A quick word of explanation before I start this series of entries which refer to a trip I began in April 2017 and went on rather longer than initially expected. The entries were originally written for a travel website called TravBuddy which is now defunct and led me to creating this site. I have edited them slightly so they make better sense.
As always I shall post the entries back to the dates they refer to or I shall get completely lost. It will take some time to complete this series as it is quite long but I have some time on my hands now as I am staying with my Father in Northern Ireland and do not have much to do so it is a perfect opportunity. I do hope you enjoy it.
To the trip itself which was planned by mistake. I have a very dear friend who works internationally and we get a chance to spend some time together overseas. We had a brilliant time in Madrid some years ago which I hope to make the basis of a journal entry here in due course.
Some time prior to the trip my friend had asked if I fancied a few days in the Netherlands as she was going there for work and naturally I answered in the affirmative. I do love the Netherlands. She ‘phoned me on a Thursday in late March to ask if I was still up for it to which I replied, “Sure, it is next weekend, isn’t it?” Knowing how scatterbrained I am she literally nearly wet herself laughing on the ‘phone and relied, “No, this weekend and the days after” (that was the original plan). Oops, got it wrong again.
Still, it was not a problem as I am a single man and can literally get up and out the door in moments. It is somewhat of a proud boast of mine that I have never taken more than 40 minutes to pack for any trip and that includes a trek round the Annapurna trail in Nepal some years ago. My passport is always to hand.
The original plan was to meet up on the Sunday night so I had to get a transportation option organised. I have fallen so out of love with flying short haul that I will do just about anything to avoid it. Since Islamic fundamentalists have created a worldwide climate of fear about flying and even heritage airlines have gone down the route of cheapos by providing nothing and charging for everything, flying is now my least favoured travel option.
My very dear friend from Virtual Tourist (another defunct travel site) days, John Gayton, visits Belgium regularly and had raved to me about the ferry from Harwich to Hoek van Holland which he uses frequently. He is the guy that features on my Lundy Island journey here. The ferry certainly sounded like a plan to me. As luck would have it, I was due to meet another dear VT friend on the Saturday and the RV was Liverpool Street station which is the departure point for the boat train to Harwich so two birds with one stone as they say as I could meet Jo and also get my ticket.
We were going to scope out a potential route for a “Treasure Hunt” which we jointly arrange with our friends Sarah and Lesley (both former VT members). It is an annual event, timed to coincide with the Open House weekend in September where buildings that are not normally open to the public allow access. It was always great fun and we had some great days with friends from all over the world. Yet another harmless and beneficial event that has gone by the board with the wanton destruction of that excellent site.
The Liverpool Street venue obviously put me in prime position for obtaining my ticket as walk-up prices for any sort of rail travel are obscenely expensive in UK and I did read somewhere that we pay the highest prices per mile in the world. I do not know how true this may be but I know that booking ahead of travel is definitely advised and that is what I did. After our little exploratory walk and having dispatched Jo to a previous engagement, I toddled up to the ticket booth where I was dealt with by an utterly charming gentleman who, it transpired, had been a railwayman for many years. I mention this merely because the vast majority of staff employed on British railways nowadays are surly and rude, thinking that they are doing you some sort of favour by paying their wages. This was a Saturday and I bought my ticket for the Monday morning boat-train as part of a Sailrail deal. which I also use to travel home to Northern Ireland. If you wish to do this you can get a ticket until 1800 the day before travel which will save you a lot of money.
On the way home I noticed a sale in my local sports shop which is literally about 100 yards from my home. They sell luggage and my old kitbag was getting a touch worn as I am pretty hard on baggage, not by carelessness but just by the amount and type of travelling I do. I decided on one of the “cabin compliant” rollalongs for which read ludicrously tiny. I had no real intention to use it for flying but I travel light and it seemed ideal for short breaks. As you can see it only cost me £14 which was a bargain although it turned out not to be quite so good value for money.
As you can see, I thought a few new socks would not go amiss either and as you can also see by the date, this was April 1st aka All Fools Day. Mmmmmmmmm.
If you have have come to this page other than by visiting the start of this travelogue, I suggest you start at the beginning as it will make a lot more sense.
If you have read the earlier sections, you will know that I had managed to get myself to Lundy in one piece, met the wonderful John Gayton who was very kindly hosting me, had a few pints in the wonderful Marisco Tavern, met a few of the locals and then retired for the night. Actually, there is not much option but to retire for the night as, even with it’s isolation and lack of police presence, the Tavern closes bang on time and then the electric goes off at midnight so there is not a whole lot to do. In truth, the place never physically closes as they lock off the bar area at night for obvious reasons but they never lock the door so that campers can shelter if the weather turns nasty as it can do at any time of year.
John had very kindly arranged his day off for the next day to show me round the island, which was decent of him. We woke at a reasonable hour (I don’t do early mornings) and after another excellent coffee we donned the boots and took off. When I say took off, I really mean it. I like to walk a fair bit, have long legs and can keep up a reasonable pace but the second image on this paragraph shows you what I looked at most of the day, namely John disappearing into the distance at a rate of knots. If you ever go walking with the man, you have been warned! We yomped across the campsite, turned right past the Old Cemetery and approached the Old Light which dominates the landscape on this part of the island. If, like me, you love graveyards, don’t panic, I shall deal with it in the next entry when I explored it in more depth.
We walked in through the open door and began to climb. Open doors are such a feature on Lundy I do believe that a locksmith would starve to death for want of business. We climbed and we climbed, I thought we were never going to stop climbing. I have mentioned many times before on various forums (fora?) that I am not good with heights and I was already starting to get a few butterflies in the stomach. The staircase itself is fairly precipitous to say the least, as you can see in the previous image. Obviously, it was built as a functional building in the 19th century and not as a tourist attraction but be aware if you do visit.
