Human ecology

Lundy: 23rd - 27th September 2003

23rd September 2003 When we arrived at the Harbour at 9am for our 10am sailing there was still some doubt as to whether the boat would be going. The weather on the previous day had been rough; blue skies, but the strong winds had made white horses in the (Bristol) Channel. Today's weather was better but the winds were still North-Westerly and (for a land-lubber like me) quite strong. After consulting with the people on Lundy, the Captain decided that the forecasts were favourable and the go-ahead was given for the day's sailing. However, we were warned that the conditions were going rough and that it might take longer to get to the island.

About one-hundred and eighty intrepid souls were booked on the boat and I didn't see anyone change their minds while we were still on land. Martin and I were the only two from the Edwardian Bar that actually made the trip. Initially there were four of us going but work commitments had whittled the numbers down. We weren't too worried, Martin was going fishing and I was intending to do some birdwatching, either occupation can be enjoyed alone. The cost of hiring the Old Light accommodation was still reasonable split between two people rather than between four.

Five minutes out of Ilfracombe I was in two minds about the trip. I love going to the island and this was going to be my first time staying there. But I had decided that sitting in the leeward side of the funnel would be the warmest place on deck. Unfortunately, I chose the forwardmost seats and when the first big wave hit the boat I was glad that I had just put my waterproofs on! We decided to retire to the forward saloon where conditions were drier.

We didn't stay there long. Enclosed air is not a conducive atmosphere for those poor sufferers that are afflicted by "mal de mare". Don't get me wrong; I'm not the world's best sailor myself - but my greatest fear is drowning rather than being ill. I've not been on enough boats or on enough rough seas to boast, but I've only been ill once on the Lundy crossing and that was "the morning after the night before's" skittles match. Maybe more hangover than the motion of the sea. This crossing made me a bit nauseous, but I tried the trick of looking at the horizon (while staying as near as possible to the middle of the deck). This is meant to keep your head steady and so trick your inner-ear into believing that it's not on a ship. It seemed to work - I wasn't ill and I saw quite a few gannets and one or two razorbills (probably).

The Captain did a sterling job; adjusting to the wave conditions and ensuring that the boat was reasonable steady (most of the time). When we landed on Lundy I was ready to kiss the ground. The crossing had only taken an extra half an hour - two and a quarter hours rather than one and three-quarter hours. I was glad that I wasn't going back that evening but I believe that the conditions weren't as bad on the return journey. We'd all arrived in one piece - though some people were lighter that they had been in Ilfracombe!

I got my first bit of proper birdwatching very soon. The track from the jetty to the village leads up the eastern side of the island and then turns left into Millcombe. A group of about five or six birders were at this corner, gazing down into the (small) valley. Apparently there was a Corncrake in the stream at the bottom of this ravine. They told me where it was. I pointed my binoculars (hereafter "bins") at where I thought they meant. And saw... a robin.

The other birders were making little ecstatic cries to each other, "Isn't it beautiful." "You don't normally get a view as good as this." etc. I made my excuses and left : )

At this, Martin started extracting the Michael from me. Apparently I would be unable to see a Corncrake even if it was sitting on the end of my bins. He seemed to find this very funny for some reason. I put my failure to see the Corncrake down to more logical reasons. My new expensive, waterproof bins were obviously cursed. I would have to find a travelling gypsy or wise woman of the village to remove this curse. Unfortunately I had neglected to pack my cheap, unwaterproof, too small for serious birdwatching bins (the ones that have seen White-tailed and Golden Eagles).

At the village we found that we were able to move into the Lighthouse straight away so we headed up there to wait for our luggage to arrive. The first picture below was taken while we were waiting. It's from the first landing in the Old-Light. The floor has a circular hole in it (about 6 inches in diameter). So I took this photo through the hole looking down at a couple of other people coming up. It'sa bit blurred and shaky as the light-levels are quite low in there and it took a longish exposure. I meant to take a similar shot before we left but I never got around to it.

Later we went down to the local shop (that closes at 4pm when the boat is in, 1pm normally) to get provisions. Then a quick tour of the south end of the island to see the boat leave, look for fish in Rocket-pole Pond, investigate the Devil's Limekiln, look for the way down to Pilot's Quay, and take a photo of our accommodation, and unload shopping. Thence to the pub.

Old Light MS Oldenburg Old Light

The Marisco Tavern is only open from 6-11pm in the evening. We got there about half six the first day (it was before sunset). Their food was reasonably priced five pound fifty for a choice of one veggie dish or three meat type things. Beer prices were similar to the Edwardian Bar. Lager was five pence cheaper but the Guinness was five pence more expensive.

There is no television and no jukebox in the Marisco and if you use your mobile photo you get a one pound fine. Everyone was friendly. Most of the people staying at the time were climbers (there are less climbing restrictions in the autumn when the nesting seabirds have left). Others were conservation volunteers, birdwatchers, a few people on a religious retreat, and some just came for the island experience.

The Tavern also holds the logbooks for Flora and Fauna. I checked the Fauna book to see which the rare birds that had been seen recently. These included the Corncrake, an Icterine Warbler, a Yellow-Browed Warbler, a juv. Rose-Coloured Starling, an Ortolan Bunting amongst others. The only trouble would be to find them and identify them (especially as I'd missed the Corncrake earlier). At this point I started to tell myself that I wasn't a serious birdwatcher. That I didn't need to see these birds. That I just enjoyed watching the common birds that I see on my walks.

