Is Lundy Britain's most idyllic island?
In London, nights are accompanied by the rumble of cars and the glow of the city creeping through the curtains: reminders that life continues even when you’re asleep.
On Lundy, there’s nothing.
With the island’s generator off between midnight and six, you lie in bed in utter darkness, feeling as if you’re the only person left on Earth.
A few days into my stay on this remote granite outcrop off the coast of southwest England, I decided that if I did end up living the solitary life of my first night's storm-induced imaginings, then spending it on Lundy might not be too much of a hardship.
Although it'd take a bit of getting used to.
Lundy is just four kilometers long, half a kilometer wide and a choppy 16-kilometer boat ride from Bideford or Ilfracombe, Devon, on the mainland.
If the tides aren't right or the sea is too rough, you can't sail.
In winter, the only way to get there is by helicopter.
In summer it's the local supply ship.
I sit in the latter among crates of beer for the tavern, ice cream for the only shop and guttering for a family repairing their house.
Then we travel back in time.
Our destination has no roads, cars, cell phones, Internet or TV. It's a place where the outside world and the demands it makes are held at bay.
Here, all that’s expected is that you enjoy the scenery and sense of space.
On my first morning, however, when the alarm rings out, I have yet to discover the magic that enthusiasts (in my rental cottage’s visitors’ book) rave about.
I switch on the bedside light -- nothing. It's the generator’s curfew, which I’ve yet to get used to.
I stumble to the window and draw back the curtains. But all that seems to do is let in more darkness.
Lundy’s monstrous, Gothic-style church, St. Helena’s, built by a former owner of the island, looms outside.
A neat stonewall runs across scrubland, disappearing into the distance under a slither of moon.
It's 4 a.m., and I’m off to see the puffins by torchlight at Jenny’s Cove.
Lundy means “Puffin Island” in Old Norse, but a decade ago the birds were almost wiped out by rats, which eat their eggs. The vermin have now been eradicated and the birds are beginning to return.
At Jenny's Cove, the cliffs are thronged with guillemots and kittiwakes. Their cackling calls drown out the roar of the Atlantic, 120 meters below.
I bump into Nicola Saunders, the island’s warden, also up at this mad hour. (Lundy is run by the Landmark Trust, which preserves England's national heritage.)
She's crouched over a telescope, monitoring puffins.
“It's an incredible job,” she says. “A life I love. I can spend the whole day looking out to sea. But it's not for everyone.”
The puffins are as comical as you imagine. They waddle around, fussing, then whiz off over the waves.
The wind picks up; my stomach’s rumbling is a call to breakfast. But as often seems to be the case on Lundy, nature distracts me.
Is that a peregrine falcon soaring overhead? Was that the sound of a skylark?
And then there's a meandering track, leading northward.
On the island’s northernmost tip, steps lead to a small landing stage where gray seals are playing in the water.
They eye us, then put on a show, diving and resurfacing to the left and right, then watching to see how long we'll take to spot them.
The antics are followed by a processional swim. Long necks arch above the water, a line of miniature Loch Ness monsters.
Late afternoon brings more wildlife -- feral goats with curved horns and shaggy beards, the stubby Lundy pony and Japanese sika deer, introduced in the 1930s by an eccentric owner who had plans for a private wildlife park.
My four-kilometer trek to breakfast has taken me all day. My face is wind burned and I’m famished, but these seem like joyful signs of initiation into island life.
My mood is buoyed by the enthusiasm of those I meet -- a man who loves to read on the cliff tops; a couple who come for the stars; a family who leave their watches at home “and just walk ... the entire day.”
That’s what I've done, unintentionally, too.
Still, I make a final detour. I climb the spiral stairs to the top of the Old Light lighthouse, where in the toasty lantern gallery, faded deck chairs invite you to enjoy the sunset over the sea.
Then it's straight to one of the island's few taverns for some organically reared Lundy lamb. I sit surrounded by board games and outdoor types.
That evening, I return to the visitors' book in my cottage, a leather-bound tome dedicated to Lundy’s appeal.
It's not unusual for entries to span several pages. Most talk poetically and candidly about the island's personal draw.
“Oh, what a paradise,” one writer enthuses. “I’ve been coming every year for 34 years, to ease my anxiety away.”
“The only place,” confides another, “I feel civilized and sane.”
Strangely, after just a day on Lundy, the sentiments no longer seem as crazy as they did the night before.
I can’t yet match the intensity of the diarists' sentiments, but I'm beginning to understand what they mean.
To find out more about staying on Lundy Island, visit Lundyisland.co.uk.