"Notes From A (Very) Small Island" Top 5 Page for this destination Lundy Island by johngayton
Lundy Island Travel Guide: 158 reviews and 684 photos
I was between jobs and doing some scruffy agency stuff in November 2011. One morning I woke up and found an email in my inbox from a jobsite I use to keep in touch with what's what.
The "alert" was a chef job on Lundy Island - WOW!
Over the last several years I've looked many a time the ten or so miles across the Bristol Channel to the island from Hartland, from Ilfracombe and places on the coast path betwixt the two. Its misty profile had always fascinated me and I'd delved into various websites (including the VT page), all of which added to its mystic.
I duly applied for the job, mentioning specifically that I relished the thought of the relative isolation, that I was a keen walker (provided there was a pub at the end of it - yep I mentioned that ;-)) and that as a wannabe writer I thought the environment would suit me perfectly. I also mentioned that if the winters got really severe I could always ski to work.
A formal interview was arranged with the Island manager at a hotel in Bideford (where the shore office is) and by the time it concluded I reckon on both sides it was a case of "When can I start?" - it certainly was from mine.
The next step was a working interview. It was now Wednesday lunchtime - "Can you come out this weekend?" My interviewer enquired. "You'll need to catch the helicopter on Friday morning."
"I can do that." I replied, despite the fact I was supposed to be doing another scruffy agency job that weekend - that was nothing that couldn't be palmed off. After all it's not often you get a chance to visit a place you've always wanted to and get it as an all-inclusive package fully-comped.
The working interview involved working with the existing chef on the Friday evening, working the Saturday with the assistant chef, having a day to myself on the Sunday then returning to the mainland on Monday morning.
Before starting on the Friday evening I had an afternoon to explore the island by myself. The morning's mist had dissipated, the sun brightened, and despite the chill southwesterly wind a couple of hours wandering were a delight.
Needless to say the rest of the weekend went swimmingly (fortunately not literally). Work was no problems - I got my first taste of the island's own lamb - everyone was friendly, and by the time Monday morning came round I was decided. This was where I wanted to be.
The working interview wasn't so much to see if I could do the job, it was more to do with whether I would suit the island (and vice versa of course). It wasn't my skills that were on trial - it was me.
So I stayed on my best behaviour - kept out of the pub (NOT), was nice to the staff (NOT), did everything I was told (NOT), I even bought my own beer - OOOOPS - I meant the time that I wasn't in the pub, being nice to the staff and being told it was my round...that was the time I could have bought my own beer but not being there.... ;-)
HA! Whatever. As they say "A fair trial is no trial at all" and somehow I managed to get the right verdict and here I am.
When seen from the mainland Lundy is almost always shrouded by mist or sea haze which gives it a mystical and mythical appeal and so it is no wonder that my Island has had a rich and varied history.
Archeological investigations have found traces of habitation from the Early Bronze Age (about 3,000 years ago) and legends abound regarding the role this granite plateau in the middle of the Bristol Channel may have played in its pre-history. Some conjectures link it with Stonehenge, based on a triangulation with the henge's location and the quarry from which the standing stones came from in Wales. Other myths connect it with St Patrick and as one of the former tavern managers, Lundy Pete, points out on his excellent website there are no snakes on my Island (although there is a slow worm!).
Other early Christian connections include the Celtic saint Elen and the local-ish 5th century St Nectan of Hartland who it is believed was originally buried here at the Old Cemetery before his bones were taken back to the mainland to be reinterred at Hartland Abbey.
During the 8th and 9th centuries the Vikings were particularly active raiding coastal settlements around South Wales, North Devon and Bristol and could have used Lundy as a base - in fact the word "Lundy" is Norse for "Puffin Island" which may, or may not, have carried through from that period.
Our modern documented history begins shortly after the 1066 Norman Conquest with the early 12th century possession by the de Marisco family, headed by William de Marisco who may, or may not (as with everything here), have been granted stewardship by King Stephen. What is fact is that the Knights Templar were granted the use of my Island by Henry II and this was further confirmed by King John in 1199.
