I woke well rested on the 21st to a lovely Devonian July morning. I skipped breakfast as I did in those days, said goodbye to the lovely landlady and took off into town. I had been sad to leave Lundy but had delayed the “end of trip downer” by my very pleasant day in Ilfracombe and had even planned a lateish train to eke another few hours out of it. These days, I would probably just have kept on moving but I didn’t travel like that then (well, only occasionally).
I am conscious that I have not told you much about the town. My general impression was that it was a very pleasant little North Devon seaside town with a bit of a bias towards tourism. It is a small place of some 11,000 souls and has survived over the centuries as a maritime staging post and fishing port. Like most of the fishing fleet in the UK it is diminished now to the point of extinction, more or less destroyed by EU regulation. I only hope there is enough will and money to restore the UK fleet when we get out of that appalling farrago of self-seeking, unelected, bloated Eurocrats and can again fish our own waters properly and sustainably.
As a staging post it’s major function is as the departure point for the wonderful M.S. Oldenburg (as mentioned in previous entries), the non- aerial route to Lundy which is still very popular and rightly so. It no longer serves as a place to embark British troops to go and quell the “rebellious Irish” as it has been in the past.
Times move on and for whatever reason the “modern artist” Damien Hirst seems intent on buying up the whole town even though he is not from there. He has several properties already and when I visited in July 2013 I was informed he was in negotiation to buy even more. His totally incongruous and massive statue dominates and somewhat demeans the harbour area. Still, if he can earn a reported £10 million plus for a dead animal pickled in formaldehyde he can probably afford it! Leaving the ludicrous Mr. Hirst aside (and I would), on my brief acquaintance with it Ilfracombe seems to be a pleasant enough place to spend a couple of days so what interesting things could I find?
Literally a couple of minutes down the hill from my hotel was the rather lovely Church of the Holy Trinity. It is no secret from my writings that I find cemeteries / graveyards / churchyards (call them what you will) endlessly fascinating and never pass up an opportunity to visit one if I can.
The church was originally built in the 12th century and modifications began in 1321 on the orders of Bishop Stapledon when the nave was lengthened and aisles added. This was the first of numerous alterations over the centuries resulting in the rather pleasant building you see today. Regrettably, it did not appear to be open so I had to content myself with a wander round the fairly extensive churchyard which was, after all, my primary purpose. I did, however, spot a fine example of a sundial on the exterior of the building (pictured).
It was a fascinating place and I had it all to myself, spending quite a bit of time there. I noticed an interesting thing I have only rarely seen in UK graveyards, namely the fairly anonymous gravestones with only initials and year of death given. I am guessing these must be paupers graves when there was insufficient money or family to erect a more ornate memorial. One example is given here.
With the possibilities of the graveyard exhausted another very short walk of about the distance Usain Bolt covers in less than ten seconds took me to the War Memorial and Garden of Remembrance.
I have written elsewhere about my interest in these memorials and even contribute to the excellent Imperial War Museum Inventory of War Memorials. I never pass up a chance to pause at one, take a few images for the website and spend a few moments in quiet contemplation of the many millions who have given their lives, and continue to do so, in defence of my country. In fact, and purely coincidentally, I originally composed this report on Remembrance Sunday 2013.
The memorial itself is of a not uncommon design, a column surmounted by a bronze statue of “Victory” which was sculpted by Courtenay E.M. Pollock (1877 – 1943) and was unveiled on 11th November 1924. The names of the dead of both World Wars and more recent conflicts are commemorated here.
Omward, ever onward, and the time to go was approaching but not before time for another pub visit. Again time has dimmed the memory and my inexplicable failure to take an identifiable image means that I cannot remember the name of the pub where I spent a few hours. What the images do suggest is that the establishment boasted a skittle alley, which you rarely see any more, and a rather incongruous chopped motorcycle.
My images also remind me that there were not one but three varieties of Thatchers cider on draught and I have no doubt I sampled them all. I don’t recall ever having seen the Cheddar Valley before or since.
Time waits for no man and all too soon it was time to make the slow walk to the bus and onward to the very pleasantly preserved Barnstaple railway station for the beginning of the long but uneventful trip back to London where I arrived fairly late in the evening so it was off to my own bed, leaving the pile of mail on my mat to be dealt with on the morrow.
So ends the tale of my trip to the West Country and Lundy Island. It was a wonderful week away in glorious weather with as much history, mystery, scenery, flora and fauna as you could wish for in one of the most beautiful regions of my country. Whilst all this was wonderful I always maintain that my travelling is not so much about places but about people and I had made some new friendships not to mention spending my time in the company of dear friends, some of whom I had not seen for a while or only known online hitherto.
As always and as I conclude this piece, I would most sincerely ask for any feedback on what I m trying to do here. Do I write too much? Are there too many (or too few) images? Is my writing style rubbish? Would you like more links and practical information or less on the principle you can find them for yourselves? Honestly, any and all constructive criticism is more than welcomed. I want to try to make this site as interesting as I can and I am only able to do that if I know what you like and dislike. Don’t pull your punches, I rarely do!
I do hope you have enjoyed my efforts here and I am already planning my next travelogue so stay tuned and spread the word.
I awoke on the morning of the 20th July which promised to be another lovely day and so it proved. I was a little sad as this was my last day although the positive was that the boat does not leave until the afternoon so I had a few more hours before I had to go.
I packed in no time flat (I always travel light) and had a quick tidy up. John had been such a wonderful host I didn’t want to leave the place in gash order. A final slightly wistful look back at the quarters and quick image (shown here) and I was off towards the Black Shed of which I have spoken before. They say you should never look back, they may be right.
