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Studying Fungi on Lundy



This is the view from the dining table in Bramble Villa East, on Lundy. Not a bad place to have breakfast, especially when the weather is kind, as it mostly was for my week on the island. I was there partly to have a holiday, and partly to study fungi. The first couple of days I went for long walks around the island, visiting my favourite places and watching the wildlife.






There were several groups of climbers on the island, enjoying the classic sea cliff climbs now that the seabird nesting season is over.




Then the hard work began with the arrival of the Lundy fungus recorder, a wonderful mycology professor who had offered to help me improve my fungus identification, and teach me the necessary microscopy techniques.




We surveyed, and searched, and knelt, and examined, and photographed, and collected specimens, such as these stunning Parrot Waxcaps, which can be shades of yellow, orange, and even lilac, but always have some green on them as well.




After a morning collecting, we would then spend the afternoon studying the microscopic details of each fungus, and comparing them to the reference books and keys. This is a Bog Bell, found growing on damp sphagnum moss in the quarries.


Bog Bell


I learnt to cut fine sections of the gills and mount them. I learnt how to examine the structures that make up the cap of the fungus. I learnt how to measure the spores. It was fascinating, and by the end of the week I was getting quite competent. This is the Blackening Waxcap, which, as the name suggests, goes black if damaged, and also as it ages.


Blackening Waxcap


My mentor and I ran a guided walk for some of the visitors and island staff, showing them some of the grassland species that grow so well on the flat top of the island. Below is the Egghead Mottlegill, a tall fungus that looks like half a hen’s egg on a stick, and grows on dung.


Egghead Mottlegill


Puffballs are very common, and there were several different species, including this Dusky Puffball, which is covered in tiny dark spikes which rub off to leave a mosaic pattern.


Dusky Puffball


Not all of the grassland species are so large. The Golden Spindles are tiny, especially when they first appear, like these little ones.


Meadow Coral


Other parts of the island have their own different fungi. In the wooded copses on the east side we found woodland fungi such as this beautiful Porcelain Fungus.


Porcelain Fungus



I really enjoyed my five days immersed in the study of fungi, and feel better equipped now to identify any I find on my wanders.

All too soon, though, Saturday rolled round again, and the Oldenburg arrived to take me home.





Island of Flowers



Lundy is currently covered in flowers! There are sheets of bluebells on the East slopes, where the bracken grows up to cover them later in the year. And the Western cliffs are a carpet of thrift. I have never seen such large hummocks, in such a wide range of shades of candy pink. It was gorgeous!

We were staying for a few days with the committee of the Lundy Field Society, in Millcombe House, which is a lovely elegant rental property nestling in the valley above the Landing Bay.




As well as the thrift and bluebells, I found a few other interesting flowers, including the little blue Sheepsbit Scabious:




Yellow Pimpernel, which is very similar to the more common Scarlet Pimpernel, but yellow, as you would expect…




And Henbane, an interesting and extremely toxic plant!




As well as finding flowers, I managed to wander around most of the island, and with the weather being excellent, it all looked stunning!







We went over on the Oldenburg, as do most visitors in the summer, but not all….




Lundy is always beautiful, and always worth a visit, in my opinion, but if you are partial to a pink flower or two, May is definitely the month!



Come on a day trip to Lundy



There is great excitement in our house as it is the start of the Lundy day-trip season. In the winter, the island is served by helicopters, and day-trips are not allowed. But from now until the end of October, the Oldenburg, Lundy’s own ship, sails three times a week, giving lots of opportunities for a fabulous day out.

Based in Bideford, she often sails from Ilfracombe, where she can sail whatever the tide, but leaving at 10am and returning by 6pm gives you only 3 1/2 hours on the island. When she sails from Bideford, she has to sail on the high tide to clear the sand bar at the end of the Taw / Torridge Estuary, so you often get a much longer day trip.

