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The Old Light, Lundy

For a map, see the end of this article
Lundy is an island in the Bristol Channel of Great Britain, administered as part of Torridge district of the English county of Devon. It lies about a third of the way from the coast of Devon to that of South Wales. It is about 4.5 km long from north to south by 1 km wide, and is the largest island in the Bristol Channel. Lundy gives its name to the one of the British Sea Areas and is England's only statutory Marine Nature Reserve.


History and ownership

Lundy has evidence of visitation or occupation from the Neolithic period onward with mesolithic flintwork, bronze age burial mounds, inscribed celtic gravestones, and an early medieval monastry (possibly dedicated to St Elen or St Helen). Historically Lundy was the home of French and other pirates. It passed from aristocratic ownership to private ownership in the 19th century.

Martin Coles Harman bought the island of Lundy, the mail contract, as well as the MV Lerina, in October of 1925 after which he proclaimed himself a king. King Harman also issued two coins of Half Puffin and One Puffin value in 1929. It was this coinage that landed him in trouble. The House of Lords, in 1931, found him in violation of England's 1870 Coinage Act. He was fined ten pounds! The coins were withdrawn and became collectors items.

Residents did not pay taxes to England and had to pass through customs when they travelled to and from Lundy Island. The 1980 population was 34 people.

Following the death of Harmon's son in 1968, Lundy was sold in 1969 to the National Trust.

Although the island was ruled as a virtual fiefdom, its owner never claimed to be independent of the United Kingdom, so this can at best be described as a precursor to later territorial micronations.

It is now run by a charity called Landmark Trust. The Landmark Trust maintains properties on the island which are rented to tourists. The income from this is used to maintain the properties and the island.

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The Lundy ferry “Oldenburg” sails into Ilfracombe harbour, north Devon, past inflatable Thundercat powerboats waiting to begin an offshore race
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The harbour at Lundy

Transport to Lundy

Except in winter, there is a regular ferry service, operating from Bideford or Ilfracombe depending on the state of the tides, using the island's own ship, the MS Oldenburg. There is also a year- round helicopter service.


Tourism and postage stamps are the main parts of Lundy's economy. The Marisco Tavern, which used to brew its own beer, is located in Lundy village. Lundy is also used as a site for scientific research, and the south end of the island is operated as a farm. There are two working lighthouses on the island (and one historic disused one), so Trinity House staff also work on the island from time to time.

Lundy stamps

Due to a decline in population and lack of interest in the mail contract, the GPO ended its presence at the end of 1927. Following this, King Harman handled the mail to and from the Island for free. Eventually, he decided to offset the expense by issuing postage stamps November 1, 1929, with a value expressed in Puffins, one of the local birds.

Postage stamps had to be put on the back of the envelope to be accepted by the British postal authorities.

Various issues of stamps of increasing values were issued over the years including air mail.



Lundy's name is derived from the Norse lunde for the puffins that nest on the island. However, the numbers of these has decreased dramatically in recent years (the 2005 breeding popultaton is estimated to be only 2 or 3 pairs) as a consequence of depredations by rats and possibly also as a result of commercial fishing for sand eels, the puffin's principal prey.

As a fairly isolated island on major migration routes, Lundy has a rich bird life and is a popular site for birding. The list of species breeding on the island is long, and the list of those that have been seen on the island much longer. Among the commonest or most visible breeding species are:

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St. Helena's Church on Lundy Island


Lundy is home to an unusual range of mammals, almost all introduced. They include:

The usual farm animals can be added to this list. There is a distinct Lundy breed of wild pony.

Plant life

There is one endemic plant species, the Lundy Cabbage. The east side of the island has become overgrown by rhododendrons; constant, but unavailing, attempts are made to remove them. They are used as a daytime shelter by the sika deer.


The island is composed of a unique form of granite called Lundyite.


There are archaeological sites on the island, including some ancient graves.

Map of Lundy with inset maps of Great Britain and Bristol Channel
Map of Lundy with inset maps of Great Britain and Bristol Channel

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