Day one in Devon was spent on a lovely long walk over Saunton Down to Saunton Beach and round the peninsula to Croyde Bay. It is what us JWalkers like best but this time we had expert guides in the form of my brother and sister-in-law, Jon and Julie. The weather was super hot and the views out across the Bristol Channel to Lundy Island and beyond that the Welsh Coast were phenomenal.
After some research and a chat, we decided a trip to Lundy would be a great day out. Lundy is the Norse word for Puffin so we felt we should be in with a chance of seeing one or two of the little chaps. The good ship MS Oldenburg sails three times a week and alternates departure between Bideford and Ilfracombe. It is the only ship to serve the island. The only other way to get there from the mainland is by helicopter during the winter. We decided on an Ilfracombe departure the very next day and started to get quite excited about our “cruise”.
Armed with the wet weather gear, flasks of coffee, sandwiches and sunglasses, we headed for the port to meet Verity. My brother had told us that we would meet “Verity” and we didn’t know what he was talking about. Was she the lady in the ticket office? On arrival, we discovered that Verity is a massive stainless steel and bronze statue fashioned by the artist Damien Hirst and it is on loan to Ilfracombe for 20 years. I know art is in the eye of the beholder but it certainly wasn’t my cup of tea. It depicts a pregnant woman holding aloft a sword, carrying the scales of justice and standing on a pile of law books. Not too bad so far, but then half of the statue/woman shows the internal anatomy of the woman showing the foetus, skull and internal organs. Understandably it received a mixed reception from locals, some of who were said it was unsuitable for a Victorian seaside town (I tend to agree) but, after the council received 100 letters of complaint and 177 letters of support, the statue went up!
After 250 souls and a lot of supplies for the village of the island had boarded in the rain, we headed out into the mist to Lundy. Jon and Julie had probably made the wise decision to sit inside but Jon and I braved the outside benches for most of the journey and were rewarded by sighting a pod of dolphins cut across the bow at brake neck speed.
Although the island sits only 11 miles off the shore, the journey to the tiny slipway on the south east corner by of the island adjacent to Rat Island took about 2 hours and it was around 11am when we arrived. With strict instructions to return to board at 3.30pm, we headed off with our 30p walking map to explore the sights and wildlife. Luckily the rain had passed over and our fellow shipmates and us headed along a steep gravel track up the side of the cliff and eventually ended up at the village. There are less than 30 permanent residents on Lundy but there are some holiday cottages which bring in the tourists but it is good that numbers are restricted.
Most people were heading towards the village but we decided to go “off piste” up a footpath barely visible along the edge of the cliff on the east side of the island. It was a fantastic walk which not many people took. There was a sheer drop down to the pure azure sea so concentration was needed for the 45 minutes or so until we found a good place for a lunch stop.
Our stop was on the site of a tramway which originally ran along a terrace cut into the cliff of the island to service the old quarries excavated by the Lundy Granite Company in the mid 1800s. Below this spot there would have been a jetty where the ships would load. Thankfully the excavation stopped after 5 years – that was enough time to do an awful lot of damage to the picturesque cliff face.
Suitably refreshed we headed further along the footpath where my beady eye spotted a memorial plaque in one of the former quarry sites. It was a dedication to John Pennington Harman who used to play in the quarry as a boy. He received a posthumous Victoria Cross for his actions during WWII in Burma. It is not the only connection Lundy has to the war. At least three German aircraft ditched on the island, the most famous being one in which the crew surrendered to the lighthouse keeper who promptly said he was too busy in the lighthouse so they headed down to the village and surrendered to a farmer’s daughter who was 12 years old! At one spot on the island, even after all this time, the remaining engine parts can still be seen from a burnt aircraft.
Wot no Chuffin’ Puffins?
Time seemed to be ticking by but so we headed across to the west coast of the island, which faces the more harsh conditions of the Altantic, to hopefully spot some wildlife. We hit the coast at Jenny’s cove and the view down the island was outstanding but no Puffins could be seen. Lots of great photo opportunities led us to Devil’s Chimney – no Puffins.
Needle Rock – no Puffins. Punchbowl Valley – no Puffins. Due to the lack of Puffins, we decided to rescue a ewe laying on its side that was in some distress lambing. Julie ventured down the end where it was all (not) happening and saw the lamb half in and half out. A swift call to the helpful warden’s office plus a lot of crazy waving to a not so helpful farmer got the ewe hauled onto the back of a trailer and carted away. Hopefully there was a happy ending.
The lambing episode ate up valuable time but we still managed to view Battery Point which served as a fog signalling station. It was manned in 1862 and it fired blank shot every two minutes to warn ships of their proximity to Lundy and was abandoned in 1897 when the North Light and South Light were constructed. We also managed to see the Old Lighthouse, St Helen’s Church and Marisco Castle before heading back to a small beach by Rat Island to try and see a couple of seals that we had got a glimpse of on arrival. No such luck, they were hiding with the Puffins somewhere.
In an attempt to solve the problem of shipwrecks on Lundy in fog a signal station was established low down on the western cliffs in 1862. Two old cannon were mounted and fired a blank shot every 10 minutes. These were replaced by rockets in 1878 and the site abandoned when the North Light and South Light were constructed in 1897.
The return journey was plain sailing and the entertainment was provided by a teenage boy playing on his Nintendo 3DS. “Spider boy” as he became know spent most of the two hour crossing with his head under a blanket playing a dinosaur fights spiders game. We heard the occasional “SPIDERS” or “STEGOSAURUS” shouted from somewhere underneath. He only came to the surface when there was an announcement that all hot food at the on board shops was reduced to £1. This time his appearance was preceded by the shout “PASTY”.
What a brilliant day out we had, tired but happy we headed home for a delicious lasagna from Beasley’s Deli. We will forgive Lundy for keeping the Puffins under wraps but maybe we will return with binoculars, bird seed or a wet kipper!