At pains to get away from it all and immerse ourselves in wild places, far from the commotion of the modern world, we dream up epic journeys to less-trodden lands.
But it’s always exciting to discover little pieces of the planet closer to home that can offer just as much serenity.
Lundy Island (which, according to those in the know, you should just call Lundy) lies 12 miles, and a two-hour ferry ride, from the port of Ilfracombe on the north Devon coast. Despite a rather colourful history including piracy and roguery of all sorts, it’s a place where time stands still and the tranquillity is palpable.
Served by just three ferries a week from the mainland, Lundy is visited by a modest 17,000 people each year. But to be able to sleep in one of the island’s 23 accommodation options (which, along with a charming fisherman’s cottage, include a huge Georgian gentleman’s villa, and a 13th-century castle) you do have to book well in advance, so I suppose you can’t really call it a well-kept secret any more. Nonetheless it feels like you’re part of a special gang as the MS Oldenburg leaves the mainland, and regular visitors in well-worn walking boots grin at you as if in anticipation of what you are about to discover.
Measuring a meagre three-and-a-half miles long, and half-a-mile wide, Lundy packs a punch when it comes to wildlife – most notably its birdlife, with the distinctive and joyful puffins (Lundy, in fact, is Norse for “Puffin Island”) and Manx shearwaters, which nest in burrows on vertiginous grassy slopes (quite the challenge for Lundy’s dedicated conservationists who attempt to tag chicks each season in the dead of night) as well as the endemic Lundy cabbage.
But it’s the diving that for me is an irresistible draw. Here, warm southern currents meet cooler northern waters to create unique natural habitats for diverse and colourful wildlife – from comical tompot blennys peeking out of rocky crevices, to delicate multicoloured jewel anemones littering the submerged jetty pylons. You’ll also find Ballan wrasse swimming among majestic giant kelp forests and the island’s many shipwrecks. And just when you think you’ve had your fill, an inquisitive grey seal, its beautiful eyes as big as saucers, will emerge from its hiding place and swirl around you in a playful manner.
Lundy is good for the soul, and to really take it in, it’s a good idea to stay a while. When the ferry departs with the day visitors, the island sighs a deep breath and true quietude descends. Stroll over to the island’s only pub at sunset and settle down for a night of board games. There is a pleasing ban on mobile phones in the Marisco Tavern, and very little signal anywhere on Lundy in fact – another bonus. And once the island’s generator is switched off at midnight, and full darkness ensues, it’s time for a spot of stargazing.
Liz Bonnin presents ‘Countrywise’ at 8pm on Mondays on ITV, and the upcoming programme ‘Animals in Love’ on BBC1.Reuse content