So the evening progressed. I can't remember if there was any music that first night. I do remember the stars. The night was brilliantly clear. Orange lights from the Devonian and Welsh coast formed the horizon. Their lighthouses each blinking to its own internal rhythm. Mars bright in the south. The constellations were more defined that I'd ever seen them. All the faint stars that normally disappear into streetlight glow were visible. The broad, hazy-white band of the Milky Way stretched directly over head from north-east to south-west with the dark lane of the Cygnus Rift showing well.

This time of year is one of the best for seeing our galaxy. Back on the mainland the sky-glow means that it's obscured for most of the year. Here on Lundy it was spectacular - a silver arch over the sky. A few years back I had a similar of the Milky Way from the back of the Torrs. Sitting on the bench above White Pebble Beach I had a wonderful view across to Wales. The lights of Swansea Bay formed a bright line on the horizon. Rising from this came the broad band of our galaxy. I thought it would make a good photograph: the bright light 30 miles away and about 500ft wide; the faint light surrounding us and maybe 500 light-years wide. A nice contrast of the vast and the local. Of the galaxy being our birthplace. Of our lights being weak and short lived. And of our being close two both lights in different ways.

Of course you only see these things when you haven't got a camera. I can't take the long exposures you need with my digital camera. My old SLR would have been ideal but you can only take so much stuff with you. I had decided to take my telescope and tripod instead. I'd left them up at the lighthouse this first night. It seemed a bit of a long way and a bit heavy to carry when I was in a nice pub (with nice lager). Eventually it was time to leave. Feeling philosophical and perhaps a little drunk, we staggered back to the lighthouse avoiding the sheep.

24th September 2003 Apparently Martin got up early to see the sunrise at 7.15am. I didn't get up until 10am. Martin went off fishing at Pilot's Quay while I went to see about the boat trip around the island. There had been one advertised for 2.30pm but I could still remember yesterday's crossing. This morning weather was still windy. It was meant to get better during the day. At the shop I found that the boat was running but there were no free spaces on it until 5pm. The earlier two trips were booked up, but it gave the weather time to improve.

I passed the time by trying some bird watching. There were some starlings by the church but I couldn't find the Rose-Coloured. St John's valley leads from the church down to Millcombe. There was a chap setting up bird nets as I walked down but all I could see were a robin and a grey wagtail. The woods in Millcombe revealed a Blackcap, some Goldcrests, and a Pied Flycatcher (a new species for me). The scrub on the other side contained a couple of Spotted Flycatchers (also new for me). With renewed confidence in my birdwatching abilities, I headed for the spot where the Corncrake had been seen... and didn't see it.

From Millcombe I took the Lower East Path. this leads north, roughly halfway up the slope (around 200ft above sea level). It doesn't follow a level route but meanders up and down, around rocks and through rhododendrons. The east side is generally more sheltered than the west so there are more trees, shrubs, and flowers on this side. The rhododendrons love it and while walking I saw a couple of people clearing the area. (Well it was lunchtime so there were only two: one eating; one sharpening a chainsaw). There are small wooded areas and open clearings full of butterflies and the occasional Honey Bee. Also Small Copper butterflies and Common Darter dragonflies.

The character of the path changes when it draws level with the Quarterwall. A Victorian quarrying operation was sited here. A broad ledge has been cut into the slope. This is where the main quarry buildings were. It is now the site of one of the two bird traps on the island. The main path continues north past the larger quarries, and there is a gently sloping path leads up to the Quarry Pond.

A more energetic path goes down to Quarry Beach, the final descent being little more than a ladder with a rope handrail. Halfway down I came across a Sika Deer on the path but she leapt up the side of the hill and was gone before I could take a photo. The beach itself is little more than a collection of granite boulders. Walking over them gives a similarly hollow sound to those on Heddon's Mouth or any of the beaches from Westward Ho! to Clovely. The sound of the sea washing through these boulders is extremely relaxing (especially when it is a hot day and you're trying not to think about the walk back up the hill).

Continuing along the main path you go past the three large quarries (well, large for Lundy). The middle of these contains a memorial to a son of the then owner who received a posthumous V.C. in Burma in 1944. This quarry was one of his favourite playgrounds as a boy. All of the quarries contain pleasing geometric patterns. Going around the corner leads up to the Halfwall and back to the Old Light. By now it was almost time for the boat trip so I headed down to the village on my way to the jetty.

I think I saw the Rose-Coloured Starling on this walk. Most of the starlings were in the fields as I walked through the village and I didn't really have time to stop a search through them. Just as I got near the church, however, they all decided to fly back and roost on the roof. I think one of the ones on the tower was the Rose-Coloured.

Honey Bee Small Copper Quarry Beach Quarry Gannet's Rock North Light Battery Point Sunset Sunset (detail)

25th September 2003

Jenny's Cove The Devil's 
			Slide North End Common Darter

26th September 2003

Corncrake Mouse Hole & 
			Trap Grey Seal

27th September 2003

Corncrake The Needle Jenny's Cove Pondsbury East Sideland Quarry Pond A Lundy Pony

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Created 2/10/03
Last modified