Okay, let me get this clear right from the start: I’m a fair-weather island dweller. Life on Bardsey Island for a week or two in the summer is quite different to the life of our friends Steve and Jo, Rachel and Ben, the island’s only permanent residents.
Coming to this beautiful island though, if only for a relatively short time, is a unique experience and it has caused me to reflect on three particular things.
‘Just what do you do all week?’ is the question I’m always asked whenever I tell people excitedly where we’re going for our summer holidays. And it’s an understandable question: what on earth do you do all week on an island that’s only 1.5 miles long and has no electricity? Surely you’ve explored it by the first afternoon and then what else is there to do, with no TVs or computers?
The odd thing is that time has a funny habit of changing when you step off the boat onto the little beach that marks the start of your time on the island. Which is just as well really because I don’t always have the best relationship with time, particularly recently when I’ve been through an awfully busy period with lots of work and travelling. So I was very much in need of a period of time with ‘nothing to do’.
But it’s amazing how much there is to do on an island with nothing to do. Last year I didn’t even make it to the tip of the island at the far end from our house – somehow there just wasn’t the time!
To begin with there are the daily things of life. It takes time to boil the kettle for my morning wash. There’s bread to bake and cooked breakfasts to fry. Then there’s the daily swim with the seals and the walk to the farmhouse to say hello to Jo and see if she’s got any eggs for me. There’s the mountain to climb and the cliff paths to walk along. Carol, the resident summer artist, holds craft workshops to participate in and Christine, whose husband was born and bred on Bardsey, holds a history talk and poetry reading one evening. Sometimes there’s help needed on the farm and we join in moving the sheep from field to field, or rounding up the cows when a careless day visitor has forgotten to close a gate.
We join in with the Bird Observatory’s activities, ringing Manx Shearwater chicks one afternoon on the mountain and Storm Petrels on the beach at midnight. The kids on the island get together regularly to play football and organise ‘Five O’Clock Games’ when they play Seekers (whatever that is…) in the fields.
At low tide you can sit out and watch the seals as they bask on the rocks, listening to their grumpy noises and watching their funny antics, and at midnight you can sit in the darkness in the valley where Manx Shearwater return to the chicks in their burrows. The ghostly white shapes floating overhead and their eerie call is an experience like no other. Star gazing on Bardsey is incredible, with no light pollution for miles around, and being in the middle of a meteor shower at the moment, we lay on our backs at midnight and watched shooting stars whizzing through the heavenlies above us, and saw satellites and the International Space Station tracking their courses through the night sky. And of course there is time to spend with our friends who have come with us, drinking wine, eating together and talking life.
Undergirding it all is the regular rhythm of prayer that has been a part of the island for centuries. There are the morning and evening offices held at 9am and 5pm in the little Victorian chapel next to our house each day, and at the end of the day a number of us meet for compline, the children and teenagers taking it in turns to say the lines. The most memorable of these was held on our penultimate evening, after island football, on the sandy beach as the rain clouds gathered, with twenty or so seals bobbing in the water all watching us as we huddled together around a candle.
Goodness, I was only going to write one paragraph on time but have ended up writing a whole post and will have to leave my other thoughts for later. As you can see, there really isn’t that much to do on Bardsey…