Looe Island is just a mile offshore, but the short boat journey from the quayside at East Looe will transport you into what seems like a totally different time and place.
The island is owned and managed by the Cornwall Wildlife Trust and access is usually only permitted by using the authorised boat that runs from Buller’s Quay. The boat runs from Easter to September, two to three hours either side of high tide, and of course, weather conditions permitting.
The boat trip costs £7 return per adult and there’s also a landing fee of £4 per adult (July 2018).
So much for getting there, so what can you expect when you arrive? Well you’ll be met by one of the island’s wardens and then taken to the tractor shed where you’ll be given a run-down about the island and what there is to see. Basically, it’ll be a gentle stroll around the island following a trail that the Trust has made for visitors. They provide you with a map showing you the points of interest and description about the marine life that exists around the island.
You get to have around two hours on the island which is ample time to enjoy the trail in a leisurely fashion, and although the island is a delight to walk around, it’s the marine life that makes it special, thanks to it becoming a Volunteer Marine Conservation Area (VMCA) in 1995.
One of the tasks for the island’s volunteers is to monitor and survey the population of grey seals that live around the island and they’ll encourage you to photograph any that you may come across to help them in their work.
Incidentally, this is one part of the British coastline where unusually, the Crown doesn’t own the foreshore. Apparently, in 1873 the Prince of Wales (later to become Edward VII), sold the rights to pay off a gambling debt!
The reason that the island is so well cared for is thanks to a couple of sisters from Surrey. The Atkins sisters bought it in the 1960s and set about creating a wildlife haven. Evelyn wrote two books – ‘We bought an Island’ and ‘Tales from our Cornish Island’ which can still be bought today. She died in 1997 and her sister, Babs, carried on living here until she too died at the age of 86 in 2004. On her death she bequeathed the island to the Cornwall Wildlife Trust in order for it to be “preserved as a nature reserve in perpetuity”.
As you can well imagine, the history of the island goes back a lot further than the Atkins sisters. Some say that Joseph of Arimathea brought his son here, but even though there’s a connection with Glastonbury, nobody could prove that he actually did.
What can be said for certain is that the island was called St. Michael’s and then St. George’s Island from 1584 onwards – and even today it’s often referred to as St. George’s Island.
When you’ve come to the end of your visit the island crew have thoughtfully set up a table where you can have a cup of tea or coffee. It was a perfect end to our visit to the island – or at least it should have been. The island has the largest breeding colony of Great Black-Backed Gulls in Cornwall and one of the bazzards gave me a souvenir I’ll always remember but would rather forget.