You don't really get very long on Lundy, if you are a day tripper. It's not all day. It's about four hours. You can of course see a lot in that time. In 1996, on my previous visit, M-- and I had a quick snack lunch - a picnic on the grass at the top end of the Village - with stuff we had brought along in our backpacks, and then we walked fairly briskly to the North Point. I took a photo there of the lighthouse, to prove we had done it. It was however six miles there and back, and that left no time for anything else. On this occasion, twenty years on, I intended to look at all the things I had had to skip. There weren't all that many. I proposed to begin with the island's social hub and day visitor retreat, the Marisco Tavern.
The Tavern has legendary status in the Lundy brochures, and the pictures of its interior certainly look most attractive. If the weather is foul, then this is definitely the place one will head for, to sit out those four hours in warmth and fair comfort. I suspect that many visitors linger long here, and don't venture very much further. Certainly, apart from the Stores at the north end of the Village, there is hardly anything else to interest a person who gives food, drink, and a little souvenir-shopping his or her chief priority.
Let's see my photos of it. But where had I left you? Ah yes, I'd just got out of the Land Rover, having rather cheekily got a lift up from the beach, saving time and effort. As I did, the front runner of the day visitors, this lady in the green jacket, strode past. My goodness, she must have been quick off the mark!
Nearly all the properties on Lundy have been restored by the Landmark Trust. There are twenty-three properties that visitors can stay in, of all kinds: a substantial white-painted house in the Georgian style, divided into flats; a castle; an old lighthouse; and several former lookouts and telegraph stations, one of them very isolated. The Trust lets them out by the week to visitors. They are not cheap. I got talking to a couple who were just finishing a week's stay at the castle. It had cost them £700 or so. But what a view they had had, as you will see. Another couple had stayed in part of the Old Lighthouse. The husband enjoyed watching the ever-changing sea, and hardly did anything else for hours on end. That's the purpose of such a holiday: to unwind, and totally relax, in a place you can't be got at.
Some buildings are for staff accommodation. People can apply for a definite job such as carpenter, mechanic, Tavern worker, accommodation cleaner, farm hand, office or nature conservancy duties. I think they mostly do six-monthly stints. Imagine being separated from ordinary mainland existence for so long! But what an adventure.
You'll notice the blue post box set in the wall:
The island makes an income from selling special stamps and postcards, which you can buy on the Oldenburg, or at the Stores on the island, and post here. In 1996, the post box was painted red, and wasn't half so smart:
The Tavern was just around the corner, tucked in to offer shelter from the wind:
The nearer door led into the Office, where the formalities of checking into booked accommodation were dealt with. The further door was the entrance to the Tavern proper.
Yes, it was still fairly empty when I arrived, but food hot and cold was already being served. The bearded man looks startled in the photo, but he was friendly enough. I ordered a baguette, and went into the section where the daylight was streaming in, which was the bar. This was on two levels.
I got my drink and sat down with my lunch, which had already arrived:
Nowadays I'd avoid all that bread, but it was pre-Slimming World and I knew no better! All around were things on the wall, or suspended from the ceiling, that captured some moment of the island's history.
Not wanting to waste time, and noting that the sun was coming out, I had only a quick further look around the Tavern's interior. Gosh, it went on and on, and really could shelter a boatload of soaked visitors if need be.
But where were the toilets? I asked one of the staff. Really? In that black storehouse (next to where the Land Rover dropped me off)? So be it. Hmm. Fine on an improving day like today - but in a howling gale at night?
My next objective was the Church. There was nothing extra special about it, so far as I knew, but it was a bit of the island's history that I'd had to miss in 1996. It was also the most noticeable tall object visible from the mainland. So it was a 'must' this time around. It was being restored, having got a bit dilapidated over the years, and there was currently an appeal for funds. I went inside. It seemed to function as a meeting place, lecture hall, and possibly where you could see a film on occasion.
The brickwork was fancy, but otherwise it wasn't especially interesting. The lady I'd encountered came in. We were obviously both going clockwise around this part of the island. Her name was Judith. She came from Orpington in Kent, had come down on an Alfa coach holiday, and was saying at Ilfracombe. The hotel wasn't brilliant, so she was treating herself to a special day out on Lundy. I mentioned my plans for the next three hours. She intended to do much the same. Shall we join forces, then, a loose coalition anyway? Just for mutual company? Oh yes! So we set off for the next spot, Marisco Castle, chatting away.
Normally I like a good chat, though not to saddle myself with company when there is no need. But she seemed a pleasant soul, she was doing the trip on her own, and it would clearly be a nice gesture to offer my company. I did however warn her that I took a lot of photos, and would insist on stopping at any place that I wanted to blitz. That was fine. Right, then! Let's continue!
As we walked, I learned all about her daughter and her ex-husband, and her sundry allergies, and it struck me how unexciting I was by comparison, with no such difficulties. There was no need to say much about myself. It all passed the time. We came close to distinctive-looking sheep, who were remarkably bold:
Marisco Castle wasn't far off now. It had been part-modernised, but was basically a late-medieval stronghold with a commanding sea view. Castle and Tavern were named after a lord who had used the island for piracy, and had eventually made the error of defying the king, thus ensuring his swift downfall and gruesome death.