I knew the drill by now, and again it is interesting how quickly you can adapt to the pace and procedures of island life here.
Back to the Black Shed (mentioned previously) and I dumped my kitbag in the big wooden box on the back of the tractor. There was nobody about to tell me to do it, I just knew what the score was. I am not saying I am particularly smart as I am not but you just sort of know these things, it is difficult to explain really. Naturally, I kept the guitar with me as no baggage handler is ever getting that and I stowed it in John’s kitchen store so I could go for a final walk round the island which I knew pretty well by now.
I passed the sole postbox on the island and I would like to tell you something about the history of the postal system here which I think is interesting.
It might sound like a pretty obvious thing to suggest that you send a postcard or two to friends and relatives back home but on Lundy even this simple act takes on an added dimension. As I mentioned earlier there is only one of most things on the island and so you buy your postcard from THE shop and eventually post it in THE postbox (pictured) so what else is required? Well, a stamp obviously and here is where the interesting part comes.
The General Post Office, as it was, ceased operations on the island in 1927 due to lack of business but now Lundy stamps are one of the mainstays of the economy here. The Harman family started issuing stamps and these are accepted by the Royal Mail, as it is now called, for delivering your postcard or letter from Bideford to anywhere in the world in the same way as a normal UK stamp bearing the Queen’s head. However, there is one important thing to remember. It is customary in the UK to affix your stamp to the top right hand corner of your postcard but that is reserved strictly for Her Majesty so you must stick your special Lundy stamp to the top left corner. I believe I am right in saying that if it is a letter rather than a postcard you affix it to the bottom left. The very nice chap in the shop will steer you in the right direction as to the ins and outs of the system.
Lundy stamps, especially the older ones, have become much sought after by philatelists and fetch good prices so it really might even be worth sending yourself a postcard or two as a commercial venture. Perhaps they’ll be worth a bit in a year or two.
Speaking of letterboxes there is another pastime on the island vaguely related to that although it has nothing to do with the item pictured above.
Lundy is a place of incredible natural beauty with many excellent images online although mine are somewhat marred by equipment failure. Why then would I choose to include an image of a slightly grubby Tupperware box scribbled on in felt tip pen? Allow me to explain.
I am not sure whether to refer to it as a game, challenge or whatever else. Perhaps it is all things to all people and it is known as Lundy letterboxing. Basically, you buy a clue book from the shop and it guides you to various locations where the boxes are. You use a little rubber stamp in the box to endorse your book and prove you have been there. As well as the static clues, there are one or more “roving” letterboxes, which are known as Lundy Bunnies. As I was with a local resident for a lot of my walking, I didn’t think it would be fair to do the letterboxing as he knows where everything is but for other visitors it seems like great fun.
Speaking of the shop I suppose I should tell you a little about it here although shopping tips are not generally my forte but it is really rather easy on Lundy as you have a simple choice. You can either go to THE shop or go without! Like so much else on the island, there is only one although in fairness it is rather good. If any of you have ever seen the old British TV sitcom “Open All Hours” starring the late Ronnie Barker and David Jason you will get the idea, although Lundy Shop is bigger and carries a far wider selection. You can literally buy just about anything here from food and drink (there seems to be plenty of drink), hardware, souvenirs and, of course, Lundy postage stamps to put on your Lundy postcards also available here (see above).
The place is run by Nigel, a charming bloke who is always willing to pass the time of day and will even explain the protocol of the Lundy “puffin” stamps to you. If you are visiting the island for more than a day-trip, you can pre-order supplies from the shop and they will make up your order and even deliver it to your place of temporary residence. Fortunately, I can eat and drink just about anything but if you have any dietary needs for whatever reason then I am told that the shop can source just about anything for you from the mainland if they are given enough notice. Please do give them sufficient time though as obviously everything has to be shipped to the island either by boat or helicopter and the logistics do take time.
As you might imagine, there is a good selection of local produce here and I can tell you that the it is very good as well as being all the thing foodies love like organic, free-range, low food mileage and so on. Even if you are only day-tripping, why not take home some local foodstuffs as well as the more traditional souvenirs?
Incidentally, I am told that the sign pictured is the only directional sign on the whole island although it is pretty irrelevant as you will not miss the shop, believe me.
I went to the bar, paid my tab and said fond farewells to those of the many new friends I had made who were there, and then set off for the walk back to the boat. I had decided that I was going to wander down the pathway rather than the main “road” that the tractor would take. I knew it to be scenic and I wanted another look and an image of the magnificent Millcombe House, which you can see here. Millcombe was originally called the villa and renamed by Martin Harman when he bought the island in 1925.
Should you wish to, this wonderful structure is available for rent as a holiday let and can accommodate up to 12 people. I can personally vouch for the beauty of the view from the front of it. Should you be interested here is a link.
I must have cut a slightly unusual figure scrambling down a fairly steep slope with a guitar case slung over my shoulders but I am no stranger to cutting an unusual figure, I have spent half my life doing it! On and down, picking up a pretty decent track and heading towards the jetty where I spied the Oldenburg waiting to carry me back to the mainland. I did try for a slightly “arty” shot of it, despite the camera problems I was having, and this is about the best I could manage.