Saturday was forecast pretty fair, with a ‘slight’ sea, and the sailing schedule promised a whopping 7 hours on the island, so we left at 7.30am for the short drive to Bideford, arriving in plenty of time for the recommended 8am check in time.


With about 150 passengers on board, some day-trippers like ourselves, and some staying for a few days in one of the 23 properties, we set sail on time, and in a bit of drizzle. That soon cleared and we had a lovely 2 hour crossing, watching out for seabirds such as guillemots, razorbills, shearwaters, gannets, and kittiwakes. No dolphins this time, but they are sometimes seen.


Down the gangway and onto the jetty, and finally we were back on Lundy for the first time since September. Shedding layers of warm clothing that keep one comfortable on the boat, we slowly climbed up the steep beach road, pausing often to take in the wonderful views down the island.

Most people head straight for the village, but we prefer to get walking, so we took the gateway that leads along the lower east side path.




Winding its way along the gentle slope of the east side, this path is often sheltered from the prevailing winds, and can be a good place to find migrant birds sheltering, as well as the sika deer.  There are few trees on the island, and all are on this gentler coast. Even here they are sculpted by the wind.




We followed the path as it clings to the slope, passing through copses of trees and shrubs that nestle in the sheltered valleys. Pausing frequently to watch the chiffchaffs and willow warblers feeding, we didn’t rush, just enjoying the beautiful day. We found a herd of 29 deer, including a couple of young stags, and some of last years youngsters.


The path brought us out onto the terraces, which are the remains of old granite workings. Quarries dot the side of the island, and a railway ran along the flat terrace to transport the rock. We found a comfortable flat rock, and stopped for a picnic lunch.





Continuing up the terraces, we found a male black redstart hopping around in the bushes in one of the quarries. An occasional spring visitor, it was a nice highlight of the birding.





At the end of the terraces you can curve back up onto the top of the island, but we chose to continue down the east side. We only saw one other couple all the time we were on the east side, so it shows how peaceful it can be compared to some of the more popular spots on the island.




This coast is also an excellent place to see the grey seals that live and breed on Lundy, and we counted 24 during the day.





The path leads to Gannets Combe, a deep valley that separated the southern body of the island from the more rugged North End. We didn’t have time to carry on to the North, so we headed inland.





The island is about 3 miles long but a maximum of 1/2 mile wide, so it doesn’t take long to cross the flat top to the other side. The west is much steeper and rockier than the east, and often much windier as well. We found a spot with a view, and stopped for a drink and a snack.




Walking south now down the broad grassy paths on top of the west side , we passed an old mill stone, a reminder that people have lived on Lundy for a very long time, and there are many archaeological finds for those interested in history.




There is always plenty to see on Lundy, and we found flocks of the wild soay sheep, a few of the feral goats, and these two Lundy ponies.





We made it to Jenny’s cove, the most famous seabird colony on the west side, and sat down to watch the guillemots flying onto and off the breeding ledges. There were plenty of razorbills in rafts on the water, and we were lucky enough to see a few puffins too. It is still early in the year for puffins, and they will arrive in increasing numbers over the next few weeks.






Continuing back down the west side of the island, we passed through the jumbled rocks of the ‘earthquake’, and could soon see the tower of the Old Light, which marks the start of the southern end of the island.




The southern end is a working farm, and the sheep have just started lambing.




The Old Light was built on the top of the island to keep shipping away from Lundy’s treacherous rocks, but when it was finished they realised that it was so often fog bound as to be useless. Two new lighthouses were built lower down on the northern and southern tips, and the Old Light was retired. Now it forms two pleasant holiday cottages in the main building, and everyone is welcome to climb the tower and relax in the pair of deckchairs inside the lantern.




We headed back through the fields towards the village, where we had some much-needed refreshment in the Marisco Tavern.





