Eamonn goes to Skokholm Island.
Eamonn goes to Skokholm Island.
This is the second of two stories I asked Eamonn to write for us in recognition of him taking my place in paradise. The island was so memorable for him that the story is in two parts. The second a magical night time adventure will be posted next week. As you will remember, Eamonn asked if we could include some Irish music. Since Skokholm is less than eighty miles from the Emerald Isle, this seems a very appropriate Celtic connection.
So here goes.
Music: Frankie McBride “Isle of Innisfree”
Over to you Eamonn.
“Bye bye Rosemary. Cheers Bertie. We are off on an adventure to Skokholm Island.”
Same boat. The Dale Princess. Different crew, who warned us it was going to be very rough. And so it was ! Big waves. Deep troughs. This plucky little boat has served the islands for over thirty years now. It’s up to the crew to decide, from years of experience, if it is safe to make the crossing. Skokholm is further out than Skomer and more exposed. Whereas Skomer has daily visitors, Skokholm has only two planned boats a week. If you book to stay, you await a phone call from Richard the warden the day before. The tide and sea conditions determine if the boat goes. Bearing in mind that there will usually be people coming off the island at the end of their stay. There is a relatively short period when the tide is right for the Princess to reach the small landing stage. So you have no idea the day before the planned departure when to meet the boat. If at all. Until Richard rings.
The really rough part of the crossing can be Jack Sound, between Skomer and the main land, and this was no exception. On we ploughed. Hanging on for dear life. Too exciting to be sea sick. One big wave and all the luggage landed on the floor at one end of the boat.
At Skokholm was a large party waiting for the return trip. A bird ringing club. No time to waste, as the boat had to be gone quickly because of the tide. A human chain transferred all the luggage for joiners and leavers and it was goodbye. See you next year maybe. Just five staying for the week. Joining the wardens, Richard and Giselle, and three long term volunteers.
Music: Van Morrison “There will be days like this.”
We were staying in the cottage. Bobby loves it in there. A small room, in a 200 year old cottage. Full of history.
The sun shone. It was only ten o’clock and off round the island we went with Richard.
Richard showed us the chicks of two of Skokholm’s iconic seabirds. The Storm Petrel and the Manx Shearwater. All destined to have miraculous lives, or that’s how it seems to us mere humans. The Storm Petrel is featured next week. The Manx Shearwater already in (September). By the time you read this, these two balls of fluff will have flown away to the wild oceans.
Back at home, Bobby has always shown a keen interest in the natural world. Many think he is an expert in this and that. He talks a good story. On Skokholm, he is a complete novice. Happy to be so. And just as welcome on the island for his love of life.
On we went for a tour of the lighthouse. Constructed over several years and opened in 1916. Forming a triangle of lights with nearby lighthouses to protect shipping moving in and out of Milford Haven. The light shines 20 miles. Construction required a new jetty to land materials and a narrow gauge railway to move them to site. At first powered by a donkey, then a pony, and finally a tractor. Fully automated in 1983, it is still controlled and monitored remotely by Trinity House. The building was sold to the Wildlife Trust in 2016 and is now Richard and Giselle’s seasonal home. In researching the lighthouse, I came across this for your amusement.
The trucks were originally pulled by a donkey, which somehow always seemed to know when a relief day was due because he would deliberately hide often standing motionless under an overhanging rock. The colour of the rock blended perfectly with the donkey’s grey coat, and he would just stand there while the keepers walked for miles seeking him. On any other day the donkey would come at a call. The pony which replaced him apparently soon learned the tricks, because he did his best to cause upsets every time he was called upon to pull the trucks, scattering coal and stores all over the place. A tractor was subsequently used for haulage, when relief was by tender from Holyhead, but nowadays a helicopter is used.
Although keepers no longer live at the station, Skokholm Island is still inhabited as the island has been made into a bird sanctuary with ornithologists from all over the world visiting the specially built hide to study the rare and unusual bird life.
The lighthouse is architecturally notable for being the last traditional stone-built lighthouse erected by Trinity House.
Music: The Fureys and Davey Arthur “When you were sweet sixteen”.
The week was a mixture of little adventures, but also a lot of relaxation. A really good book kept him occupied. Reading, glancing across to the sea. Looking up at the birds. And the clouds for photo opportunities.
We watched the bird ringing each day.
Far more than just putting rings on each one.
There were butterflies enjoying the only Buddleia bush on the island. A Painted Lady Summer. These remarkable butterflies have an amazing life story. Long distance migrants, they will turn up in huge numbers every few years. Their life span is only two to four weeks, so the butterflies you see here are the next generation, or even more of those that set out from sunnier climes.
And there were moths. Night flying moths. One night a moth trap was set up. A big box, lit with a special light. Filled with egg boxes. In the light of day, the moths stay put while the excited staff work out what they have caught. On that particular night they identified 37 different species off moth.
And then to great excitement: a very large Hawk moth. The first Convolvulus Hawk moth of 2019.
Music: Eva Cassidy. “Danny Boy”.
We walked to the lighthouse on a glorious day. There was Skomer in the distance. Full of memories.
“Bobby, Bobby, will you please take us to Ireland?” Bobby replied “Well, Eamonn, it will be my pleasure. Diddley and I loved Ireland”.
We cooked a little dinner.
And we joined in the evening log in the cottage. Each evening, everyone gathers in the cottage to record what they have seen during the day. Each evening, Richard writes the Skokholm blogspot. Bobby and I appeared in two of these blogs. Thank you Richard.
All visitors to Skomer and Skokholm will stay up late to see the wonder of a night with the Manx Shearwaters. We went one better in a spectacular, unforgettable night with the Storm Petrels. So memorable, that it has its own blog next week. Don’t miss it!
The day before we were due to leave, there had been a spectacular overnight storm.
There was a tumultuous sea all the next day.
And finally, we left Skokholm. The sea had calmed down. The sun shone. We humped all the luggage onto the Princess . Heading unwittingly for Martins Haven and a “Very Serious Event.”
Music: The Pogues and the Dubliners “The Irish Rover”.
Music: Charlie Landsborough “I will love you all my life”.
Lighting a Candle for Diddley.
And for the NHS in Wales. The ambulance paramedics. The nurses at Morriston Hospital Swansea. And now, St George’s in Tooting. And, of course, all of you. Thank you.