Onward and upward until we finally achieved the platform of the original light and, on an island full of oddities, one of the most incongruous things I have ever seen. Someone had dragged two deckchairs up there and placed them on the platform, as you can see.
I have no doubt that if heights do not bother you then sitting up here would be an absolute delight, the views are stunning. I did take a view and, yet again, apologies for the image quality due to technical failure. Also the guard rail features a bit but I wasn’t going to get that close to the edge!
I mentioned earlier that the main ways to get to Lundy are the wonderful M.S. Oldenburg or helicopter when the weather is inclement or the boat is laid up for winter refit. Certainly, if you are lucky enough to have your own boat you can land and moor here for a modest fee (most divers do), but there is one further alternative. If you look closely at this image, you may just be able to make out light aircraft in the middle distance. This, believe it or not, is Lundy airfield. As far as I could make out, it is a strip of grass that they mow with a load of stones up one side of it but apparently it does get some use. This is proper SOE landing in occupied Europe during WWII in the dark, in a Lysander and inevitably in a field stuff. I think I’ll stick to the boat!
Having negotiated the descent without major mishap, John took off basically Northwards. Just by Old Light we saw this wonderful old building which houses a couple of the Wardens. Apparently, the Warden in the right-hand building is Cornish. Can you work out why? Answers on a postcard please. Insofar as we had planned anything, and John and I are not really renowned for planning things, we had planned a vaguely clockwise navigation round the North end of the island, so off we went along what you can see is a reasonably well-trodden track.
We left Old Light, the original lighthouse on an island which contstitutes a serious shipping hazard. There is not going to be too much in the way of text further here, it is merely provided to show the reader some of the stunning scenery on Lundy if I can ever locate the images on my totally disordered little system! I know that stunning is a term far too frequently associated with the word scenery but, in the case of this place, it is perfectly justified. It just goes on and on and we hardly saw another person all day, even at the height of the season.
There is a real sense of wildness here and John was very helpfully giving me the “guided tour” and explaining everything. Well, at least he was when I could catch him up. I tell you, that man can move! Incidentally, this was as close to the edge as I wanted to get! There are some fascinating rock structures along this stretch as well. I know that the economy of the island was effectively built on granite quarrying and I am no geologist so I don’t know if this image depicts that rock or not. They were fascinating to look at, mind you.
Here are just a couple more to give you an idea.
I really cannot believe I have written so much on a travelogue and I am not even at lunchtime on the first full day. I really have to write less!
Lundy has a fairly hard history, it was a practical island based, as I say, on granite quarrying in recent centuries but boasting a vaguely mythical more ancient history (Christian saints, pagans etc, of which more later). It is, in many ways very prosaic as people here did not have time for romanticism or mysticism, they wanted to know where the next meal as coming from and would their home survive the next storm. This is reflected in the naming of places. Old Light is the old lighthouse, North Light is the Northern lighthouse and try to guess what South light is!
The same thing applies to the Lundy walls. This island is only about half a mile wide and is divided East to West by three walls. This allows the animals, which are all either feral o rdomesticated to be allowed to run more or less free anyway with unfettered access to a certain portion of the potential grazing. They are very imaginatively named, travelling South to North as Quarter Wall, Halfway Wall and Threequarter Wall. Hardly Jane Austen but at least everyone knows what and where they are.
If memory serves the image here was Quarter Wall and John was, as usual, over it like a mountain goat. I know he does this a lot but this was getting ridiculous, I just couldn’t keep up, especially if I stopped for a photo opportunity. Damn, I was on holiday, not signed up for basic training again!
Sadly, John didn’t get a chance to show me all he wanted to. I took a look at a couple of the completely precipitous paths he wanted to take me down and there was no way it was going to happen. Sorry, John, I really am but too much for me. I do not do exposed heights well and he would have ended up having to have me SARed (Search and Rescue) which would have been unhelpful all round.
We trekked on and it was then that I caught my first sight of the famous Soay sheep. I had read about them and John had told me about them so I really wanted to see some. I subsequently checked the website hyperlinked here hopefully and found out that they originated on the island of Soay which is near St. Kilda many miles off the Scottish coast. Nobody knows how they got there but research suggests they are similar to the mouflon seen in the Troodos mountains of Cyprus which I have seen and I do appreciate the similarity now. They were introduced by a chap called Harman who owned the island for a time and seem to thrive. The other species he introduced was the Sika deer (see same hyperlink for details) which was originally from Japan.
If you look at the image above, despite the technical problems, count yourself lucky you got to see the animals face. John has been trying to photograph them for some time and swears blind that they will always present their rear end to you. This was the standard view I got of them. Not attractive I know but I present it merely in the interests of honest reporting!
Onward, ever onward, still trying to keep up with John and the next thing of interest we came upon was this obvious millstone. John told me they had used it to grind up stone when they were building Old Light for making cement or mortar or whatever else. Frankly, I know nothing about building techniques, never mind Victorian building techniques, so I will pass no further comment. It was a nice looking millstone though.
I should say that I included the image of the Soay ram above because it was about the best wildlife image I got with my broken compact. I think that beast looks positively Satanic, don’t know why, it must be the horns.
Still on we go. This is what passes for a, sorry THE road on Lundy, in fact this is one of the better bits of it but on an island where the very limited number of vehicles are all terrain, why would you bother paving a road? That would be madness.
