Busy, busy being creative..!

Saturday 5 August 2017

[UK Islands & 40/40 Project no.21] Skomer: Puffin Paradise

I’ve finally seen real live Puffins! They are even more fabulous than I could have imagined. So much character and charm. This also means that I've completed no.21 of my 40/40 Project. Getting up close to them is really a very special experience and one that is in reach of everyone - should you chose to do so of course - I'd really recommend it!

Skomer Island, exotic as it sounds, is in fact a small Welsh Island off the coast of Pembrokeshire. Reached by boat on a short 10 minute crossing in the Dale Princess, it was surrounded by mist when we arrived. For this Island Adventure, I was joined by fellow Puffineers; Alison, Rhian & Justina, who had been on my Lundy Island Retreat back in 2015. Sadly, Lisa couldn't join us - but she was there in spirit.

We stayed on the island for two nights in lodgings run and cared for by the Wildlife Trust of South & West Wales. It was a top notch and rather spiffing hostel, with a full kitchen, hot showers and spacious rooms. We four were all together and it was splendid (getting in some Enid Blyton type talk here) It was warm, clean and way better than I think any of us had expected. Result!

We had to take all the food and drink we needed with us as there is no shop on the island. Once you are on Skomer, well, you are there until the boat comes in a few days to take you off! We had quite a lot of stuff (including some of Rhian's infamous vodka jellies and lemon cake...)

From the minute we got close to Skomer we were absolutely surrounded by Puffins. They were EVERYWHERE! Our screams of excitement might of slightly unnerved the other passengers as at this point we didn’t know how many of them were serious/expert birders. We needn't have worried though as we were all equally as excited and for many it was also their first trip to Skomer.

We discovered that at this time of year (May) the whole Island is completely covered in a blanket of richly coloured bracken, bluebells and red campion. It was beautiful and totally unexpected. Very different to any of the other islands I'd visited so far. The plants were all rather tall so it's also a much more sheltered place.

Before we got to see our room and start to unpack one of the ruined buildings really caught my eye. Right opposite our hostel is a massive farmhouse with a slate front. I immediately started wondering...Who lived here? When did it become a ruin? What was life like here when it was a farm? What are the stories? Questions I've managed to answer by getting my hands on a copy a book by Roscoe Howells about the last farmers of Skomer....(not read it yet though).

Within minutes of unpacking and leaving the hostel we saw a short eared owl fly right past us. Apparently its normal to see them during the day here. Seeing owls wasn't something I'd been expecting. We saw that owl quite a few times during our stay, as well as a little owl. I'm not an expert birder by any means so a lot of the birds mentioned during the stay (pipit this and warbler that) I'd never heard of - it was an excellent place to discover new birds (to me) and learn about life on an island.

Each evening there is an event called 'Skomer Log' which everyone staying on the island is invited to attend. It's when all the wildlife of the island is logged and added to a data set that has been going since the Island became a bird sanctuary in 1959. (There is a really interesting fact sheet created by the Trust about the history of Skomer here). You don't have to be a birder or know much at all about wildlife to be a part of this and you'll come away having learnt some new, interesting and sometimes random things.

Night-time also means the Manx Shearwater walk - with red head torches and the most eerie of bird calls I've ever heard. It was like being in a horror film. The Manxies (sailors of old believed the cries of the Mollies, as they called them, to be the souls of those lost at sea) come in at night to avoid being eaten by the gulls. I have to say it's pretty vicious and each morning we'd see evidence of those that didn't make it.

Not a pleasant sight and something I certainly didn't get used to during our short visit. I guess that it's just the pure natural cycle and it's not all cute puffins and bunnies... Every night the Manxies face a real life and death situation just getting back to their burrows. Being out with them at night and feeling their wings skim your face as they call out in search of home is like nothing else I've ever experienced and another reason why staying over night on Skomer is a must.  There's a link below so you can hear the call of the manx shearwater for yourself. For the best experience close your eyes!

I really loved Skomer. It really tapped into something for me - I think the combination of the amazing colours, the puffins, the owls, the company (everyone was so friendly and we really did have the best time), going on the night-time adventures (want to hear the sound of a Shearwater? Click here), learning a bit about what it's like being a warden here and a long term volunteer, and the ruined farmhouse really was perfect - oh and after the mist cleared we had the most smashing weather.

It's a very special island and one I'll definitely be returning to.

Staying on Skomer
Skomer is Island no.5 of my UK Islands Project and we visited from 23-25 May. Skomer is looked after by The Wildlife Trust of South & West Wales and you can stay on the island at certain times of the year. Day trips are also possible, but I think if you can stay you'll get a more more interesting experience and more time when it's just you and the puffins. We went at the end of May which is a good time to see Puffins and to hear Manx Shearwaters as well as lots of other birds. If you are a member of the Trust you get two weeks priority booking which can be useful if you want to go on specific dates. Otherwise you call up the minute booking opens for everyone else and have three date options that you can go. If Yes then - You've got your accommodation sorted! Even the booking process is all rather exciting!

Before you go and book your own Skomer Adventure - couple more things to add about what's coming up...On the 17 August I'm running a Local Creative Adventure in Woodford, Somerset which you can book on to here...And on the 01 September my How to Be a Creative Adventurer Exploration will start. For more information on that and to book your place (only a small group of 15) go here. I've also updated my - Who is the Creative Adventurer page on my site so if we've not worked together yet - this will give you some more idea about me and well - who I am and what I know about Creative Adventuring!! Take a look here

Do let me know if you feel inspired to visit Skomer Island. Or any other islands around our coastline, there are quite a few to choose from after all!!

Pip Pip


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