I had long wanted to go to Lundy – mainly to see, and take photos of, puffins. Lundy means ‘Puffin Island’, so where better to go? I had an internal discussion with myself about whether I should take my teenagers (Pros: good for them to get away; an adventure; prospect of seeing an amazing creature for real – Cons: expensive; we all sleep in the same room where there’ll be farting (and not just from me); I have to put up with their incessant whinging about the poor wifi connection) and after beating myself figuratively around the head, agreed with myself that they should come along. So I booked the Lundy ferry for the three of us, and found a nice B&B for us all to stay for two nights in glorious Ilfracombe.
Someone said to me today that they didn’t like Ilfracombe. I had to shake them very hard as they were obviously deluded. Not like Ilfracombe? The town has got everything going for it. Quaint harbour: tick. Rugged coast line: tick. Thriving Arts centre: tick. Impressive Damien Hurst statue: tick. I LOVE Ilfracombe. Yes, yes, it has a drugs problem – but doesn’t every UK town? (Apart from St Ives. I’m not sure that St Ives has a drug problem.) And yes, it’s a bit tatty and jaded in parts, but doesn’t that add to its charm? And, to top it all, it has amazing sunsets like this:
So we stayed in lovely, slightly down-at-heel Ilfracombe and, after a MAHOOSIVE cooked breakfast (sod WeightWatchers – we’re on holiday), we legged it down to the harbour to get on the boat, the MS Oldenburg. I’m not an expert on boats but I’d heard on the grapevine that this one has a flat bottom (if only I could say the same) which, in turbulent waters, can lead to sick bags ahoy. Luckily, the sea was as smooth as a millpond and our crossing was vomit-free. Thank God because I didn’t bring a change of clothes for anyone.
It takes two hours to sail to Lundy. I KNOW! It’s about 24 miles from Ilfracombe; that’s like Dover to Calais. In other words, Lundy is practically ABROAD. Actually in the middle of the actual sea. As we travelled west, an eerie haar descended (I’ve been dying to use that word ever since I was six). We could see buggery. As we approached the time when we should have been docking, two attractive, able seamen got out onto the bow – presumably to try to see where the fuck we were going. The Cap’n was going dead slow. I wish there’d been a bell to ring. (There wasn’t.) Amazingly, by the reading of a compass and the stars alone – or possibly by looking at the satnav – the jetty suddenly loomed out of the mist. The Cap’n had judged it perfectly. We had arrived.
Have you ever been to Iceland? Disembarking on Lundy reminded me of Iceland; its blue waters, low light and black rock. It felt like we’d arrived on a different planet. The path up to the top of the cliff was grey and rubbly and mysterious and actually a bit bloody scary.
But by the time we had climbed half way up, we were suddenly above the mist, and all was sunny and bright, like we had broken through a glass ceiling.
We only had four hours until the ferry departed again, and I was desperate to see those bloody puffins. So Plan Puffin was put into place: basically, stuff lunch down as quickly as possible, and then walk to ‘half way wall’ (logically, half way up Lundy) and to Jenny’s Cove, where the puffins were in the middle of some heavy petting and full-on breeding.
My God, what a piece of heaven. Birds. Wild ponies. Seals. Glorious coastline. Peace.
Birds were everywhere. And so were birdwatchers. A couple in front of us were waxing lyrical about a small brown bird on the path in front of us. “Looks like a sparrow to me,” I said, as I marched past them. The bird got scared and flew off. The couple swore at me.
I didn’t care; I was on my Puffin Mission.
We’d been walking for an hour or so and I was getting worried. Not that the twitcher couple was going to push me off a cliff (although to be honest that may have been on the cards), but that no puffins were presenting themselves. We were peering down cliff edges to see if we could get a snifter – but nothing. Then, in the distance, I saw a man with a long lens nestled into the landscape. That’s it, I thought. He’s on a Puffin Mission, too. “LEG IT!” I shouted to the boys.
You know that bit in Eurovision when you suddenly realise that the UK are not only not going to win AGAIN, but that our song will not even finish in the top 20? That feeling of utter disappointment? That happened to me when I sat down and looked for the puffins.
They were there, but they were far too far away.
Even with my long 500mm lens, these birds could have been any white breasted beasts. They could all have been replicas of my cat, for all I knew. At best, they looked like penguins. And here’s the proof:
And this was taken with a massive fuck off lens! I KNOW!! I mean, obviously they want their privacy, but FOR GOD’S SAKE! We’d come HUNDREDS OF MILES to see them! The least they could have done was to edge a bit bloody closer!
Whatever. We took as many photos as we could until we realised that they were all going to be utter shit. And we got up and made our way slowly back to the boat.
Truth be told, I was a bit disappointed. We didn’t have enough time to cover all of the island (perhaps there was a better viewpoint a bit further on?) and I would have liked to have stayed longer. However, the weather was glorious and Lundy is undeniably magical. It has a shop and a pub and a scattering of houses. Oh, and a lighthouse with deckchairs at the top.
I mean, really, what more could you ask for? And at this time of year, there are wildflowers everywhere. So, despite not seeing the puffins at close range, we were really, really pleased that we had come. Off we tramped back down the island and down to the jetty, where the mist had evaporated and it felt like we were on an Italian island.
A seal popped his head above the water as the boat was leaving. Sod off, day-trippers, he was saying. Leave me and my puffin mates and those weird birds alone.
And so we did. But we’ll be back. With an absolutely enormous lens.
Here’s a little ditty to leave you with:
We had a really good fundy
When we went to Lundy
But don’t try to get there on a Sundy
Because the ferry doesn’t run.