On Friday morning I hit the road for a visit in Deepest Devon, to see my Zen-like Friend and take a trip to Lundy Island, a tiny spit of land off the coast, famous for its views, deer, feral goats, ponies, and birds, including puffins – more on that later.
I left pretty early, and a good thing too, since I managed to take a wrong turn almost immediately. But I managed to reorient myself and trundled on down south, singing at the top of my lungs and watching the scenery get greener and more interesting. I decided to ignore the satnav in favour of a more circuitous, scenic route. So I got off the motorway near Bristol and then headed for Minehead, and Lynton, and then cut away from the coast (so blue!) and into Exmoor via Porlock (so steep!). I was thrilled to see the ponies, most of them with foals alongside, and the view was just astounding. I stopped at one point to try and get a picture, but it was impossible to capture.
I eventually managed to find Woolacombe, which is where we were camping, and sat in the sun reading while I waited for my friend to arrive. After he got there we had a much needed cup of tea and then we were off. We headed on a short walk down the road, where I met my first stile (Sidenote: Stiles are not made for short people, with short legs, and a complete lack of grace). There were some funky sheep, who stared at us with blind panic in their sheepy eyes, but there were also more ponies! And some paragliders! And a sparrowhawk! And ponies!
Years ago, my family travelled around the UK in a camper as part of a holiday. Apparantly I have been to nearly all the places I visited this past weekend before, I just don't remember any of it. Probably because I was reading my way through a Five Find Outers and Dog book, but that's neither here nor there. Anyway, I did remember the ponies, and it was lovely to see them again in their scruffy glory.
I also got my first sighting of Lundy, where we were heading on Saturday, which filled me with glee.
We then headed back and went down the town of Woolacombe, sourced some lunch in the shape of pasties (I thought they were called tiddyoggies when in Devon, but apparantly not), and then trekked up the hill to Mortehoe, which was very rugged and cool. We spent ages spotting some oystercatchers, which are about as cute as you get in the bird world, and I got to turn down that page in my birdbook, which is always satisfying.
And then it was dinner in a jampacked Croyde, and my first glimpse of Saunton Sands, which was as beautiful as any of the beaches at home, just about half the size. We stopped on a cliff road overlooking the beach, and it instantly became my favourite spot.
We had a little time for stargazing (red, red moon) but we had to be up at o dark thirty to catch the ferry to Lundy.
Woke up the next morning to rain, of course. It was a weirdly cold, warm, misty, windy, rainy, drizzly, freaky kind of day. It was very atmospheric and I loved Lundy like that, but it would be super to see it in the sunshine. But I'm getting ahead of myself.
A short essay on puffins: there's all this hype about how Lundy is a puffin haven. It's on all the brochures, and all the tickets, and on the websites and everything. Until we got to the booking office to board and my friend read a different poster that said that ACTUALLY there are only three pairs of puffins on the whole island, so ACTUALLY we would be pretty lucky to spot any of them (we didn't, as it happened).
PA is displeased with false advertising ("I don't act for cameras!")
But we didn't let the false advertising get us down, and after agreeing to lie but how we had spotted a puffin even though we hadn't (it was THIS big! And it had RAZOR teeth!), we boarded the ferry. And got very, very wet. We had the Guardian with us and decided to sacrifice the money, sport and jobs sections for something dry to sit on. Eventually we headed upstairs and I found the perfect spot to lean against the railing and rock backwards and forwards as we went through the rough water. It was so cold and blowy, but it felt energising. And then out of nowhere some small dolphins appeared and they began playing alongside the ferry. For ages they were jumping through the surf and the wash, and we could see them cruising along under the water. They looked so happy, I guess, and carefree. It was almost as if we had an escort.
On the ferry and on Lundy
And then we finally got to the island, which rises suddenly from the water. Sheer, sheer cliffs, with that ominous, exciting look that you expect of tiny islands. We had been spotting lots of birds as we came over on the ferry, but the island itself is a bird paradise. We saw shags, Manx shear-waters, cormorants, oyster-catchers, razorbills, and guillemots. It was thrilling really. We glanced briefly at the buildings (a castle, a pub, a church, a lighthouse – all will need to be explored in more depth on another visit) but hellbent on finding our puffin we hit the trails immediately. We basically walked the island along its edges, getting blown to pieces by the wind, getting drenched by the mist. But it was so much fun, and I only twisted both of my ankles twice. And gracelessly clambered over two more stiles. We spotted the deer, ponies and feral goats, we even spotted some seals, but the puffins remained determinedly out of reach. Better luck next time, I guess. Nobody seems to have heard of Lundy much, and I don't know why, because it's an idyll. My friend commented that it was like a retreat. I'd really love to go back and stay there for a few days, and walk every inch of the place,and hopefully see it in some sunshine.
We all boarded again and headed back to Bideford on the mainland, and spent the whole return journey waiting for more dolphins to appear (and eavesdropping on the conversation of the two older women sitting next to us – one was telling the other about how her husband proposed, and her parents weren't happy because he was a soldier, it was quite amusing). We landed and headed back to the campsite.
I was due to leave on Sunday, so we stuck close to home, and took a shorter hike through the surrounding farmland. We stopped to catch our breath and say hello to a little shetland pony called Archie, and took our ease on a bench, and then got so caught up in identifying some house martins and some swallows, we got nicked for trespassing. She was pretty nice about it though, and told us about the other birds she'd spotted, but we did hasten on our way. Up. The. Longest. Hill. Ever. And then when we made it to the top of the hill, I got myself stranded in a massive boggy patch. I was in knee deep, and managed to leave a shoe behind after my friend gave me a heave out of there. I tried not to think too hard about what else was inside the mud, but it smelt fabulous. Sigh. That's me. Always smooth.
Anyway, we headed out shortly after, and got some Rick Stein recommended fish and chips (scampi for me), and watched some kids muck about a skateboarding ramp. We headed down to the beach then so my friend could go surfing. I watched and wandered along the sand and got myself quite homesick, with the smell and the sounds.
And then I got in my car and drove back, feeling satisfied and happy and content and sad all at the same time. I always feel a little flat after going somewhere new, because I always expect myself to be new too. I think it's also that I've been looking forward to this trip for ages, and now I need something new to look forward to. I love this part of being a grown up. It makes it all worthwhile.