Lundy is a small island off the north coast of Devon. Windswept and wild it has a magical reputation with those who have experienced a retreat to this rugged lump of granite. Life is busy as I know only too well and getting time to escape isn’t always possible. An escape to Lundy is possible in a day. Refreshing the mind and providing a short escape from reality.
The boat trip on the MS Oldenburg is special. The atmosphere of the islands is there as cargo is craned on and boarding passes are issued. Heading from Bideford down the river towards the sea the modern day retreats and the wild natural world starts to appear. The rugged Braunton Burrows is the last of the mainland with sand dunes and birds circling overhead.
Be prepared for a rough crossing even on a calm day. The mixing of the mighty Atlantic Ocean and the massive tidal range of the Severn Estuary happens with force around Lundy. Dolphins and whales will accompany the boat on its short 10 mile journey and as the boat arrives at the Quay the seals appear to welcome the new residents and day trippers.
The Quay and South Lighthouse
Stepping off the boat the cliffs loom overhead with the South Lighthouse dominating the Quay and Rat Island. Rat Island is accessible at low tide. A series of caves and inlets with craggy rocks covered at high tide.
The caves are dark and deep. Echoing with the rush of water and the singing of the seals. Take care, like the basilisk in Harry Potter the seals lurk in the corners of the caves, shouting if you get too close. The South Lighthouse sits above the Quay with views to the mainland and the Castle sitting atop the first cliff face of the main part of the island.
Walking to the Village
The first sight of the island is daunting. Paths snake along the edge of the cliffs and the main path heads uphill. It is long slog from the boat to the village, but butterflies flitting around and the buildings on the route take your mind off the 150m climb. At the beginning of the walk is the Landing Place of T.H. in 1819. No explanation is given but T.H. stands for Trinity House who landed on the island to build the Old Beacon Lighthouse. Cutting up beside the grand white Millcombe Lodge and around the side of the hill the corner is cut and the pub comes in to view at just the right moment.
Marisco Tavern and the Village
Coming through the kissing gate at the top of the path the island opens out. The pub sits nestled at the top of the valley below the church. A welcome relief after the climb. This is a lovely retreat given the weather on Lundy. Phones are not allowed unless you have deep pockets for the fine box, but phones are the least of your worries with cards and games and that old fashioned skill called ‘talking to each other”. Exploring the village takes a short while. The shop has everything. A great place to try the random shopping challenge – can you name something really obscure and get it from the shop – I think you would be surprised.
The Church dedicated to St Helen dominates the village and with its historic bells it is a great location for those who enjoy campanology. Not as ancient as some churches this Victorian structure is still imposing and grand. The island also has its own postal system, the oldest private postal system in the world. Stamps can only be purchased on the island and letters only sent from the island. The Lundy stamp charge is called a “puffinage” and covers the cost of transport from the island and U.K. postage.
From the village there is the choice to have a short loop around the dramatic south end with Marisco Castle sitting proud on the headland. Built in 1242 it is renovated and once again looking out over the Atlantic Ocean and Severn Estuary. If you are brave there is a cave – Bensons Cave just below the castle. A scramble but an experience. The walls still have the remains of graffitti left by prisoners awaiting shipment to America as slave labour.
Close by is the Devils Lime Kiln, a scary cliff top walk to a long collapsed sea cave. This is a huge gash that really does bring you to the edge of the world. Legend has it that the nearby Shutter Rock can be turned upside down to make the perfect stopper for the Devils Lime Kiln. Above this are the remains of the ‘Rocket Post’. As always on Lundy Island there is a strange tale. This time it is the testing of cliff rescue equipment in the 1870’s!
Old Beacon Lighthouse
Rising high above the whole island is the Old Beacon Lighthouse. Built in 1819 it was the tallest lighthouse in England at one time. However the ambition of the architects was beaten by Mother Nature. Shortly after it was built the fogs and mists that plague this coastline proved to be better than the lighthouse. A lighthouse that is useless as soon as the fog descends is soon obsolete! It was replaced n the late 1800’s by the North and South Lighthouses which remain in use today.
The time for a day trip on Lundy is limited. Controlled by the tide times and sailing times sometimes it is a little as three hours on this beautiful escape. Other days you can stay for 6 hours and really explore the island. Heading east from the Old Beacon Lighthouse the helipad comes in to sight. The easy option over the winter when the boat cannot sail and the island is cut off by sea.
Finally the east coast path is found. This side of the island is calmer in its appearance. Less rugged and exposed with a gentle feel. The farm animals live in the enclosed fields, protected from the worst of the weather. The more feral Soay sheep live further north. This main track leads back down to the village and the main route to the Quay. However, heading east towards the sea brings you to the ruins of a number of buildings and from here a path leads along the coast. Hugging the clifftop, knee high in bracken with gulls gliding overhead the last walk back down to the boat is a little easier and a little less final.
Lundy is a photographers dream. Seascapes and wildlife are everywhere. This short day trip does not show the best the island has to offer but is amazing if it is all you have. A link will be provided shortly to a photography tour of the island. Whilst walking look out for butterflies, moths and the local beetles. Wild flowers are everywhere and are a great foreground for the larger seascapes. The small details are fantastic on Lundy. Lichen covered rocks, lines of quartz in the rocks or pebbles on the beach all deserve some attention.
Lundy has a great collection of geocaches. None are placed on the island but they take you the full length of the island. The Lundy Intermediate and Extreme need a full day of walking to complete. They really cannot be completed unless you stay on the island or can run the full length.
Lundy Island (North Devon) GC6113
V.C. Quarry GCJGQ1
The Devil’s Limekiln GC2EKMZ
Lundy for Beginners GC6Q13Q
Lundy: Intermediate GC6Q1BK
Lundy: Extreme GC6Q1HG