The stone lean-to on the left side of the castle in the shot was a holiday let. We went past it and admired the south view they had.
There in one scene was the Oldenburg, the Pier, the Old Jetty, the Beach Road and the South Light. This was the only feasible landing spot, and the castle was superbly placed to keep an eye on whomever might be approaching. It wasn't big as castles go, but the 'old' part of it looked as if it could have held off the average landing-party, whether armed with swords, cutlasses or even muskets.
Leaving the castle, we walked on towards the south-west corner of the island. This part of Lundy is mainly grass for grazing, with typical heathland vegetation near the cliffs.
Judith wasn't happy with my getting too close to the cliff edge, but I wanted a good shot of this part of the island's coast, which I saw nothing of in 1996. Mind you, had I slipped, there would have been precious little to grab onto as I careered down the slope and into the sea! So her concern wasn't ill-founded at all. On we walked, past one of Lundy's freshwater ponds. It was alive with friendly quacking ducks.
Then the South-west Point:
That dark bit on the left edge of the shot is a yawning hole called the Devil's Limekiln. You wouldn't want to fall into that.
At length we reached the Old Light. This extremely solid lighthouse was built by Trinity House at Lundy's highest point. Unfortunately they soon discovered that fog frequently obscured the light beam, rendering it useless as a visual warning for mariners. That's why Lundy eventually acquired two more lighthouses, at its northern and southern ends - both at a lower elevation. The Old Light (plus its equally solid nukeproof accommodation) was left as an unmistakable day mark in good visibility. Adjacent to the Old Light was an ancient cemetery, containing not only modern graves, but some early Christian grave-markers from well before 1000. Judith made no objection to my having a jolly good look, although I wasn't convinced that this was really her cup of tea.
The modern graves had stories to tell. They bore the names of the families who 'ruled' the island in the past, such as the Reverend HG Heaven, who turned Lundy into 'the Kingdom of Heaven':
There were also stones for various members of the Harman family, who also treated Lundy as their personal fiefdom. Their land agent had a stone too. I didn't however see any grave for an island worker. Were the minions simply tipped into the sea when they died?
We left the cemetery and had a closer look at the lighthouse.
A young couple emerged from inside. I asked them whether one could climb up to the top of the lighthouse, and had they done so? He said you could. She added that she'd wanted to go up, but her boyfriend hadn't. Oops! Had they had some words about this? Hard to say. But I felt sure that she really had wanted to go up, and presently felt thwarted. Well, I wasn't going to be denied the chance. I tackled Judith. I said I was very keen to get up to the top, to see the views. But Judith wasn't nearly so keen. If she had been a regular friend, or indeed my partner, I'd have given way and (like the girl) not pressed the point. But we were only casual afternoon companions, and I didn't feel at all bound to forgo this opportunity. After all, would I ever make another trip to Lundy?
She said she'd wait around a bit. That seemed fine; but even so, it felt like straining the bounds of our companionship. That old irrational guiltiness and selfishness that people used to made me feel, for wanting to do a simple harmless thing, nearly welled up again. I fought it. I went inside.
No, not these stairs! These were for the upper of the two flats. There were other stairs, over there...
What did that notice say?
OK, I was duly warned! First, though, I peeked into a room on the ground floor. It had a magnificent west-facing view out to sea.
I edged forward, looked through the wide window, and was amazed. I said 'Wow!' to myself. 'Yes, it is a wonderful view, isn't it?' a man's voice said from a stone niche behind me. I jumped with the sudden surprise. He'd been sitting there quietly for some time. We had a conversation. He said the view put him at ease with life. I saw why.
Then I started my ascent. 96 feet and 147 steps, the notice had said. After a short while I met the thwarted girl (sans boyfriend) coming down. We greeted each other. 'Oh, so you've been up after all!' I said. 'Yes, I have! Though I didn't stay long. I promised not to.' 'Good for you, all the same!' I replied. I mean, one sometimes needs to assert oneself against boyfriends and companions! It wasn't the last time we met.
The steps got progressively narrower and more awkward. I got more and more puffed. But eventually I emerged at the top.
But the effort was worth it. A shame that Judith hadn't made it up here too. While I got my breath back, I walked around the circumference of the light room. The walkway wasn't wide, but at least there was a railing.
I shot the view in each direction. South-east towards the Village and the church:
West - right out into the Atlantic. Next landfall, America:
North-east, over the old airstrip:
And straight down. Scary:
I was a bit more composed now. But it was time to go. I'd left Judith for at least quarter of an hour. It seemed very rude of me. She had probably walked on, fed up with waiting.
Getting down was however not so easy. Not in big clumpy walking boots on narrow stairs! I took it very carefully. A middle-aged couple were on their way up. They waited for me on a landing. I felt I was being ridiculously slow. I apologised. 'Can I give you a hand?' the man said, kindly. 'Oh, please, just to steady me,' I replied. He was very gentle. They were both concerned. My legs felt like rubber from the need to step carefully down without slipping. I was very grateful, and it must have showed. At that moment I fully felt my sixty-four years.
From there on down the stairs were easier, and I was soon on the ground floor. And Judith had waited. I said I was sorry for keeping her. I could have equally said sorry for deserting her. I wouldn't do it again while we were on the island. But in fact we didn't stay together all the time - she wanted to do her own things too. Next post.