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St. George's or Looe Island

St.George's or Looe Island seen from west - the heavy weather side - buildings, daffodil fields and woods are on the other side, sheltered from the prevailing south-westerlies. Photo: R.J.Tarr 1999
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Sisters' island dream

Back in 1965 sisters Babs and Evelyn Atkins dreamed of owning their own island and had the determination to achieve that dream. The island in question lies about one mile off the south Cornwall coast near Looe - it is of outstanding natural beauty, of 22.5 acres in area and one mile in circumfrence. The highest point is 150 feet above sea level.. The island has magnificent sea and coastal viewsstretching from Prawle Point in Devon to the Lizard Peninsula. With frost and snow virtually unknown it has an exceptionally mild climate. Daffodils bloom at Christmas and, unlike most small islands, it is partly wooded. A natural sanctuary for sea and woodland birds and one time haunt to smugglers, its known history includes a Benedictine chapel built in 1139 of which only a few stones remain visible. Legend has it that Joseph of Arimethea landed here with the child Christ.

The island is normally only accessible by boat but on just one or two days a year there is usually a tide low enough for the journey to be made by foot across the rocky sea floor - you need expert help to make the journey by the shortest and easiest route and there's no time to linger before the tide rushes in again.

St. George's Island seen from the coastal path between Looe and Talland. Photo: R.J.Tarr, 1999 The doughty ladies lived full-time on the island ever since acquiring it. In summer it can be a balmy paradise, but in winter things are very different, with wild storms, sea spray sometimes going right over the island. Sometimes the boatman who is the island's lifeline is unable to approach the island or to land for days or even weeks. When the ladies first moved to the island, one was a teacher in Looe and had to stay on the mainland during the week and could only go to the island at weekends - and sometimes not then. Her sister Babs lived entirely alone on the island at these times and for some time there was no method of communicating other than flags and hand-signals. These days the ubiquitous mobile phone enables an ease of communication un-dreamt of in their early days.

Miss Evelyn Atkins wrote two books about the purchase of the island and what it is like to live there (see below for details). She died in 1997 at the age of 87 but her sister Babs has continued to live on the island.

The island is open to day visitors (landing fee payable) in the Summer. This is a non-profit making venture, the landing fees and other income being devoted to conserving the island's natural beauty and to providing facilities for visitors without commercialising it in any way. There are no roads, no shops and no traffic. There is safe bathing, fishing, two beaches, a natural rock swimming pool, rocky coves, caves and woodland walks. Island crafts and copies of the two books are on sale for the Island Conservation Fund. The books are also obtainable by post (from: The Craft Centre, St.George's Island, Looe, Cornwall, PL13 2AB).

In Summer, volunteers undertake projects on the island. These are encouraged by the National Trust and the British Trust for Conservation Volunteers and have been featured in various radio and television programmes and in the regional and national Press. These voluntary working holidays are self-catering and are suitable for families, students and active OAPs. There is accommodation for up to four helpers in a chalet. Send S.A.E for details and application form. This is an ideal and unique chance to enjoy the simple life in beautiful surroundings AWAY FROM IT ALL. Many regular visitors, helpers and children enjoy joining in with island life and their help is very welcome. Obviously on a small island one cannot expect the modern facilities of the mainland. The owner (Miss Atkins) subsidises the project heavily and without this, the voluntary help and donations from well-wishers from all parts of the World, it would not be possible to open the island to visitors at all.

Our thanks to the late Miss Babs Atkins for the above information which refers to the period when the sisters lived on the island - see below for the present situation re visiting the island

Looe Island's Future Secured

83 year old Miss Babs Atkins, owner of Looe Island, has announced that she is to leave the island to the Cornwall Wildlife Trust which will preserve it as a nature reserve. Miss Atkins and her sister Evelyn bought the 22 acre island which lies one mile off the Cornish coast in 1965. The island has an exceptionally mild climate and in calm summer weather is an idyllic paradise, but in winter it can be lashed by wild storms and cut-off from the mainland for days or even weeks. Evelyn Atkins, who died in 1997 aged 87, wrote two books about their life on Looe Island (its proper name is St.George's island) which are fascinating and inspiring accounts of island life, its woes and rewards - We bought an Island (1976) and its sequel Tales from our Cornish Island (1986 Harrap) have both been reprinted recently and are readily available on sale from the Craft Centre on the Island and from bookshops and souvenir shops in Looe and Polperro.

