At Lundy Island leave the modern world behind and delve into the past. It was formerly home to Viking chieftains, pirates and the insane nemesis of Walter Raleigh
The rugged Lundy Island, lying just off the coast of north Devon, offers a microcosm of British history within its barely-two square mile area. Archaeological finds here, dating back to the Neolithic or Early Bronze Age, suggest that the island has been inhabited for around 3,000 years, and the grassy remains of some prehistoric houses can still be made out in the northern plateau.
Lundy Island may have come under attack during the Viking raids on Devon, Bristol and Wales that took place in the eighth and ninth centuries. The Viking chieftain, Hubba, led a raid on North Devon from Wales in 878 and was killed near Appledore on the coast of the mainland. An area known as the Giants’ Graves on Lundy is rumoured to be his resting place.
The most obvious historical influence on the island, by virtue of the fact that the village tavern is named after them, is the de Marisco family. The de Mariscos were Normans who bought Lundy in 1166 and then hung grimly onto it despite royal attempts to grant it to the Templars. Over the next few centuries, especially in the 17th, Lundy was used as a pirate base for raids on ships travelling up the Bristol Channel.
The mainland locals didn’t let it go without a fight, however – a particularly feisty band of Clovelly fishermen once succeeded in routing an entire pirate gang and burning their ships.
Rather more sombrely, the island was later offered as a safe haven for Sir Lewis Stukeley, the man who became a social outcast after his arrest of Sir Walter Ralegh. Sir Lewis died, insane, on Lundy in 1620.
The island then entered a period of decline and was evidently so unappealing that around the turn of the 19th century it was bought for a mere £700 by a man named De Vere Hunt. His son, however, literally gambled it away to a rather surprised and reluctant victor, who then spent several years trying to sell his unwanted winnings.
In 1834 Lundy Island was purchased as a family home by Sir William Hudson Heaven, who built the first road on the island as well as an elegant house named Millcombe. The family then remained on the island for over 80 years, presiding over its most prosperous period, and their legacy is apparent from the numerous gravestones in the cemetery. It was around this period that the writer Charles Kingsley visited the island, which he later described in his novel Westward Ho!
Lundy Island was bought by the National Trust via a private donation in 1969, and is maintained by the Landmark Trust. Visitors to the island can stay in a wide range of accommodation, from the keep of a castle built in 1244 to the aforementioned Millcombe,
for a truly historical experience.
Don’t miss: the early medieval Christian burial stones in the Beacon Hill cemetery that is by the Old Light.