Far from the madding crowd

You may not have heard of this tiny island in the middle of the Bristol Channel, but Lundy has a history and heartbeat all of its own. Clare O’Reilly spent a day there, away from the hubbub of the modern world…

Measuring three miles long and just over half a mile wide, Lundy Island spans 1,100 acres. Composed primarily of granite, it lies 12 miles off the Devon coast, in the Bristol Channel. The name is believed to come from the old Norse word for “puffin island” and it has a rich history, with signs of occupation from the Neolithic period onward and some of the rarest species of animals and wildlife in the UK. It currently has a resident population of 30 people – who form a dedicated team of workers and volunteers. In the summer months, access to the island is by boat on MS Oldenburg, Lundy’s own ship. She sails up to four times a week transporting up to 267 passengers as well as bringing supplies to the island from food to fuel, building materials and even vehicles. In the wilder winter months, access is only possible by helicopter. Due to its unique flora and fauna – including the Lundy cabbage and the incredibly rare Lundy cabbage flea beetle – the island became England’s first statutory Marine Nature Reserve and Conservation Zone. It is managed by The Landmark Trust.


Jason Mugford, 49, is the captain of the Oldenburg. Built in Bremen, Germany and used as a cargo transport ship between the Frisian islands, she now transports day trippers, campers and cargo to the island up to four times a week in summer. “I get to sail every day and go home each night,” says Jason.


Upon arrival at Lundy Quay, the Oldenburg’s purser, Julian Cann, makes dynamic risk assessments to ensure all passengers can depart the boat safely. “We’re a crew of eight with up to 267 passengers,” he says. “Our priority is safety as all passengers have to be able to walk unaided to be allowed on to the boat and the island.”


Assistant warden and education officer Sian Scott is the go-to person for most school trips to Lundy. When she’s not educating children, the Welsh-born naturalist heads the 90-minute walk around the island before depositing her walkers at the Marisco – the only pub on the island.


Although there aren’t any roads here, the track up from the landing quay is known as Beach Road. A block of granite is carved with T:H Landing Place 1819 on it. General manager Derek Green explains, “This was the marker of Trinity House, from when the first lighthouse was built on the island.”


Dean Woodfin Jones, a former ranger on Eigg in the Scottish Inner Hebrides, is a marine biologist and wildlife warden on the island. This summer will be his second on Lundy. “My favourite birds to see on the island are the European storm petrels. Since the rat extermination in 2006, many species have thrived and numbers of birds nesting here are continuing to increase,” he says.


There are three Land Rover 110 Defenders on the island, the most recent of which, procured in 2014, has 6,400 miles on the clock. “Lundy miles aren’t like miles on the mainland,” says Derek Green. “Other 4X4s were used but they broke because of the exceptionally tough terrain. These vehicles are the only ones that can cope with the climate and the geography year-round.”


Richard Goodman and Peter Lambden are Lundy’s maintenance man and carpenter respectively. Originally from Essex, Richard was working at Croyde Caravan Park in 2016 when he saw a job on Lundy advertised. “It’s busy but I love it here,” he says. “When the ‘Beast from the East’ rolled in, it damaged so much, and several structures on the island needed emergency repairs.” Peter – affectionately known as Pete the Pirate by his fellow staff on the island – was a shopfitter in Cornwall. “No one on Lundy has just one role,” says Pete. “I’m also a volunteer fireman on the island – we’re called Station 85 and we were founded after a fire here in 2005.”


Rob Waterfield, the island manager for the Landmark Trust, stands outside the Marisco Tavern. Its name comes from the De Marisco family, who ran the island for around 700 years from 1150. It’s very much the hub of the island – staff meet at the tavern every morning to get their jobs list for the day, Christmas dinner is served here for the island visitors over the festive season, and guided walks across the island end here. The doors are never locked but alcohol is served only between 11am and 11pm. Generators give the island its electricity and while they shut off at 10pm, the Marisco is the only place on the island with power 24/7.


Tavern barman Grant Sherman has been a Lundy resident for 12 years. It was the wildlife that attracted Grant, a twitcher, in the first place and it’s the birds specifically that have made him stay. “From my first visit I’d spend all my spare money on trips out here,” he says. “When a job came up in the bar, I was lucky enough to get it. When I first arrived, I’d be out with binoculars in all weathers birdwatching, but I’ve had the luxury of being here long enough now that I only bird-watch when the weather is fine now.”


Lundy has its own stamps and used to have its own currency – two coins were issued in 1929, the One Puffin and the Half Puffin coins, both struck in Birmingham at Ralph Heaton’s Mint. The village shop now sells the Half Puffin coin for £12. Ceri Stafford is the postmaster but with around 30 permanent inhabitants it’s a quiet route. “I also work in the shop, the tavern and in housekeeping too,” he says. “My mum, Liz, worked here in the 70s teaching, and my dad, Mike, was in general maintenance.”


Chloe Lofthouse, 23, is the island’s only Lundy baby. She was conceived on the island when her parents, Ian, a general assistant, and Karen, a chef, worked on Lundy in the 90s. “I volunteered here before I got a full-time job, I have a puffin tattoo on my leg and my mum got me a One Puffin coin made into a necklace,” she says. “I did a long- distance learning degree in animal science here and I’m about to start my Masters in biodiversity, wildlife and ecosystem health using the Lundy puffin as a case study.”


The housekeeping team is headed up by Pete the Pirate’s wife, Simone Lambden (far left), and includes Rachel Sylvia, Zoe Barton and Emily Trapnell. “There are several couples on the island,” says Simone. “Pete saw the advert for a job here and convinced me to apply. Luckily the rotas usually align so that we often get the same time off, which is lovely.”


Scottish-born Mark Kelly is the island’s engineer. The former marine engineer has been on the island almost two years. “I’m still learning every single day,” he says. “I was in the navy for nine years and worked with the bomb squad at Faslane but nothing prepares you for the diversity of work here. I’m currently fixing some bodywork on one of the Land Rovers. Until today, I’d never done bodywork before so I’ve had to watch a few YouTube videos. The breadth of jobs I do here is vast.”


There are 12 self-catering properties on the island, ranging from a single-bed studio to a seven-bedroom manor house. All are available to rent, and the island staff take luggage from the Oldenburg to the relevant property and collect it and stow it for the return trip. “Visitors can order their groceries in advance and we’ll deliver whatever they want to their accommodation on time for their arrival,” says shop manager Sue Waterfield (pictured above). On delivery days such as today, island staff form a line to get deliveries stored away quickly.


The Old Light Tower was the first lighthouse built on the island in 1819 and it’s the highest point on the island. It’s also one of the nicest spots to enjoy the sunset – there are even two deckchairs awaiting those exhausted after climing the 147 steps to get to the top.


James Newton and Namaan Ebdon, both from Catford, south-east London, are on their first day trip to Lundy. James is an avid twitcher and the pair have circumnavigated Lundy in the four-hour window day trippers have before the boat home. “It’s stunning,” says James. “We’ll definitely come back. The wildlife is amazing – I’ve seen birds I’ve never seen before, which I’ve loved. I’d happily stay here for a week or more.”

Photos by Paul Groom.

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