Lundy Island

Lundy is 3 miles long and a little over half a mile wide (5 by 1 kilometres) in the Bristol Channel. Wherever possible your walk around it should last all day. Or a week.

If I could only ever visit one place again, it would be a couple of hours from the mainland, a little granite outcrop at sea, called Lundy Island. You will find it off the coast of Devon (and South Wales) out in the Bristol Channel in its own shipping area, as anyone familiar with the lyrical tones of the long wave radio shipping forecast will know …Lundy …Fastnet …Irish Sea. It’s a very special place where a part of me resides and, restlessly, I have to keep going back in order to feel complete again.

MS Oldenburg leaving

I think I’ve been there around 15 times now, and while you can take a day trip aboard MS Oldenburg, it would break my heart to have to leave when I had only just arrived. The island is owned by the National Trust and managed by the Landmark Trust and from around April to October you reach the island by boat from the coast of Devon; in the winter you take a helicopter from Hartland Point. It is also possible of course to come by your own boat, helicopter or light aircraft, but sadly I don’t know the kind of people who do this kind of thing. Or if I do they are keeping it quiet in case I ask them to give me a lift.

There is much debate in my house which is the preferred way, I love both. I’ve been aboard the Oldenburg when the sea has been so rough the steward had to run up the bucking gangway holding my infant son to get aboard. I’ve been on board when it has been so stormy on the coast we had to take shelter in Bideford Bay for a few hours. I’ve been on a helicopter which my friend and ex-Lundy resident memorably described as a tractor in the air. And I’ve sat on the ship’s deck in glorious sunshine, several times, while a pod of dolphins swim under and alongside. As with all the best trips, the journey is part of the adventure.

On paper there is very little to do on Lundy. There is a small shop, a church and a most convivial pub, the Marisco Tavern, where you will be reminded not to use your phone (assuming you can get a signal, until recently there was none unless you went up the lighthouse or danced about on the hill on which the church stands but things are sadly changing for the worse). But I have never run out of things to do, and I doubt I ever will. When you land, time (like the church clock) stands still.

For a start, there’s one letterbox that I haven’t found, and have no intention of finding thereby giving me a reason to keep going back. The Lundy letterboxes is a series of rubber stamps hidden all over the island, with clues to their approximate location. If you have never visited, this is the way to see the island. In 15 years I’m not quite done finding them.

Rat island (and Johnny the seal)

There’s an infuriating book (three in fact) called Where Am I? Lundy by Nigel Dalby which has photos of close up locations and things to find on Lundy. The most infuriating part these days is finding a copy of the book. Clearly some of the things are no longer there or have been painted over which makes this a lesson in frustration, humility and acceptance. I adore these books.

The waters around Lundy are an excellent dive site, and I’m told the climbing is great. If you are feeling energetic you could bring a kite, a cricket set or simply roll around on some grass. All of these things you can and should do. Patrizia who worked on the island once told us one of the best things to do on a windy day to go to a particular field and lean. She was, of course, absolutely right.

Escaping over the stile at bedtime

But of course the finest thing to do is go for a walk. As you step over your threshold you are an explorer. You could go find the valley with its stunted trees where it’s warm and calm; you could look for the old battery down the cliff. You could look for the quarry, overgrown with wild plants where I saw a leucistic crow; you could find the steps down to the shoreline to watch or swim with the seals; you can look for the lost Heinkel bomber; you can discover the Earthquake.

Check the forecast in the pub, pick up a map and walk around the island, to North Light and down to South Light. You should start before dawn and watch the sun rise on the east side, and the next day escape over the stile at bedtime to look for whales at sunset on the west side. Those Lundy sunsets.

The walk begins from your front door. Which is to say if you are fortunate enough to be staying at the centre of the island in Tibbetts, which has no electricity, your walk will be quite different from if you are staying at the castle, the lighthouse or my second favourite, Hanmers, a fisherman’s cabin high above the harbour beach. But my favourite all day walk is to set off early down into the valley and walk along the lower path on the sheltered east side of the island. The dawn chorus down here is lovely, the island was recently accredited by the Bird Observatories Council.