I also passed the marker stone pictured and which I had inexplicably missed before which commemorates the landing place of T.H., so who exactly was that? One of the Harman family perhaps who are synonymous with the island. Well no, as they did not get here until years later. It commemorates the 1819 arrival of Trinity House who are the body that administer all lighthouses and lightships in the United Kingdom. Conincidentally the actual Trinity House, which is a very fine old building, is within easy walking distance of my home and will feature in a future blog entry here if I ever manage to get them all published.
I continued on down the track, had a quick cigarette on the quay, and embarked on the Oldenburg. As soon as I was on board I was greeted warmly by Glyn the purser, who I had met on the island, bought a pint and seated myself. I sat with a very pleasant couple I had met in the Tavern the night before and we continued our conversation from the previous evening. Embarrassingly, they were very complimentary about my performance and tried to get me to strike up another session on the boat but I managed to talk my way out of it. Lundy seems to have a knack of making friends out of strangers. In truth, Lundy has a knack of doing many things.
As we pulled away from the jetty, I excused myself and wandered up on deck for a last look at the place I had just had such a wonderful time. I watched with a fairly heavy heart as the island receded. Now, I have no doubt that it was either the wind, which was blowing a little, or perhaps a smut from the smokestack of the old boat but I can tell you that my eyes seemed to be watering a little.
Returning to the for’ard saloon and my delightful company, I spent a very pleasant couple of hours in conversation with a pint in front of me and soon enough, we were pulling into Ilfracombe harbour.
Back on the mainland or terra firma or the real world or whatever you wish to call it I bade a warm farewell to a couple of the crew that I had been chatting to and also my charming travelling companions before going down the gangplank and back to “the world”. Although my kitbag was promptly delivered in perfect condition, I couldn’t help but feel that I had left something behind. I had, it was a part of me.
After this fairly long travelogue how can I now summarise Lundy for those of you who have been good enough to read through it? The truth is, for a man with usually far too much to say for himself, I really don’t know.
Lundy is unlike anywhere else in so many ways. It is a place of stunning natural beauty, a huge history including some fairly mystical things, a place of extremely friendly local residents, partially driven undoubtedly by the fact that it is entirely dependent on the tourist trade for survival. It is a small, peaceful corner of the UK without many of the trappings of modern life and is in so many ways a step back in time.
I would suggest that only a miniscule proportion of the population of the UK have visited Lundy. When I was talking to people about going there, only a small number of my friends had even heard of the place and yet it is one of the most fascinating portions of our nation. I have no doubt that there are places in the Scottish islands for example that would rival Lundy for natural beauty, interesting flora and fauna and a small, friendly community. However, I do not know of one that exists under the circumstances that Lundy does, maintaining a tourist industry to self-sustain, making a modest profit from recycling (Lundy is extremely “green”) and with the unique conditions that it has.
I know I was in a priveledged position insofar as I was hosted by one of the excellent people that live there full-time but something that was said to me several times over my short visit there was, “You either get Lundy or you don’t”. Believe me, I get it, I get it more than you can perhaps understand and I really do urge readers to go to Lundy if they ever get the chance and see if they can “get it” for themselves. Trust me, you will not regret it.
It was still early afternoon so I could not check into my digs and so I set off for a wander as I had not seen much of the town on the way out.
It was undoubtedly just fortune (those travel Gods again) that guided my steps and I certainly had no real prior knowledge of the town but I found myself outside the Ship and Pilot pub in Broad Street not far from the ferry landing point. In the words of an old Irish song that I still sing occasionally in my set, “I thought a quiet pint wouldn’t do me no harm” and so in I wandered. At that point I had genuinely not heard of the place nor read John’s glowing report on the old Virtual Tourist website obviously as he didn’t write it until two months later. Without consultation, we had both decided it was a great pub.
Walking in, I was presented with a great atmospheric old-fashioned “proper” boozer. I was greeted in friendly manner by a young man and enquired as to what ciders were on offer. He duly recited the list, indicating them in turn. OK, it is the West Country, where they pride themselves on cider you could run internal combustion engines on, but this was ridiculous. There were ciders there that would undoubtedly have stripped paint. I plumped for what appeared to be the least suicidal, well it was not even two in the afternoon at this point, I was humping a guitar case and a kitbag and hadn’t even found my digs yet. I have made that mistake before!
For the beer drinkers amongst you, there was a large selection, mostly apparently from local breweries and, as pictured, the premises had been awarded a very high CAMRA award recently (2013). For readers who may not know, CAMRA is the Campaign for Real Ale which champions proper beer as opposed to chemical keg rubbish and also real ciders.
Having declined John’s very kind offer of a professionally cooked breakfast (was I mad?), I reckoned that eating might be a good idea even though I rarely eat in the hours of daylight and I had spotted a tray of excellent looking rolls behind the bar. I opted for the roast beef and horseradish (pictured) which can never be designated at haute cuisine but that is to miss the point. This is a pub and the food offerings are merely there to soak up the drink. Not Michel Roux for sure but a damned good filled pub roll all the same. Indeed, I am sure M. Roux would have approved. Nice fresh roll, a generous portion of very tasty roast beef and a good dollop of horseradish ensured that it was devoured in fairly rapid order.
I had noticed a TV screen in the rear of the bar showing cricket. Now the sound was not loud or obtrusive, it is not that kind of place, but I fancied watching it as I like a bit of the old leather on willow. I found a spare seat and settled myself down. I have subsequently found out that this place used to have a reputation as a bit of a “rough house” but this was certainly not the case when I visited. I was engaged in very friendly and interesting conversation by a number of people as the overs mounted up and the wickets tumbled.
