Skomer

There follows a detailed article on Skomer one of Pembrokeshire's off shore islands. We gratefully acknowledge the contributor David Saunders in compiling this section.

Getting there: The ferry is run by Dale Sailing - details of times and fares.

Largest of the Welsh islands excluding Anglesey and its satellite of Holy Island, Skomer forms the south-western arm of St Bride's Bay. Separated from the mainland by Jack Sound, almost 700 yards (600 metres) wide, then the hump of Midddleholm between which and Skomer the appropriately named Little Sound surges, at times with the roar of an express train. From the mainland opposite at Wooltack Point, the very tip of the Marloes peninsula, only part of Skomer is visible, extending from the Garland Stone on the north to the Mew Stone, the leaning stack on the south side, almost 1.5 miles (2.1 kilometres) apart. East to west the distance across the island is some 2 miles (3.2 kilometres), encompassing an area 722 acres (292 hectares) in extent, largely a plateau 200 feet (61 metres) high rising to 260 feet (79 metres) on the central ridge.

Skomer is owned by the Countryside Council for Wales and leased by them to the Wildlife Trust West Wales. The island has been a National Nature Reserve (NNR) since 1959, added to which are a number of other designations, designations which together only further confirm this is a very special place indeed. Skomer lies within the Pembrokeshire Coast National Park, is designated a Site of Special Scientific Interest (SSSI), a Special Protection Area (SPA), a Geological Conservation Review Site (GCR), while much is a Scheduled Ancient Monument. In addition the waters around form part of the Pembrokeshire Islands Special Area of Conservation (SAC) and the Skomer Marine Nature Reserve (MNR).

From Martinshaven, the tiny cove above which the road ends some two miles (3 kilometres) from Marloes village, you will follow the route by boat which islanders and island visitors have taken from the earliest times. Your destination North Haven, where they would have beached their vessels in a boulder strewn cove, though visitors now land dry foot on some steps snug on the western slopes. Above the landing place a simple network of footpaths provides easy access across much of Skomer.

North Haven is only separated by a narrow neck of land from South Haven above which the path leads towards the seabird cities of High Cliff and The Wick and onwards to Tom's House. Who was Tom one asks? Then to Pigstone Bay, the far west of Skomer, where the sea is never stilled. Best listen to the warden and his hints for seals before deciding on the route for the day. If the tide is right you may instead wish to cross the central plateau and having paused to explore the farmhouse ruins continue north to overlook the Garland Stone and there, all being well, will be Grey Seals to watch. At least until the tide pushes them off their favourite rocks. From here the path heads westwards, eventually skirting Pigstone Bay to the proud bastion of Skomer Head, before turning east past the seabird cliffs already referred to and so to North Haven, the boat, and sadly the return to the mainland.

Who were the first people to live on Skomer. The few flint flakes found do not suggest a vibrant population, but all changes by the Iron Age, some 2,000 years ago. None of the other islands can claim such a comprehensive early prehistoric record from this period. On Skomer you walk with history, the evidence visible for all to see, at least once you become "tuned in." Here is one of the finest late prehistoric agricultural landscapes of field systems with associated hut sites and cairns. Much is easily seen, and you soon realise the footpath continually passes over the remains of field boundary walls. In addition there are over 40 hut-sites, that in the Wick Valley sheltered by a steep cliff-face, and those close together north of the old farm are the most accessible.

How many people lived on Skomer? One suggestion is about 200 though perhaps not all at the same time. How many people and for how long may always be a mystery, but the scale of their construction efforts is remarkable. Where now only ground stones remain there would have been stout walls, the fields would have been tilled, stock would have grazed. Where now only mounds there would have been huts providing shelter for whole families and the smoke from many camp fires. In the central area of Skomer field systems constructed in more recent times must have obliterated numerous other ancient remains.

Then a leap across the centuries to medieval Britain when Rabbits were king, the staple meat of a large part of the population while their skins were another valuable commodity. Introduced into Great Britain about the beginning of the 12th century they were present in North Wales by 1282 and reached Pembrokeshire possibly after this. The first evidence of their presence being that contained within an inquest into the lands and property of Aymer de Valence in 1324 where the "rabbit profits" from Skalmeye (Skomer), Scokholm and Middleholm are recorded as £14 5s 0d compared to £2 15 0d for "pasturage." From then on there are numerous references to Rabbits on Skomer, and indeed the other islands, for they formed an important part of the island economy until almost half-a-century ago when myxomatosis decimated the population and suddenly Rabbit was no longer on the nation's menu

All visitors to Skomer pass the gaunt ruins of a once prosperous farm situated at the centre of the island and surrounded by a network of fields extending across many acres. The farmhouse and range of massive outbuildings was built in the early 19th century, though without question stands on the site of earlier dwellings. One has only to look at the buildings to appreciate this was a prosperous era, perhaps the most prosperous era since that of the 14th century rabbit-catchers. Fortunately there is more than just evidence of the buildings. The family of Captain Vaughan Palmer Davies, who took the lease in 1861, aged 35 and retired from the island some 30 years later have left a unique archive of diaries, letters and photographs of life on Skomer.

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