Sadly it was time to head back down the valley to the jetty to rejoin the Oldenburg at 6pm for the return journey. The weather was absolutely glorious for 1st April, and we were able to cover a large part of the coastline during the day, so we had thoroughly enjoyed our day.





with everyone safely aboard we set sail for the return crossing to Bideford. As we sailed, the sun sank behind us, streaking the sky with pinks and oranges.






Back on the quayside at Bideford after an uneventful but chilly journey, we headed to the fish and chip shop for the traditional post-crossing dinner, before heading home. It was a perfect Lundy day out.

Discover Lundy – a week of learning



Having spent a week volunteering on Lundy, I then moved into Bramble Villa West with my husband and another couple, and spent the next week taking part in Discover Lundy. This is a week of walks, talks and activities run by the Lundy Field Society, for the LFS members, which takes place every 4 or 5 years. Many of the members of the LFS are eminent scientists, or amateur specialists in their own fields, or have accumulated much Lundy knowledge, and this week gives the other members a chance to learn from them.




We had a fungus talk followed by a foray which had us all on hands and knees learning about all the weird and wonderful fungi that are to be found. The one below is a waxcap of some sort…




There was a plant talk and walk, which showed me some treasures that I had walked right past before and never noticed. Inspired by this, I then kept my eyes open whenever I was walking the island, and I found this little Rock Sea-spurrey, smaller than my little fingernail.




There was an archaeology walk, and a migrant bird talk and walk, all of which took people all round the island. And on every walk we saw plenty of interesting things, not always all of the kind we were supposed to be looking at!


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The invertebrates walk had us all hunting for bugs, beetles and suchlike, which was different, but was also an opportunity to ask others for help identifying all the colourful caterpillars that I had photographed during the week.




This is a Fox Moth caterpillar, which is extremely common on Lundy.




This is a Broom Moth caterpillar, and it doesn’t have a light shining out of its head – that is the LED flash round my macro lens.




I think this chap is a Brown-tailed moth.

One of the most fascinating activities was the rock-pooling, where we explored under boulders at the lowest point of the tide, and found all sorts of interesting things, including a gripfish clinging to the rock, and lots of crabs.





As well as the more normal red beadlet anemones there were some huge strawberry anemones.




I was very interested in the cushion stars – two of the larger species on a rock, and one of a tiny species that someone found and put in a dish for us all to see.


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There was pond dipping, bird-ringing demonstrations, photography workshops, a golf tournament on the rough moorland ( I came second!), and a bake-off. The challenge was to make something with the limited resources of the cottage kitchens, and with the limited ingredients stocked by the shop. I made a double chocolate ganache cake, which I was pleased with, even if it didn’t get placed.




The evenings were also full, with astronomy, moth trapping, catching nocturnal shearwaters, a film night, a play, a quiz and a formal dinner.

The week was extremely busy, but absolutely fascinating, and I will appreciate my favourite little island all the more now that I know a lot more about it.

Cute fluffy babies, and other animals

One of my favourite Lundy activities is mammal watching. Yes, I also birdwatch, and there can be some excellent birds on Lundy, but I can do that anywhere. Lundy offers opportunities for mammal watching that are not normally available. Seals, for example, are easily seen either in the water, or hauled out. On our walk to the north end, see  my blog, we saw several snoozing happily on a flat rock. We were also lucky enough to see a porpoise fairly close in, while we were sitting watching the sea, low down on the west side.

There are also Lundy ponies to track down and admire, who have the run of the North end of the Island. Visitors are warned that they may bite and kick, but I ‘speak horse’, i.e. I know how to sidle up to them and see if any are  interested in meeting me, and can tell when they are not. So I always manage a bit of scratching time. (Me scratching the pony…)

Also roaming the top half of the island is next year’s burgers…




These guys are a fairly recent addition to the farm, and seem to be a success so far, especially now that the first offspring is on the menu in the Tavern. There is something very satisfying about eating meat that lived its entire life on the island. The farm also has pigs and a lot of sheep, although these live in the fields in the southern half of the island. Plenty of cute lambs at this time of year!




