Bardsey Island/Ynys Enlli

Click to a larger version of Cristin Farmyard Wall. photo © Mick Sharp

Cristin Farmyard Wall. photo © Mick Sharp

Cristin farmhouse, headquarters of the Bird Observatory, stands at the foot of the mountain about halfway along the island 'road' between the Cafn landing cove and the abbey. Massive walls and a good range of buildings provide a sheltered environment for man and beast. The external buttresses give the stockyard the air of an Inca monument. Pot holes and deep ruts in the track, worn by horse drawn cart traffic, would be repaired using beach pebbles collected from Bardsey or Aberdaron.
Click to a larger version of Carreg Fawr & Lighthouse. photo © Jean Williamson

Carreg Fawr & Lighthouse. photo © Jean Williamson

Further north of Cristin the track passes Plas Bach where the Bardsey Apple grows and Lord Newborough used to stay when visiting his tenants. Next comes Carreg Fawr, shown here in evening light with South End and the lighthouse to the rear. Jean and I were there in May 2002 at the request of the then vicar of Aberdaron (Rev'd Evelyn Davies MBE) to photograph Carreg in advance of refurbishment and a period of use primarily as a Christian retreat house. The house is reassuringly sturdy and spacious - sleeps eight - with an interesting range of buildings in its adjacent yard and wonderful views to the Wicklow Hills. The front of the house faces east for breakfast sun and a view of Bardsey Mountain, the rear is blessed with supper-time red and gold over the Irish Sea. At night Carreg is under the passing scrutiny of the lighthouse beam. We and two friends enjoyed rattling about inside and greatly admired its austere 'shabby chic' which was about to be updated. Carreg with its stockyard is also noteworthy because of two of its former occupants: Brenda Chamberlain and Sister Helen Mary.
Click to a larger version of Carreg Fawr: Figures in a Boat by Brenda Chamberlain. photo © Mick Sharp

Carreg Fawr: Figures in a Boat by Brenda Chamberlain. photo © Mick Sharp

North Walian artist, writer and poet Brenda Chamberlain went to live on Bardsey in the spring of 1947. Remaining there amongst the "fisher-farmers" till 1961, she documented her island life in Tide-race published in 1962. For most of her stay Chamberlain and 'Paul' lived at what she calls Pen Craig, "a four-square granite house that no winds can shake", using one of the four upper rooms as a studio, the landing walls as a ground. These sepia and charcoal sketches on the upstairs landing wall are similar to her painting Fisherman's Return (1949) held by the National Gallery in Cardiff. This damaged mural and others on the landing walls are currently (2014) undergoing conservation work.
Click to a larger version of Carreg Fawr Stockyard. photo © Mick Sharp

Carreg Fawr Stockyard. photo © Mick Sharp

Carreg's stockyard is a miniature world within a miniature world; with its pigsties, and poultry houses, outbuilding, store and granary, stable and cow house, the very model of a model farm. Following in the tradition of the Celtic holy men and holy women before her, Sister Helen Mary spent 15 years living as a hermit on Bardsey: her hermitage was the granary/store (Llofft Carreg Fawr) on the left, her oratory the outbuilding on the right. Fortunately, unlike Elgar the hermit who died alone on Bardsey in the early C12th, Sister Helen Mary did not have to dig her own grave in the oratory. However, Mary Chitty does recall, in her excellent study The Monks on Ynys Enlli, seeing the anchorite of more recent times pulling up the stockyard cobbles to plant her vegetables in the shelter of its walls. The hermitage is now used by visiting chaplains and those on retreat.
Click to a larger version of Carreg Fawr Oratory. photo © Jean Williamson

Carreg Fawr Oratory. photo © Jean Williamson

Sister Helen Mary's former oratory is now used as a chapel for visitors, pilgrims and those on retreat. Its simple silent space, redolent of spirit, speak volumes.
Click to a larger version of Carreg Fawr Stable. photo © Mick Sharp

Carreg Fawr Stable. photo © Mick Sharp

The stable in Carreg stockyard with cobblestone floor, wooden stalls, feeding trough and hayrack. Courtesy of the island's lime kiln, the wall stones are bonded with lime mortar and the roof slates are bedded into an insulating layer of rough lime plaster. Our barn at home is much the same age, but not such good quality, as this one built during Lord Newborough's 1870-75 improvements. When we first moved in over 30 years ago, the lime plaster layer had begun falling away from our slates. On one particularly bad winter night, snow was driven through the exposed gaps and found piled up over much of the upper floor in the morning - we had to shovel it into plastic sacks and carry it away before it melted.
Click to a larger version of Carreg Fawr Well. photo © Mick Sharp

Carreg Fawr Well. photo © Mick Sharp

Carreg is a handsome house illustrating some of the thrift and care required for island living. There are around 13 wells and springs on Bardsey, but only the ancient 'holy' well on the lower slopes of Mynydd Enlli east of the abbey is a reliable source of drinking water throughout a very dry summer. Potable water is piped down, or pumped up, to the houses from the groundwater sources, rainwater is collected from the roofs to be stored in tanks for washing and cleaning. Water must be used sparingly - having a 'bath' standing upright in a bowl placed on the floor is an invigorating experience.
Click to a larger version of Ty Bach. photo © Mick Sharp

