Dixe Wills goes in search of the smallest places to have an adventure around Wales
Near Marloes Sands, Pembrokeshire
Poor Skokholm. If only it had somehow drifted further up the Welsh coastline – to Cardigan Bay perhaps, or Milford Haven – it might have found fame and fortune. As it is, it’s doomed to play second fiddle to its larger neighbour Skomer, an islands that can offer a stone circle, prehistoric houses, a standing stone and a more easily pronounceable name. However, being much less accessible than Skomer, Skokholm can at least claim to be the more exclusive of the two islands. And when it comes to birdlife, Skokholm (or Ynys Sgogwm to give it its seldom-used Welsh name) is certainly a match. Huge numbers of Manx shearwater and storm petrel congregate around the island, while puffins, razorbills and guillemots breed on its high old red standstone cliffs. Add in the large colonies of gulls along with plentiful oystercatchers, skylarks, wheatears and the rare chough, and choice blown-in visitors such as the purple heron, golden oriole and glossy ibis, and you begin to realise why the Wildlife Trust was so keen to buy the island back in 2006.
Getting there: From Marloes it’s a 2.5 mile walk to Martin’s Haven, from where the Wildlife Trust ferry sails to Skokholm.
Admission price: Free of charge
Things to do: Rather conveniently, sailings to neighbouring Skomer leave from Martin's Haven up to three times a day from April to October, weather permitting. Nearby island Gateholm is accessible at low tide from Marloes Sands. The Milford Haven Heritage Museum provides an interesting and inexpensive examination of the area's history.
Bristol Channel, Near Cardiff
The only thing disappointing about Flat Holm is its name. All right, so it is flat (comparatively) and it is an island, or ‘holm’ in the tongue of its Scandinavian visitors, but if we always followed that literalist scheme of nomenclature, we’d be left calling Glasgow ‘Big City’, Snowdon ‘Tall Mountain’ and Milton Keynes ‘Mistake’. Ynys Echni (‘flat island’), its Welsh name, sounds better but hardly gets the pulses racing either.
Someone (possibly you) should launch a campaign to return the island to the moniker given it by its Anglo-Saxon settlers: the much more mellifluous Bradanreolice. That’s a name that would do justice to a place whose many achievements include the hosting of a technological breakthrough that changed the way the world communicated. On 13 May 1897, the 23-yearold Italian Guglielmo Marconi, aided by his assistant George Kemp, transmitted the very first wireless message to travel across the waves. The Morse Code communication was sent to Lavernock Point on the coast of south Wales. It read, ‘Are you ready?’
Getting there: Take a boat from the Barrage South Car Park at Cardiff Bay.
Admission price: £6 per person
Things to do: In 2011 the island aquired its own pub, The Gull and Leek, situated in the Victorian barracks, though at present they don't serve food. The little shop on the sialdn sells souvenirs and fair trade snacks.
In the nearby city, Cardiff Castle is a hugely impressive hunk of Norman stronghold-cum-Victorian Gothic fantasia.
Jump back 5,000 years in time and try to imagine how you would cope with the hazards of everyday life. Not only were there wild animals roaming about that could kill or maim, you were also at the mercy of anyone who had a notion to deprive you of your goods, your family members, or your life and could back up such an impulse with force.
It made sense, therefore, to build a homestead where you could defend yourself and your loved ones. A lake or a loch whose waters served as a natural moat not only guarded against the possibility of being caught unawares, but also deterred those would be assailants who could neither swim nor had the means to sail. So it was that crannogs began to be built.
Getting there: From Llangors Lake the crannog can be approached by boat at any time. Landings are not permitted but a nearby replica crannog is open daily except Wednesdays.
Admission price: Free of charge
Things to do: Take to the lake: rowing boats, kayaks, Canadian canoes, pedalos and something called 'funboats' are available for hire. At the Llangorse Multi Activity Centre you can go skytrekking, horse-riding BMXing, climbing or get muddy, wet and gloriously disorientated tackling the dingle scramble...
Dwyrd Estuary near Talsarnau Gwynedd
It’s a sad truth about Britain that not everyone is given their own island by the monarch. Furthermore, history would suggest that to be in with the slightest chance of some free island action you need to be ennobled. That would certainly explain Lord Harlech’s good luck when he was graciously presented with a tiny isle in the Dwyryd estuary in the early 1700s.
The island in question became known as Ynys Gifftan (‘Anne’s Gift Island’) since the hand that bestowed it upon the noble lord belonged to Queen Anne. However, her royal highness doesn’t seem to have been convinced that it would be wholly appreciated because she added the caveat that it could never be sold on. Three centuries later, the island is in the hands of Francis David Ormsby-Gore, 6th Baron Harlech.
Getting there: Half a mile walk from Talsarnau railway station to the point where you can cross over the island at low tide (accessible for up to three hours either side of low tide). The channel never dries completely so be ready to roll up your trouser legs.
Admission price: Free of charge.
Things to do: There are literally no facilities on this tiny island and not much to do aside from walk and explore. Back on the mainland, the dream-like village of Portmeirion brings un pezzo di Portofino to the Welsh coast, and really has to be visited to be believed. The recently created Taith Ardudwy Way footpath covers 24 miles of coastline from Barmouth up to Llandecwyn, passing Ynys Grifftan near the end.
Newborough Bay, Anglesey
Ynys Llanddwyn is not a place for the broken-hearted. It’s a place for those still woozy with love’s first intoxicating draft. It’s a place for couples whose relationship is in danger of foundering on the rocks of cold sobriety and who yearn to be drunk with affection once more. It’s a place for lovers whose mutual regard has stood the test of time and has deepened with the years. It’s also a place for people who like cormorants.
So, why should a remote island off the southwest coast of Anglesey have taken on the unofficial name overs’ Island and become a mecca for those so insecure about their own personhood that they’ve succumbed to the degradation of attaching themselves limpet-like to another human being? Ironically, it’s all down to someone who devoted herself to a life of chastity: Saint Dwynwen.
Getting there: Take the bus from Bodorgan towards the village of Newborough, alighting at Newborough Forest. Walk two miles southwest through the forest to the coast. The island is accessible from the beach and is only cut off briefly at high tide.
Admission price: Free
Things to do: Newborough has a pub and a chippy but it's worth pushing on the extra half-mile to Penlon to sample the Marram Grass Cafe. Dogs aren't allowed on the island and collecting rock specimens is off limits too. Back on mainland, the site of the Llys Rhosyr, the royal court of the Welsh princes is on the road south of Newborough with an exhibition on the same at the Prichard Jones Institute in Newborough itself. Tacla Taid, the Anglesey TRansport and Agriculture Museum in Newborough is full of classic vehicles set in a replica 1940s village street.These have been taken from Dixe Wills' new book: Tiny Islands: 60 Remarkable Little Worlds Around Britain (£14.99; AA Publishing). Order your copy online now.