In this strange temporal limbo, which I have seen best called ‘Winterregnum’, where days do not seem to follow each other in their usual, disciplined manner, I almost failed to realise that today is – technically – Sunday.
This means it is time for the next instalment of the Lundiary when finally the fabled isle is reached…
In which our hero arrives on the island, talks geology and cooks dinner. Nobs are hobbed and a warden is heckled…
Rising early(ish), I betook myself of an exceeding hearty breakfast: when I’m paying for bed and breakfast, there is only so much I can use the bed – particularly given my chronic insomnia – and so need to maximise my value through the breakfast portion of the deal.
It was then time to continue north and west to the very edge of the land in order to cross the water to Lundy. This short journey did offer the observant passenger a couple of items of interest.
- A sign to Griffin Loveland: given the current shortage of living lion-eagle hybrids, I must assume this business is not proving a financial success.
- A small wooden hut selling jam (and chutney) which I’m afraid left me singing (a slightly modified) version of the 1990 hit by Beats International: Dub Be Good to Me
Tank fly boss walk jam nitty gritty
You’re listening to the boy from the big bad city
This is jam hut! This is jam hut!
And then we made it to the edge of the land, the Grey Havens of North Devon, to be greeted not by Círdan the Shipwright, but by A and H: the two last members of the Fellowship who had driven down that morning and had been the first to arrive on site.
The Hartland Point Heliport was rather more agricultural than I had been imagining. It comprised 3 or 4 wooden sheds and a field, which at the time was playing host to a small herd of cows. The bovine occupants of the facility seem to take the comings and goings of a noisy helicopter very phlegmatically. The chopper flits back and forth from the mainland to Lundy throughout the day until all the necessary passengers and cargo have been transferred in each direction.
Check-in included a weigh-in for the passengers, unlike the airlines I usually fly with who only check the rest mass of their luggage. Very fully clothed, to reduce the weight of my luggage, and in my hiking boots I came in at a very reasonable 80kg. This turned out to be a very useful weight as it was precisely what was needed to complete the carrying capacity of the second flight of the day: and the first flight available to a mere civilian.
While my own check-in went smoothly, poor A despite being the first man, measured by both name and arrival time, had his check-in “lost”. As a result, he found himself spending many hours of (low) quality time in a hut at Hartland before being carried to the island on the last flight of the day – some 4 hours after my own departure. My mind turns, as it does on such occasions, to Matthew 20:16.
Oddly, A is not my only friend who appears to be all-too-forgettable and has only a fugitive existence in the minds of others. Am I drawn to forgettable people? Or am I somehow draining them of the ability to become fixed in the memories of their fellows? Is this another facet of my terrible humanity: am I literally being memorable by eliminating all competing memories in the minds of those who meet me?
In the relatively brief period I was detained at Hartland, and after the largely inaudible safety video, ironically drowned out by the noise of the very chopper it was trying to keep us safe in, I found myself in conversation with A and H. It was noted that the lanes of North Devon looked the kind of place where the fae might be encountered and mention was made of hobgoblins. This led to speculation as to the meaning of the modifier “hob” to the word “goblin”. Facetiously, I suggested it meant “hot” (from my extensive knowledge of the kitchen) which somehow led to speculation about the hobnob – which would clearly by a nob at, or close to, the point of maximal excitement (as well as a biscuit). I couldn’t help but notice that, at this point, several members of the Fellowship began to worry about spending 72 hours trapped on a small island with a mind that could so readily (and rapidly) move every conversational gambit towards the gutter.
However, there was no time to dwell on such matters, as I was called to another shed to have my luggage weighed before boarding the chopper. This is always a nervous moment as I lack functional scales for the appropriate weight range. We were allowed 10kg of hold luggage and 5kg of hand luggage (which also goes in the hold) and my total luggage barely made it to 5kg. I couldn’t help feeling that this represented a waste of 10kg of allowance, an amount which could cover a good 16 pints of Steam Town West Coast IPA (to give but one example).
The brief flight was a glorious thing: the helicopter is so much more elegant as a way to travel than the aeroplane. There is none of the desperate hurling a chunk of metal down a runway and then straining into the air. There is just a gentle lifting followed by a lean back and then forward. The ride is quite noisy, but I think I shall insist on all my future airborne journeys being made by helicopter.
After a mere 10 minutes, I emerged, blinking, into another (cow-free) field and was given back my hand luggage. I was now committed to spending the next 72 hours on the island – I was trapped! – and probably had a fair wait until the rest of the expedition arrived. It was 11:30 on Friday morning and I (felt like I) was monarch of all I surveyed!
Checking into the ‘office’, I discovered that our house would be ready in about 20 minutes, so performed some reconnaissance of the main conurbation on Lundy. OK, I had a look around the pub, The Marisco Tavern (which also serves as the restaurant, library, departure lounge, lecture theatre etc), which was not yet serving beer, and the surprisingly well-stocked shop and started planning possible menus for the weekend. It was then time to wander down the steep path to the Georgian splendour which is Millcombe House which was to be my home for the next 3 nights.
It was great to be able to explore the house on my own: it has a large kitchen-diner, a formal dining room, a sitting room and a drawing room: from which there were views of the sea. There were also four bathrooms of various forms and seven bedrooms plus a utility room. The drawing room held a fully functional brass bell, I assume recovered from a shipwreck, which clearly I was compelled to ring (and I was not alone in this compulsion). The house also had, mounted – in pride of place – on the landing above the stairs, the creepiest painting of small children I have ever seen. Luckily, I understand the tropes of horror movies and was reassured that I am not an attractive blonde (and haven’t been for nearly 50 years) while quietly cancelling any plans to visit an unlit cellar on my own.