After several hours, I decided I had better make a move to get to my digs and bade a fond farewell to my new best friends, delightful people all. I am not worried about what this place used to be like, I speak as I find and I had found this to be a delightful place with an excellent selection of drink, nice atmosphere, friendly locals, professional staff and…… well that’s about all you need, isn’t it? Oh, not quite, the toilets were spotless as well!
I had a mental map of where I was going (no smartphones for me in those days and even now I cannot operate one) and so started heading in that direction when I came upon the sight pictured above. In stark contrast to the excellent pub I had just been in, here was the Bunch of Grapes, closed and up for sale or rent. I took the image for the Lost Pubs website which is excellent if somewhat depressing. A little research now in 2018 would suggest that it has thankfully re-opened unlike so many others.
I did not want to be too late checking in so I moved on and found the Lamb which had not suffered the ignominious fate of the Grapes and so it was in there for a quick pint as I knew I was close to my hotel. A decent little pub and very friendly (they seem to be terribly sociable in Devon) and, in the way of trying to keep this rather old experience fresh and keeping myself from getting lazy in my old age, a bit of research indicates that in 2018 it underwent a makeover when it was re-opened as a fine dining restaurant. It is run by a Michelin starred chef and his mate who holds the record for running round the world in the fastest time (I swear I am not making this up). Look here if you do not believe me. Not only that but the whole enterprise was bankrolled by crowdfunding which I have but a small idea about. This really is the 21st century and I am getting too bloody old for it. Still, if they retain at least a portion of what this place was like then they will have made a very good start.
Not wanting to be too late I completed the final leg to Wentworth House. I would include a link here but it appears they do not have their own site and I really do not want to promote any of the numerous booking sites that are apparently taking over the world and strangling decent little businesses on the way.
I arrived at a fine looking old building and rang the bell, to be greeted by a charming lady. I should make a small point here. For many years, seaside landladies were the butt of some pretty unflattering humour, specifically by stand up comedians, and from memory it was not all totally undeserved. I can remember having had some right old harridans to deal with in years past. I must say, however, that this group of people appear to have embraced whole-heartedly the concept that they are in the “hospitality” business and things are much changed now. On this particular trip I stayed in two establishments in Ilfracombe and one in Torquay and was greeted with the utmost civility in all of them. I submit this for the information of overseas readers who may still have the notion that British seaside B&B’s are intrinsically unfriendly, this really has not been the case for years.
I was shown to my room on the first floor and facing the main road. This did not prove to be any sort of problem as it was extremely quiet at night. About the first thing I noticed was a sort of tray affair just inside the door with a label asking you to deposit your footwear there. I do not know if this indicates that it is hiker friendly (there is some lovely walking hereabouts) or just a general thing but it was certainly no hardship to get the boots off and wander barefoot on a very decent carpet.
The rest of the room was furnished to a very good standard and I have to say the bed subsequently proved to be extremely comfortable. The en-suite was spotless and I was to find out that there was an abundant supply of hot water. The other usual facilities were in evidence, TV, tea and coffee making facilities etc. and I was very pleased with my choice.
I did notice that the establishment offers evening meals in addition to the breakfast and apparently prides itself on serving traditional British cuisine. I was heading out for the night so did not avail myself of that and indeed had told the proprietress that I would not be troubling her for breakfast as it is a meal I rarely take. I cannot, therefore, report on the quality of the food. Obviously I was travelling solo as usual and had been given this double room as single occupancy for £32 per night, which I thought was very competitive in high season (July). A check of the website shows that now (2018) it would run a bit more.
If I had one minor, and it is minor, criticism of the Wentworth it would be that it is a little way out of the main area of town and up a bit of a hill (important if you are carrying luggage and on foot) but perfectly walkable if you are not i.e. when you have checked in. Obviously this has the advantage of making it very peaceful and I was really pleased with my “blind” choice.
After a quick wash and brush up it was time to hit the town and this is where things become a bit vague. I obviously sampled a few more of the local hostelries and ended up somewhere the name and location of which are long lost to me. There was a band playing and they must have been OK or else I would not have stayed until the hour indicated on my images. I don’t tend to hang around if the band is rubbish. Almost inevitably, I got up and did a couple of numbers with them but do not even ask me what they might have been as my recollection is vague to say the least.
Leaving the mystery pub at closing time I went in search of a bite to eat as it was a long time since the roast beef roll but there was a bit of a problem.
Before I found a takeaway I managed to find another watering hole with an even later licence. At least I think they had but either way they were still open and busy. Well, it would have been rude to walk by and so that was another pint or two and by the time they threw me out of there it was very late.
The streets were more or less deserted as you can see from the image and I was not too hopeful of finding anything to eat but the travel gods were on my side again and I found Chick’n’Land in the High Street still going at 0200. Job done. Quick order of Southern fried chicken, back home to scoff the lot and a great night’s sleep in the very comfy bed. Yet again, I am sure the cleaners hated me but it was bloody tasty!
I’ll be having a wander round Ilfracombe in the next instalment so stay tuned and spread the word.
Day five of my trip dawned in Ilfracombe and was sunny yet again which was becoming somewhat of a habit and one I could easily get used to. I had set my alarm for once though I was up long before its rather annoying electronic insistence for today I had things to do, things I really could not afford to be late for. Much as I had enjoyed my weekend with dear friends in and around Torquay and pleasant as my brief stay in Ilfracombe had been, this was the big one as it was the day I was going to Lundy Island which was the main purpose of the trip. As I shall explain, there was one boat and one only to be caught and if I missed that then all was lost. As always I skipped breakfast and had told the lovely landlady the previous evening so she wasn’t cooking unnecessarily. I do hate wasting food. Thanking her husband for their fine hospitality I stepped out to face what I knew was going to be another good day, I could just feel it.
