflict. Pte. Veale lived to the ripe old age of 87 until his death in 1980. Savill (later Sir Eric Savill) went on to become Deputy Ranger of Windsor Great Park amongst other posts where he was renowned as something of an expert on cultivating magnolias, several examples of which adorn this small haven or at least did when I was there (see above link!). He died about seven months before his rescuer. I wonder if they kept in touch after the war or did the rigid class system of the time and the obviously traumatic effects of that brutal waste of life, which many men tried to block out, cause them to drift apart. I rather hope they did have some contact.

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Memorial plaque to Cpl. Theodore Veale, VC.

After the very interesting gardens I continued my wander round the town, trying to avoid the crowds and availing myself of the hospitality in several of the excellent hostelries that seem to populate every street corner here and appear determined to outdo each other in terms of quaintness and charm. Despite my various dalliances I made it back to our agreed RV at the Dartmouth in good time and we swapped stories of our afternoon over yet another pint, well another couple in my case anyway.

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Heading home.

A short walk regained our vessel and we set off back to Torquay. There was not much of a commentary from the crew on the way back as the vast majority of the passengers had been informed of all the points of interest on the outward leg but this merely served to allow us to savour the glory that is the British countryside in our very occasional good weather and which is seen to best advantage, I always believe, from the water.

Again, I have to be the bearer of bad tidings and again, it was only whilst I was researching this piece that I discovered that the Fairmile no longer plies the seas around Torbay so you will not be able to have the wonderful experience I did. Due to a cutthroat commercial battle between rival commercial ventures which was known locally as the “ferry wars” she became unviable. I cannot believe that in the space of less than five years my B&B has closed down, my usual pub sold on and this noble vessel removed from service. It seems like nothing stands still in and around Torquay. The one small consolation is that she has not been abandoned and has been acquired in 2015 by the National Museum of the Royal Navy which should at least ensure her future.

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Looks good enough to eat, doesn’t it?

Safely disgorged back in Torquay harbour the others retired to their respective hotels for a quick wash and brush up whilst Malcolm and I did the honourable thing and went straight back to the pub where we were to be having a “farewell meal” as the others all had to leave reasonably early the next day with fairly long journeys to undertake. When they returned not too long after, they all set about what looked like a very decent meal (Natalie’s Mediterranean seafood salad looked particularly good) although I was fully in liquid diet mode by this point. It was yet another lovely evening.  To paraphrase what I said in the previous blog entry, an evening spent eating and drinking well in very convivial company after a day in beautiful weather amongst the joys of the British coast, what more could a man require?

Farewells were duly made quite early with the obvious tinge of sadness although everyone agreed it had been a wonderful couple of days and that Malc had done a superb job organising it. With the others gone, he and I decided that another quick one wouldn’t hurt and that led to another and………. well, you get the picture and it was a very mellow Fergy that made his way back up the hill to his cosy bunk.

Stay tuned.

Malta to UK and some final thoughts.

Well, it had to happen and Sunday 10th March 2013 came around with me not feeling too bad despite the excellent hospitality I had been shown in Dick’s Bar and the perhaps foolish ordering of a full bottle of Maltese red wine (see previous entry for full details). I really do not know why I do such things. I rose, checked the weather which was not too bad then showered and packed which was a matter of about five minutes. It is my proud boast that it has never taken me more than 40 minutes to pack for any trip and that was for a month trekking in Nepal. I cannot comprehend why people start packing a week before they depart.

I had a quick tidy up round the apartment, threw out half used food, stripped the bed etc. I don’t know why I do this but it is something of a habit of mine. Maybe it is because I use hostels a lot or it is something to do with being in the Forces or whatever but I do like to give the cleaners a bit of a hand. I really do not like people who throw towels on the floor, leave a terrible mess and so on.

 

My apartment was right at the back of the premises which shielded me from the road noise, not that Triq il Torri (Tower Road) was that busy at night but I walked out the front door into a complete cacophony of blaring car horns, shouting and singing and general racket. If you have read my previous entries in this series you will remember that there had been a General Election the previous day with the Labour Party hotly tipped to win from the Nationalist Party and this is indeed what happened as they had taken 39 seats to 30, a victory of over 10 percentage points. All the minority parties combined won a total of precisely zero seats so it really was a two horse race. The supporters of the victors were certainly making the most of it and rather than have me try to explain how raucous it was, the video here gives an idea. Remember that this was only about 1030 in the morning and it did not abate until I got well out the far side of Valetta en route to the airport.

Malta International Airport.
Not too busy for a massively expanding airport.

