Lundy Island has two distinct sides to it and if last week’s post showed its ‘east coast cool’ this week is about the ‘wild west’. At only three miles long, half a mile wide and 400 feet above sea level it would be easy to think that there isn’t much to Lundy Island – nothing more than a large rock in the Bristol Channel – but how wrong that would be! Inland Lundy, if it can be described as such, is very reminiscent of Dartmoor or Bodmin Moor whilst the cliffs that virtually surround the island, and the views they afford, make it a natural stronghold and virtually impregnable to attack. As such, it has been a favoured haunt of colourful characters and privateers. The first of these being the Marisco family who held the island for several generations, including a period when it was supposedly granted to the Knights Templar in the mid 12th century. They indulged in many illegal practices, their favourite being piracy, with ships being forced to sail close to the Island owing to the hazardous navigation of the Bristol Channel thus making for easy prey. The family were connected to an attempt on the life of King Henry III and in 1242, in an attack on the island assisted by heavy mist and an island traitor, William de Marisco was captured and hung, drawn and quartered. Lundy was one of the last Royalist sites to fall during the English Civil War and on its conquest when the Royalist Governor, Thomas Bushell, abandoned the Island he went into hiding owing vast sums of money. For a short time in the 17th century the flag of Islam fluttered in the breeze above Lundy when the Barbary Pirates claimed it as a base for their northerly activities and held European slaves there before sending them to Algiers. Matching the Mariscos for infamy was Thomas Benson, MP for Barnstaple and Sheriff of Devon during the 18th century, who won a contract to ship convict labour to North America. He shipped them as far as the Island, enslaved them for his own use and locked them in a cave below the Castle. Encouraged by the success of this idea a subsequent bold escapade proved to be his undoing. Loading the Nightingale, the oldest of his fleet, with cargo he insured her and set sail for North America. As before she sailed to Lundy where the goods were unloaded and the ship taken 10 miles west of the Island before being set ablaze and scuttled. A perfect insurance scam until a disgruntled seamen gave the game away and Benson fled. The island finally became respectable in the 19th century when the Heaven family bought it, building St Helen’s church in the mid 1890s and two lighthouses, one at each end of the Island, to replace the earlier inland one (which can just be seen in the first photo). Lundy Island is now owned by the National Trust and is a Marine Conservation Zone. So, all in all, quite a lot of excitement for a large rock in the Bristol Channel …….
(All images are copyright to Noeline Smith)