After a couple of hours spreading my DNA to every room of the house (don’t be too swift to judge, we are all constantly shedding our dead cellular coating), I was finally joined by H: the second of our party to make it to the island. The rest were on much later flights so, after showing off the delights of my new new demesne to my first subject, we went for a stroll down to the landing stage (where in the summer, visitors arrive by boat) and up to the southern lighthouse (one of three on the island). This walk took in some excellent views and some rather fine rock formations. Thanks to some light Wikipedia reading in the week prior to the expedition, and some remnants of my schoolboy knowledge of geology (from a time when, it must be admitted, the rocks were quite a lot fresher than they are today), I was able to provide some vaguely reliable geological input to the conversation. Well, I could at least safely recognise the granite and slate portions of the island…
Not too long after our return, almost everyone else made it to the house and we headed up the shop for victuals before it closed. The decision was made to eat “in” for two evenings and breakfast and eat “out” for lunch and the third evening. Given that there would be no fresh supply-drop to the shop until we left the island, I felt it important to “stock up” our larder. I quickly cornered the island’s entire supply of cooking apples (well, if I’m honest, apple) and most of its eaters too. Sadly, I fear we may wind up eating my position: rather than converting it into massive profits. We returned to Millcombe, laden with food and wine, to finally be reunited with A – and soon after our hold luggage was delivered to our door by Land Rover. Again, FlyBe could learn a thing or two here – not forgetting A, but home delivery of one’s heavier luggage (again, not a reference to A).
With everyone safely arrived, it was time to pick a bedroom (all of which were named). As the only unattached (both to another human and my sanity) member of the expedition, I found myself with a choice of four rooms. For the first night, I have chosen Christie: probably not named for Agatha, but with an odd number of people in the same house on an island off the coast of Devon, and with murder in the air (or at least on my mind), it seemed appropriate….
Rooms chosen and some initial unpacking accomplished, we walked back up the valley to the Marisco Tavern to check out the beer offering (two shades of brown – I don’t think the good news about hops has made it to North Devon or the island, yet – but entirely potable) and to learn something of the island and its fauna thanks to a talk by one of the wardens. I found myself at the back of the lecture room, sharing the ‘naughty’ table with A and H. Having already explored a little of the island, and seen a fox moth caterpillar, H and I felt able to contribute some positive interjections to the talk and ask cogent questions. H though went somewhat off-piste when, following the discovery that the island contained the remains of a pair of Heinkel He111 bombers, asking what we should do if the Germans arrived. The poor warden seemed somewhat nonplussed by this query and suggested the coastguard be contacted. In an attempt to save a slightly embarrassing situation, I suggested that as members of the European Union they would be entirely welcome: well for the next few weeks at least. A diplomatic incident narrowly averted, the remainder of the talk proceeded along less controversial lines.
While the talk focused on the island’s fauna, reference was also made to its very wide range of fungal inhabitants: more than 60 species and still counting! While it is most famous (like Barbour) for its wax caps, it does boast a number of highly poisonous fungi. As a child, I was something of an expert on deadly fungi (and plants) but sadly have failed to remember whether their use is traceable during a post mortem and have no access to the internet to check at the moment….
All this learning helped to build an appetite, so it was time to return to Millcombe and for me to don my virtual toque and dust off my internal Profanisaurus. I do enjoy cooking for others, but rarely do so as I’m usually out of an evening: perhaps I should introduce the five course breakfast (with wine) as a concept? (Though I fear it could impact adversely on productivity for the rest of the day.) One of the joys of cooking in such a large kitchen, with only limited forms of alternative entertainment available, was that I had plenty of volunteers to take on the role of commis chef. Cooking is even more fun when someone else does all the tedious chopping et al while I can focus on supervision and standing over a hot stove looking imperious. I believe I offered H her first exposure to rubbing in, an experience she seemed to relish.
There proved to be a small challenge to my cookery as while the kitchen was very well stocked, it did lack any scales. There was a sort of measuring cone, but one labelled with relatively obscure ingredients. I think there must, once, have been another primary cone, but the cone that remained gave no clue as to what volume of flour or caster sugar represented 4oz but had you totally covered for cornflour and icing sugar. I was forced to muddle through, taking a guess at the relative density of related dry goods of different granularities.
We ate in the kitchen and the food seemed to go down pretty well: nothing like hunger to reduce the critical faculties, well hunger and plentiful red wine! My quorn-based spaghetti bolognese was pretty successful, though if I had my time again I’d have used a third tin of plum tomatoes to increase the sauce to spaghetti ratio. My apple and summer fruits crumble was, frankly, a triumph though the few remnants clinging to the dish proved hard to dislodge.
For our second dinner in, it was decided that we would make use of the formal dining room, which would give us all a chance to make use of the formal wear we’d brought to the island. In jest, I did propose that I could roast a nut – an injury oft associated with over hobbing of a nob – but practical considerations, lack of a memorised recipe and the contents of the island’s shop, meant that I will need to come up with a more sensible plan.
Leaving my team to set the dishwasher(!) in motion, we retired to the sitting room to consume beer and attempt to make both music and fire (I know where my expertise lies and stuck to the beer). We were all safely tucked up in our respective beds (so far as I know, I think any swinging was limited to the music) before the power went off on the island at midnight. I myself shall attempt to sleep, despite some concerns about grinning, blue-eyed Aryan toddlers gruesomely murdering me while I am unconscious…
By next Sunday. the week should have returned to a more regular rhythm and GofaDM will regale its readers with further island adventures…