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Visit Looe Island and take a tour with Cornwall Wildlife Trust

Until 2004, Looe Island was a mystery to visitors & local. Then it was bequeathed to the Cornwall Wildlife Trust & now offers visitors guided tours.
Every visitor to in southeast Cornwall will have spotted the island lying just a mile offshore from Hannafore Point and no doubt wondered who lived there. From 1965 until 2004 it was privately owned by two spinster sisters, Babs and Evelyn Atkins. Babs was a teacher in Looe and Evelyn wrote two books about their experience of buying and living on the island. Although it is within sight of the mainland, island life could be extremely difficult, especially when stormy seas cut off the sisters for weeks at a time with no communications or transport.

Evelyn died at the age of 87 in 1997, but her doughty sister continued to live on the island until her death in 2004, when the island was bequeathed to the to be preserved as a nature reserve.

Take a Trip to Looe Island Nature Reserve

Visitors now get the chance to visit (also known as St George’s Island) in the spring and summer and explore the 22-acre nature reserve. The best way to learn about the history of the island is by booking a guided tour with a ranger which includes the return boat trip from Looe Harbour.

Looe Island has a mild maritime climate with frost and snow being very rare. Although there are the remains of many historic buildings, the island has no roads, shops or traffic of any kind. It really is a haven of natural beauty and is a breeding site for grey seals and many seabirds. The island measures one mile in circumference and the highest point is just 47 metres (154 feet) above sea level.

Visitors can enjoy the two beaches where there is safe bathing and a natural swimming pool in the rocks. Explore the caves and coves around the island, go for woodland walks with nature or go fishing from the rocks during your visit.

Looe Island (St Georges Island) history

The island still has the remains of a Benedictine chapel which stood on the island from 1139. Lammana Priory was occupied by two monks until 1289 and at that time the island was controlled by Glastonbury Abbey. The priory eventually was replaced by a chapel which became the property of the Crown with the Dissolution of the Monasteries in 1536 by Henry VIII. At that time Looe Island was known as St Michael’s Island but in 1584 it was renamed St George’s Island.

Other remnants of early settlement include the remains of amphora storage vessels and stone boat anchors which show visitors came to the island as long ago as the Iron Age. In more recent history, the island was well frequented by smugglers dodging the high excise duties levied on spirits and other luxury imports.

Tips for visiting Looe Island

Trips to the island must be prebooked through the Cornwall Wildlife Trust and places are limited. The boat leaves the RNLI slipway on Buller’s Quay and the 20-minute boat ride transports visitors to the island where they are met by the ranger. Times are dependent upon the changing tide. Boat trip and landing fees cost around £10.

First stop is the Visitor Centre where there is information about the history of the island. You can occupy yourself for the full two hours before the boat returns, or spend part of the time on a one hour guided tour with the ranger (additional cost) and learn about how the sisters lived without mains water or electricity. There is also a fascinating slide show in Jetty Cottage.

Looe Island has no café or shops, so it’s advisable to bring your own picnic and drinks as well as binoculars to spot seals, boats and birds. Wild flowers and butterflies abound in summer in the grassland areas and woodland. It makes a memorable trip and helps fund the work of the Trust on the island and the surrounding Cornish coast.

Have you visited Looe Island? Was it as remote as you expected? We’d love to hear your comments about this unusual nature reserve.

About Gillian Birch

Born in Cheshire, Gillian Birch moved to Cornwall at her earliest opportunity and never looked back. After 20 years, her ongoing discovery of popular attractions, quiet footpaths and local eateries has made her a fount of knowledge as she entertains readers with her informative articles on the hidden gems of Devon & Cornwall from a local point-of-view.

Find Gillian on Google+, and Twitter.

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