If you look closely at the image (flawed as it is) you will see a sort of cairn stone to the right of the track and possibly just another one further on to the left. John explained this to me. I have already spoken at length about the Old Light and explained that it was, to a great extent, useless. The many low clouds and frequent fogs made it completely redundant so the poor lighthousemen had to trek all the way up the coast to a place known as the Battery and fire off guns on a regular basis to warn shippping that there was a great rock here. So bad were the conditions on the island at times that it was easy to get lost even walking a vaguely designated path and so these stones were erected every 30 paces so they knew they were not disorientated and about to walk off the cliff. Hard work indeed and the stones stand as testament to what those men did all those years ago.
After having had to avoid some wonderful sights because I didn’t fancy the downward paths we eventually ended up here, at what John laughingly refers to the roundabout. Well, hardly a major junction on the M1 but it sort of appealed to me. This is as far as you go unless you want to descend to the shore yet again on a path that would scare the hardiest mountaineer. I had a quick look and decided it wasn’t for me!
By now, we had walked just about as far North on Lundy as you can go without getting wet or dead or probably both! We decided then, to turn back and come down the East Coast which would bring us back home, or more properly the pub! I am sure John knew what this place was and undoubtedly told me but I really cannot remember. I suspect it was a workers house from the 19th century.
Another relic here, another derelict dwelling, another piece of crumbling history and very very much older than that in the previous image. You find this about Lundy, it has a few hundred year old history which is really fairly well-documented and you also have a much more ancient history about which very little is known despite the best efforts of historians, archaeologists and all the rest of the specialists. Maybe that is for the best. Lundy is such a completely otherworldly place that perhaps you don’t need to understand it, you just need to appreciate it. I certainly did.
Having read up a bit on the island, this may be the “home” of a medieaval or even pre-medieaval holy man but, as I say, nobody really knows. It just sent a shiver up my spine thinking of who might have been here before. So on we go.
As always, John was heading off like a greyhound that had just seen a hare and as always your humble narrator, unfit, middle aged and trying to stop for a photo every so often, was trying to keep up. This shows what is effectively the main road and is easily walkable.
Just a quick practical word here. The track shown earlier looks easy to walk and indeed it is. However, I would suggest that if you are going to walk round Lundy you have proper boots with some sort of ankle support, it can get a little tricky in places. I don’t mean hugely expensive alpine boots, just something that will support your ankle if you go over. As you can see in earlier images, John wears just ordinary working boots, not specialist mountain boots but they give support. OK, end of safety lesson!
An easy flat walk and we came upon another place which is available for hire and I believe it does not even have electricity (I think it is the only one on the island not connected to the generator I have mentioned previously) so if you want isolation in the most beautiful surroundings this may be for you. It is called Tibbetts. It certainly ranks for “off the beaten path” with anywhere I have ever seen in the world and apparently on a clear night you can see no less than 14 lighthouses from here! It was built in 1909 as a Coastguard facility but this is as remote as it gets. John was going to give me a look round but the laundry on the line indicated it was currently inhabited so we gave it a respectful berth and walked on South. Regrettably, the image for it rather stubbornly refuses to be found in the wreckage that is my computerised filing system but the link above will give the reader some lovely professional images.
I know from looking at my maps etc. in retrospect that we were now approaching one of the places I was most looking forward to seeing on the island, the VC Quarry. For those readers not perhaps British, the letters VC mean only one thing, namely the Victoria Cross. The VC is the highest military honour available in my country and is given out very rarely and only for acts of extreme heroism and only in the face of the enemy. Civilians may be awarded the George Cross for similar acts in non-combat situations. I had researched this a bit and really wanted to see it as I do like military history and it fascinates me.
Scrambling down a fairly steep track (which terrified me, needless to say), we came upon this place. OK, it doesn’t look like much, please allow me to explain. I somehow managed to overcome my fears as I was not going to come to Lundy and not see this. This is what Lundy is about and, on a place of such peaceful beauty and tranquility, it really does strike a very jarring note, as I hope to explain.
I may have mentioned on my other entries that the island was owned for many years by the Harman family who were engaged in quarrying granite. Comes the Second World War in 1939 and the son of the Harmans, named John Pennington Harman decides that trying to stop Nazi / Italian Fascist / Japanese world domination is not a good thing so decides to enlist in the Forces. He enlists in the Queens Own Royal West Kent Regiment but not as an officer which would be easy for him given his connections. He would have been readily accepted into any Regiment with a commission, barring the Guards perhaps. No, young Harman decided he was going to join as a private soldier, a decision that strikes a chord with me.
By 1944, he was fighting in the so-called “forgotten war” in Burma / India and was awarded his VC for an act of extreme heroism in a place called Kohima. His father set up the memorial you can see as the young Harman used to love sitting here in his youth just looking at the sea. I can well understand his fascination with the sea off Lundy. My uncle Tommy was tortured to death by the Japanese in that conflict although he eventually died in Changi in Singapore, so you can see how it was a bit personal to me.
As the first photo shows, people still remember, as well they might. Storming heavily defended machine gun nests in the jungle is not a thing many men would do and I was deeply touched and felt honoured to have visited this place and it was with a slightly heavy heart and a bit of an introspective mood that we headed on down the track.
I was a little sombre as we walked on because my uncle had been murdered by the Japanese in the same conflict. Strange that a very quiet, peaceful and beautiful place could evoke that emotion in me. Anyway, I make no apology for including another image here and we shall wander on back to the excellent Marisco Inn now. It was a very moving site and I thank John for taking me to it.
Not far from the quarry mentioned above, we came on this place. OK, it looks a bit odd, and I had certainly never seen anything like it. As always, John explained it to me.
Lundy really has a unique structure. For example, I never knew that a sparrow would not fly over water. Did you know that? I see sparrows all the time here in London and just ignore them. However, there is a University who have introduced a colony of sparrows here (I believe it is either Warwick or Sheffield) and they have researchers here all the time. The fact that they cannot “escape” off the island means that scientists can study their nesting, breeding, feeding habits and everything else.
