Letterboxing in Lundy — how not to get bored on a tiny island

This time last year, Alex and I went on holiday to Lundy. The island was best known to me as one of those mysterious locations of the shipping forecast. Somewhere between the Irish Sea and Fastnet, wherever that is.

In fact, it is an island in the Bristol channel. Much of Lundy’s appeal is in its mystery and remoteness. It is accessible only by a two hour ferry journey that takes place every other day, alternately from Ifracombe and Bideford in north Devon.

We drove down to north Devon shortly after seeing Radiohead in Glasgow.

Me at Another Place by Antony Gormley

After stopping off briefly in the Lake District, we swung by Antony Gormley’s Another Place, near Liverpool.

Another Place by Antony Gormley

As usual with Antony Gormley, it was some metal men. But their reaction to the harsh seaside conditions made things interesting.

Our next stop was our base for a couple of days at Treyhill Farm, where Alex’s sister Catherine was working. It is a glamping site that has a boat on top of a hill as part of its accommodation.

Me smugly sitting in a deckchair at Treyhill Farm

I was certainly beginning to feel smug at this point. Summer had begun.

Verity by Damien Hirst, at Ilfracombe

Then it was on to Lundy. We sailed from Ilfracombe, which hosts Verity, this striking sculpture by Damien Hirst.

Arriving at Lundy

Lundy has an area of just 1.7 square miles. Electricity comes from generators that are normally switched off overnight. The only source of internet is to wave your phone around up the hill from the pub and hope for the best.

Building on Lundy, near where the best phone signal was

I did wonder how I was going to spend my time there on such a tiny island. Would I get bored? Would I feel trapped?

Front of Millcombe House

A total of 12 of us went, mostly Alex’s family or family friends. We were staying in Millcombe House, which is looked after by the Landmark Trust, as is the whole of the island.

View of the back of Millcombe House, with the sea in the distance

Millcombe House is an amazing place to stay, not least because of its wide open front lawn with incredible views out to sea.

Building a jigsaw in Millcombe House

It didn’t take long for the jigsaws to be unleashed.

It was a good holiday for playing games. Alex had brought Dobble, which is a bit like a more complicated version of snap. You shout ‘dobble’ if you get a snap. I remember us playing this outdoors, and some of us got a bit over-excited, totally destroying the tranquility of the island.

Exploring Lundy

Some of the group surrounded by horses

While Lundy is a great place simply to while away the time playing games or getting away from it all, it is also a place for getting out and about and exploring.

A map published by the Landmark Trust marks evocative and mysterious place names on the island such as Earthquake, Mouse Hole and Trap, and Miller’s Cake. Some give clues as to what might be going on — such as Puffin Gully and Quarry Beach.

Old Light

Our first port of call was the Old Light, one of Lundy’s three lighthouses, and the first to be built. Its base is 143 metres above sea level, making it the highest lighthouse in Britain. It also made fog such a persistent problem that it was abandoned in 1897.

Alex climbing down the spiral staircase in Old Light

Thankfully, the building still stands, enabling visitors to gain wonderful views of the island.

Alex and me on the deckchairs at the top of Old Light

Charmingly, there are two deckchairs in the lantern room, inviting you to sit and watch the world go by, with time moving at Lundy’s own pace, away from any distractions from the outside world.

Jetty at Lundy

Naturally, you can also explore the island by sea. We went to the jetty to set sail on a snorkelling expedition. Snorkelling is not for me — I am a poor swimmer and rather phobic of water. But I stayed on the boat as others swam with the seals and other wildlife.

Rocks on the coast of Lundy

Lundy is a Site of Special Scientific Interest, and was England’s first Marine Conservation Zone. It is a dream place to visit for any lovers of wildlife, plantlife or geology.

Birds on cliffs at Lundy

Letterboxing

You can choose to simply explore Lundy aimlessly. But if you prefer a little structure, Lundy has the perfect plan.

One of our group, Madeline, had heard about Lundy letterboxing. It is a little bit like geocaching — a way of being rewarded for finding a specific location in challenging terrain.

Apparently inspired by Dartmoor letterboxes, which have existed since the 19th century, the first Lundy letterbox was placed in 1987. There are now around 30. A pack containing the clues to find them can be bought from the island’s shop.

