I have grown up watching the light house on Ynys Enlli flashing its light rhythm from Tywyn, a distance of maybe 50 miles across Cardigan Bay to the South. Ynys Enlli has a mythical place in the hearts of the Welsh for a variety of reasons. It is one of the places that has been identified as the burial place of King Arthur. Mind you there are some many places that various authors have claimed to be “the place”. Islands have had long been a special place to the Celtic people as stepping stones to the afterlife, and this is no different with Ynys Enlli.
The presence of flints suggests that Ynys Enlli was occupied in Neolithic times. There are also remains of hut circles on the hill, Mynydd Enlli. But the current history starts with the establishment of a religious settlement during the reign of Einion Frenin, ruler of the Lleyn Peninsula around AD429.
In 516 Saint Cadfan arrived from Brittany and, under his guidance St Mary’s Abbey was built. This is another link to Tywyn where I was born. St Cadfan founded the church in Tywyn. Along with a monastic college. For centuries the island was important as “the holy place of burial for all the bravest and best in the land”. Bards called it “the land of indulgences, absolution and pardon, the road to Heaven, and the gate to Paradise”, and in medieval times three pilgrimages to Bardsey Island were considered to be of equivalent benefit to the soul as one to Rome. In 1188 the abbey was still a Celtic institution, but by 1212 it belonged to the Augustinians.
So at last I was finally going to be able to step onto the island. This was important for me not from an sacred or religious context, but from a life time of seeing that light flashing in the distance. The questions of what is on the island? What is over the horizon? These are the questions that many people ask when growing up right by the sea. The desire to see over that blue line that denies the horizon seems to be important. The day didn’t start off very well with heavy rain overnight, and it was grey and overcast as we arrived at the little port of Porth Meudwy ust a little way from Aberdaron. Because of the weather almost all the other bookings had cried off, and there were only 5 of us on the small ferry. So just like the thousands of pilgrims down the centuries we were making the crossing into the unknown.
Em were hoping to see some dolphins on the mile and a half crossing, but that was not to be. However, right next to the landing place there were over fifty grey seals. This made Aunties day. Birds and ‘creepy crawlies’ do not ring her bell, but dolphins and seals are something else.
As we arrived on the island the sun came out and the whole experience was transformed. The people who had canceled or ‘wimped out’ were missing something special.
The island isn’t big by any means, but it in 1881 was still able to support ago pulsation of 132. But by 1961 there were only 17 living on the island. The school had closed earlier in 1953. The island is now owned by the Bardsey Island Trust, and it is possible to rent some of the remaining houses. It is also a Bird Observatory being on one of the migration routes. Many of the houses were rebuilt rebuilt between 1870 and 1875, and boy did they rebuild them! The use of the local granite rock has resulted in very robust building, designed and built to survive the rough weather that is common on the west coast of Wales.
For anybody interested in the Bird Observatory then check out their website, which also has details on staying on the island: bbfo.org.uk.
There is very little left of the old monastery after the Dissolution under Henry VIII. All that remains are a few small ruined walls.
So besides seals what else is there on Ynys Enlli? Well there are some goats, and Aunty got in some practice at being a nanny as she made friends with a couple of locals.
Coughs are now restricted to the west of the UK, but even so are not widespread, and I’ve been hoping for a number of years of watching them. So this was the day when I was able to confirm a sighting. We thought we seen some the other day, but today it was unmistakable. Orange bill and bright orange legs. At last another ambition realised.
Oystercatchers are one of my favourites. They are striking with their black and white plumage, bright orange bills. It is as if they have no fear piping their insistent call from look outs. We watched on on the rocks at the end of the island as the waves came in a little too close.
Many birds are now going through or just completing their post breeding moult and so are looking a little bedraggled.
The lighthouse was completed in1821 to protect the main shipping route into out out of Liverpool along the Nortn a Wales Coast. Unusual for a light house the tower is square.
So we had walked from one end of the island to the other and back. The seals had provided great entertainment, it was finally time to leave, so we headed back to the boat house and boarded the ferry back to Porth Meydwy. Would I do it again – absolutely yes? Perhaps a little earlier in the season during the main sea bird breeding season. Did Aunty enjoy herself? Yes, the seals made the visit.
The journey back across the Bardsey sound was smooth, and gave us an opportunity to view the remains of Porth y Pistyll I mentioned Ina previous posting. The view from water level emphasised the difficulty workers would have had even accessing the port, let alone working there.
Another cracking day. But somehow I missed my ice cream at the end!