Metropolitian life: next weekend......discover Lundy

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Indy Lifestyle Online
It's unusual for a holiday destination to get a plug on Radio 4 twice a day. But despite Lundy's starring role in the Shipping Forecast, most people still know nothing about the hump of granite moor land cast adrift in the Bristol Channel, or about its peculiar history.

For centuries, the island and the mainland have squabbled like a married couple about their relationship, with Lundy ever keen to protect its autonomy. In 1897, a paper reported: "There is no customs officer or tax gatherer to annoy. Everything is as free as the rocks themselves." In 1929, Lundy's formidably eccentric owner, Martin Coles Harman - Lundy's owners seem to have always been formidable or eccentric or both - even minted his own "puffin" and "half puffin" coins, and was fined pounds 5 plus 15 guineas costs for the privilege. Coles had claimed in court that Lundy was a "vest- pocket-sized self-governing dominion".

Mainland Britain hasn't always been quite so keen on the responsibilities of sovereignty. When some hapless civil servant forgot to include Lundy in the Representation of the People Act 1948, islanders were left voteless for two years. Now, excepting its postal service (see below), Lundy's aspirations to independence are gone, the point of no return reached in 1973, when islanders (there are 14 at present) finally had to pay income tax.

Still, taxes or no, Lundy remains an island paradise: a naturalists heaven that offers tranquillity to day trippers and long-stay visitors alike.

taking the boat

The fun starts here. In summer the steamer MS Oldenburg, packed thigh- to-thigh with up 260 passengers, sails most mornings from Bideford (pounds 22 day return, pounds 34 period return, bookings: 01237 470422), and occasionally Ilfracombe. Have a drink on deck as it putters along Tarka the Otter's River Torrington, past clutches of fishing smacks flying the Canadian flag in solidarity against the Spanish. The ferry takes two-and-a-quarter hours. There's no port, just a landing bay at the south end of the island. A small launch ferries passengers from ship to shore. As the boat pitches and yaws beneath the 400ft cliffs, you're guaranteed to feel like an extra in The Piano.

where to eat

Not much choice really. The Marisco Tavern is Lundy's only pub and restaurant, its pool table almost the only form of entertainment. Square-eyes take note: this is a TV-free zone. The flagstoned tavern - named after the De Mariscos, mediaeval Normans who ran the island as a kind of small terrorist state - serves traditional English fare across a broad price range. It's said that at night you can see 14 lighthouses from the outdoor loo. The lifebuoys on the pubs walls seem a jolly piece of interior decoration, you think, until you realise they come from the many ships wrecked on the cliffs below. Almost next door, the Island Store provides staples for self-caterers, as well as other necessities, such as stunt kites.

what to see and do

Even day-trippers can cover a lot of ground in the three to six hours they have. Strike out north-west from the homestead, the delightfully named Jenny's Cove, half way up the coast. This is one of the best places on the island to see birds. At this time of year, you won't see the famous puffins (Lundy means Puffin Island in Norse), but the island hosts many rare breeds. Visitors are almost guaranteed to see peregrine falcons. From Jenny's Cove, head north-east to the craggy Gannets' Bay, where many of the area's Atlantic grey seals congregate, if they're not swimming out to greet the boats. Since you can never walk in a straight line here, you'll always be drawn towards the unexpected: be it Sika deer, wild sheep or the unique Lundy Cabbage.

activities

Those staying longer than a day can go snorkelling with the resident marine biologist. Lundy and the waters around make up Britain's first maritime nature reserve. For the less energetic, there are regular boat trips, and even sending a postcard home is a unique experience. The Royal Mail doesn't deliver here, so the island has had its own philatelist-delighting postal service since 1929. Pub-quiz aficionados should know that Lundy stamps go on the top left hand corner of postcards and the bottom left hand corner of letters.

where to stay

Lundy is owned by the National Trust, and run by the Landmark Trust (01237 470 422 for bookings), so accommodation tends to be classy - pine floors, fine crockery - but expensive. It's also quirky. When we were there, eight bell-ringers were staying in the vestry of the church; alternatively, you could try the Castle Keep and the Old Light, one of three lighthouses on the island. With just 110 beds and 40 camping spaces available, it pays to book well ahead. Unsold accommodation is available on a b&b basis (pounds 27.50 single), and is bookable up to four weeks in advance (01237 431 831). Day visitors staying overnight in Bideford to catch the morning ferry, should try the Royal Hotel (01237 472 005: pounds 32 single).

hot tips

Do bring a torch, if you're staying. The island electricity generator shuts down at midnight. Do bring walking shoes and binoculars: spotting razor bills requires razor sharp vision. Don't, whatever you do, ask where the disco is.

how to get there

From London and the Midlands take the M5 turning off at Exeter. The nearest station to Bideford Quay (20 mins away by taxi) is Barnstaple, an hour from Exeter on the "Tarka Line". Watch your connections or you may see more of it than you counted on. ADRIAN TURPIN

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