I would assure the reader that these “traps” are entirely harmless to the birds. These are not trappers, they are scientists and hugely interested in the welfare of their charges. Really, I spent three days trying to take an image of one of these sparows, and it was hard. Do you know know how fast they can move? Anyway, this is actually a scientific piece of equipment, trust me on this. Nothing on Lundy abuses the animals in any way, they are very strict on that. Maybe that is yet another reason why I love it so much.
Next up on the walk was what looks like an oversized pond. For a place with no natural water sorce except rainwater, this was a bit odd. What was completely mind-blowing, and I use that term advisedly, was that there was a group (school, I don’t know) of obviously sizeable and well-fed carp in here.
Now, my mate John knows just about everything about Lundy and he does not know how they got here. More to the point, how the Hell do they feed? There is no natural source of feeding for them in here. In a place that is inherently magical, this was truly mystical. Are they some sort of magical creatures? I have no idea but my best guess would be that they were introduced by the last family that owned Lundy and are kept alive by a secret “keeper of the carp”. I would love to see the manifest on the Oldenburg to see if there was any fish food listed. One way or another, it was just yet another outstanding experinece on an outstanding day. However, after a brief photo op at the pond, John was off like the mountain goat he is and I was soon panting like a wind-blown horse.
I am not being unkind here nor revealing any secrets but, for a man that smokes and drinks as much as John does, he is a bloody marvel. I thought I was still pretty fit, despite my smoking, drinking and generally dissolute lifestyle, but I was really struggling to keep up. He should have been a soldier instead of a chef! The next place we visited was actually rather sad and I am going to devote a few pictures to it here bucause I think it is worth it.
The Landmark Trust who, as I said earlier in this travelogue, administer the place as their core business, restore old buildings on behalf of the National Trust and let them out so they can “earn their keep”. They are effectively holiday lets in the most stunning places. Sadly, despite their sterling work all over the island and basically running it, this was deemed to be too far gone for repair. This was the managers / surgeons / engineers quarters and so they had the best views. They are truly indescribable so I am not going to attempt it. I am no Shakespeare, Byron or Betjeman. Just have a look and think what kind of a holiday place this would make. It appears it is just not financially viable, which is a shame.
As you can hopefully imagine, if I have done any sort of job in describing it, I was just about suffering sensory overload by now. Apart from the Robinson Crusoe gig of being on a rock in the middle of nowhere effectively, I had been wandered around this most unusual and awe-inspiring place by a guy that knew it so well. Well, that is what I travel for so it was a bit of a return to earth to see these beasts grazing. I know i keep going on about it but everything on this rock (sorry, island) is completely free range, as I believe the modern expression is. I explained about the walls earlier. I met the farmer, who is a lovely man and he has no idea where he is going to find duck or chicken eggs the next day. The fowl just lay them where they feel like it I sort of like that. Having lived in London so long, it was such a change.
The next thing we walked past was the pig enclosure. Fed effectively from scraps from the tavern and people’s domestic waste, these animals looked happy and in very good order. OK, I am not a vet, what would I know?
You see, this is the thing about Lundy, it must be the most ecologically friendly place in the world. Now, I am not any sort of eco-warrior but I like to see people not wasting things. These excellent beasts were eventually for the butchers and make excellent, and I mean excellent sausages. I shall discuss this shortly. This is proper sustainable farming, at least as I understand it.
I should say here that in all my many years on various travel websites I have probably never written a page as long as this one. I have been blessed to have visited some amazing places and hope to visit many more before I shuffle off this mortal coil but Lundy just amazed me (in the proper sense of the word) so much, I need to share this. I also wish, more than anything that my bloody camera had been working properly!
Anyway, if you have read it (for which I thank you) John had wandered me round what verges on being a place of extreme mysticism. I am not being funny. The guys that live there consider it home and which it is for them but anyone who has been there will swear to you that is it magical. I consider myself to be a fairly pragmatic and practical man, given my former professions and magical is not a word that comes easily to my lips, believe me. Lundy is magical, end of story. I swear, I walked round there and I just felt different. I can’t explain it, but I do strongly recommend anyone who reads this to go there for a day if that is all you can do or better still for a few days stay. I will put my next month’s pension on it now and I am not a gambling man. Go there and you will not be disappointed.
Over a pint or ten one evening in the Tavern, John told me, “You either get Lundy or you don’t”. I think I mentioned this before. I got it the minute I stepped ashore off the Oldenburg.
This is not Devon, this is not the UK, this is just another place entirely. Don’t get me wrong, it is not scary or anything, it is just a different and magical place in the proper sense of the word. I remember being told before, or possibly I read it, that India would teach you more about yourself than it would about India, and it did, I hope to return someday soon. Well, I think Lundy is like that. Seems ridiculous to compare the largest democracy in the world with the small Atlantic rock that is Lundy but I feel the comparison works for a “Westerner”, specifically a British citizen. In many ways you just have to leave your ideas on the boat / plane and go with it. That is what Lundy is for me.
OK, enough of my aged philosophy, the reader wishes to hear about the island.
Let’s start with a vaguely amusing thing which will hopefully give you an idea of how isolated Lundy really is. The image above is of the only shop there! Speaking of the shop, better get there in the reasonable but not unlimited opening hours as I am afraid on Lundy the concept of 7/11 does not exist.
Now, this is in no way the most attractive photo I will ever post here, however it may be one of the more important. As I mentioned, the entire island attempts to be as “green” as possible and, almost incredibly for the UK, they are actually in credit on recycling. They even make money for the charity by recycling. How good is that? I just love the concept.