I swear I had not gone ten yards from the door when my eye was caught by what was to prove to be the first wonder of the day. In the UK we have “blue plaques”, although confusingly they come in many colours and designs depending on the originating authority but the vast majority are blue and either circular or occasionally oval. They are placed on buildings where famous people were born, died, stayed occasionally, lived or whatever and I am drawn to them like a moth to a flame to the extent that I seem to have an inbuilt radar which operates at the extreme edge of my peripheral vision.
The radar started pinging and I was across the road to investigate a plaque on a modest but immaculate terrace house which turned out to be the home of Henry Williamson, author of “Tarka the Otter” amongst many other works. I had heard of the book obviously and the subsequent film although I have neither read nor seen these respectively. To my shame I could not have named the author who turns out to be a fascinating man although I shall not go into his details here as I have so much more to write about on this day and it really will turn into a complete rigmarole. I have hopefully included a link here to his appreciation society which you can have a look at if you are interested.
I made the short walk downhill to the harbour which is the usual way of things except perhaps in the Netherlands where you can probably walk uphill to a harbour! My friend John (of whom much more later) had told me that all I had to do was turn up, give my name and everything was sorted. Ordinarily I would have been a little dubious about such an arrangement but I trust the man and so I joined the rather long queue outside the ferry office and spent the time watching the fairly feverish loading of cargo onto the ferry. This involved loading a huge number of crates onto the foredeck (if there is a hold it was not used) but was obviously all in a days work for the mobile crane operator, stevedores and hands on the vessel and went incredibly smoothly.
It appears that staff on the island are allowed a number of “indulgence trips” as we used to call them in the Forces for friends and relatives and that was how it was all done. It is not a cheap trip ordinarily although I paid not one penny piece. I often wonder how I get so lucky so often, I must have done something really good in a previous life. Down then to the pier where all my kit was loaded onto one of a number of the huge crates that I had watched being loaded whilst waiting. I did ask the stevedore to be careful with my guitar which was only in a soft case and, bless him, I watched him walk it up the gangplank and stow it beside the purser’s desk so I could reclaim it when I had negotiated the gangplank. After several bad experiences I wish airport baggage handlers had the same respect for property. Having safely overseen that, it was time to board which I did without mishap.
Unless you have your own light aircraft or boat, and there are landing facilities for both on the island, you have two choices of how to get to Lundy depending on the season and the weather. There is a helicopter service all year round (weather permitting) although between March and November you have the option of a leisurely cruise on the MS Oldenburg which was the vessel I had now boarded. It is a lovely old craft which runs from Ilfracombe (as I did obviously) or Bideford on certain days, generally Tuesday, Thursday and Saturday. Bideford departures are much less common so check the timetable on the website to make sure you go to the correct place.
I had a quick look round the boat and selected a seat beside the bar (obviously) which proved to be a good move as I got into a great conversation with the purser / barman and learnt a lot about the island and the boat. Most people had elected to sit outside on the upper deck in the July sunshine which meant that the two pleasantly appointed saloons were fairly empty and I didn’t have to wait long to be served at any point.
The Oldenburg was launched in Bremen, Germany in 1958 which makes it marginally older than me and saw service as a ferry round the East Frisian islands. The Lundy Company then acquired her in 1985 to replace the former supply ship and she underwent a refurbishment at Appledore Shipyard where the original internal fixtures and fittings were retained, giving her a slightly old-fashioned but wonderfully comfortable feel. The staff on the island somewhat bawdily, rather affectionately and probably completely accurately call her the “Old ‘n’ Buggered and I know she eats a huge proportion of the island revenue with her annual winter refit. Certainly a few of the visitors to Lundy arrive by chartered helicopter for their weekends in “the Big House” which sleeps a small tribe and, occasionally and much to John’s utter chagrin their own chef but the Oldenburg really is what keeps the place ticking over. I adored her.
Should you feel hungry there is a small buffet in the aft cabin and here is an insiders tip for you. If you fancy a sausage roll, get in quick because they sell out fast as apparently they are the favourite item on the menu and I have this on the authority of the buffet steward!
The two hour sailing seemed to fly by and soon we were all on deck to catch a first glimpse of Lundy. To be honest, if I had never set foot on the island, the journey from London would have been worth it for the “cruise” alone but I had much more to do.
Having tied up, I went down the fairly wobbly gangway to the jetty and just sort of waited around whilst having a cigarette, smoking not being allowed anywhere on board and I was gasping. I was waiting for my luggage which had been crated in a large wooden box and craned onboard at Ilfracombe (except the guitar obviously).
I wandered into a hut by the jetty which seemed to be by way of a museum although it was really a small and somewhat random collection of objects thrown together, totally uncared for and with not a sinner near the place but it was vaguely interesting.
Frankly, I didn’t have a clue what was going on and more to the point I really didn’t care. It was just one of those situations where you knew nothing could go wrong. People call it instinct or “streetsmarts” or whatever and in the Forces some officer had obviously got his next rank by coining the phrase “situational awareness”. Call it what you will, you just know when things are right, when they may go a little bad, and when they are just downright dangerous. This fell very much into the first category.