Madeline and Alex letterboxing

In most cases, the letterbox is a sturdy utility box containing a stamp and inkpad for you to stamp into your own book. Each also contains a notepad for you to sign. Because there were 12 of us, and different people went out at different times, we always signed it as “The Tremendous Twelve”.

Exploring the jungle-like east coast of Lundy

We began by taking to a path that perches on the east coast of the island. Sheltered from the Atlantic winds, and overgrown at the height of summer, this area truly felt like the wilds of the middle of nowhere.

Seals on the coast at Lundy

It proved a great way to view the local sealife…

Head-shaped rock on Lundy

…and admire the extraordinary rocks, including this one that looks to me like a head.

Lost Heinkel

Among the most intriguing areas discovered this day through letterboxing was Lost Heinkel, where the remains of an aircraft engine are wedged in between rocks, precariously perched over the cliff edge.

Earthquake on Lundy

Soon afterwards, we discovered exactly why there was a place called Earthquake on the map. I remember shrieking “WHOA” when I first saw it — photos do not do this rift justice.

Postcard found in the letterbox at Old Light

The next day we went to get the letterbox at Old Light. It contained a self-addressed postcard with the following message:

13/7/17
To whoever finds this, we hope you’re having as much fun as we did. Our first Lundy visit, but I hope not our last. Best wishes!

We added this note, and sent it back:

Thanks for the postcard! Lovely to find this on a lovely day. From “The Tremendous Twelve”. 14/07/2017

We then left our own postcard in the same letterbox.

This was a special letterbox because it contained the clue to Pilot’s Quay (Windy Windmill).

Madeline exploring on the west coast of Lundy

After catching that one, we proceeded up the western coast of Lundy. The west has a totally different character to the east. It is a harsher environment, fully exposed to the Atlantic. Being windier, there is less leafy vegetation, and the cliff edges are a good bit higher and steeper. By now I was in awe of the diversity of Lundy, in such a small area.

The old battery

We had great fun exploring the remains of the battery, the site of Lundy’s first letterbox.

Quarry at Lundy

We didn’t have much time to explore further north, so we made our way to the eastern side — where we found the quarry.

A wider group hunted down one of the letterboxes together

Later that evening, a large group of us came to find a letterbox near Millcombe House together.

Letterboxing on a damp day

The next day was our big expedition to the northern tip of the island, about 3 miles away from home. It wasn’t the greatest day to choose, because it was cold and drizzly.

North Light

However we had great fun exploring the North Light, one of the two lighthouses still in use on Lundy.

The group precariously climbing down the steps at North Light

It is perched rather precariously at the end of a steep staircase with a rickety handrail. Alex decided to stay at the top.

Railway at North Light

Appealingly, the remains of a small railway are also found here.

Hunting for another letterbox

After braving more of the nasty weather conditions, we had to concede defeat on a few of the letterboxes which remained elusive to us. However, Alex’s sister Catherine and her fiance Eurig set out to find them all in half a day — and succeeded!

A no smoking sign in the Marisco Tavern: "No puffin' please!"

We retired to the Marisco Tavern, the island’s one and only pub, for one last quick drink.

Alex and Madeline exploring for more letterboxes

Before we set sail for home, there was just time to grab a handful of letterboxes around the landing bay.

Striking geology near Rat Island

We didn’t have the right shoes to reach Rat Island. But that didn’t stop me and Madeline scaling the slippery rocks.

View of our ferry at the jetty

But with the tide coming in, and a boat to catch, we had to call it a day.

A tiny island you won’t get bored on

"Lundy 2017" written in pebbles near the jetty

What really surprised me about Lundy was that, despite its small size, I never got bored. In fact, it was unexpectedly challenging to explore most of the island.

More interesting geology in Lundy

There is a surprising amount of stuff to see. The whole place feels not merely remote, but a little bit different. It has its own wildlife, and some unique geology. And the stark difference between the east and the west would make you think you were on a massive island, not a thin slither of land just half a mile wide.

Madeline letterboxing

But what really made this holiday was the letterboxing. This forces you to get out there and explore in a structured fashion. Without it, I would not have gained the same appreciation for Lundy.

Lundy coastline

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