Ty Bach. photo © Mick Sharp

Semi-detached outside toilets at the bottom of the gardens of Ty Nesaf and Ty Bach farmhouses. Rather confusingly, the Welsh term for an outside loo is 'ty bach' meaning 'little house'. All organic waste is composted on the island and used to enrich the soil. When we were there in 1993 and 2002 an Elsan Blue liquid system was being used but I believe a dryer method using sawdust &/or dried grass is now preferred. Visitors are responsible for emptying their own composting toilets and requested to take any other refuse away with them. Some people consider that having toilets inside our homes is insanitary. I liked going out to the ty bach on Bardsey, particularly at night, listening to the unearthly cries of Manx shearwaters crash-landing in the dark beside their burrows on the mountain, full of fish stew collected for their chicks on a three-day shopping trip to the Bay of Biscay.
Click to a larger version of Nant & Hendy. photo © Jean Williamson

Nant & Hendy. photo © Jean Williamson

A September sunset reflects in the windows of Nant and Hendy farmhouses. Hendy, the house where we stayed in May and September '93, is the seaward one of the pair. Its name - old house - may carry a memory of the Abbot's house which was still standing and being occupied in the 1770s, but had vanished a hundred years later. When Brenda Chamberlain came to live on Bardsey, she and 'Paul' stepped into a small community with a shifting cast of some three dozen souls, interdependent but unbalanced by personal problems and a deep feud. Shown kindness and generously taught practical skills, their various neighbours also served up a dish of intrigue, malice, jealousy, violence, family breakdown, certifiable madness and tragic death. On an island which could be cut off from the mainland for four to five weeks at a time by the "raving of wind and water" - and Christmas celebrations postponed till January - neighbours had to be got on with, the rulings of Bardsey's tin-crowned King observed. This hard, magical life fed Chamberlain's creativity making her book full of dreams, visions, portents - and always the sea.
Click to a larger version of Hendy Living Kitchen. photo © Jean Williamson

Hendy Living Kitchen. photo © Jean Williamson

Formed in 1979, the Bardsey Island Trust ( manages Enlli and makes some of the island properties available to self-catering holidaymakers and others: Hendy and Nant first welcomed Trust visitors in May 1982. The Trust publishes helpful advice on the living conditions and what, and what not, to take. Cold running water but no bathrooms or showers. No electricity but there are cookers and fridge-freezers powered by bottled gas. The opportunity to live a more 'basic' life for a while is very welcome but, as all supplies must be transferred to and from boats and vehicles by hand, and enough food etc. taken to cover a stay often extended by adverse weather conditions, it all takes careful thought and planning. Helping to load everyone's luggage and supplies - including our 5"x4" and medium-format camera gear - into the boat by making several trips in a small boat from Porth Meudwy beach, unloading it onto the Cafn jetty, helping to load it onto a trailer pulled by a tractor and then unload it at the houses took a lot of time and effort. The two camera backpacks and a large tripod were our 'indulgences', Jean's brother felt unable to travel without his typewriter.
Click to a larger version of Eroded Field Bank. photo © Mick Sharp

Eroded Field Bank. photo © Mick Sharp

Bardsey is a National Nature Reserve on one of the main avian migration routes, a breeding site for sea birds and grey seals, "a place of pilgrimage", a collection of remarkable Listed Buildings and a farming landscape worked by tenants based at Ty Pellaf. The Bardsey Island Trust has multiple interests to deal with while striking a balance between such things as access, conservation, maintenance, ever-rising costs, the secular and the spiritual. Much work has been done on sympathetic land management systems and getting the fertile lowland back into good heart. The current tenant farmers run "350 sheep, 26 Welsh black cattle and beehives on nature-reserve land." Good use is made of the rough mountain grazing and the stock are carefully moved according to the seasons and weather conditions to prevent overgrazing and erosion. Some of the fields are ploughed and their arable crops rotated, silage is cut and baled, hay meadow species are being restored. In 1993 fencing was being introduced to efficiently control the sheep and protect the fragile ecology of the pastures and maritime heath.
Click to a larger version of Bardsey Mountain & Sound. photo © Mick Sharp

Bardsey Mountain & Sound. photo © Mick Sharp

Looking NE across Bardsey Sound to the tip of the Llyn peninsula. The buildings and western lowlands of Bardsey are largely sheltered from the mainland's gaze by the ridge of Mynydd Enlli. The precipitous eastern slopes, rising abruptly from the sea, are traversed by narrow sheep tracks where human feet must be placed one directly in front of the other. In Tomos the Islandman Tomos Jones, born on Enlli at the end of the C19th, tells the story of one unfortunate farmer who had three horses grazing on the mountain, suddenly all three ran towards the precipice, fell into the sea and drowned. On another occasion one of the lighthouse men fell on to the rocks while out hunting; he died three days later. Exhilaration mixes with fear on this exposed flank where Bardsey and the mainland are seen to be related, but worlds apart.

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