I spoke to one of the shore crew and was told not to worry, just to pick it up at the black shed. What black shed? I had no idea but this was Lundy and I had already got my head round the concept that things would probably work themselves out. I may well have been a bit apprehensive at being separated from all my kit anywhere else in the world but I was already working on “Lundy time” albeit that it was an expression I had never even heard yet. My friend John was later to tell me that you either “get” Lundy within a few minutes of stepping off the boat or you don’t. I reckon I had “got” it before I ever got down the gangplank.
Next, a guy called John, who is one of the island workers, and had obviously seen my guitar case (that does not go in the cargo hold!) approached me and said, “You must be John the Chef’s mate, jump in the Landrover and I’ll give you a lift up the hill” Hmm, it appears my infamy had preceded me! Lundy is like that, everyone knows everyone else even before you get there. I shared the journey with a lovely elderly couple who were staying in one of the accommodations on the island, of which more later. They were very pleasant company and the rather tortuous journey passed quickly if somewhat hazardously with the track being barely wide enough for a vehicle in parts.
I should mention that the drive / walk from the jetty up to the “village” is quite steep although very pleasant and the Land Rover is there for people for whom it may have been a bit much like my elderly companions.
I was deposited at the Marisco Tavern, which is a wonderful establishment and as the manager told me John was busy with lunch service I did not bother him although word was obviously passed as he appeared when the crowd had died down and we went outside for a smoke and a chat. He said he would go home for the afternoon for a rest as he had to prepare shortly for evening service and this was the height of season.
I asked him about the black shed and my kit and he took me about 10 yards from the front door and across the small track that serves as the only thoroughfare on the island where there was, well, a black shed. I wandered in and collected my kitbag from the many pieces of luggage sitting around apparently totally unguarded totally unmolested. As I said, Lundy is like that. I think it must be the oddest baggage reclaim I have ever encountered but it just seems to work. He had earlier told me not to worry, it was all sorted and as I say, I trust the man.
On an island barely three and a half miles long and half a mile wide centred on a “village” you can walk from one end of the other to in the space of less than one cigarette it was a matter of about 100 yards or less from the “black shed” to his home. Home for most of the 27 permanent staff on the island revolves around a collection of pre-fabricated buildings which were long, long past their supposed use. I know some of the lads live up at the old lighthouse (accessed by quad bike so you get an idea of how remote it is) but mainly they are here. John did tell me the exact date when the buildings were due for demolition and it was frightening although they seemed well cared for and, once inside, remarkably cosy. I am sure that in the winter storms that occur here they may have a few structural defects but at this time of year it was a most homely place. Naturally for a chef the kitchen was the thing and although small and not overflowing with modern gadgets I just knew he could knock up a bloody good feed there.
We sat over a glass of very good wine (being a chef he is somewhat of a connoisseur and even his afternoon everyday tipple seemed a bit special even to one with such an uneducated palate as myself). We caught up as we had not seen each other for a while and got the logistics sorted. His home was a one double bed affair suitable for a singleton or a couple, of which there were a few on the island. Idyllic certainly but, shall we say, testing. It is very hard work there and you would have to be in a relationship as strong as the rock that is Lundy is to even consider it.
One bedroom meant obviously that I was dossing in the living room. I know we are very good mates but………… Anyway, the sofa I was sitting on was extremely comfortable but probably about a foot and a half short for my absurdly lanky frame. This was no bother. A seasoned road warrior like myself merely scanned the room, noted a couple of chairs and quickly calculated that there were more than enough cushions to provide a comfy nest which proved to the case later on. In truth, sleeping on a firm surface (doesn’t get much firmer than a floor) is actually good for my rather dodgy back which I have mentioned elsewhere on this site. OK, it is not the firmest available with that dubious honour being shared equally between a bath and a pool table, both of which I have done and sworn on the few things I hold sacred never to do again. I told you I live a fairly obscure lifestyle!
I should take a moment to tell you about John now. Apart from being a very well-respected contributor on a travel website that set the benchmark for all others (Virtual Tourist), John is a dear friend, experienced traveller, drinking buddy, excellent chef and all round good guy. I would go so far as to count him amongst my best friends in the world and like most of the best friendships, especially of travellers like us who are, by very definition, pretty nomadic, we will have not contact for months on end and then one or another of us will pop up out of the gloom to regain comms.
John and I have been friends for a long time and I know his CV which is pretty impressive to say the least, including 5* London hotels but that was never his thing albeit he can do it with his eyes closed. He much prefers smaller places and even ran his own “gastropub” before the term had ever even marched onto the pages of the broadsheet newspapers in the UK. The fact that he hosted me in his home (along with several other people from all over the globe at various times) shows you what sort of man he is.
I should mention here that for personal reasons John is now (as of 2018) back on the mainland “rattling those pots and pans” and I strongly recommend that if you can winkle him out (I’ll bet he does amazing things with winkles) then go wherever he is chef now. You will not be disappointed. I know he started in the kitchen at St. Andrew’s Golf Course, the home of golf, during one of the Open Championships preparing food for the world’s golfing elite and all the attendant hangers-on. Sounds like a baptism of fire to me. I know he has “saved my bacon” (if you will pardon the culinary pun) on several occasions when I have been required to cook, often in a campervan (RV) in the middle of nowhere and a quick mail on our old website along the lines of, “John, I have ingredients x,y and z and don’t want to do them just the usual way” would inevitably elicit a brilliant recipe, cooking things in manners I would never have considered. He’s that kind of guy.
