The barman strokes his chin pensively before he answers. “Well, there was a yacht that was here a year or two back, and they anchored in that self-same place, it started to blow an easterly, and, well, you can see what’s left of it down on those rocks at the end of the bay.”
We are in the Marisco Tavern on Lundy Island. While buying drinks, I had asked the barman casually if the holding was good in Landing Bay, hoping that he would allay my fears about Ruby Tuesday drifting off. We hadn’t seen the yacht he mentions, but it does nothing to allay my fears in any case.
We had arrived in Lundy around lunchtime from Padstow. Another glorious day, but very little wind, and we had only managed to sail for part of the way before starting the engine. We had been met by a school of dolphins a few miles off the island, who had accompanied us for some time before breaking off suddenly and disappearing into the depths. They were probably bottle-nose dolphins, but seemed smaller than the ones that we see in Scotland.
We had anchored in the appropriately named Landing Bay on the south-east coast of the island, had lunch on board, then taken the dinghy across to the concrete slipway. We had calculated the tidal range to be a massive 7 m, so we were careful to lug it over the rocks and well beyond the high water mark, a not insignificant effort.
From there, we had walked up the gravel track, zig-zagging its way to the top of the cliffs, until we had reached the cluster of farm buildings that essentially constitute the ‘capital’ of the island, consisting of a pub, general stores, a museum and basic accommodation for the many visitors that come to the island.
Near the museum was a camp site with two solitary tents pitched at opposite ends of the field. Being a Sunday, the store had been closed, but we had a browse of the museum before setting off along the path to the north.
We had looped back along the western coast until we had reached the Old Lighthouse, which was built around 1819 but which turned out to be too high and above the cloud cover so that ships weren’t able to see the light. Quite a design flaw, in my mind! From there, we had returned to the capital to have dinner in the Marisco Tavern, where we are now.
We order dinner. While waiting for the food to arrive, I find a book and begin reading of the history of the island. It seems that in the 13th century, a certain William de Marisco found himself on the wrong side of Henry III by somehow being involved in the murder of one of his messengers. Not only that, a few years later there was an attempt on Henry’s life itself, and again, William de Marisco was involved. To escape the king’s wrath, William decided to head to Lundy and barricade himself there. Henry tolerated this state of affairs for a few years, but eventually invaded the island, with his men scaling the cliffs of the islands and capturing William and his supporters. He built a castle there to maintain law and order, which was successful for a while, but the island gradually reverted to being a haven for pirates and other ne’er-do-wells, including descendants of William de Marisco, who would raid ships heading up the Bristol Channel with valuable cargo.
The food arrives. I had gone for the Lundy sausages and the First Mate had ordered a sweet potato bake. Both slipped down a treat. Afterwards, as I finish my beer, I continue to read more of the history of the island. For some reason, it seems to have given its various owners a sense of grandeur, several seeing it as their kingdom and themselves as kings. Even as recently as 1924, a Martin Coles Harman bought the island and proclaimed himself king, and going so far as to issue coins with puffins on them. It wasn’t the first time that Lundy coins had been issued, but this was the 20th century after all, and he was prosecuted and fined. So much for self-proclaimed kings!
On the way back to the boat, we pass the island’s church. This had been built by the improbably-named Reverend Hudson Grosset Heaven in 1896, another owner whose lifelong ambition had been to build a church, even more so than a new harbour which the island desperately needed. He was the son of one William Hudson Heaven who had bought the island in 1834 for grouse shooting and treated it as his own little fiefdom, which became known as the Kingdom of Heaven. It might have been better to put Mammon before God in this case, as the finances of the island deteriorated with no harbour, along with the fortunes of the Heavens who ultimately had to sell it.
We eventually reach Landing Bay again, and find that the tide has risen almost up to where we tied the dinghy. All in a few hours. We launch it into the surf that is now breaking onto the slipway and clamber aboard and make it back to Ruby Tuesday.