Bardsey Island – near but not near enough

ynys enlliBardsey Island, the Island of Bards.  In Welsh, Ynys Enlli, the Island of the Tides, often called the island of saints as 20,000 are reputed to be buried here.  A pity the weather was too poor on my visit to make the fearsome crossing of Swnt Enlli (Bardsey Sound).

During my summer holiday in North Wales I detoured for a couple of nights to Aberdaron at the very end of the Lleyn peninsular.  I greatly admire the poet R S Thomas, who was priest at St Hywyn’s church here for many year  The church holds poetry readings during the summer – I was too early for the August one unfortunately. Another miss!

bindweed, lleynInstead of visiting Bardsey Island I walked the excellent coastal path and admired the wild flowers – sea pea, harebells, red campion, bindweed, bell heather among others.  Everywhere sea birds battled with the wind and rain, and their calls added to the music of pounding waves along the cliffs.

Farm walls in this area are made of stone covered with turf.  Their height and effectiveness are increased by gorse and blackthorn scrub growing on the top.  Warm white sheep with long noses and dark spots in their ears stopped grazing to watch me – this is the Lleyn breed, a versatile animal which is bred as far from Wales as County Down, Scotland, Cornwall and inbetween. Fat cattle with shining coats grazed on the fine pastures and corn fields ready for harvest grew good crops of oats and barley.

From Aberdaron you can make a day crossing to the island or even stay a week in one of the houses. The land was bought by Bardsey Island Trust in 1979 and several families live there. Farming practices are in keeping with the Trust’s wishes – oats, turnips and swedes are grown and animals include goats, ducks, geese, hens, sheep and Welsh Black cattle.

As far back as the Stone Age people lived on the island, and some hut circles remain. In the sixth century Cadfan (Gideon in English) settled here from Brittany with his followers and built St Mary’s Abbey, which was taken over by the Augustinians in the thirteenth century and dissolved under Henry VIII.  Only the ruined bell tower remains.  Pilgrimages have been popular here since Cadfan’s day and today there’s a 150 mile Pilgrim Way from St Winefride’s well in Holywell along the coast to Bardsey.

The island’s  reputed to be a beautiful and peaceful place where you can find rare lichens and purple loosestrife, watch manx shearwaters, choughs, kittiwakes and fulmars and if lucky see grey seals, dolphins and porpoises.

Lleyn cliffsI may have missed those on my cliff walk, but I did enjoy watching a hare lope lazily among the gorse scrub.


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