Since moving to North Devon, one of the local landmarks has been the island of Lundy, lying tantalisingly close, just 10 miles off the coast and clearly visible in all but the worst weather. So, when a couple of friends from Exeter expressed an interest in going there, we happily booked up for a day trip in late August on the SS Oldenburg, the official supply ship to Lundy.
We chose to go from Bideford which is a two hour trip, although the Oldenburg, also does trips from Ilfracombe which, being further away, takes nearly double the time, and although the ship was at its 267 capacity we had no difficulty in securing a table for four downstairs. Departing promptly at 9 am, we cruised down the mirror smooth Torridge estuary, past Appledore with its famous ship yard on the left and nosed out into the Atlantic. And that is where the trouble started! Steaming into a force 5 gale with an on-shore tide, the ship started to pitch and roll and then corkscrew and the many passengers who had succumbed to the allure of bacon sandwiches as they arrived on board, soon regretted their action in the worst way . . ..
However, passing over the next, painful two hours, we eventually arrived at Lundy and entered the calm waters in the lea of the island to moor at the jetty. As we disembarked our first sight were three massive seals playing a stones throw away and clearly welcoming their next batch of visitors!
One thing we weren’t expecting was the steep and lengthy walk from the jetty up to the islands plateau. A combination of steep cliff side gravel walk and stairs cut into the cliff, this is not a journey for lesser-abled people – or those to whom anything but a short and level walk is difficult.
Lundy is a chunk of granite that was forced vertically out of the seabed by volcanic eruption at the dawn of time and its near vertical cliffs are testament to the irresistible force of nature.
However, having reached the summit, we were greeted by the welcome sight of the Marisco Tavern, which doubles up as the island tea and coffee shop and we gratefully sat down in its spacious rooms to enjoy a refreshing tea and scones.
Recovered, we set off on the main pathway, which runs up the centre of the island although, as the width is only half a mile, both coasts were visible for most of the time. The walking is easy – flat and straight on a well-gravelled path and we only needed light walking shoes (although boots would probably be necessary in rainy conditions). Lundy is three miles long and is bisected by three dry stone walls – Quarter Wall, Halfway Wall and Threequarter Wall, which make handy way markers. Passing pigs and ponies, we reached Halfway Wall where we saw what we thought were a herd of the Silka deer the island is famous for, but on closer inspection may have been the indigenous goats.
After an hour’s steady tramp, we reached Threequarter Wall just as a light squall blew in from the Atlantic. Luckily, just the other side of the wall we found a large, dry stone walled double enclosure, presumably used for the sheep and goats in the worst excesses of the winter. Reasonably dry and sheltered from the breeze, we enjoyed a picnic and waited until the rain blew away before resuming our walk.
Continuing northwards, we went only half the way to the tip of the island as the clock was beginning to beat us, so we turned left, walked the few steps to the cliff top and turned south to go down the western side. This seemed to be the more rugged and picturesque side with plunging cliffs and deep, inaccessible bays. We looked down on rock climbers, clinging to their precarious perches hanging far out over the dark rocks below. We were being buffeted by the increasing wind, so we didn’t envy them at all and kept inland of the cliff tops wherever possible.
Before long, we were in sight of the original light house and we climbed the steep and narrow steps to the top where we found, to our relief, a pair of deck chairs from which we had superb views over the coast.
From there, it was a short, down hill walk to St Helena’s church which, on the day we were there, had held a remembrance service for the islands long serving plumber and, touchingly, his name had been preserved on the rood screen in cleverly bent copper piping. A very fitting tribute to a lifetime dedication.
We just had time for a reviving pot of tea in the Marisco Tavern’s tea room before winding our way down to the jetty for the journey home, which thankfully, proved as calm as the outward trip had been rough.