Tibbetts, formally the Admiralty Lookout

On this side you can warm gently in the morning sun and make your way along past the quarry to Brazen Ward, which is an excellent place for elevenses just beyond the three quarter wall. The seals will come and see what you are up to. For lunch proper I will come up on to higher ground at the North End, past John O’Groats house and to the very farthest North West Point to North Light, one of Lundy’s three lighthouses (the waters round about are treacherous, as the number of shipwrecked lifebelts in the Marisco will testify).

It’s another great spot for watching seals and sealife. After lunch, and a snooze if you feel like one, I walk down the west side, which is a little more exposed to the elements but a fabulous wilder and more rocky coastline. There are plenty of coves and coombs to clamber down to, and awesome views. You’re looking out across the Celtic Sea into the Atlantic Ocean, nothing between you and the USA.

On the round island walk you will see the Soay sheep, an ancient breed, tough as old boots, small and dark brown. If you’re lucky you will also see the wild goats, more shy; I once came across them by surprise in the Earthquake, looking like benign devils emerging from a rip in the earth. There are the Lundy ponies who roam about the middle of the island, sometimes at Rocket Pole Pond or the Widow’s Tenement, sometimes like bouncers guarding the three walls which run across the island. There are the highland cattle, extremely photogenic lads who can often be seen posing by the ruined cottages, and the deer who are usually on the warm sheltered east side, but in Summer can be roaming the north end. And that doesn’t touch upon the birds, the puffins who arrive in Spring and from which the island gets its name. There are the very elusive shrews, and the farm animals, as Lundy is also a working farm. You can eat them in the Marisco. Oh yes there is nothing to do on Lundy.

As you come down the west side make a note of where you want to come watch the sunset, there’s more to see on the southern end of the island. You can go find Benson’s Cave, in which many stories reside, of smuggling and prisoners. And of course the castle, which now makes up part of the accommodation. And one of my favourites the harbour with its shingle beach and rockpools you can spend a day staring into. This is a marine conservation area.

My son and I had a magical midnight adventure one moonlit night when we came down to watch the lights of the boats moored in the bay. And a thousand other things to discover beside, and some we haven’t discovered yet, even though it feels like we’ve covered every square metre. I haven’t even told you about the Old Light which you can go up and sit on a deckchair in the glass room up top, a great place in a storm.

As I post the final picture I can feel the familiar yearning ache to go back there which never lessens, no matter how many times I go, or the months since I was last there. I’m packing the bag in my mind and wondering which property I will stay in next time, when will that be, and will I ever find that final letterbox stamp. No, I don’t think I ever will.

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15 responses to “Lundy Island”

  1. John Bainbridge Avatar
    John Bainbridge

    Never been, but used to see it so often from walking the Devon coast. Grand pictures.

    Liked by 1 person

  2. It had never occurred to this devotee of the Shipping Forecast ever to try to visit Lundy. You’ve changed my mind!

    Liked by 1 person

  3. I love the first sunset photo, it’s gorgeous 🙂


  4. Been travelling there yearly (sometimes lucky enough to travel there twice a year!) since 2006. I’ve been lucky enough so far in life to travel many places around our globe, but Lundy is by far my favourite.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. I don’t know what it is about Lundy, but you know it when you get there.

      Liked by 1 person

  5. Lovely description Ruth of a place obviously close to your heart and I hope you get to go there again soon. Great pictures also

    Liked by 1 person

  6. Looks and sounds delightful, I had heard of it but didn’t know anything about Lundy until your post, thanks for sharing. 🙂

    Liked by 1 person

    1. I’m happy you enjoyed it. I guess I’m making it harder for myself to book a stay on Lundy!


  7. Yes the climbing on Lundy is special. Stayed in Millcombe House, perfect for large groups.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Nice! One I’ve never stayed in

      Liked by 1 person

  8. Lundy Island was a place haven’t seen. We saw those old stone buildings in England. Thanks for sharing this. Anita

    Liked by 1 person

  9. Lundy was the surname of my best friend at infant and primary school (such a long time ago) so I’ve been fascinated by this island ever since I first heard of it. I’d love to visit and your photos and description have reinforced that. I’ll have to get my helicopter pilot to take me 😉

    Liked by 1 person

    1. The MS Oldenburg is currently out of service for repairs so the helicopter is the main way to get there right now. Introduce me to yours!

      Liked by 1 person

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