Page 53

Travel Lundy:Layout 1

26/5/11

09:31

Page 53

WEEKENDbreak

Kingdom of HEAVEN Lundy Island is the perfect place to go and do nothing. Andrew Swift explains why it’s one of his favourite haunts ESCAPE THE 21ST CENTURY: Lundy Island’s craggy coastline is a bird watcher’s paradise Below, Lundy’s seals are just as curious as people and will swim up to boats to take a closer look

I

n 1836 William Heaven, a Bristol merchant, bought an island eleven miles off the North Devon coast and built a villa. Most of his friends and acquaintances must have thought him mad. Lundy’s history was one of smugglers, pirates, Knights Templar and marauding Vikings. Many of the island’s previous owners were outlaws or rebels, and many had come to a bad end. Only 80 years earlier it had belonged to an MP in charge of transporting convicts to Virginia. They got no farther than Lundy, where he put them to work building drystone walls across the island. There was little on Lundy beyond a lighthouse, a farm and a ruined castle. The Heaven family were determined to make their mark, however. William dreamed up a quixotic scheme to open huge granite quarries and ship the stone to London to build the Thames Embankment. It never got off – or out of – the ground, but you can still walk the tramways. In the 1890s, Heaven’s son, a vicar, built a church with pews for hundreds of worshippers and a tower with eight bells to summon them to prayer. On an island with a population of around 50, you have to admire his optimism. The Heavens sold Lundy in 1917, other owners came and went, until in 1969 it was acquired by the National Trust and handed over to the Landmark Trust, which runs it today. You cannot buy property on Lundy but you can book a holiday in one of 23 self-catering properties. These include a corrugated-iron hut, lighthouse keepers’ and radio operators’ cottages, a barn, the keep of a Norman castle, Heaven’s villa and a wood-panelled Edwardian admiralty lookout. The island is a mere three and a half miles long and half a mile wide. The only road corkscrews up from the landing place to the cluster of buildings that pass for a village. There is only one pub and nothing to do except walk, watch birds, go climbing, canoeing or diving or sit in the pub. There’s no TV, mobile phone coverage is patchy at best, and – unless someone decides to hold an impromptu session in the tavern – no entertainment. The island is a massive granite outcrop, the legacy of a volcanic eruption 50 million years ago, with vertiginous cliffs rising to a 400-foot-high plateau. Inland, the landscape is reminiscent of Dartmoor, but the coastline is remarkably varied. Part of the west coast was riven by the earthquake that shook Lisbon in 1755 and you can still thread your way

WWW.THEBATHMAGAZINE.CO.UK

through the fissures opened up over 250 centuries ago. There are no public footpaths on Lundy – you wander where you like, untroubled by ‘keep out’ signs or notices warning that cliff edges are dangerous. There are no signposts either, and no books of walks. Lundy is all about selfexploration, about making your own discoveries. For adventurous children, it’s a bit like Swallows and Amazons laced with a hearty dose of the Famous Five. As well as rock pools, smugglers’ caves and a pirate castle, there’s an island-wide treasure hunt made up of 27 ‘letterboxes’. Lundy is most famous for its wildlife. Puffins only come ashore between April and July and spend most of their time in burrows, but the colonies of seals at the north end of the island – so curious that they almost come out of the water for a closer look at you – are ample compensation. The island warden leads a variety of excursions – rock-pool rambles, wildlife trails, seabird walks and, best of all, snorkelling safaris. The waters around Lundy were designated England’s first marine conservation zone in 2010, and a snorkelling set will let you gaze down through crystalline waters at seaweeds, anemones, fish and crustaceans. Once bitten by the Lundy bug, many people return again and again. Over 40 years ago, Sir John Smith, the founder of the Landmark Trust said that ‘those who find it and are hooked by it have ever after something special in common with each other – be they bird watchers, archaeologists, botanists, climbers, divers, lovers of solitude, or lovers of good company.’ You can go over to Lundy for a day and spend around four hours on the island – just time for a quick walk followed by a pint and a pasty in the tavern. But you really need to stay, if only for a couple of days. And, as you stand at night under a vivid blanket of stars, with the eerie cries of Manx shearwaters on the chilly air and a dim ribbon of lights far off on the Devon shore, you begin to understand why Mr Heaven decided to set up home in this magical place. ■ The MS Oldenburg runs three times a week to Lundy from Ilfracombe or Bideford, April-Oct. Day return £33.50; period return £58. To stay on Lundy it is essential to book in advance. Visit: www.lundyisland.co.uk or phone the Lundy Shore Office on 01271 863636. JUNE 2011

|

THEBATHMAGAZINE 53

The Bath Magazine Jun 2011  

The Bath Magazine Is a glossy monthly magazine for the city of Bath, Somerset, England

The Bath Magazine Jun 2011  

The Bath Magazine Is a glossy monthly magazine for the city of Bath, Somerset, England