OK, I never said all my images were going to be lovely. I do not for one minute suggest that these are as pleasing to the eye as my pics of rescued elephants up near Lampang nor a sunset bridge in Burma under the old regime. That is not the point, that was never the point.
I do sincerely apologise to anyone that may be offended but this is the way life is on Lundy. They do things properly. The green ethic is all-pervasive, and you either buy into it or not, specifically regarding water use. After having been walked round the resupply unit, and it was impressive, we headed on as we were getting close to “home”.
I genuinely had no idea how eco-friendly this place was. Having been there, I can tell the reader that every possibly viable ecosystem is being used. This place probably could get completely self-sufficient fairly soon! It is just a matter of the water. There is none naturally available and it is a problem. Being surrounded by sea my natural thought was desalination but I am sure this has been looked at and discounted for whatever reason.
This image shows the abbatoir for slaughtering native beasts. However, some stupid law, and I believe it is European (I am so happy we are leaving that costly debacle), has decreed that domesticated beasts have to be sent to the mainland for slaughter whereby feral (wild) beasts can be slaughtered here. Yet another glaring example of the incompetence of the Fedrerl states of E (which is what it is, call it EEC, EC, EU, or whatever). Anyway, the native beasts are slaughtered here. I fail to see the potential lessening of suffering of the animals by this system. Can you imagine crating beasts onto a boat to go to the slaughterhouse? What are the people thinking of? Sorry, just answered my own question, they are politicians and therefore incapable of rational thought.
Back into the pub now and time for a proper look round. I happened upon this plaque amongst many others from excellent (military / police / volunteer) outfits. If you don’t know who these guys are then look them up. I shall let their record speak for themselves and I knew I wasn’t going to pick a fight in there (not that I pick fights in pubs!) These guys metaphorically really don’t take prisoners. I believe they use the island for training exes and then have a beer or ten after. I felt privileged to have been in the same place these men socialise in, these are good guys.
I even managed the time to try to be artistic, despite the failures of my camera! It really is one of the best pubs I have ever been in, and I can tell you that is amongst some serious competition!
I had considered myself to have had what was just about a perfect day but it wasn’t nearly over yet. John suggested that I should eat before the kitchen shut which it does relatively early by big city restaurant standards but it makes sense, as everything seems to do here. By this time all the daytrippers had long gone which left the longer term residents, the campers and a general hanger-on like me. Everybody knows the score as they know the power goes off at midnight, most people have been up early and walking about in the very fresh air and late night dining really is not in order, nor is it practical. I would not fancy cleaning down a professional kitchen after a busy service by torchlight!
I may have mentioned before, and John certainly know, but for such a tall man I have the appetite of a small bird and so I asked what he recommended. Don’t forget that I was literally at “chef’s table” by which I mean that I was sitting at a table with the chef on his day off and not the undoubtedly wonderful but ruinously expensive gastronomic experience offered by most top establishments these days. Without pausing for breath he told me to go for the “bangers ‘n’ mash”. For those who may read this and are not up on British culinary slang, this is nothing more than sausages and mashed potato, normally served with an onion gravy or possibly a “red wine jus” if you want to pay £20 for it in a posh place. The menu in the Marisco rather grandly described it as “trio of Lundy sausages” which I though was a bit over the top but it was done with good reason. Forget waiter service, John just wandered off to the kitchen and placed my order for me. Let’s see a Michelin starred chef doing that!
I know this is going to go on a bit about a simple plate of “peasant” food as described but it says so much about the whole ethos of Lundy. They were indeed Lundy sausages of three different types as the menu suggested and with as much as possible reared or grown here. I cannot remember the exact combinations now but they definitely featured the Soay sheep mentioned above, possibly venison, and locally reared domesticated animals. John explained everything to me as we waited for the food to arrive. Anything they cannot source on the island, they crate in from the mainland and I know John had a network of suppliers in the local mainland area who he had visited, trusted and who provided excellent produce. If you want to put your eco-warrior hat on, and I am all in favour of that, to talk of food miles, well they are minimal. Technically I suppose they are sea miles and on a vessel that is already running for the passenger side of the business so no additional carbon footprint there.
After just the right amount of time i.e. long enough for it to have been properly cooked without irradiating it to blazes in a microwave but not too long to show an inefficient kitchen out came the meal I have hopefully shown here. The lovely Katy served up and having cooked it. Memory fails now, as it does at my age, but I think I am right in saying that she was not even formally trained and had worked her way up in some pubs on the mainland. I do apologise (again) if I malign her. Let me tell you this and it was surely a thing of time, place, company, circumstance, provenance, a couple of pints of decent cider and many other factors but I defy any “star” TV chef to better that plate of food.
Some years ago, I had the absolute privilege of meeting the world renowned chef Anton Mossiman and having a drink with him in the restaurant he then had in central London before dining there. I have to say the man is a complete gentleman and such wonderful company. He had to run but told the maitre d’ to look after us (long story which I shall not bore you with for a change) and, yes, we dined on veloutes and smoked this with pickled that and hand-picked the other accompanied by champagne foams and who knows what else? It was superb and I would not have missed it for anything even if I did not understand half the menu but it would have been impractical in this place not to mention totally incongruous. You just have to get into Lundy and go with the flow as I believe the expression is. Here endeth the sermon on a plate of sausage and mash!
