Starting mileage: 16528 km
Day started: 08:00
Day ended: 22:30
The MS Oldenburg is a 50-year old German vessel that has its own stamps, once used to ferry passengers to Heligoland; the sea conditions, according to the captain, were “slight”, which meant that even though it was a lot smaller and older than the Scillonian, the sailing in Bristol Channel was much smoother than the rough journey to Scillies. Before we got too bored with the sea and passing container ships, Lundy’s cliffs loomed on the horizon.
Lundy, although the largest in these seas, is a tiny island: three miles long, half a mile wide. Within the four hours available between Oldenburg’s landing and arrival it’s possible, in brisk pace, to walk the whole of it around. We chose a more leisurely pace, with our main target being Jenny’s Cove, exactly half-way along the western coast.
Of course, there had to be a climb: from the pier to the top of the island; Lundy is a 130-meter high plateau with no natural harbour – the one Oldenburg arrives at is cut into the rocks. The way up starts at a low gradient, winding along the granite cliff, but then turns land-wards and suddenly becomes a narrow path, and higher up – steps.
There are two distinct, unequal parts of Lundy. One is the inhabited part, which for the most part resembles a colonial, sub-tropical islet: the paths wind through the oak groves, abandoned fruit orchards, walled vegetable gardens. For an island that small, Lundy has a remarkable history and complex biology; it was owned by kings, Templar Knights, Cistercian monks, traitors, Barbary pirates, used as a prison, held a granite quarry and finally purchased by the Heaven family, which ruled it as an independent micro-nation, minting their own coins and printing their own stamps – the period known as the Kingdom of Heaven. Right now it’s in the ownership of National Trust, but all previous inhabitants had left their mark on the island, scattering ruins and remains of their dwellings all around it. The path from the quay reaches the “village” – a smattering of a few cottages, a tavern which is the office for everything going on at the island, and a small shop. The tavern also marks the cross-roads from which you can go either south to the 13th century castle and lighthouse, or north, towards the rest of the island.
The last vestige of civilization past the tavern is the Old Light, the tallest of Lundy’s three lighthouses, and the only one that doesn’t work. Just before it there’s a tiny, curious cemetary: a few of the stones are ancient, 1500 years old and inscribed in Latin; the rest are modern – it seems people of Lundy decided to reuse the ancient graveyard in recent years.
Past the lighthouse spreads the vast heath- and turf-land, wild and untamed, where the wild Soay sheep, wild goats and sika deer roam. The sheep – which are of the self-shearing variety – were just past the lambing season, and the tiny brown lambs crying for their mothers induced countless awwws and ooohs from passing tourists.
Jenny’s Cove is the place for birdwatching on Lundy, with thousands of auks: guillemots and razorbills nesting on the cliffs there, few hundred kittiwakes, and a few couples of puffins tumbling down from their holes. There used to be enough puffins on Lundy to give the island its name (Puffin Island in Norse), and they are being slowly reintroduced since the total eradication of rats and other predators.
We spend a long time above the cove, even dozing off in the sun for a bit; apart from the climb uphill, it was a relaxing, slow, lazy day. The sheep bleated, the birds cried, and the tourists oohed, but all of this was subdued and muffled by the vast emptiness of the heath. Eventually, it was time to go – across the island and down the east coast, past even more overgrown ruins and abandoned fields.
For some unfathomable reason, the Oldenburgsailed to Bideford and a coach carried us back to Ilfracombe, just in time for almost everything in the town close down. It was too late to try to make dinner, so we wandered for a bit looking for a place to eat. A word of advice if you’re ever in Ilfracombe: stay by the harbour; don’t get fooled by the signs leading you to the “Shops at High Street”. It’s a sham. If Ilfracombe was a man, I would recommend cutting the High Street off like a rotten limb. The harbour, marked since last October by a massive and obviously controversial Damien Hirst statue of a naked woman with half her skin torn off (“Verity”) is a fairly pleasant, affluent part of the town; the centre is tacky, impoverished and outdated.
The only restaurant in the harbour area that had any decent reviews was Take Thyme – an old-fashioned place with old-fashioned, but well made food. In there we’ve met that rarest of breeds: the nice Frenchman. Even more remarkable, he either really did enjoy his moules au cidre and crumble à la rhubarbe, or was even better behaved than we gave him credit. Obviously, having a Frenchman praise the food in an English restaurant is a sign of highest quality – especially if the dish he eats is of French origin.
We stayed at Damage Barton again. It’s even more crowded, and we could barely find a pitch among all the motorhomes and caravans. There are three very GoT-like crows here, which fly everywhere together, and do everything together. The sunset was wondrous.