Life On a Thin Place (Part III: Limits)

August 16, 2013

bardseyQuite frankly, our holiday on Bardsey Island is a pain. It is about as far away from jumping on a plane for an all-inclusive holiday as you can get.

For one, there is the food. Once on the island, other than honey, eggs and veg from Jo or mackerel if you bring your fishing gear with you, you are entirely dependent on the food you bring. As the person responsible for this, that is a scary prospect. What if I haven’t made enough cakes? What if my alcoholic provisions prove insufficient? What if we are stuck here for a few more days – have I brought enough extra food to see us through? As you can imagine, the phrase, ‘that’s enough, this has got to last us all week’, is one that the rest of the family get somewhat accustomed to hearing.

For two, there is the water. The island is entirely self-sufficient in water and is supplied from the mountain stream. Each house has one tap in the kitchen that comes from the stream (and it kind of dribbles out) and a massive water butt outside. The water from the butt has to be used for everything (cooking, cleaning, washing etc) except drinking. If it has been a dry period then the tap water might be rationed. The regular trips along the side of the house to the water butt to fill a bowl with water make me realise just how hugely precious water really is.

bardsey boat landingFor three, there is the travel. The day before we’re due to leave the mainland we drive to the little village of Aberdaron, off the tip of the Llyn peninsula in North Wales, and book into a B&B. Admittedly it is a very pretty village (see my FaceBook cover picture for an ice cream glimpse) and after our long journey the fish ‘n’ chips by the river and the climb over the rocks on the beach are both long-anticipated pleasures.

At 6pm we phone Colin-the-boatman who informs us whether or not the weather will allow us to cross the next day and, if so, at what time. If the weather is bad (this is North Wales after all) and there’s to be no crossing then we’re stuck on the mainland until the weather improves. It’s the same when it is time to leave and there is the possibility of being marooned on the island until the weather allows us to cross back. Hmmm.

And then, there’s the energy. It is funny how instinctive it is, when it gets dark, to walk into a room and feel for the light switch. I caught myself doing that a couple of times when we first arrived and it took me a while to get into the habit of getting particular things done (like taking out my contact lenses!) while it was still light. Although there are lamps and candles supplied, there is a limit to what you can do with the light that they give out. Certainly I can’t read, which is a definite drawback.

earthSo island life is inconvenient (and I haven’t even mentioned the outside toilet and having to take all your rubbish home with you…). But it teaches me about limits and reminds me that I live on one huge island floating in the sea of the universe. The limits of Bardsey function for me as a metaphor for the limits of this earth that I inhabit and remind me that I shouldn’t take the earth’s resources for granted and use them as if they are unlimited.

To get technical a moment, we are talking planetary boundaries. Scientists have identified nine particular earth system processes that have boundaries that we have to live within if we are not going to send this earth and ourselves into irreversible decline. At the same time, though, we are faced with massive human development needs. How do we answer those needs whilst not going over earth’s boundaries? Some believe the humble doughnut may hold the answer…

My brief stay on the thin place of Bardsey Island has prompted me to reflect on time and on pain. It has also become a meditation on how I can all too easily treat the earth as a limitless resource and, in so doing, it asks me to repent and re-consider how I live.

You Might Also Like


  • Reply lizacooke August 17, 2013 at 6:54 am

    Excellent and thought provoking, Ruth
    Much of it resonates for us living here in Kenya…….

    Thank you

    • Reply ruthvalerio August 17, 2013 at 8:20 am

      Thanks Liza, yes I imagine it does! x

  • Reply Ed Brown August 17, 2013 at 5:52 pm

    Nice job, Ruth. Recently visited staff workers in Tanzania living this way 24/7/365 – though they didn’t have the food limitations. I was with them for a week – amazing how quickly you can adapt and even enjoy this kind of life. (Yes, they had 3 children and were putting up with me for the week!). I learned it’s possible to keep milk, meat, etc safe for a week w/o refrigeration. We’ve forgotten a lot in our modern day.

  • Reply Júlio Reis August 19, 2013 at 8:31 am

    You holiday on Bardsey sounds positively terrifying to me… not jumping on a plane, rather like jumping off a plane to some deserted island. Just the thought of being on an island is constricting enough for me, but the food insecurity… not being able to control when I leave, too… That’s a lot to think over for me. (Thanks.)

    • Reply ruthvalerio August 23, 2013 at 2:29 pm

      you’re welcome – glad to get you thinking!

  • Reply Happy Holidays | Ruth Valerio May 31, 2014 at 10:08 am

    […] holidays in a yurt in the Cotswolds, and most recently we’ve discovered the inspiration of Bardsey Island. This year we have a rather exciting oversees trip planned, but since it is seven years since we […]

  • Leave a Reply

    This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.