If you take the lower East Side path northwards from Quarry Beach you'll notice that where the granite has been quarried from the cliff-face the remaining rock has developed black and dark-brown patina. This is due to wind-born micro-organisms, such as microcolonial fungi and bacteria, which have attached themselves to these relatively sheltered rock walls. The organisms capture traces of Manganese from the rain, fog and dew to produce Manganese-rich secretions which help them attach themselves to the surface which produces this "varnished" effect.
You also get patches of more colourful patina on the West Coast, which are similarly caused but in this case the organisms use Iron rather than Manganese (last pic).
Similar-looking patina have been observed on the Martian rocks by the probes, Viking and Pathfinder, but because the probes weren't equipped to take samples scientists are unable to determine whether these are organic or mineral varnishes, nor whether they originated on Lundy or vice-versa.
BTW Mars is not, as yet, on the Oldenburg's sailing schedule - HA!
If you descend to the lower East Coast path from Quarry Pool and head northwards you pass the sites where the granite was excavated during the brief existence of the Lundy Granite Company (1863-68). The broad footpath here was the tramway along which the hewn blocks were transported to be loaded onto ships at Quarry Beach.
The first major excavation site is now known as VC Quarry and a memorial here marks the death in action of Martin Coles Harman's eldest son, John, for whom this was a favourite childhood spot.
John Pennington Harman was born in Beckenham, Bromley on the 20th July 1914 and moved to Lundy with his father after the latter's purchase of the Island in 1924. Although privately educated John Harman wasn't an academic and as a young man spent several years travelling and doing labouring jobs, most notably in New Zealand as a lumberjack and Australia as a sheep shearer.
With the Second World War underway he returned to Lundy in 1940 and joined the army soon afterwards. Given his background he probably could have joined as an officer but preferred to enlist, initially with the Fusiliers and then was transferred to the West Kents. A poignant anecdote illustrating young Harman's purposeful decision to enlist comes from his former commanding officer Major Donald Easten.
It seems John had jokingly mentioned in one of his letters home that,
"...he thought it funny that the British Army hadn't got a pair of boots to fit him...his father took it up directly with Churchill. So a signal came whistling back, "Why hasn't this chap got any boots?" That was the time I discovered that his father was this rich influential man. Harman was most upset about that. He apologised and said that he'd never write and tell his father anything like that again, he didn't want to get any of us into trouble."
From "Forgotten Voices of the Victoria Cross", Robert Bailey.
The action during which John Harman was killed, and for which he was awarded the Victoria Cross, was the Siege of Kohima (from 5th to 18th April 1944) on the India/Burma border. This battle is now considered as the turning point of the war against the Japanese in the Indian/Burmese theatre. It involved about a thousand men of the 161st Indian Brigade, which included the West Kents, holding out for 13 days against a full Division of Japanese infantry and artillery - estimated to have been over 12,000 troops in all.
This made for a very interesting bit of research in that the accounts leading up to his posthumous award vary so much in detail. Trying to summarise, this is the events as I see them.
In the first few days of the siege the British and Indian troops were forced to retreat on several occasions. On the 7th April Harman, who was now a lance-corporal, was in a forward position on a hill as a sniper. He saw a Japanese machine gun crew setting up in a position that would give them a potentially devastating field of fire. Disregarding his own safety he sprinted about 35 yards with a grenade in hand until he reached the trench they had occupied, after pulling the pin he counted down to the last second before tossing it into the position resulting in its annihilation and the capture of the gun.
The following day, as the Japanese attempted another advance, he spotted five Japanese troops taking over a trench in front of him. He instructed his Bren gunner to give him covering fire and, once again single-handedly, stormed their position, this time with only his rifle and bayonet.
In this too he was successful but as he retreated back to his own lines he was mortally wounded by a burst of enemy rifle fire. According to one account his last words were, "I’ve got to go. It was worth it – I got the lot."
Having saved the hill from premature capture and for his inspirational effect on the rest of his company, his commanding officer, Major Easten, recommended him for the Victoria Cross. This was approved by King George VI on the 20th June 1944.
The memorial was commissioned by his father and unveiled on 20th June 1949, on the fifth anniversary of the VC award.
The small graveyard next door to the Old Light is thought to date back to the 5th century when supposition has it that Lundy was home to a minor monastic community. One of the archaeologists who has investigated the cemetery, Charles Thomas, believes that one of the earliest graves was that of St Nectan of Hartland whose remains were disinterred and transported back to the mainland to be relocated at Hartland whose church is dedicated to him.