End of an Era
We are sad to say that at the age of 86 Miss Babs Atkins has died. She lived for 40 years on the small island she and her sister purchased as the fulfillment of a dream in the 1960s. In her later years especially she demonstrated how strong she was by continuing to live on the island even after her sister Evelyn had died. Living full time on an island on your own (though she often had visitors and volunteers in the summer months) requires exceptional will power and an ability to do without many of the luxuries and amenities that most of us take for granted. It is an indication of the uniqueness of the sisters' achievement that her passing should have been marked by an obituary in The Times.
Bob Tarr, webmaster, April 2004

The Looe Island Story
An Illustrated History of St. George’s Island by Mike Dunn
Published March 2005 Price: £7.95 Paperback - Illustrated
The Looe Island Story is the first fully illustrated history of one of Cornwall’s most beautiful and mysterious islands. Once part of a monastic settlement, St. George’s or Looe Island is today owned by the Cornwall Wildlife Trust. Author Mike Dunn traces its history from earliest times, delving into the mysterious stories of past inhabitants and their smuggling activities in the 18th and 19th centuries. There are chapters devoted to the famous Atkins sisters who owned the island for nearly 40 years until recently, as well as shipwrecks, caves and the island’s flora and fauna. In addition, there is a detailed guide to the island for the many visitors who now come to enjoy its unique setting and historic past. The book contains more than 50 illustrations, many in colour, and Sir John Trelawny, whose family owned Looe Island for many years, contributes a foreword.
Available from local bookshops or online - click here
(Also visit Polperro Heritage Press for more books of local interest)

Looe Island. Photo:  R.J.Tarr 1999 Visiting the Island now (2009)

Now the island is run as a nature sanctuary by the Cornwall Wildlife Trust there is in the summer months only a ferry service, weather and tides permitting, by the vessel The Islander, acquired by the Trust for this purpose. Because of the tides the times of trips to Looe Island vary from day to day and also there are some days when The Islander does not operate at all. The times are available on the Islander board, which is on the quay, close to the Lifeboat Station in East Looe - please do not ask the Tourist Information Office as they do not hold this information.

The Islander has a lowering ramp making landing on the island much easier than previously. We believe that, depending on the extent of a person's disabilty, the new vessel makes access to the island possible for at least some disabled people - please enquire and check before booking a trip.

(The above information about visiting the island was updated on 16 August 2009)

A souvenir of a visit to Looe Island

In late summer 2000 two visitors from Victoria, British Columbia, British emigrants Ken and Pat Andrews, visited the island. Here are their 'snaps' and impressions:

"We were so lucky to be able to get over to the island and really enjoyed every minute of our trip. The boat ride was smooth, the sun was shining and we were given a warm welcome. The island lived up to every thing we had hoped it would be. It is beautiful, wild, unspoiled and left us with a great feeling of calm and peace.

"Miss Atkins was delightful, telling us stories of things that had been washed up on the beach and some of the history of the island. The couple living there with her are a Mr. & Mrs. Ravine, (in their own cottage and with 3 little dogs). They greeted us on the beach and guided us up to Miss Atkins house. The little shop had many interesting things for sale, including both the books written by Evelyn. We were there a couple of hours and walked up to the top where the few remaining bricks of an old chapel were to be seen. It was a memorable trip, and enjoyed by us all."

All photographs below are by Ken and Pat Andrews ©2000

Approaching the beach - landing stage being rolled out

Palms trees confirm island's mild climate

Pat Andrews meets Miss Atkins

Miss Babs Atkins in her garden

Island Boatman Dave Gardner tells visitors a story

Looe Island's unmistakable shape

Visitors Pat and Ken Andrews well pleased with their trip

Miss Babs Atkins - Mistress of Looe Island

This information prepared for web page 25 September and 17 December 2000. Latest update - 16 August 2009.

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