I was also run through the house rules which were pretty simple i.e. use as little water and electric as possible. There is no mains electric supply from the mainland so it is all provided by a generator for which the fuel obviously has to be transported which is not cheap. There are no natural sources of water, save rainwater and in the very occasional drought conditions we encounter in UK water has to be shipped from the mainland which again is crippling expensive and eats into the finely balanced economy of the place.
This was fine as my time in the Forces mean I can shower in about three minutes flat, even turning off the water between the wetting, soaping and rinsing phases. At a push I can make do with a flannel and a small basin of water. I learnt in a hard school where even lukewarm water was a luxury.
Regarding the electric, the generator which supplies it all is turned off about midnight until about sunrise. I am not sure whether the larger accommodations have their own genny but a word to the wise is to charge up things like camera batteries when you can in the day / evening and do not rely on the usual overnight charging. Believe me, you will have more than enough use for the cameras. Obviously powerpacks are useful but do plan ahead.
Those were effectively the standing orders and they were no problem at all to me. Frankly, if you are looking for a 5* hotel experience with room service of foie gras at three in the morning, a jacuzzi and a swimming pool then you are in the wrong place as it really is not that sort of gig. What you do get makes up for that tenfold if not more.
John had to return shortly to the kitchen as he had evening service to prepare for and it is ludicrously busy at that time of year. I contented myself with another smoke and a stare out the back window onto a field he had told me constitutes the island campsite if you want to go on a bit of a budget. I must be honest here, as I always try to be in my travel writing, and say that as wonderful as Lundy truly is, it is not a cheap option. In fairness, the money made is ploughed back into running what is a fairly costly enterprise with the upkeep of merely keeping the place inhabited is phenomenal. I’ll deal with the campsite and the Marisco in future entries to try to balance out the content per entry but I did notice that at that point the “beasts of the field” outnumbered the tents about ten to one. There was one tent, although that was to change later in my stay and, well, at least ten beasties although I didn’t actually count them.
I allowed myself a bit of a relax which took no effort at all. I have heard “hippies” and younger people using and expression which is “blissed out”. Forget that. I was on a perimeter walk somewhere on the far side of blissed out. This is not hyperbole and I obviously cannot convince you completely of the veracity of the statement. I can only say that you have to be there to understand what it is about and my usual description of Lundy as a “magical, mystical place” isn’t too far from the truth of the matter.
I gathered myself and took off back to the pub which must have taken all of a minute. I scored myself a pint of very well-kept West Country cider (what else) and went out the back to sit on the little bench to have a smoke, that particular pleasure being denied me in public places now. It was no hardship as the quite enclosed little “yard” affords the most amazing view over a steeply sloping meadow, past the “Big House” which was the former residence of the owners of the island and out onto an ever-changing sea with not even a glimpse of the further shore even on a bright day. I really was in the back of beyond.
I should explain the logistics a little here. All the daytrippers leave on the Oldenburg in late afternoon so by the evening the only people left on the island and are the staff relaxing after a hard day’s work (and it is hard physical graft here) or those who are staying in some of the various accommodations. The former seemed to gravitate towards me with them all seeming to know who I was not to mention most of my life history and in a manner that John had been talking. Of the latter group I met some charming people who all appeared to “get” Lundy as I did and many of whom were on return visits. The evening passed quickly and very pleasantly and eventually John came out with service over and the kitchen cleaned down. A quick couple of pints and a few smokes before closing and it was time to head back the short distance to his place in the pitch black.
I know I have somewhat skimmed over details of certain things but, as I say, I wish to balance out the entries and this one has almost inevitably run to heroic proportions already. Back home and another bottle of very decent wine opened there was more chat until the lights went out. He had not told me about the power situation before but it was a matter of lighting his rather powerful torch and carry on. We didn’t stay late as John was in full high season mode with a small staff, a tiny kitchen and had to start early. He took off, I constructed the nest I had planned earlier and fell quickly into a very deep sleep which is a blessing for one like me with a sleep disorder.
I’d done it, I had finally made it here after years of talking about it and quite frankly I was not sure if I had entered some sort of parallel universe. I had been to some amazing places all over the world but this was just somehow different. Don’t ask me to explain, it just was.
Stay tuned and spread the word.
P.S. I have just noticed that I had a complete travelogue written for this day which I somehow managed to save from the excellent Virtual Tourist website despite the best efforts of the appalling TripAdv*s*r (don’t want to give them the traffic) and yet I have spent many hours effectively repeating it without the benefit of more recent recollection. I told you I was technophobic! I’ll try to find the rest of it for the next post which hopefully will not take me the two or three days this one has.
I have so far written less than double digits of posts on my brand new website here and have probably made a liar of myself on about half of that small number.
My problem is that I promise faithfully to be brief and I do start off with the best intentions but the road to Hell is paved with them as we were told when children. Inevitably, I end up getting side-tracked and writing a tome that would not disgrace Tolstoy on amphetamine. When writing historical posts I usually begin by looking at my images for that day as an aide-memoire and that process for this day, 15/07/2013 reveals a day of uneventful travelling South to North which should produce a novella as opposed to the sagas I have been churning out previously.
It was a Monday morning which is a time of slight depression for the majority of the working masses but is of no consequence to me in my happily retired state and the weather gods were obviously conspiring with the travel gods to give me a really good run. Fourth morning of my trip, fourth morning of utterly glorious weather and my spirits could not have been higher. Showered, dressed, my meagre possessions packed and my guitar slung over my shoulder I headed downstairs, pausing only to deposit the key and a potential confrontation with my landlady as to why I did not wish to eat her breakfasts (I do not do breakfast) and out to face the day.