There are the remains of a chapel here, whose origins are undated, but it had been a ruin for many centuries until finally demolished by an Ordnance Survey team who used the stone to build a cairn in 1804.
The existing graves are mostly those of the previous owners of Lundy, the 19th century Heaven family and the 20th century Harmans. The last person to be buried here was Felix Gade, a former Island agent, who died in 1978 after 52 years as an Islander - his book "My Life On Lundy" is a fascinating historical document charting the years with the Harmans and then the redevelopment by the Landmark Trust.
As well as the graves there are also a set of four inscribed standing stones, three of whom have Latin text and the fourth Brittonic. No-one is quite sure whether these are grave markers or not as no graves are associated with them and so they may have been moved from elsewhere on the Island to their present position. An archaeologically-minded friend suggests that perhaps they were pre-Christian grave markers which were moved to the "right place" after the Christianisation of the Island.
So Beacon Hill is a very typical Lundy thing - lots of maybe's!
For a couple of interesting commentaries check out these websites:
On my last trip out with Clive on the Jessica Hettie (leaving from the jetty) I noticed something apparently chasing the boat as we rounded the northwest point. It seemed to be chasing us at a rate of knots as we looped round but fell behind as our course straightened southwards.
I managed to get a few pics, all of which were blurry to varying degrees - well, it is kinda difficult to get a good, clean photo of a moving object from a moving boat in choppy seas -the best pic was this one.
I was sure it was of some sort of sea creature. It definitely had seemed to be chasing the boat and as the pic shows it was producing quite a sizeable bow wave.
Having posted it on FB the consensus amongst my friends was that it was something turtle-ish ( -esque, -ey and several other suitably turtle-orientated adjectives).
However when I sent the pic to our warden at the time, Derren, he got back to me to tell me that it's a buoy! (This was when I broke out the cigars LOL) A buoy probably attached to a lobster pot, a bit knobbly, seaweeded and barnacled, and the appearance of movement is due to the five knot rip current caused by the confluence of the Atlantic and the Bristol Channel.
Ach well, maybe he's right, but me, I still think it IS a sea monster!! Buoys are boring (as opposed to guirls) ;-P
Despite there being nothing to west of my Island except about 4,000 miles of Atlantic Ocean until landfall at Newfoundland and Labrador we do get the most amazing sunsets. Not only are views out to sea spectacular when there's interesting cloud formations but also inland when my Island's own features provide a foredrop.
One of my favourite places to take sunset pics is from the light room on top of the Old Light and you can multiple reflections bouncing off the glass panes so that it seems the sun is setting all around you.
The pics here were taken at the following locations: #1 - Ponsdbury, which is about halfway up, just before Halfway Wall. #2 - From the field in front of the Old Light. #3 - From the light room on top of the Old Light. #4 - From the track heading from the village up to the Old Light (which at the time was being repainted, hence the scaffold).
And of course the sunset bathes the whole Island with its light, subtly altering the colours and turning the commonplace into yet another unique vista - as #5 shows.
Fondest memory: For more sunsets visit my travelogues by clicking SUNSETS :-)
Lundy has been the cause of many a shipwreck over the years and to that end a group of Bristol-based merchants proposed the building of a lighthouse in the early 1800's. This was completed in 1819 and its operation taken over by Trinity House, who are responsible for the navigational aids around the British coast, with the light being switched on early the following year.
However the island is often fogbound which rendered the light invisible and so Trinity House had a gun battery built on the west side, just below what is now known as the Old Light. This was staffed by two keepers and their familes for whom a pair of back-to-back cottages were built. On foggy days the keepers fired a canon from the gun emplacement at ten minute intervals to warn passing shipping of the island's presence.
As a minor digression: the keepers' families were supposed to be limited to their respective wives and a maximum of two children each. However there were a lot of non-foggy days and no TV or much of anything else to pass the time and so both families ended up with an estimated seven or eight children each. When the Trinity House overseers came to visit the excess kids would be sent off to hide around the island. The only problem the keepers had was trying to remember which pair of children they had presented the last time.
This became redundant in 1897 when the South and North lights were built, both of which had foghorns as well as their beacons.
Because of its difficult to reach location, down a steep path which can be treacherous when wet, the cottages too fell into disuse and are now ruins. However this is still a very popular spot for us locals and for visitors as the views are spectacular both to seaward and up and down the coast and when the wind is coming from the west or southwest is an amazingly sheltered spot which can be great for sunbathing on the odd day that we actually get some sun.
Definitely the most photographed object on my Island is the Old Light which stands atop the highest point of Beacon Hill, at an elevation of 469 feet above sea level.