The de Marisco's though tenaciously withstood any attempts by the Templars to take over and used Lundy as a base for piracy. They were eventually unseated in 1242 after being connected with an attempt on Henry III's life in 1238. The King's troops scaled the cliffs on a misty day and William de Marisco was tried, found guilty then hung, drawn and quartered.
As a means of establishing authority Henry III had the castle built in 1244 but failed to garrison it adequately, allowing the remainder of the de Marisco clan to continue their piratical activities which is how the castle came to be called the Marisco Castle.
For the next four hundred years, or so, various other pirates (including allegedly the Barbary Pirates) used Lundy as a base for attacks on shipping which had to sail close to the Island if passing on the south because of the bar at the extreme of Bideford/Barnstaple Bay (which of these names depends on where you are from).
During the reign of King James Lundy was the short-lived sanctuary of Sir Lewis Stukely. This was the man who had Walter Raleigh arrested and taken to the Tower of London where Raleigh was executed following Stukely's denunciation.
This made Stukely unpopular with most nobility, with the exception of the King, but when Stukely was later charged with embezzlement the King's favour waned too and so he fled to Lundy where he died a broken man.
The next character on the scene was the successful local merchant Thomas Benson who had made his fortune from shipping in and out of Bideford and Barnstaple. Benson managed to present himself as a respectable person, becoming Sherrif of Devon and the MP for Barnstaple. In reality however he was a bit of a fly-by-night and one of his most famous scams was when he tendered for, and got, the government contract to transport convicts to the Americas. In fact he merely shipped them to Lundy and put them to work as slave labour.
That wasn't what brought about his downfall though. His last scam was an insurance fraud involving one of his ships, The Nightingale. The ship was nearing the end of its working life and so he had it loaded with an expensive cargo which the manifest indicated was bound for North America. Once again it merely got as far as Lundy where the cargo was offloaded (probably by the convicts). The Nightingale then sailed further out down the Channel where, as another ship approached, she ostentatiously caught fire and sank and fortuitously the crew were picked up by the passing vessel.
However one of the crew let slip exactly what had gone on and Benson fled into exile to Portugal.
Lundy then became a bit of an unloved, barren place until Heaven arrived - Sir William Hudson Heaven that is, who bought it lock, stock and barrel in 1834. The Heaven family had intended using my Island as a summer retreat but a reverse in their fortunes (they had sugar plantations at the time slavery was abolished) led to them making Lundy their permanent home and to establish farming and granite quarrying businesses.
The Heavens built the main road and much of the housing, including the imposing family home now known as Millcombe (originally The Villa). William's son, appropriately the Reverend Heaven (Hudson Grossett), had the church, dedicated to St Helena, built in 1897, following a family legacy and thus the family was responsible for much of the present-day infrastructure.
However the family fortunes failed to revive and the quarrying operation failed to provide a living. The last remaining family member on Lundy, Walter Charles Hudson Heaven, having lived for some months in abject poverty sold it on in 1917 soon after inheriting it.
Next up were the Harmans who purchased my Island in 1924 from the short-term owner Augustus Christie. Martin Coles was a naturalist and eccentric who introduced the wild Soay sheep, the Sika deer and New Forest ponies to add to the existing wildlife (mostly rats and rabbits). Martin was a sort of self-proclaimed king and viewed Lundy as his realm. He introduced the stamps and coinage with the latter costing him a £5 fine (with 15 Guineas costs) following a prosecution under the Coinage Act of 1870.
Upon his death his family no longer wanted the burden of running what was effectively an expensive hobby and offered it for sale to the National Trust who bought it in 1969 through a £150,000 donation by the millionaire Jack Hayward.
The National Trust then leased it onwards to the building conservation charity The Landmark Trust who I now work for.
Suits me perfectly: http://www.landmarktrust.org.uk/otherOptions/lundy.htm
- Pros:Lundy Is A Lifestyle Not A Career Option
- Cons:Only One Pub ;-(
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