This holiday was a pilgrimage for me as my father was on Skokholm Island when war was declared. As a lad he regularly went over to help Ronald Lockley who farmed the island so I couldn’t wait to see where he’d spent so much of his time. Ronald was the first person to record the birds and seals on the island and without him Skokholm’s history may have been quite different.
Marloes is a good village to stay the night before your trip as it’s so close to the boat with several b and bs to choose from – book early though as they get very busy in puffin season. Here’s one I’d suggest https://www.clockhousemarloes.co.uk/.
It was, however, with a little trepidation and excitement that I approached Martins Haven to catch the 8.45am boat. We’d been warned that the weather wasn’t looking too good so although we’d be able to land on the island that morning we might not get off on the day we’d planned to. I had packed extra food and clothes but was wondering how I’d manage with no shower and only compostable toilets for 5 nights rather than the 3 we’d booked for! I needn’t have worried because within 24 hours it all seems perfectly normal and I became semi-feral quite quickly! The only thing I would pack if I went again is a hot water bottle because even in May it was cold with the wind and rain lashing the island. There are some available but maybe not enough if it gets really cold. If you’re interested in trying this fantastic experience then you need to contact West Wales Wildlife Trust – staying at the beginning and end of the season is equally exciting because they see so many ‘passage’ birds so if you’re a keen birdwatcher this is the time to go.
The accommodation on the island is simple but perfectly adequate for this type of holiday with, I believe, a washbasin in every room. The volunteers make the rooms clean and bright each year and clean them after each stay – I would suggest you take your boots off at the door because of all the rabbit droppings that stick to your boots… In the Courtyard there’s a large kitchen with 2 huge gas cookers and a dining room and over in the farmhouse a lovely woodburner (bring a couple of eco logs with you). This is where everyone crashes out after long days of walking and bird watching and you get to make new friends and even take part in the bird count for the day. There are solar panels which mean if it’s sunny there’s plenty of electric for lighting.
After a welcome meeting in the courtyard from the super-friendly wardens Richard Brown and his partner Giselle Eagle we could unpack all our food and clothes (I stayed in the courtyard complex with was very convenient for the toilet and kitchen) and head out to explore. Richard took us around the island showing us various habitats and things to look out for. The ornithologists love of the island and birdlife strikes you immediately and they are so very generous with their time. Richard took us down a cliff in the daytime to familiarise ourselves with some tricky cliff terrain returning with us at night to watch the storm petrels coming in to roost giving us all a view on an infrared camera – what a treat. Each time they were ringing birds caught in the nets we were more than welcome to watch or help with recording the visitors to Skokholm. Because there are no day visitors to this Island it has a totally different vibe to Skomer with visitors being trusted to behave responsibly and knowledge being shared at every opportunity.
While I was on the island I spotted a manx shearwater out of its burrow in the daylight – a very dangerous place to be with black backed gulls around so I pointed it out to Giselle who found a burrow for it. It took 3 attempts for her to find an empty one getting a peck for her efforts from birds already in the burrows but it felt good to know this bird might live to fight another night.
Each new bird brings a new excitement with blackcaps being spotted while I was there along with the usual wheatear, puffins, guillemots, razorbills, fulmar, peregrine, gulls, gannets, manx shearwaters and storm petrels
The black backed gulls are at the top of the food chain and while on the island I watched one swallow a rabbit whole – fascinating but shocking at the same time (I’m sparing you that photo!). May is particularly beautiful on Skokholm with thrift, campion, bluebells and even viola carpeting the island. Being up from dawn and beyond dusk to watch the manx shearwater coming in is a challenge but you can always take a nap in the middle of the day to cope.
This is the farmhouse where Ronald Lockley and his family lived although I think it was much more basic in their time. His and his daughter’s books on Island life are a fascinating read with their tenacity and patience and even naivity shining through.
Needless to say there are puffins in abundance from April until end July but for photographers it’s not the best island for evening light as the colonies are not as well placed as the Wick on Skomer Island for this. I saw these beautiful birds in all weathers while I was there and with a good hide halfway down a cliff you can get up really close to them. Here’s an image of a soggy windblown puffin who’s still quite happily preening despite the weather.
All too soon the 5 days were up, the storm had abated and although desperate for a warm bath and a flushing toilet I was terribly sad to be leaving the island. I loved it and can highly recommend this off-grid experience to anyone who loves quiet remote islands and birdlife. Skokholm has definitely captured my heart – it’s far cheaper than a fancy spa or retreat and for me infinitely better. I came back to the mainland exthausted but extremely relaxed.
For more images of my puffins and wildlife please hop across to my gallery .