Lundy had always been a hazard to shipping and records going back to the 15th century indicate that our granite rock has caused the destruction of literally hundreds of vessels due to the unpredictable currents, storms and rip tides - check out this website - http://www.lerwill-life.org.uk/history/wrecksnd.htm. With the rise of the importance of trade for the Channel ports in the late 18th and early 19th centuries, especially that of Bristol itself, a group of Bristol merchants proposed building a lighthouse at their own expense.
This was finally completed by the designer Joseph Nelson in 1819 with the building materials being quarried and shaped from the very granite that necessitated its existence. The light was commissioned on the 21st February 1820 but was soon identified as inadequate for the job. The problem was that because it had been built on the highest point, plus the 96 feet of the tower itself which made the lantern house over 500 feet above sea level, the light was often obscured by fog which settles above the plateau even when it is perfectly clear at sea level.
Firstly the light was relocated to the building's base but this was still too high. Then in 1869 the fog signal battery was established, on the West coast, with two keepers responsible for firing a cannon at ten minute intervals when the mist descended (see tip above - http://members.virtualtourist.com/m/p/m/222a7c/ ).
However even the sound of the cannon could be rendered inaudible by the violence of the frequent Atlantic storms which is of course one of the times when some sort of warning signal was necessary.
Trinity House, who had taken over the light's operation, finally decided to close it down and built the North and South Lights at much lower elevations at each end of the island. These were completed in 1897 and the Beacon Hill Light became the Old Light.
Fondest memory: After the takeover of Lundy by the National Trust and the subsequent leasing to the Landmark Trust the Old Light has been tidied up and the former keepers' cottages turned into letting accommodation. The tower is left permanently open for visitors who feel energetic enough to master the 147 (sometmes very steep) steps to the lantern chamber. Once there you get a 360 degree panorama of the whole island (provided it's not foggy!), and if you want a rest after the ascent there's a couple of deck chairs on the former light platform.
There's also an observation deck which runs around the outside of the lantern room which is kept locked but a key is available from the Tavern reception provided you sign a disclaimer.
Even if you don't climb up it is still eminently photographable from the outside and as I've discovered you can catch it in an infinite variety of poses - see pics:
The word "awesome" is a word that I hate to hear being used frivolously. To my mind it should be reserved as the superlative of superlatives and not applied to mundane things like "Awesome body" or "Awesome football game" & etc.
The first time I found a true use for the term was when I visited the Grand Canyon, the first sight of which literally took my breath away.
Yesterday, travelling between my Island and Ilfracombe on the MS Oldenburg, I found myself using the word unsarcastically for the second time. I was on my way to Bergamo for Eurmeet and in a good mood anyway and sharing my boat trip with a colleague who was leaving us was kinda poignant but fun as we shared a few beers.
Matt was just saying how he had often spotted dolphins during the crossing when suddenly a large pod of them surfaced and began frollicking alongside and around the boat. It was AWESOME - their sleekly-beautiful black bodies flashing in the early evening sunlight as the mirrored swell of the sea released them and re-engulfed them.
There must have been dozens of them, maybe even hundreds, as they gave us an unforgettable spectacle. We enjoyed them immensely and strangely I got the feeling that they too were out to enjoy themselves and the mutual pleasure was almost tangible in the sea air.
WOW - AWESOME, AWESOME, AWESOME!!!
Even visitors who appreciate my Island often ask the questions - "But what do you guys do all the time? Surely there's only so much to discover? Once you've walked a certain path so many times, surely you've seen everything?"
That's Lundy's mystery. Whilst it's an Island where to a large extent time stands still, it is also an Island where everything is in constant flux. The weather, the light, the wind...these are never the same from day-to-day, nor even from minute-to-minute.
One afternoon, recently, I was down at The Battery. The sky was cloudless, piercingly blue, the air still and the Atlantic calmly lapping against the West Coast's cliffs bases. Then without warning the wind whipped up a hoolie, the sea boiled, and from far out a rolling bank of almost black mist rushed shorewards. Within minutes I could hardly see my hand in front of my face, the air had become chill and dank whilst the wind-driven water crashed deafeningly against the jagged rocks below.
Then as fast as it had arrived it had gone, leaving only a patch of cotton-wool-like mist suspended in the ravine behind me.
The set of pics here tries to capture the sequence - the total time elapsed is 18 minutes between pic #1 and #5 (3.11 to 3.29 pm)
Another of Martin Coles Harman's introductions to my Island are the Sika Deer. These were imported from Japan, which has quite a large population - the word Shika is Japanese for deer.
