The North Devon coastline has a reputation for being spectacular enough, with its sweeping views across the Bristol Channel, but for a select number of visitors heading to the region, it is the small island that lies off its coast which marks the spot on their holiday map. Lundy is three miles (5km) long and just over half a mile wide (1km) and is a mere 23.5 miles from land (the town of Ilfracombe) and yet it could be another world…
While there are only 28 inhabitants on the island, around 20,000 visitors make the trip to Lundy Island each year between the months of April and October. The crossing, with MS Oldenburg tickets, takes approximately two hours. The Carlton Hotel in Ilfracombe has been approved as an official ticketing agent ahead of the 2020 season which means that residents (and non-guests) can purchase MS Oldenburg tickets. This Landmark Trust owned ship is something of a North Devon institution and has been carrying visitors out to Lundy and back for the past 35 years.
With a capacity of 267 passengers, she sails four times a week in the summer, from the port towns of Bideford and Ilfracombe. Most visitors to Lundy opt for the day trip – there on the tide in the morning and back on the tide in the afternoon (due to the tide times are not fixed so make sure to listen when the skipper announces when MS Oldenburg will leave for its return journey!).
However, the Landmark Trust, which manages Lundy Island, also has a number of holiday properties and an increasingly popular North Devon holiday choice is to combine a couple of days exploring the island with a couple of days on the mainland. The Carlton’s central location makes the hotel an ideal place to set up base camp as the Oldenburg leaves from Ilfracombe harbour, which is just a 10 minute stroll away.
Explore Lundy Island
So what can you expect to discover on Lundy? Well, let’s start with the joy of simplicity. There are no roads on Lundy, no shops, no major housing developments. This means there’s no traffic, no pollution and no stress (unless you neglected to listen to the skipper…). You are effectively escaping from the world when you set foot on Lundy Island and even your fellow passengers will begin to melt away by the time you’ve traced your way from the landing jetty to the centre of Lundy civilisation (ie the shop and the Marisco Tavern which are both run by the Landmark Trust).
The island has many nooks and crannies to explore and the 360 degree aspect provides amazing diversity in terrain despite the relatively small surface area. In the west, imposing cliffs jut from the exposed Atlantic side while the sheltered east of the island is home to wildflowers and a gentler coastline. This diversity of the natural environment is a big attraction for wildlife spotters.
Lundy comes from the Norse word for ‘puffin’ and the distinctive black and white bird with the colourful beak lives on the island, one of 317 species of bird which is known to frequent this Atlantic outcrop. This makes Lundy a popular destination for bird watchers who know their stuff, but also for casual visitors who are chasing a glimpse of what the Northern Scots refer to as ‘sea parrots’.
Marine Conservation Area
This beautiful little island also became the first Marine Conservation Zone in Britain in 2010. The waters around Lundy Island have long been popular with divers due to the clarity of the water and the diversity of marine wildlife it encompasses, including branching sponges and cup corals. You don’t have to be a diver to catch sight of the island’s seal population either and it’s very rare to visit the island without seeing at least a couple of pinnipeds bobbing up and down in the sea. There are also basking sharks, porpoises, dolphins and the occasional Minke whale to be spotted in the waters around Lundy. Seal watching, in particular, is a popular pastime amongst visitors.
Pirates and Brigands in Lundy’s History!
While nature rightly gets most of the attention on Lundy, it is worth reading up a little about the rich history of this island. Anyone travelling with kids can score some easy wow points by painting a picture of an island that for many years was the seat of some tumult; over time it has played base to Norse invaders, Knights Templar and various brigand groups including bands of pirates from England, France, the Basque country and even Barbary pirates from the North coast of Africa!
Definitely a trip to jot down in the memory book, Lundy Island may be not more than 20 miles off the North Devon coast but once you’re there, looking back at the mainland, it really does feel like you’ve travelled to a destination both exotic and unfamiliar. You can book your MS Oldenburg tickets to Lundy through The Carlton Hotel, which also offers the perfect pre and post-visit dock to shore up in, replenish stores and stretch your land legs!
Lundy Island is one of North Devon’s most charming attractions, and certainly its most remote. This coastal nature reserve is more than just a refuge for endangered wildlife; it’s the ideal stop for visitors to Ilfracombe to take a load off, unwind and immerse themselves in the beauty of seaside nature. It is also reachable at almost anytime of the year, which makes it attractive to serious and informal nature lovers.