There are ‘wild’ animals to find too – a herd of Sika deer can be seen almost anywhere on the island, but are most reliably found on the east side, where they are fairly unafraid of people walking past gently.





Less wild, but equally interesting are the feral goats and their ridiculously cute kids.






We watched this family playing for ages, and then two young males started to size each other up…



The last of the herd animals are the soay sheep. A rare breed, I believe, but doing very well on Lundy, with lots of the most adorable lambs…




As with the deer and goats, they do so well the numbers need to be reduced regularly, so all of these feature on the tavern menu. The roast soay was delicious.

Last but not least, I couldn’t resist a picture of this lady. Not sure Lundy duck has ever been on the menu, nor duck eggs, so not sure what purpose she serves, but she was waddling around the farm quite contentedly.




So we had a great week finding all these animals, and a few good birds too, including a short-eared owl, a cuckoo, and a ring-ouzel, all just passing through on migration. We walked all over the island, often in a sharpish wind, and spent the one rainy day curled up in our cottage playing a fascinating new board game. Our crossing home was as sunny and calm as the first one, so was a fine end to the holiday.

A few days on Lundy, my favourite island



We enjoyed the 90 minute crossing to Lundy last Tuesday on the MS Oldenburg, the Lundy supply ship, on a beautiful sunny day. Hats and gloves were needed to counteract a chilly breeze, but we didn’t have to layer up in waterproofs, and we stayed on deck for the crossing, eating bacon sandwiches and drinking coffee. No cetaceans this time, but we saw a few razorbills, guillemots and puffins once we neared the island.

Not everyone is as lucky with their crossings! By the Oldenburg’s next scheduled arrival on Thursday, the wind had become a stiff easterly, which is the worst wind for Lundy, as it blows right into the otherwise sheltered landing bay. We watched her as she approached the island, looking fairly stable, but as she turned into the bay the waves were catching her side-on, and she started to wallow about. She made it to the jetty, but was plunging up and down so much they couldn’t secure the passenger gangway, so they aborted the landing! Instead they took her around to the sheltered side of the island until later in the afternoon, when the wind had dropped a little, and the tide was lower, when they managed to tie up and offload the passengers and supplies.




The island is  long, narrow, and flat-topped, with a gently sloping grassy east side, and a more precipitous, rocky west side The beach road winds gently up a valley from the beach to the village on the top of the island.




We stayed in one of the rental cottages, just below the village and handy for the tavern, but with fantastic views back down the valley to the sea. They have fully equipped kitchens, but we usually eat in the tavern in the evenings, as the food is so good.




After some very tasty island born and bred soay casserole, we wandered over to see the Anthony Gormley sculpture, Daze IV, which has been on the island for the last year. It is one of five life-sized sculptures placed near the centre and at four compass points of the UK in a commission by the Landmark Trust to celebrate its 50th anniversary. It is due to be removed soon, and despite my initial misgivings when it was first suggested, I think it has been good for the island and I will be sad to see it missing in September.




The next day was just as sunny, but with a very stiff breeze, so we dressed warmly, put on sun cream (typical for Lundy to be wearing a thermal hat and  factor 50 on the cheeks…) and headed up the island towards the north end.




Pondsbury is the biggest pond on the island, and is good for birds, but there are several other small pools dotted about.  This is quarter wall pond. We stopped at Jenny’s Cove which is the main puffin colony, and with the aid of decent binoculars found 8 puffins sitting on the cliffs, and 36 in the sea. They are just settling in to breed at this time of year, and by July there will be at least a couple of hundred buzzing around bringing sand eels to their chicks.

Finally arriving at the north end we found a sheltered spot for a picnic, watching the migrating wheatears and swallows, and counting the seals lazing on a flat rock below.




Walking straight back down the centre of the island takes only about an hour or so, so we had a relaxed afternoon reading before heading to the tavern for dinner. A perfect Lundy day.


To be continued…