Sunday, June 24, 2018

Bardsey Midsummer

The island of Bardsey lies off the end of the Lleyn Peninsula of North Wales. From the mainland, Bardsey looks like a mountainous, craggy and forbidding place. However, the southern, seaward side has gently sloping pastures, a few houses and even a little woodland.

The slopes of this island are steeped in history. In the days of Celtic saints and three travels, three pilgrimages to Bardsey held the same merit as one to Rome! The ruins of the abbey date from the 12 Century and King Arthur is rumoured to have perished here.

I can never resist a trip to Bardsey. The crossing by kayak is always a challenge. This time of year I'm drawn by the call of the Manx shearwater. These fascinating pelagic creatures migrate here from the south Atlantic. They only land to nest. A single egg is laid in a burrow on steep ground. When the chick emerges the parents will only return to feed it in the burrow during the hours of darkness. This avoids predators such as gulls and peregrine.

Their ghostly, croaky, crowing is said to have frighened ship-wrecked sailors back into the sea. These were days when superstition superseded science. After all, they are just sea birds; not the grip reaper!

It was a pleasure to spend the darkest part of the night on the summit of Bardsey marvelling at the sound of thousands of shearwaters calling, landing and squabbling. Then... in a moment when first light broke over the Lleyn, the shearwaters hushed as the herring gulls awoke.

Late in the morning, normal daytime business resumed making the magic and mystery of the night time seem like a half-forgotten dream.