Having been inspired by a trip to Bristol Docks and a camping trip to North Devon in previous weeks, we thought it a good time to visit the island of Lundy.
The closest I had got to the island was 10 years ago before Matthew had arrived on the scene, again on the Balmoral, but the sea was too rough to make a landing possible. So a circumnavigation of Lundy was all that was available.
With my first rest day coinciding with one of Balmoral’s excursions to Lundy and a favourable weather report, my son Matthew and I decided to make the trip.
We arrived at Penarth pier near Cardiff, at 07:45 for a 08:15 sailing. Balmoral was at anchor in the Channel along with the replica historic ship MATTHEW (quite appropriate). Dredger SOSPAN was seen leaving Cardiff dock. The channel was flat calm with a light westerly breeze and warm sunshine. 10 minutes later, Balmoral made its short trip to moor at the pier to allow boarding to commence. Right on time Captain O’Brian welcomed us aboard and briefed us on today’s sailing. Our trip today would call at Minehead, Ilfracombe and then on to Lundy. With a ring of the ship’s telegraph, the ropes were cast off and we were soon heading into the channel. Just off the Holm Islands we past Bulker ‘ID SYMPHONY’ on its way to Bristol. After we passed Barry docks we headed direct across the channel to Minehead. The large pointed tent at the Butlin Holiday Camp could be clearly seen. The water, by now, had lost its gentleness and had started to develop into a small swell. At 09:45 we approached the pretty harbour of Minehead, the water calmed and a short drizzly spell started. The pier was packed despite the changeable weather. A small army of Golfers armed with clubs disembarked for a round at the local club. As if by magic the Balmoral swallowed all the new passengers and still left as much room as before.
Minutes later, with a belch of black smoke, we left the harbour and followed the beautiful Exmoor coastline. Now back in the channel, Balmoral started to pitch and roll in the ever-increasing swell. As we passed abeam North Foreland Lighthouse the troughs in the sea were quite large with waves crashing down the side of the ship. Matthew and I retreated below the promenade deck near a window, where the motion felt more comfortable. Neither of us are good travellers. I remember Matthew ‘filling’ my pocket on a trip to France on the P&O Express when he was a Baby! I was not feeling great but Matthew was turning green. Shortly before we reached Ilfracombe the inevitable happened but with the calm of Ilfracombe harbour approaching the crisis was over. With the last trip to Lundy in mind, I wondered if history would repeat itself and we wouldn’t be able to land. Would it be better to get off at Ilfracombe? Would Matthew survive another 2 hours on the ‘High Seas’ just for a trip round the Island followed by another 2 hours?
I decided to ask Captain O’Brian. He informed me that the previous day’s trip was ‘Wild’ and they were ‘Lucky’ to land, but the wind today was from a westerly direction, so the landing jetty should be sheltered. However, there are no guarantees.
More passengers boarded at Ilfracombe along with a young Maritime Volunteer Service (MVS) lady. She would be our nature guide for the cruise. Back into the swell we went, past Lee Bay and round Bull point Lighthouse on to Lundy. We both sat forlornly below deck but Matthew bravely insisted he was ‘enjoying’ himself. At 13:30 we arrived at the calm still waters of Lundy’s Jetty and terra firma. It was warm and sunny and our 5 hour, uneasy voyage, was soon forgotten. After we disinfected our shoes for FMD we started the 10-minute trek up the steep track to the main settlement on Lundy. Just past the church of St Helena, which must be one of the most exposed churches in the country, Matthew spotted the Helipad and a Helicopter G-FLBI ROBINSON R44. Matthew by now was hungry, so we headed off towards the Old Lighthouse. With much excitement from both off us, we discovered that we were free to explore the Old Lighthouse and once we had climbed the numerous steps to the top, we made use of the 2 deckchairs, where the lamp was once installed, to enjoy the 360° view. Once back down, we had lunch on the Lighthouse steps’.
Now for our trek. We had 3 hours on the Island so I tried to get as far as we could in 1½ hours without pushing Matthew too hard. The Island is divided into quarters by long dry stonewalls. ‘Halfway wall’ was as far as we got before heading across to the opposite coast and walking back along the route of the old granite tramway and passed some rather grand ruined buildings. Balmoral could be seen moored off the jetty in a picture postcard scene. The sky was beginning to darken so we headed quickly to the village for Matthew to buy some souvenirs. He bought 2 sticks of rock, a badge and a pen with his £1.50. Very reasonable. I also spotted a bottle of Ginger Beer. Perfect for seasickness I thought and I told Matthew that if he drank some he wouldn’t be seasick on the way home. The rain passed over, so we joined the steady flow of passengers down the track back to the jetty. Matthew was quite disappointed that he had seen the ‘advertised’ seals but right on queue 2 appeared next to the jetty as Balmoral was approaching. We all handed in our tickets to the Purser before boarding and set sail at 17:00 and we said ‘goodbye’ to the island and the seals.
Our crossing to Ilfracombe was a calmer affair and Matthew felt up to a bacon roll still being served in the galley. Thank goodness for the ginger beer! The MVS lady gave a short lecture on ‘Seals, Dolphins and Porpoises’ in the bar. As we pulled into Ilfracombe harbour, the Grimaldi car carrier ‘GRANDE EUROPA’ was seen on the stern on its way to Portbury dock, Bristol. With the returning day-trippers on board, we left for the next leg of our trip, Minehead. Just after Lynmouth we sailed past the experimental Tidal Generator ‘SEAFLOW’ which could be the next large scale ‘energy farm’ we see off our coasts. The Bristol Channel is perfect as it has a constant 5-knot flow.
Back at Minehead the light was fading fast and the flashes of the numerous lighthouses could be seen along with many buoys making the deepwater route to Bristol. After picking up the ‘golfers’ we set off home. Our passage back to Penarth was delayed slightly as the ‘K-Line’ Car Carrier SIRIUS HIGHWAY loomed out of the darkness to drop his pilot. But we soon turned in back to the pier at Penarth at 21:45 to bring to an end our epic voyage.
For a fare of £39 and half for Matthew we got a spectacular 10 hour cruise on an original Bristol cruiser and 3 hour ramble on a beautiful enchanting island. A perfect way to spend my day-off, during the long school holiday.
Many Thanks to Captain Andy O’Brian and his crew of MV Balmoral.
Steve and Matthew Salter.