I dropped my key off at the hotel a few doors along and crossed the road to the bus stop, noting as I did so that it was much more clement weather than the evening I arrived. The excellent bus service took me to the central bus station and thence to the airport where I arrived in very good time. I hate rushing for planes and trains and stressing myself out and yet, for various reasons, I invariably do just that but on this day I found myself with time to kill after a quick check-in in a relatively quiet Malta International Airport. Looking at the above images it is hard to imagine a report dated 13/09/2019 (I am writing this retrospectively) indicating that this facility, the only airport on the island, has increased passenger numbers by 133% in a decade. I wonder how long it will be before they need to expand.

 

As a general rule, I try to buy, eat and drink as little as possible on airports as their captive audience pricing strategy leads them to be nothing more or less than highway robbery but I was well ahead of schedule and fancied a beer. I spotted the Hard Rock Cafe, went in and ordered a beer which came with an eye-watering price tag. For reasons as described above and the fact that HRC is a ripoff at the best of times, I was expecting to pay over the odds but this was utterly ridiculous. I doubt I would have paid much more in their outlet in Mayfair, London and there is no comparison between the two places. As is usual in establishments of this chain there are items of rock memorabilia everywhere and the images above show Bob Seger’s 12 string Fender, a Led Zep gold disc for Coda and Melissa Etheridge’s Ovation guitar. I do not really know much of Melissa’s work but I am a big fan of both Bob Seger and Zep so that was a kick.

Meal service on Air Malta flight.
Heading home again.

I have to say that purely from the memorabilia point of view I prefer Bill Wyman’s Sticky Fingers restaurant in London’s Kensington. I decided to leave before I was tempted to have another beer and have to mortgage my home in the process and went for an amble round and a bit of people watching before being called for my flight which was punctual, comfy enough and quite unremarkable as was the rest of my journey home.

Here, then, ends the story of my month’s “winter sun” holiday in Malta and so I shall just finish off by giving my general impressions of the place and a few websites which I hope may be of use to you.

Did I enjoy Malta and would I go again? Yes and yes as I really enjoyed myself and were any further impetus needed I shall hopefully re-visit in 2021. I speak often on my site about the wonderful Virtual Tourist (VT) website which was so cynically wiped out by the appalling TripAdvisor but the CEO, a repulsive man called Kaufer, hadn’t apparently considered one thing. He could, and did, destroy the site thereby wiping out at a stroke years of people’s hard work (12 years in my case and up to 16 in others) but VT was always so much more than that, it was genuinely a community and it still is. Although I do not use social media I know there is an active group of ex-members who communicate there and I am still in touch with one or two via e-mail.

One of the highlights of the VT year was the annual Euromeet which took place in a different European city every year. I have been to several and thoroughly enjoyed them every time with people coming from literally all over the world to attend. Whilst VT were very supportive and sent lots of promo kit as “swag” they jut did not have the staff numbers to assist in the actual organisation, although at least one staffer always made it from California to attend. Through these meets and online I know the last two CEO’s of the site, Kimberley Stirdivant Wasson and previously Giampiero Ambrosi (known to one and all as G) personally and Kimberley even sends me an Xmas card every year. How many commercial websites with the volume of traffic that we had can you say that about?

As I have said several times, this is being written retrospectively in September 2019 and there have been several meets since the site folded. This year’s was in Plovdiv in Bulgaria, organised by my dear friend John Gayton and was a great success. I could not attend for various reasons but if you want to know more about the redoubtable John then you might wish to look at my Lundy island pages which start here.

2018 was in Rekyavik, Iceland organised by another dear friend, Regina who I have shown round London on more than one occasion. In truth, she probably knows more about my home city than I do as she visits so often. Sadly, Iceland is a bit out of my price range so I had to skip that one.

2017 was Kempten-im-Allgau in Bayern (Bavaria) organised by yet another friend, Christian. This was part of my extended, impromptu and ever so slightly lunatic ramble round eight countries in Europe beginning with what was meant to be a four day trip to see a friend in the Netherlands. If you want the full crazy story it starts hereIf you want the full crazy story it starts here, although it is long so if you want to “cut to the chase and read about the meet, you might want to start here.

2020 is going to be in Newcastle-upon-Tyne in the UK organised by yet another dear friend Sarah who also lives in London and who I go for a drink with occasionally.  Apart from being extremely well-travelled, she is a first class writer and photographer and the hyperlink attached to her name will take you to her excellent blog which I highly recommend.

