Last month I set out on the 3rd voyage of my island adventure and ventured out across the sea to the tiny island of Bardsey just off the Llyn Peninsula in North Wales. As has been the case for all of the trips I have done so far for this project, getting to the island was a bit of a logistical nightmare, and as I drove through the awesome Snowdonia landscape to Porth Meudw where I was due to catch my boat over to the island, I received a call from the boats coxswain, Colin, telling me that strong winds had come in meaning that it was unsafe to make the crossing over to the island.
Rather than turning around and heading back to London, I decided to sit it out and camp out in my car for a few nights exploring the Llyn Peninsula until the sea was calm enough for me to cross.
Low and behold, a few days later I received a call from Colin giving me the green light, and the following morning we set out on the 30 minute trip across the water to Bardsey.
Colin was a fascinating character, and his passion and love for the island really came across when I spoke to him. When we landed on the island, he took me to the old lighthouse on the Southern tip of the island that he had recently bought. His family have always had connections with Bardsey, and whilst Colin has never himself lived on the island full-time, he hopes that once the renovation is complete he and his family will be able to move.
He has big things planned, including building a small distillery within the old horn room where he’ll be able to make Bardsey whisky made from produce of the island. I suggested he call it Bardsky, but I dont think he was all that keen on the idea…
He also told me about how he was hoping to build a helipad so that he can fly over to the mainland instead of having to get a boat over. I thought he was joking at first, but the more time I spent with him the more I realised what an entrepreneur he was, and I think if anyone was going to be able to do this then I would bet my money on Colin.
When I arrived on the island, I was greeted by Siân, the island warden, and her partner Mark, who loaded my kit onto the back of a quad bike and gave me a lift along the 1 mile track across the island to the small cluster of buildings at the bottom of the mountain that would become my home for the next few days. On my previous trips I have either stayed in the wardens home or in very basic research accommodation. On Bardsey however, I was treated to pure island luxury and was given the keys (figuratively, there are no locks on any buildings on Bardsey) to Tŷ Capel, the old chapel house, where Reverend John ‘Enlli’ Williams and his wife lived with their 5 children during the latter part of the 19th Century.
Once I had unpacked all of my supplies for the week ahead, I went with Siân on a walk to the summit of the islands mountain, where she told me about her time living on the island and how she met her partner Mark whilst volunteering there when she was younger.
The following morning I went for a walk around the island and met one of the island volunteers, Dan, outside the old dynamite stores at the lighthouse on Bardsey which he is currently renovating. Like many of the islands surrounding the UK, a lot of the day to day upkeep of the buildings is reliant on volunteers who come over to the island for a few months at a time.
Dan spends 6 months a year on Bardsey where he works as a handyman, restoring and maintaining the islands buildings, and told me that he lives on a diet of nuts and nettles. The other 6 months of the year he spends in Portugal, living out of a van and farming asparagus which he sells in local farmers markets.
That evening as I returned to Tŷ Capel, I saw a bit of a gathering outside the wardens house. As I approached, I saw Siân holding a recently diseased but beautiful female Sparrowhawk found just outside her house on. She seemed to have broken her neck, but was still warm when they found her.
As sad as this is, the wardens will now be able to more closely examine this rare bird, and learn more about their diet and life on the island.
The following day I met Steve and his wife Jo, as he was working outside his observatory on the small farm where he has lived with his family since 2007.
The location of Bardsey, means that it has almost no light pollution, bar the distant glow of Dublin 60 miles away across the Irish Sea on exceptionally clear evenings. As a result, the Island is an ideal location for star gazers, and in 2011 Steve put in an application for the Island to become a member of the official international Dark-Sky Community, following in the path of the small Channel Island, Sark.
One of the most memorable moments of the trip happened on my last evening on the island.
At around 10:30pm as I settled in for the evening, I had a knock on the door, which for an island inhabited by only 7 people scared the living daylights out of me! As I opened the door one of the wardens from the bird observatory was stood there with a head torch on and asked if I would like to join him for a walk up the mountain to which I obliged.
As we climbed up the side of the mountain in complete darkness with just the light from our head torches guiding the way, I could here this constant flapping overhead which grew louder and louder the higher up we climbed. As we neared the summit, I was told to turn the head torch off and lay down on my back and look up to the stars. As I lay down amongst the grass and the bushes the sound of the flapping seemed to have intensified.
“Turn your light on” I was told. And when I did what I saw took my breath away! As I looked up into the nights sky, thousands upon thousands of Manx shearwaters shot across my vision as they made their way back to their nests, illuminated like snowflakes cutting through a cars headlamps on a dark winters night.
This experience was one of the most memorable things that I have ever done, and was the perfect way to end my time on this amazing little island.