Ramsey Island

So leaving Aunty at home, the Pembroke coast became a boys playground for a week. My old mucker Paul, from here on known as Caulkhead (his preference for a moniker in the blog- he comes from The Isle of Wight which explains a lot) took the caravan to St Davids for the week. One of our targets was the fourth largest island off Wales, Ramsey Island, but in Welsh it is known as Ynys Dewi, but more on names later. It lies about 1km off the western tip of the Pembroke peninsula on the northern side of St Brides Bay. It’s not a large island, but Wales is not a large country. Size is not everything.

The lifeboat stations at St Justinian’s with Ramsey Island across the water.

Not surprisingly with a relatively narrow channel between the mainland and the island the tides and currents can be a challenge to navigate. As the waters rush through the channel as the tides change the turbulence can be witnessed standing on the safety of land. The speed of the water flow can be as high as 3.8m/s – now that’s impressive! So much so that an experimental water turbine installation was planned for a number of years, and finally installed in December 2015. It’s hoped this will generate up to 400 kW when it is finally connected. We landed after the short boat trip from St Justinians with it’s three life boat stations, the first a stone built building dated 1886 through to the brand new station currently being built.

Approaching the landing stage below the farm, now accomodation for the permanent wardens and volunteers.
I’m not sure what I was expecting to find on the island, but what we did find was a delight. The island was alive with drifts of flowers, Red Campions, Sea Campions and Thrift painted the landscape with subtly shades of pink and white. The weather was perfect. After landing we were greeted by the wardens and given an introduction to the island, but also the opportunity to buy a cup of coffee – always welcome.  

The twin peaks of Carn Ysgubor and Carn Llundain give Ramsey a distinctive outline and we climbed each of them in turn as we wandered around the island. It was a landmark for early seafaring pilgrims on their way to St Davids.  

Ramsey has a fair number of breeding Choughss, an uncommon member of the crow family. WIth its clacking call and bright legs and bill it is unmistakable.
The name Ramsey is thought to come from the Norse personal name Hrafn. But in Welsh the island is Ynys Dewi, which means “St David’s island”. The island served as the hermitage of St Justinian, who was St David’s confessor. He was martyred by three of his servants who had been possessed by demons. The servants were driven mad and refused to obey their master, who was entreating them to work and not to lead an idle life. The servants then threw him to the ground and cut off his head. The murderers of the saint were struck with leprosy, and recognised that this was God’s vengeance on them. They lived by a rock still called “lepers’ rock”, and after loading their bodies with heavy penances were counted worthy of forgiveness through the prayers of St. Justinian. Mind you have to ask how much of a hermitage this was if Justinian had three servants! 

According to legend these rocks, known as The Bitches, were hewn by St Justinian as he separated the island from the mainland.

The excitement didn’t stop there either. St. Justinian’s decapitated body rose and took the head in its arms and descended to the sea shore. Walking across the water, it came to the port named after the saint, which is today a lifeboat station, and to the church now dedicated in his name: Llanstinian, near Fishguard 

dotted around the island hidden amongst the growing grass are small clumps of Spring Squill, Scilla verna

By the 13th century Ramsey was owned by the Bishops of St Davids, and for over 600 years the island was farmed with varying degrees of success. Butter, cheese and wool were all produced here and sold on the mainland, and in later years corn and other crops were grown. Ramsey was last farmed in the late 1960s and is now a nature reserve owned by the Royal Society for the Protection of Birds. 
This Meadow Pipt was very obliging as I crept closer to take this photo.

This summer may be a good year for Painted Ladies – no not the female kind, but a beautiful orange butterfly that is a migrant from Europe. We saw the first of many of the island this day, as well as a Wall on the summit of Carn Llundain. Again a butterfly version, not a stone wall! 

Wall butterfly, Lasiommata megera

Sandside Harbour

Near the now decommissioned nuclear power station at Dounereay is the small harbour at Sandside. There is something about small harbours. The hint of time past, never to return are difficult to resist. The fact that Ther is now only a FW working boats still based in the harbour shouts out “Come and explore me. Don’t forget about my glory days! I once had a history”. Sandside Harbour is exactly one of those places. Even though the Dounreay Power Station is difficult to ignore, the romance of a small harbour can’t be ignored.
There is not very much written about the harbour, but the quality of it’s built is difficult to miss. The harbour was built about 1830 by Major William Innes of Sandside for a cost of £3000. I’m sure that the Major had some interest in helping the locals by providing a base for trade, but more likely he hoped to cash in on the herring fishery that was providing huge profits for those who had cornered the market. Though this was not to last and the herring stocks collapsed after decades of over fishing.


It seems that there is still a boat working from the harbour, with lobster and crab creels still stacked along the quay and a boat moored within the harbour. The houses and fishing store have now been converted into holiday lets.


A short walk along the coast brings you to fantastic dry stone wall built from field clearance stones at the base and cleaved limestone and sandstone tiles. Topping the wall lichens have made colonies.


Along the cliffs kittiwakes are starting to nest clinging to the face of the cliffs in neat high rise pockets and shelves.