2021 is already decided and it is going to be Valetta in Malta which brings me back nicely to what I was writing about. This one is being organised by, need I say it, another good friend called DAO whom I have met many times. Yes, I do actually know his real name but he doesn’t like it divulged and is DAO to one and all. This is not only a great opportunity to revisit Malta and undoubtedly see some things I have not yet seen, I consider it to be almost a moral obligation!

Did I find it expensive? Yes, compared to many other places in Europe. My accommodation was a bargain off-season but eating out was expensive as was shopping if I felt like feeding myself, I would put it on a par with UK as were drinks (except in one or two little backstreet places) and whilst cigarettes were not as expensive as at home because nowhere is, they certainly were not the cheap option of places like Poland, Romania, Bulgaria or even most of the Eurozone. Public transport, i.e. the bus, is cheap and efficient and a long term weekly ticket is great value. Admission to historical sites can be expensive but researching multiple site combination tickets can save you a lot of €€€. Malta is most certainly not a backpackers cheapo paradise.

Do you need to learn Maltese? Absolutely not, although it is obviously courteous and appreciated if you learn a few basics like please, thank you, good day, goodbye etc. English is almost universally spoken to a very high standard. Bizarrely, I know there are several English language schools around the San Giljan area and possibly elsewhere as well although I only know about here.

Is it recommended for winter sun? Absolutely not, at least in February / March when I visited as many of the pages in this series show. Later on would be better but obviously you head into the season of school half-terms and Easter when prices are hiked mercilessly.

What is the food like? There are any amount of the multi-national fast food outlets although traditional Maltese snacks are widely available, cheaper and much tastier. There is a huge Italian influence which is understandable given the proximity and the history. Pizza and pasta are widely available. Actual Maltese food seems to be limited in it’s range, with a lot adapted from the Italian like the ravjul (ravioli), and a lot of it is rabbit! It is tasty though and worth seeking out.

If you are not a beach bunny, is there enough to keep you occupied? Without doubt. I had a month there which is longer than the average holidaymaker and only scratched the surface. No matter what your interests, you will find something to suit you.

As a final aside before I provide you with what I hope is a useful list of websites to assist you should you wish to visit this fabulous country, whilst preparing this series I read an article in a UK national newspaper which was quoting a report from the highly respected consumer protection organisation “Which”. The report stated that after intensive research (almost a quarter of a million reviews) they had concluded that up to one in seven of the reviews of 100 top hotels worldwide showed the hallmarks of being false. “Which” reported 15 of the worst cases to TA who admitted they were aware of 14 of them. They were forced to remove no less than 730 five star reviews for one single hotel! As always in my writing I shall present documented facts and leave the reader to make up their own mind as to whether or not they wish to trust this appalling site whose sole aim appears to be making itself the the only internet travel resource available by whatever means. At least that is one thing I pride myself on, I can and will stand by anything I publish here as it is my name on the site and I am only interested in honest reporting here.

Here then is the website list I promised (at long last I hear you cry!).

 

That is finally it then after quite a bit of work and I hope that if you intend visiting Malta that you may have found something of use to you here. If you have no intention of ever setting foot on the island and have been good enough to read some or all of this series, I thank you and hope you have found it interesting, entertaining or possibly both.

I have not decided what my next project here is going to be but I have plenty of options available and I am going to attempt to keep my contemporaneous blog pages up to date as well.

As always, please feel free to contact me with any suggestions as I really am still finding my way to a great extent here. In the meantime, stay tuned and spread the word.

Last day in St. Julian and Sliema.

Saturday the 9th of March and my penultimate day i.e. last full potential sightseeing day on Malta before flying home on the Sunday and so what to do? Go and visit one more of the many sites I still had not managed to visit. Maybe make a flying visit to Gozo which I still had not reached despite best intentions but they do say the road to Hell is paved with them. Six years after the event I rely on looking at my daily images to piece together my day but in this case the honest truth of the matter is that I have no idea according to them as my first image is timed at 2253!

Dick's Bar, San Giljan, Malta.
RIP Dick’s Bar – gone but never forgotten.

I do not remember now but I have no doubt the day did not start too early due to the amount of red wine consumed the previous evening (see the entry before this for full details) which always has a shocking effect on my head, much as I love it. I obviously did not go anywhere of note but I do have a distinct memory of taking my leave from the sadly now closed Dick’s Bar in San Giljan where I had spent so many happy evenings and whiled away some of the stormiest days when sightseeing just wasn’t an option. I really did love this place, still run by the second and third generations of the original Dick’s family and easily the best bar of the many I visited on the island. A history begun in the 1930’s is now lost and Malta is very much the poorer for it.