So, I had had my guided tour round the island, partaken of a very fine meal as laboriously described above and was feeling completely at peace with the world or at least the small portion of it that I was currently inhabiting. “Right, come on”, says John. What? It is about 2100 by this point. We had noticed as we went outside for our many smoke breaks that the day was declining into what Mother Nature seemed to be setting up for a fairly spectacular sunset which are apparently a feature here in the summer months. I suppose the lack of light or any other sort of pollution helps and he wanted to get some images of the lighthouse at sunset. He is a very keen and very good photographer. Never one to pass up an opportunity, much as the call of the bar appealed, off we went again.
Actually it is not fair to complain and we set a good pace. I got some pretty average images due to my camera malfunction but I know he got some beauties. Hopefully, some of these will give an idea of what would have been possible. It really was spectacular in the proper sense of the word and I was so glad we went. At least I have the images in my head, where they will remain as long as this ageing old brain continues to function at any sort of capacity.
Eventually back to the Tavern for a quick nightcap or three and then off home to construct the nest and lie down for a very sound night’s sleep.
Just a couple of images for you before I start off on my solo ramble round the South of this island tomorrow! Well, tomorrow duly happened as it tends to do and you, dear reader, can find it all in one piece in the next entry if I manage to post it. Of course that all presupposes that you have not lost the will to live from my inane ramblings thus far.
Day five of my trip dawned in Ilfracombe and was sunny yet again which was becoming somewhat of a habit and one I could easily get used to. I had set my alarm for once though I was up long before its rather annoying electronic insistence for today I had things to do, things I really could not afford to be late for. Much as I had enjoyed my weekend with dear friends in and around Torquay and pleasant as my brief stay in Ilfracombe had been, this was the big one as it was the day I was going to Lundy Island which was the main purpose of the trip. As I shall explain, there was one boat and one only to be caught and if I missed that then all was lost. As always I skipped breakfast and had told the lovely landlady the previous evening so she wasn’t cooking unnecessarily. I do hate wasting food. Thanking her husband for their fine hospitality I stepped out to face what I knew was going to be another good day, I could just feel it.
I swear I had not gone ten yards from the door when my eye was caught by what was to prove to be the first wonder of the day. In the UK we have “blue plaques”, although confusingly they come in many colours and designs depending on the originating authority but the vast majority are blue and either circular or occasionally oval. They are placed on buildings where famous people were born, died, stayed occasionally, lived or whatever and I am drawn to them like a moth to a flame to the extent that I seem to have an inbuilt radar which operates at the extreme edge of my peripheral vision.
The radar started pinging and I was across the road to investigate a plaque on a modest but immaculate terrace house which turned out to be the home of Henry Williamson, author of “Tarka the Otter” amongst many other works. I had heard of the book obviously and the subsequent film although I have neither read nor seen these respectively. To my shame I could not have named the author who turns out to be a fascinating man although I shall not go into his details here as I have so much more to write about on this day and it really will turn into a complete rigmarole. I have hopefully included a link here to his appreciation society which you can have a look at if you are interested.
I made the short walk downhill to the harbour which is the usual way of things except perhaps in the Netherlands where you can probably walk uphill to a harbour! My friend John (of whom much more later) had told me that all I had to do was turn up, give my name and everything was sorted. Ordinarily I would have been a little dubious about such an arrangement but I trust the man and so I joined the rather long queue outside the ferry office and spent the time watching the fairly feverish loading of cargo onto the ferry. This involved loading a huge number of crates onto the foredeck (if there is a hold it was not used) but was obviously all in a days work for the mobile crane operator, stevedores and hands on the vessel and went incredibly smoothly.
It appears that staff on the island are allowed a number of “indulgence trips” as we used to call them in the Forces for friends and relatives and that was how it was all done. It is not a cheap trip ordinarily although I paid not one penny piece. I often wonder how I get so lucky so often, I must have done something really good in a previous life. Down then to the pier where all my kit was loaded onto one of a number of the huge crates that I had watched being loaded whilst waiting. I did ask the stevedore to be careful with my guitar which was only in a soft case and, bless him, I watched him walk it up the gangplank and stow it beside the purser’s desk so I could reclaim it when I had negotiated the gangplank. After several bad experiences I wish airport baggage handlers had the same respect for property. Having safely overseen that, it was time to board which I did without mishap.
Unless you have your own light aircraft or boat, and there are landing facilities for both on the island, you have two choices of how to get to Lundy depending on the season and the weather. There is a helicopter service all year round (weather permitting) although between March and November you have the option of a leisurely cruise on the MS Oldenburg which was the vessel I had now boarded. It is a lovely old craft which runs from Ilfracombe (as I did obviously) or Bideford on certain days, generally Tuesday, Thursday and Saturday. Bideford departures are much less common so check the timetable on the website to make sure you go to the correct place.
I had a quick look round the boat and selected a seat beside the bar (obviously) which proved to be a good move as I got into a great conversation with the purser / barman and learnt a lot about the island and the boat. Most people had elected to sit outside on the upper deck in the July sunshine which meant that the two pleasantly appointed saloons were fairly empty and I didn’t have to wait long to be served at any point.
The Oldenburg was launched in Bremen, Germany in 1958 which makes it marginally older than me and saw service as a ferry round the East Frisian islands. The Lundy Company then acquired her in 1985 to replace the former supply ship and she underwent a refurbishment at Appledore Shipyard where the original internal fixtures and fittings were retained, giving her a slightly old-fashioned but wonderfully comfortable feel. The staff on the island somewhat bawdily, rather affectionately and probably completely accurately call her the “Old ‘n’ Buggered and I know she eats a huge proportion of the island revenue with her annual winter refit. Certainly a few of the visitors to Lundy arrive by chartered helicopter for their weekends in “the Big House” which sleeps a small tribe and, occasionally and much to John’s utter chagrin their own chef but the Oldenburg really is what keeps the place ticking over. I adored her.
