It's a proper sea voyage to Lundy. In the spring, summer or autumn you do it in the good ship MS Oldenburg, from either Bideford or Ilfracombe, depending on the day of the week. In the winter, there's a helicopter service from Hartland Point. I was mildly surprised that people might want to stay on Lundy in winter, in one of the twenty-three Landmark Trust properties that are let out. But there must be a constant supply of people wanting a get-away-from-it-all break throughout the year, even in the depths of winter.
And it must be quite an experience! Imagine it: Christmas without any of the ordinary fuss; almost no mobile phone reception; no high-speed Internet; no TV; a cosy tavern to go to for a drink and a good meal, and to no doubt enjoy some festivities with the island staff and other 'guests'. But otherwise, if you want it, complete turn-your-back-on-everyone solitude and peace. Time to think. Time to reflect. Something I would personally want to do, if I ever felt that a crossroads in my life were approaching, and I wanted to ponder my situation and how to proceed from here. Or if the end of my life were looming, and I wanted to examine its substance, its meaning, and whether I were satisfied with my legacy.
But no such heavyweight thoughts on 27th September! All I wanted was a memorable day out, involving a comfortable sea voyage, sunshine and blue skies, and lots to see.
I was intensely curious to know what differences there would be between the experiences in 1996 and 2016. There was one very obvious difference. In 1996 I had gone there with M---. Now I was going there on my own. I need hardly say that I thought of M--- constantly throughout my trip. I wished that we had somehow become friends again, friends enough to share a nice day together. But that was not the 2016 reality. We hadn't spoken or been in touch since 2012, and it was useless to conjure up a version of 1996 - one of our best years incidentally - and play it again. Life is not like that. But M--- remained in my mind throughout.
I had booked online two weeks before, the day trip costing me £33 with an age concession. It was far enough ahead to be uncertain what the weather would actually be like. As the day came near, it looked as if I would be disappointed: a dull sky, drizzle, and a choppy open sea all seemed likely. And indeed that's more-or-less how it was when I arrived at Ilfracombe, parking on the opposite side of the harbour. The harbour itself was calm. But out to sea? Hmm. I left Fiona in a dampened mood, hoping that she wouldn't come to harm while I was away for the day. We had rarely been parted for so long since buying her in 2010.
I was well prepared, with a packed lunch and water bottle in my back pack, and my Alt-Berg boots on. The tracks on Lundy were rough in 1996, and couldn't have improved much. M--- and I hadn't sampled the delights of the Marisco Tavern in 1996, and although I might get a great lunch there, I wasn't going to rely on it.
It was very dull and grey. At least it wasn't actually raining. I refused to let the lack of sunshine put me off. I raised a smile, sort of. The boots looked very credible, I thought.
Damien Hurst's gigantic statue Verity was guarding the harbour with her raised sword, and the Oldenburg was moored up against the low-water pier below her. This lower pier gets submerged when the tide is high. The Bristol Channel has one of the world's greatest tidal ranges, and vessels going from harbour to harbour within the Channel need to leave and and arrive inside a fairly short window, unless (as here) there are two-level mooring facilities. In 1996 there was no low-level pier, and of course no Verity.
A momentary glimpse of blue sky! A suggestion of sunshine! Reasons to be cheerful!
I checked in at the Lundy shipping office and got my boarding pass. Then I strolled over to the pier, where people were already gathering. Some were clearly day trippers. Others had luggage, and were going to stay on the island for a week or more. Everyone was keenly interested in the loading proceedings, the ship having its own crane. Luggage was put into big wooden boxes (surely the same ones I saw in 1996?) and hoisted up with ropes, then lowered into the forward hold where a man carefully stowed them.
Well, in this respect nothing much had changed since 1996! Here's two shots I took then, from the old pier, also at low tide, also on another dull day:
I was close to the head of the queue waiting to get on board, and stepped up to the gangway as soon as the signal was given. I wanted to get some shots of the Oldenburg before it got full of people. But most were intent on bagging a good seat on the open decks:
So I was able to go below and see the interior in an almost empty state. In 1996 there was was a summer-term school party on board, and the ship was packed with children. Only late-season adults now.