Despite having no natural predators here these animals tend to be quite timid, although they are inquisitive. Quite often they'll watch you from a distance but as soon as you try to approach them off they'll scamper. The Sika fit our eco-system because they are foragers, rather than grazers, and so don't compete with either the Soay or the domesticated sheep.
With no predators, the deer, just like the Soay, are a successful breed and so need culling a couple of times a year. These too end up in my freezer and hence on the plates at the Marisco Tavern. I get all sorts of cuts from them including haunches for roasting, shoulders for braising, fillets and loins which make for delicious a-la-carte dishes, racks for special occasions, plenty of diced bits for stews and casseroles and then everything that's left gets minced for my Island speciality "Lundy Stalker's Pie" (a variation on the Shepherd's/Cottage Pie).
Lundy has a fluctuating rabbit population which peaks roughly every five years before mixomatosis virtually wipes them out. Black rabbits were introduced for breeding to supply fresh meat probably when the quarrying operation was under way under the Heaven's stewardship in the late 1800's. There was probably a native population at the time too and the two have interbred.
Despite regular culling the population can reach an estimated 15,000 at which point they become not just a nuisance but also that is the level at which the population becomes unsustainable and susceptible to disease. When this happens the population plummets to a couple of hundred leaving dead animals liberally scattered around the Island which makes for a feast for scavenging birds such as crows.
The diseased animals are not eaten, but the ones that are culled are and when I've got them into a pie, or casserole, they go.
Rabbits, of course being rabbits, the population soon recovers and the cycle repeats itself.
The ponies here were another of Martin Coles Harman's introductions. In 1928 he purchased a small herd of New Forest mares and by selective breeding developed animals which were hardy enough to cope with the harsh conditions of Island life. The ponies are now recognised as a breed in their own right and despite being removed from my Island in 1980 were reintroduced in 1984.
Whilst they are allowed to range freely around the Island they are also looked after by the farmer and rangers who keep an eye out for any which require veterinary treatment or shoeing. The costs of their upkeep is partly met by donations and collecting boxes can be found in the Tavern and at Reception.
These we don't eat simply because I don't reckon "Roast Lundy Pony" would go down well on my menu boards!
We're not exactly sure when the goats were introduced to Lundy but they were probably domesticated farm animals, kept for their milk, as these would have suited the Island better than having milking cattle - the cattle requiring much more water.
The goats are now totally feral and free to roam all over the Island. We do though try to keep them away from the Southeast corner as they will eat the Lundy Cabbage which grows there. As with the Soay and Sika the population has no natural predators and so annual culling of these is necessary.
Once again they end up in my freezer and on the plate for dinner at the tavern. Goat meat is surprisingly sweet and very un-goaty. The flesh tastes very similar to lamb, but is much leaner, and all the cuts that we use from our lamb are replicated using the goat - they especially make for a delicious Jamaican "Curried Goat" which I serve up regularly with the traditional "Rice 'n Peas" accompaniment.
The Soay Sheep here on Lundy were introduced by Martin Coles Harman soon after he purchased the Island in 1924. Martin Coles was a keen naturalist, as well as being a bit of an eccentric, and imported the sheep from St Kilda where they are an indigenous species.
The Soays are particularly hardy and have been allowed to become pretty much feral. They are particularly useful for the Island's eco-system because they are very agile and sure-footed and so graze places where the domesticated sheep can't access. They are such a successful breed that they need annual culling and of course being Lundy they end up in my freezer and then on the dinner plates at the Marisco Tavern.
Being quite small animals the normal lamb cuts don't work for them and so I tend to simply use the legs for general roasting, most of the other bits get diced for stews and casseroles and minced they make an excellent "Shepherd's Pie" - although being feral they don't actually get shepherded.
We had to get special dispensation from Parliament to use them for eating purposes and to slaughter and butcher them here on site. One of the restrictions we do have is that we are not allowed to use, or even cut through, any of the bones connected to the brain and spine, to prevent possible transmission of "scrapie". That means we don't get thing like chops from them but such is life, they're still excellent eating and much leaner than our Island lamb.
Now that winter is approaching (this is being written Nov 2012) one of the things I look forward to when I 'm on the early shift is catching the dawn breaking over the North Devon coast. My commute to work, all 100 yards of it, is such that I don't see the dawn until I get to the laundry room and then BOOM! Then I have to rush back and grab the camera.
As with our sunsets I can get some amazing pics simply by using my Island's own features as foredrops as well as the pics where the coast provides the composition.
I also love the way the light alters my perception - the last pic is from inside the Tavern illuminated by that day's dawn.