Stranded in beauty

Emma Haughton and her family sailed to a rugged island in the Bristol Channel which they found far from cosy - and far from anywhere else. But they still want to go back
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The Independent Online
A day trip to the island of Lundy is the ultimate in mini-cruises - the boat is small, and your destination distinctly diminutive. And as you chug out of Bideford Bay towards the open sea, everything seems Lilliputian; the compact riverland bays, the little fishing boats bobbing on the swell, the tiny lighthouse on its promontory of sand.

Lundy sits 10 miles off the north Devon coast, where the Atlantic meets the Bristol Channel, so you have a couple of hours to explore the 270- seater MS Oldenburg. Ask nicely, and the kids can go up on to the bridge to "steer" the ship and peer at the splodges on the radar which show the boat nudging its way towards the island.

The approach to Lundy is spectacular. Its sheer cliffs loom towards you, a church perched on their top like some insane but majestic folly; you can instantly appreciate the island's tempestuous reputation as a pirates' lair, and the site of 137 shipwrecks. Indeed, there is nothing cosy about Lundy. You disembark via a 30-seat launch, then undertake a strenuous 20-minute climb to the top of the 500-ft cliffs, where the only home comforts on offer are one tavern and a shop - though both are well stocked and offer plenty in terms of refreshment.

Lundy may be Norse for "puffin island", but don't expect to find it overrun with cute seabirds; the puffins are seldom seen between August and February. You may have more luck with seals, which bathe and haul themselves on to the offshore rocks all around the island.

But even if the wildlife remains obstinately out of view, there is plenty to see on this three-miles-by-half-a-mile grassy plateau, owned by the National Trust; a dramatic old lighthouse with its vertiginous tower, the 13th-century Marisco Castle, and the church, with its little aquarium and wildlife displays.

Best of all is a leisurely stroll around Lundy's dramatic shorelines, the western side pounded by the Atlantic, the east coast more sheltered. The south end of the island is a working farm, where children can wander freely among animals, while the north is open moorland grazed by wild Soay sheep - these are reputedly similar to those farmed by the Bronze Age settlements, whose hut circles and stock walls can still be seen.

The visitors

Emma Haughton, freelance writer, and her husband Jonathan (Joff) went with their three children, Joshua, seven, Flan, five, and Zachary, two.

Joshua: The best thing about going there was when I helped drive the boat. It was easy, you just turn the steering wheel at the front of the ship. Lundy was really good. I liked the little streams everywhere, and there were loads of cliffs. We saw some goats. We had a lolly and a Coke and bought a postcard with a Lundy stamp with a picture of a puffin, but we forgot to post it.

My favourite thing was the lighthouse. It was really scary going up there because it was miles up. Mum was really a scaredy-cat. She felt sick going up and especially coming down, because of the steep steps. She felt better afterwards and we went in the sea before going back on the boat. The water was very clear, but a bit cold. It was a very lucky day because I had two packets of crisps.

Flan: We went on the big boat by a gangplank, then when we were really near Lundy we got on a littler boat and went to the shore on it. That bit was fun. While we were on the boat, we went up to the top and saw a TV for seeing Lundy on it. It looked like France, the shape of it. We went up the lighthouse. There was about 99 steps, perhaps more than 100. The lighthouse was big and had a deck chair in the middle at the top where you could sit and look out. I saw lambs.

Joff: I was really amazed at how big Lundy was as we approached, the way it rose so sheer out of the water. Being there was rather like being perched on a bit of moorland in the middle of the sea. The views were spectacular, although sadly there was a creeping mist and it was difficult to see far ahead at times. It felt very remote. I could imagine it would be a wonderful place to spend a week's holiday if you really wanted to get away from civilisation, but I did feel rather abandoned with the kids once we got there, and rather at the mercy of the elements. If it had rained we would have been a bit stuck.

Emma: I was really thrilled by the whole thing, but then I'm a sucker for boats and islands and that sort of thing - there's something so Enid Blyton-ish about it all. I loved the boat trip. The vessel had real character and was large enough to be comfortable, but small enough to feel intimate and exciting. Being on Lundy was almost surreal. There is something so strange and exhilarating about being stranded on a big bit of rock, the end of which you can see wherever you look.

They certainly weren't exaggerating in describing Lundy as a place of outstanding natural beauty. It was very special, so wild, remote and romantic - and peaceful, out there in the ocean with no traffic or noise except for the waves and bleating of sheep. I'd love to go back and spend longer there one day.

The deal

Boat services to Lundy run all year round from Bideford and Ilfracombe, and during the spring and summer from Clovelly. Day-trip boats may not always return you to the same port from which you departed, in which case a free coach service operates. Arrival and departure times depend on the tides. For more information call 01297 470422.

Cost: Adult day return, pounds 24; children under 16, pounds 12; children under three, pounds 1. Family ticket for two adults and two children, pounds 60; each additional child, pounds 5. There are discounts for National Trust members.

Facilities: The ship has buffet, bar, shop, toilets and heated saloons. Lundy has a tavern and a well-stocked island shop.

Advice: Wear walking boots or comfortable shoes. There is a Land Rover for those who cannot manage the climb to the top of the island. The Oldenburg cannot wait for late passengers. Miss your sailing home and you are stranded - and accommodation on the island is limited.