This was the forward accommodation, if you wanted to be out of the wind and snug inside. I looked at the aft accommodation too:
Slightly more basic. The 'kitchen' in one corner was offering the expected fare:
One might well fancy a bite to eat on a two-hour voyage, if it were calm. But I did not think it would be. The ladies' loo seemed OK, though hardly a luxury place to plonk your bottom:
Up on deck again, I wasn't surprised to find that access to the bridge was denied. A chain barred the way. In 1996 you could peek in. Thus, 2016:
So unlike 1996:
Health and Safety, Health and Safety! Well, I hadn't really expected to gets shots like these from 1996:
I recognised none of the crew, perhaps not surprising after twenty years. Some would have retired. Others would have been murdered by pirates, kidnapped by Captain Nemo of the Nautilus, carried off by giant squid, or - the younger men, presumably - lured into the sea by mermaids and sirens. Although personally I think that's a slur on the reputation of mermaids and sirens.
Suddenly, we were off!
Ilfracombe soon receded, and as we reached more open sea, the swell could be felt. And it began to rain again. So much for that hint of blue sky and sunshine at the quay! I went below and sat in the forward accommodation. Outside it looked dismal.
Now I wouldn't say that I am especially prone to seasickness, but the motion of the Oldenburg began to make me queasy. She did not have a deep draft. She was built originally for work off the north German shore, sailing to and from the Frisian Islands in shallow waters. So she wallowed a bit in the Bristol Channel, if there were any kind of sea. I decided to find a seat amidships, where there would be least up-and-down movement, wedge myself in there, fix my eyes on the steady horizon, and think of England. It sort of worked. I found that if I closed my eyes and imagined a steady horizon, that was as good as straining to see through the rain-spattered windows.
Time passed. One poor woman, sat a little distance away, gradually succumbed to real sea-sickness, her husband - unaffected by the high seas - tenderly passing her sick bag after sick bag. He could do little else for her. She must have felt dreadful - and dreadfully embarrassed. Nearer to me sat another couple, the lady facing me. She smiled. The smile said, 'You're coping magnificently.' I smiled back, to say, 'You too!' Adversity forms strong bonds.
Then I noticed that the crew were getting busy. I envied their indifference to the motion of the ship. I suppose that comes after a few trips. Their activity told me we must be getting close to Lundy. So, very carefully, I unwedged myself and unsteadily went up.
The rain had stopped. It wasn't exactly bright and breezy (it was still dull and blustery) but the wind was invigorating. I forgot that I felt uncomfortable. I could see now why people had stayed up here, rather than risk chundering below. The cold wind would have kept queasiness in check. Oh, and look! The island was getting close.
And it rapidly got nearer. Details came into view.
The girls in high-vis jackets were going to work on the island, and were therefore 'official' and could go beyond that no-admittance chain. I asked them.
The pier coming into view was built in 2000, four years after my first visit to Lundy. In 1996 the Oldenburg had to stand off, and a motorboat came out to ferry the passengers in batches to the shore. And a rusty old boat came out later to take the luggage boxes and other cargo away. All they had then was an old concrete jetty that got covered at high tide. This was the 1996 scene:
How marvellous. What an improvement! We all eagerly walked off the ship, and breathed the clean air of Lundy.
You had to brace yourself and hold on. It was quite a bumpy ride. In places the road got very narrow and went scarily near the edge.
But we felt like Royalty, even if people we passed pulled good-natured faces at us.
At one point, we caught up with the pregnant girl's husband.
He must have been walking very fast indeed. But there were others who were setting an even more cracking pace.
We stopped just short of the Village and got out.
I asked the young driver whether I should pay for my lift. He said just contribute a small donation to the Island Church Restoration Fund. I gave him £2 to pass on.
Well. Here I was. On Lundy. My first objective was the Marisco Tavern, before the rest of the visitors reached it. I wanted to see it, and eat something there, and have a gin and tonic. And then explore the Village and the south end of the island rather carefully. But all that's for the next post.