The History of Lundy Island
Visiting Lundy Island lets you immerse yourself in a proud (and interesting) history. Once home to Vikings and a port for Barbary pirates, Lundy Island gets its name from the Puffins that dwell there. ‘Lundy’ translates to ‘Puffin’, hence the full translation of ‘Puffin Island’. King Charles I also claimed this island as an outpost at one time, but Lundy Island’s early history is mostly that of piracy and smuggling.
One fascinating story from the 18th century includes the rather sinister story of the Sheriff of Devon who diverted both convicts and minerals to the island, when they should have been delivered safely to their proper destination. Its just so happens that the Sheriff was also the local MP for Barnstaple. Our modern MP’s are frequently getting into trouble over expenses and their probity, but insurance swindles and modern slavery haven’t made recent headlines.
After the island was purchased by Gloucestershire businessman William Hudson Heaven in 1834, it moved through a series of owners until finally being purchased by the National Trust and made into a nature reserve for visitors to enjoy. Over the years, more animals have been introduced to the island and have become willing inhabitants that visitors love to see.
Visiting Lundy Island
Small as the island may be, there’s plenty to do on this coastal getaway. Visitors to Lundy Island are encouraged to indulge in every activity there is on Lundy Island, many of which are family-friendly.
You’ll discover the wonder of birdwatching when you visit Lundy Island and take in the scenery, spying on Skylarks, Puffins and Water Rail. Lundy Island boasts over 140 species of birds that flock to the island each year. Birdwatching can be done any time of year, so don’t worry about having to stick to a schedule.
The ocean is an amazing place to explore, but you’ve never really seen it until you’ve been fully submersed in it. Lundy Island trips should all have time for a good diving session in order to explore the vast array of marine life just offshore. An astonishing 2500 species can be found amongst the coral reefs, which are host to all five types of British cup coral. Divers will get a spectacular treat when booking for a guided tour of one of Lundy Island’s many shipwrecks.
If you’re fortunate, you may just get to interact with the island’s Grey Seals. Seals have grown quite accustomed to human visitors in their ocean environment, and many are playful enough to swim directly up to you. However, visitors are not allowed to touch the seals, but rather observe them as they are in their ocean home.
Lundy Island may be a nature reserve, but many areas on the island’s coast allow angling. The condition is that you only keep sustainable catches. In other words, if the fish isn’t the minimum size or bigger according to guidelines, it must be returned. If fishing isn’t your style, but you’d still like to see the different species of fish around the island, you can always book a snorkelling trip for some casual viewing opportunities.
Jagged cliffs and sheer drops on Lundy Island’s coast are the ideal place for climbers to find a challenge. One cliff face is so challenging, in fact, that it’s been named The Devil’s Slide. It consists of a sheer angled slab of cliff that one man was so eager to climb that he did so in a hailstorm. Devil’s Slide is open all year round, but there are over 60 other climbing spots that offer just as much of a challenge to less seasoned climbers.
Every other attraction on Lundy Island must be reached by walking. Don’t worry – Lundy Island has a beautiful landscape that will help you while away the time between monuments, caves and other sights. Wartime relics dot the countryside of Lundy Island, along with inlets, buttresses and the remnants of the old quarry railroad. A unique cabbage plant that’s exclusive to Lundy Island can be found along the way.
Getting to Lundy Island
Being an island there is clearly only two ways to get to Lundy; by sea or air. The latter is made by helicopter but most travellers opt for the two-hour boat ride through the waters of the Bristol Channel. The Island’s ferry is known as the MS Oldenburg, refurbished in 1986 at Appledore and originally built in Germany in 1958. A modest vessel that carries up to 270 passengers on its sun deck, interior lounges with shop and café bar. The helicopter journey of just 7 minutes, is made at times when the Oldenburg is unable to sail (the winter months and in stormy seas at other times).
For the diving and fishing experience, book local private charter boats from Ilfracombe harbour which make the journey to Lundy for some truly spectacular, eventful and memorable days.
But however you choose to visit Lundy Island, you’re sure to find new sights to explore daily.