I must have spent a good long time in there and I remember the warmth of the sendoff I was given (including several free local drinks) which was much appreciated. There were the usual assurances that I would return soon and come and see them but unfortunately that does not seem likely now unless I can make local enquiries to see if they have opened up elsewhere in which case I shall make a beeline for the new establishment.

I mentioned above that I did not take any images this day as there are only so many angles you can photograph a cosy little bar from and so, without apology, I am recycling some images I have used earlier in this series.

One other thing of note is that it was election day there on the island, an event which had been hotly debated the whole time I had been there. The Maltese are a very politically minded people with the turnout in this contest a staggering 93% which is a figure unheard of at home in the UK. Basically the Nationalist Party, whose colours are black and white and who had been in power for some years were going head to head with the Labour Party who march under a red and white banner. A few independents and tiny parties made up the numbers. It was the Nationalist Party whose rally I had inadvertently stumbled upon a few days before and which I described in a previous post in this series.

It appeared, if the polls were to be believed (which they are not always – witness the Brexit referendum in my country for a fine example) Labour had a commanding lead with the final poll before the election giving them a 12% lead. On polling day there were a few vehicles driving about with flags flying out the windows and some more broadcasting messages through tannoys but it was nothing compared to what happened the next day as you shall see if you read the final instalment of this group of entries which follows this.

Le Malte restaurant, Sliema, Mlta.
Le Malte taken the next morning.

Again, I fancied a bite to eat and again I had left it pretty late in that it was nearly 11 when I got back to Sliema and headed to the Le Malte restaurant adjacent to my apartment for my final Maltese meal. I had previously earmarked it as the menu looked good and not likely to break the bank completely. I was not too worried about the hour as it was a Saturday night and even off-season Mediterranean countries tend to eat much later than we do in the UK so I was fairly confident it would be open and thankfully it was although not too busy at that hour.

Le Malte is a thin, long restaurant which is not that big even with the terrace area to the front. The decor is a bit quirky with mostly old-fashioned Maltese artefacts juxtaposed with a rather large plasma screen “painting”on the wall which I found slightly incongruous. Very odd but very cosy. Apologies for the quality of the images but even though it was nearly empty I am still loath to use flash when people are eating. Hopefully they give an idea of what Le Malte is about.

A quick perusal of the menu suggested to me soup du jour and then something rather special. I have mentioned in a couple of previous posts that I had fallen quite in love with ravjul (ravioli) and if you are looking at the images you are probably thinking, “Oh no, he is not at spinach and ricotta again, is he”? Indeed no, I was not. How does ravjul stuffed with prawn and lobster served with a lobster sauce sound to you? It sounded extremely good to me and that is what I ordered.

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After the previous evening’s excess and the fact that I was flying the next day you would have thought I would have learned my lesson but there is no fool like and old fool and I am certainly that so I asked the waiter to recommend a Maltese red. Yes, I know it should traditionally be white with fish and seafood but I believe that old chestnut is going out of style somewhat these days and I do much prefer red to white. Without hesitation he recommended Carissimi which was indeed a very decent drop to my Philistine palate and again it was only whilst researching this piece that I found out a little about the winemaker.

Carissimi is one of the brands produced by the Emmanuel Delicata vineyard which is the oldest on the island although it was only founded in 1907 so there is none of the heritage of, say, France, Spain or Portugal. If I had been asked before visiting Malta I would have said that I did not think the very rocky ground and relatively poor soil would have been conducive to viniculture but apparently it is if given enough attention. Not only do they produce wine and import various types of alcohol but they are also responsible for having saved two varieties of indigenous Maltese grape, namely Gellewza and Girgentina, from extinction so fair play to them for that.

The meal was rather special and I have since found out that even on Saturday Le Malte closes at 2330 and I know I was there a lot later than that but, as in previous late night restaurant visits, I was not rushed at all and took my leisure with the bottle of wine. I genuinely would have been quicker if I had known the closing time but I didn’t and there were still one or two others sitting about and obviously in no rush to go anywhere. After paying the bill which was remarkably easy on the pocket it was a journey of literally about 25 yards from table to bed and a setting of the alarm for my journey home on the morrow and so to sleep.

N.B. The image above was obviously taken the next morning and the restaurant was close but at least it was daylight so you can see it should you wish to seek it out and I suggest you do although reservations are probably a good idea in season.

In the next and final post in this series I head back to UK so if you want to know about that and my closing thoughts about my month on Malta then stay tuned and spread the word.