Should you feel hungry there is a small buffet in the aft cabin and here is an insiders tip for you. If you fancy a sausage roll, get in quick because they sell out fast as apparently they are the favourite item on the menu and I have this on the authority of the buffet steward!
The two hour sailing seemed to fly by and soon we were all on deck to catch a first glimpse of Lundy. To be honest, if I had never set foot on the island, the journey from London would have been worth it for the “cruise” alone but I had much more to do.
Having tied up, I went down the fairly wobbly gangway to the jetty and just sort of waited around whilst having a cigarette, smoking not being allowed anywhere on board and I was gasping. I was waiting for my luggage which had been crated in a large wooden box and craned onboard at Ilfracombe (except the guitar obviously).
I wandered into a hut by the jetty which seemed to be by way of a museum although it was really a small and somewhat random collection of objects thrown together, totally uncared for and with not a sinner near the place but it was vaguely interesting.
Frankly, I didn’t have a clue what was going on and more to the point I really didn’t care. It was just one of those situations where you knew nothing could go wrong. People call it instinct or “streetsmarts” or whatever and in the Forces some officer had obviously got his next rank by coining the phrase “situational awareness”. Call it what you will, you just know when things are right, when they may go a little bad, and when they are just downright dangerous. This fell very much into the first category.
I spoke to one of the shore crew and was told not to worry, just to pick it up at the black shed. What black shed? I had no idea but this was Lundy and I had already got my head round the concept that things would probably work themselves out. I may well have been a bit apprehensive at being separated from all my kit anywhere else in the world but I was already working on “Lundy time” albeit that it was an expression I had never even heard yet. My friend John was later to tell me that you either “get” Lundy within a few minutes of stepping off the boat or you don’t. I reckon I had “got” it before I ever got down the gangplank.
Next, a guy called John, who is one of the island workers, and had obviously seen my guitar case (that does not go in the cargo hold!) approached me and said, “You must be John the Chef’s mate, jump in the Landrover and I’ll give you a lift up the hill” Hmm, it appears my infamy had preceded me! Lundy is like that, everyone knows everyone else even before you get there. I shared the journey with a lovely elderly couple who were staying in one of the accommodations on the island, of which more later. They were very pleasant company and the rather tortuous journey passed quickly if somewhat hazardously with the track being barely wide enough for a vehicle in parts.
I should mention that the drive / walk from the jetty up to the “village” is quite steep although very pleasant and the Land Rover is there for people for whom it may have been a bit much like my elderly companions.
I was deposited at the Marisco Tavern, which is a wonderful establishment and as the manager told me John was busy with lunch service I did not bother him although word was obviously passed as he appeared when the crowd had died down and we went outside for a smoke and a chat. He said he would go home for the afternoon for a rest as he had to prepare shortly for evening service and this was the height of season.
I asked him about the black shed and my kit and he took me about 10 yards from the front door and across the small track that serves as the only thoroughfare on the island where there was, well, a black shed. I wandered in and collected my kitbag from the many pieces of luggage sitting around apparently totally unguarded totally unmolested. As I said, Lundy is like that. I think it must be the oddest baggage reclaim I have ever encountered but it just seems to work. He had earlier told me not to worry, it was all sorted and as I say, I trust the man.
On an island barely three and a half miles long and half a mile wide centred on a “village” you can walk from one end of the other to in the space of less than one cigarette it was a matter of about 100 yards or less from the “black shed” to his home. Home for most of the 27 permanent staff on the island revolves around a collection of pre-fabricated buildings which were long, long past their supposed use. I know some of the lads live up at the old lighthouse (accessed by quad bike so you get an idea of how remote it is) but mainly they are here. John did tell me the exact date when the buildings were due for demolition and it was frightening although they seemed well cared for and, once inside, remarkably cosy. I am sure that in the winter storms that occur here they may have a few structural defects but at this time of year it was a most homely place. Naturally for a chef the kitchen was the thing and although small and not overflowing with modern gadgets I just knew he could knock up a bloody good feed there.
We sat over a glass of very good wine (being a chef he is somewhat of a connoisseur and even his afternoon everyday tipple seemed a bit special even to one with such an uneducated palate as myself). We caught up as we had not seen each other for a while and got the logistics sorted. His home was a one double bed affair suitable for a singleton or a couple, of which there were a few on the island. Idyllic certainly but, shall we say, testing. It is very hard work there and you would have to be in a relationship as strong as the rock that is Lundy is to even consider it.
One bedroom meant obviously that I was dossing in the living room. I know we are very good mates but………… Anyway, the sofa I was sitting on was extremely comfortable but probably about a foot and a half short for my absurdly lanky frame. This was no bother. A seasoned road warrior like myself merely scanned the room, noted a couple of chairs and quickly calculated that there were more than enough cushions to provide a comfy nest which proved to the case later on. In truth, sleeping on a firm surface (doesn’t get much firmer than a floor) is actually good for my rather dodgy back which I have mentioned elsewhere on this site. OK, it is not the firmest available with that dubious honour being shared equally between a bath and a pool table, both of which I have done and sworn on the few things I hold sacred never to do again. I told you I live a fairly obscure lifestyle!
I should take a moment to tell you about John now. Apart from being a very well-respected contributor on a travel website that set the benchmark for all others (Virtual Tourist), John is a dear friend, experienced traveller, drinking buddy, excellent chef and all round good guy. I would go so far as to count him amongst my best friends in the world and like most of the best friendships, especially of travellers like us who are, by very definition, pretty nomadic, we will have not contact for months on end and then one or another of us will pop up out of the gloom to regain comms.
