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OK, so I had to think about this for 1 second. What is my favourite thing? There was no doubt in my mind, and it’s not so much a favourite thing as a favourite place. We all have a special place, don't we, a place we go in our minds when the world is a bit grey and we feel grouchy. This place is so special to me that I never dreamed I would write an op on it. But Jill called, I heard her call, and I couldn’t resist. My favourite place on the planet is a little island called Bardsey. It's off the tip of the Lleyn Peninsula in Gwynedd, North Wales, and in Welsh is called Ynys Enlli - Island of Currents, a very apt name, as you'll see. In the 19th century (and before) it was home to a community of farmers and fishermen who earned their livelihood the hard way, and in the 20th century the rural lifestyle and community were vanishing, as it has done on so many other islands. However to prevent Bardsey falling into private hands, generous people clubbed together and bought the island in 1979, setting up a trust to manage it for the benefit of both humans and the environment. The island became a national nature reserve in 1986 and has also been designated a site of Special Scientific Interest. Apart from all that, it is also Wales's Holy Island. People have gone on pilgrimage there since medieval times, and as so many died in the attempt, due to the dangerous tides and currents around the island, it has become known as the 'island of 20,000 saints'. The ruins of an ancient Abbey are still visible, having been fenced off to prevent curious sheep wandering in, and open-air services are still held there in the summer. (There is also a tiny white chapel built in the traditional Welsh style). You can visit Bardsey on a day trip from Pwllheli or Aberdaron, but the best way by far to experience my beloved island is to stay. There are about 10 houses on the island, some occupied by the tenant farmer and perma
nent island wardens, and some used as temporary accommodation for the part-time summer staff, but some can be rented for visitors. (Details will be at the end). Due to the religious connection, groups often book accommodation for spiritual retreats, but they can be booked simply for a family holiday. The houses were all built for the 19th century farm workers, and are beautifully constructed with thick walls to keep out the winter gales, and although Bardsey is not on the national grid, most of the houses have generators to provide light at night, calor gas stoves and even gas-powered fridges. There is no electricity during the day, though, no proper bathrooms (you have to mess around with bowls of water and jugs to have a wash), and the toilets are those chemical ones in little sheds. Believe me, this is part of the joy of the island, no TV, no newspapers, no Internet – it's a complete escape from the modern world, but not without basic home comforts. Many of the houses also have beautiful gardens with high slate walls, so when the weather's good you can always find a sunny sheltered place to curl up with a book. The boat trip to the island is wonderfully romantic – you have to be at Pwllheli very early in the morning, and load up the boat with all your bags in black bin liners to stop them getting wet from the spray. (You may get a bit wet yourself if the wind is blowing the wrong way!) You go slap, slap slapping across the waves, around the headland at the end of Lleyn, and the little island is rising out of the water to meet you. It's a sight that makes my heart sing. Then you arrive in time for a late breakfast! As it is a nature reserve, there are usually 2 permanent wardens resident to monitor bird and wildlife – Bardsey is an important stopping-off point for migrating birds, so there are often odd things dropping in which made a wrong turn halfway across the Atlantic, and the wardens get busy ringing t
hem all and keeping the records up to scratch. One of the houses, Cristin, is now a bird observatory where birdwatchers and wildlife enthusiasts can come to stay and help out the wardens. This is where I usually stay with my family when we go to Bardsey even though I'm not a mad keen birdwatcher – my parents are, so I can come along for the ride. However, if you’re not interested in birds it will probably be pretty dull staying there so I would recommend you rent one of the other properties. I have been known to go out on nighttime ringing expeditions which is quite fun, although as I am not trained I can’t actually do the ringing, I just help hold the birds and write down the records. And I have had the odd nip from an angry shearwater but that's just part of the experience... I make up for my lack of knowledge about birds by looking out for other things – butterflies, which are in abundance (Grayling and Red Admiral especially), and every day I try to walk down to Henllywn, the harbour, at low tide and count the seals. Grey seals are common on Bardsey, and they love to haul themselves up on the beach, have a good natter and occasionally a bit of a scrap. Seals make moaning and calling noises that almost sound human, and after my mum once told me that they like listening to human voices singing, I always try to have a good singsong with the seals everyday. That's the sort of place Bardsey is, where you can sit on a rock and sing to seals, and no-one bats an eyelid at you. There are no vehicles on Bardsey apart from tractors, and just one track running the entire length of the island. There is a lighthouse at the south end, and from what I heard, one of the outbuildings has been converted into an 'interpretation centre' for visitors, but I haven’t actually seen it yet myself. It's very eerie when the fog comes down and suddenly the foghorn starts booming – but you get used to it after a wh
ile. There's a 'mountain' on the east side – just a big hill, but big enough to be a good brisk walk to get to the top, and it plunges sheer into the sea so you have to be very careful not to stray too far from the path. (Visitors are banned from the narrow sheep tracks around the east cliff, but you are free to climb to the top of the mountain). The west side of the island is gentle fields sloping down to the sea, and as the land is still managed by tenant farmers, there are sheep, black Welsh cattle and chicken being farmed. This means you can get fresh, unpasturised milk and eggs, and the farmer will usually sell you vegetables including potatoes and broad beans. There is a little shop in Cristin selling basic foodstuffs – tins, pasta, cereal, biscuits, etc, but other food such as cheese, meat and fruit has to be brought onto the island. You are encouraged to take away as much of your rubbish as you can. Here's the boring bit: to find out about visiting or staying on Bardsey, go to the Bardsey Island Trust website: www.bardsey-island.co.uk or the Bardsey Bird & Field Observatory site: www.bbfo.org.uk. Neither of them are brilliant sites, but they will put you in touch with the right people to plan a trip. Why would you visit this place? If you are a wildlife lover or conservationist, it is the ideal holiday destination. If you are in search of spiritual solace, you will find it here. If you want a holiday where you can 'rough it' and get away from it all, Bardsey is the place to go. Why do I love it so? Because it’s wild, rugged and romantic, a tiny humpbacked whale of an island flung into the Irish Sea. My favourite thing in the entire world is to sit on the terrace at Cristin at dusk and watch the sun set in glory over the coast of Ireland. At these moments I can easily understand why pilgrims struggled and died to visit this island – in my own way, I am a pil
grim who keeps coming back. I am one of the fortunate few who have seen a piece of heaven on earth, and its name is Bardsey. Thank you, Jill! *** "Jill Murphy asked me to write about one of my favourite things to help her celebrate her fourth anniversary of cancer-free living and to remind ourselves of all the nice things in the world. It takes more muscles to make a frown than a smile you know. If you'd like to join in, whether you've only just joined dooyoo, or you've been here ages, you're more than welcome. Just write about one of YOUR favourite things, make your title "A Favourite Thing: [ your choice]" and include this paragraph at the foot of your opinion. And post before Friday, 9th August."