I had a bit of a decision to make as I had to be in Barnstaple that evening for onward journey to Ilfracombe and then to my ultimate destination of Lundy island the next morning by ferry. Although it is not so far as the crow flies, and remember I was only travelling in one English county, it still takes about two hours on two stopping trains with a change at Exeter St. Davids but again no problem. I knew I could not check into my B&B until late afternoon so the decision to make was to head off early or have a day in Torquay and go later. I decided on staying for a while as I had grown very fond of the place in my few days there.
Even with the guitar I was travelling fairly light and so it was no problem on the downhill run back into town to revisit some of the places I had been over the weekend. I was greeted warmly in them all but in a couple I was obviously recognised and asked relevant questions like, “how was the trip to Dartmouth” or else the more standard, “Usual, Sir?”. This pleased me no end and presented a number of possibilities. a) I had spent far too long in these places and chatting to the staff, b) I am so physically noticeable (6’5″, long hair, beard etc.) that people remember me, c) they are exceptionally professional bar staff or d) any or all of the above. You decide. As happy as I had been in the morning, the addition of a few pints of fermented apples never hurts and it was a borderline euphoric Fergy that made his way to the station with still enough of what wits he has to get there in decent time. The rather poor image shows a sign I saw in one establishment and was an order I felt strangely compelled to obey!
I was sad to leave Torquay as I had enjoyed it much more on this trip than on my previous visit where I had breezed through it in a few hours. I promised myself to return and, although I have not fulfilled that vow, I shall in the fullness of time. As I mentioned, the trip to Barnstaple is a mere 48 miles (77km.) so do the maths yourself but whilst it can never be termed an express service it is most remarkably scenic and runs for a portion of its route alongside the sea, separated from the water by no more than a fairly narrow pebble beach. I hope the image here, which I tried to “artistically frame” in the train door, gives an idea. The whole line is semi-officially known as the “Tarka Line” and more of that famous otter in the next post.
Remarkably for the rail system in the UK we arrived on time and I alighted at the adorable Barnstaple station complete with the old heritage rail sign you can here as opposed to the soulless corporate versions they have now. Job done and the day was ticking along nicely.
Thinking ahead I decided to head straight to Ilfracombe which is what I did in good order. I knew all too well the perils of further pub visiting at that point and Barnstaple could well have been my downfall. The reason I was in Barnstaple at all was that there has been no train to Ilfracombe since 1970 when it was closed for commercial reasons as the car saw it off and so a short and comfortable bus journey was required.
I wanted to divest myself of my kit and was conscious of not inconveniencing the people in the B&B so I restricted myself to a quick one or two before heading there to be greeted by a note on the front door stating that they had had to pop out briefly but if I went to see Mrs. X at number Y across the road she would sort matters out. I did so and a charming lady showed me into her immaculate home, offered me a brew which I declined and made a quick ‘phone call which brought my hosts in double-quick time to show me to my very clean and tidy twin room with ensuite bathroom.
The room was obviously a partitioned larger room on the first floor of a Victorian / Georgian house and was not particularly spacious but what do I need? From any sort of accommodation I require a clean and comfortable bed, some hot water for my ablutions with added bonuses being a bit of peace and quiet and the absence of cockroaches, rats or other annoyances. Yes, I am a man of simple tastes and I have slept in some places that I would not wish on my worst enemy which undoubtedly assists me on my travels both financially and in terms of choice.
The bed was very comfy, if a little short for my 6’5″ frame, but I do not expect landlords to spend a fortune on custom-made oversized beds on the off-chance that a lanky brute like me or taller may walk in the door. I have accustomed myself to all sorts of sleeping conditions and indeed, at age 58, I have recently spent three very happy) months sleeping on a tiled floor which presented no problem at all. Yes, there is a blog in that when I get the time). The water in the shower was hot both evening and morning and of vermin there was a marked absence! In short, it was very clean, tidy, warm, friendly, convenient for my destination and the town, totally devoid of road noise in a quiet side street, what more did I need?
I could enter now into an entire discourse about the various options available to the traveller in the UK where accommodation options are not cheap but, on the novella principle outlined above, I shall refrain and save it for another post.
A quick sluice down and I was off to sample the nearby “fleshpots” of an Ilfracombe basking in the still warm rays of a declining sun. I am running out of synonyms for delightful and charming here so I shall say that it was very likeable which is appropriate in terms of the town which I liked very much. In terms of “fleshpots” I am sure they once existed as they do in any town with a maritime connection but I didn’t find any although whether they no longer exist or because I did not have the requisite local knowledge I could not possibly say. No, before you get the wrong idea, I was not looking for what the late Terry Pratchett so wonderfully described as “ladies of negotiable affection” but merely places with a bit of an edge.
What I did find was a few very decent pubs, at least one of which had been recommended to me by John Gayton who I mentioned in an earlier post here and who will feature heavily in future submissions. My images show me that I was back home a little shy of the witching hour (midnight) which is unusual for me but I had much to do on the morrow.
I do hope I have adhered to my self-imposed brief of novella vs. saga here. Believe me, I really have tried and have omitted much in the arguably laudable interests of brevity. Again, I am very much finding my way and would appreciate any sort of feedback. Do you wish to hear all my often tangential musings on my rambles or would you just prefer me to stick to a strict recitation of events? I am entirely in your hands as I want this to be as enjoyable an experience for you as it can be given my obvious limitations. Having decided, against all logic, to start this site, I really want to make it the best my abilities allow.