John and I have been friends for a long time and I know his CV which is pretty impressive to say the least, including 5* London hotels but that was never his thing albeit he can do it with his eyes closed. He much prefers smaller places and even ran his own “gastropub” before the term had ever even marched onto the pages of the broadsheet newspapers in the UK. The fact that he hosted me in his home (along with several other people from all over the globe at various times) shows you what sort of man he is.
I should mention here that for personal reasons John is now (as of 2018) back on the mainland “rattling those pots and pans” and I strongly recommend that if you can winkle him out (I’ll bet he does amazing things with winkles) then go wherever he is chef now. You will not be disappointed. I know he started in the kitchen at St. Andrew’s Golf Course, the home of golf, during one of the Open Championships preparing food for the world’s golfing elite and all the attendant hangers-on. Sounds like a baptism of fire to me. I know he has “saved my bacon” (if you will pardon the culinary pun) on several occasions when I have been required to cook, often in a campervan (RV) in the middle of nowhere and a quick mail on our old website along the lines of, “John, I have ingredients x,y and z and don’t want to do them just the usual way” would inevitably elicit a brilliant recipe, cooking things in manners I would never have considered. He’s that kind of guy.
I was also run through the house rules which were pretty simple i.e. use as little water and electric as possible. There is no mains electric supply from the mainland so it is all provided by a generator for which the fuel obviously has to be transported which is not cheap. There are no natural sources of water, save rainwater and in the very occasional drought conditions we encounter in UK water has to be shipped from the mainland which again is crippling expensive and eats into the finely balanced economy of the place.
This was fine as my time in the Forces mean I can shower in about three minutes flat, even turning off the water between the wetting, soaping and rinsing phases. At a push I can make do with a flannel and a small basin of water. I learnt in a hard school where even lukewarm water was a luxury.
Regarding the electric, the generator which supplies it all is turned off about midnight until about sunrise. I am not sure whether the larger accommodations have their own genny but a word to the wise is to charge up things like camera batteries when you can in the day / evening and do not rely on the usual overnight charging. Believe me, you will have more than enough use for the cameras. Obviously powerpacks are useful but do plan ahead.
Those were effectively the standing orders and they were no problem at all to me. Frankly, if you are looking for a 5* hotel experience with room service of foie gras at three in the morning, a jacuzzi and a swimming pool then you are in the wrong place as it really is not that sort of gig. What you do get makes up for that tenfold if not more.
John had to return shortly to the kitchen as he had evening service to prepare for and it is ludicrously busy at that time of year. I contented myself with another smoke and a stare out the back window onto a field he had told me constitutes the island campsite if you want to go on a bit of a budget. I must be honest here, as I always try to be in my travel writing, and say that as wonderful as Lundy truly is, it is not a cheap option. In fairness, the money made is ploughed back into running what is a fairly costly enterprise with the upkeep of merely keeping the place inhabited is phenomenal. I’ll deal with the campsite and the Marisco in future entries to try to balance out the content per entry but I did notice that at that point the “beasts of the field” outnumbered the tents about ten to one. There was one tent, although that was to change later in my stay and, well, at least ten beasties although I didn’t actually count them.
I allowed myself a bit of a relax which took no effort at all. I have heard “hippies” and younger people using and expression which is “blissed out”. Forget that. I was on a perimeter walk somewhere on the far side of blissed out. This is not hyperbole and I obviously cannot convince you completely of the veracity of the statement. I can only say that you have to be there to understand what it is about and my usual description of Lundy as a “magical, mystical place” isn’t too far from the truth of the matter.
I gathered myself and took off back to the pub which must have taken all of a minute. I scored myself a pint of very well-kept West Country cider (what else) and went out the back to sit on the little bench to have a smoke, that particular pleasure being denied me in public places now. It was no hardship as the quite enclosed little “yard” affords the most amazing view over a steeply sloping meadow, past the “Big House” which was the former residence of the owners of the island and out onto an ever-changing sea with not even a glimpse of the further shore even on a bright day. I really was in the back of beyond.
I should explain the logistics a little here. All the daytrippers leave on the Oldenburg in late afternoon so by the evening the only people left on the island and are the staff relaxing after a hard day’s work (and it is hard physical graft here) or those who are staying in some of the various accommodations. The former seemed to gravitate towards me with them all seeming to know who I was not to mention most of my life history and in a manner that John had been talking. Of the latter group I met some charming people who all appeared to “get” Lundy as I did and many of whom were on return visits. The evening passed quickly and very pleasantly and eventually John came out with service over and the kitchen cleaned down. A quick couple of pints and a few smokes before closing and it was time to head back the short distance to his place in the pitch black.
I know I have somewhat skimmed over details of certain things but, as I say, I wish to balance out the entries and this one has almost inevitably run to heroic proportions already. Back home and another bottle of very decent wine opened there was more chat until the lights went out. He had not told me about the power situation before but it was a matter of lighting his rather powerful torch and carry on. We didn’t stay late as John was in full high season mode with a small staff, a tiny kitchen and had to start early. He took off, I constructed the nest I had planned earlier and fell quickly into a very deep sleep which is a blessing for one like me with a sleep disorder.
I’d done it, I had finally made it here after years of talking about it and quite frankly I was not sure if I had entered some sort of parallel universe. I had been to some amazing places all over the world but this was just somehow different. Don’t ask me to explain, it just was.
Stay tuned and spread the word.
P.S. I have just noticed that I had a complete travelogue written for this day which I somehow managed to save from the excellent Virtual Tourist website despite the best efforts of the appalling TripAdv*s*r (don’t want to give them the traffic) and yet I have spent many hours effectively repeating it without the benefit of more recent recollection. I told you I was technophobic! I’ll try to find the rest of it for the next post which hopefully will not take me the two or three days this one has.