We spent the last week of April in Pembrokeshire. Jane had fancied a visit there and found a vegan B&B that did evening meals which she had booked a while ago. I wasn’t much looking forward to the 4 hour drive but we made the decision to have a proper mid-way break in Cardiff rather than just wing it which in retrospect was a great idea.
So I let the TomTom navigate us to Cafe Atma in Cardiff which offered some great – tasty and wholesome – vegan food including a good choice of cakes. Suitably stuffed Jane took over and drove us to The Gables B&B in Roch, about a mile away from Newgale Sands. Susie and her vegan dogs and cat* made us really welcome at The Gables and it was a change for me never having to double check if I could eat something, from the scones on arrival to the lovely diners she made us and the cooked breakfast – everything was vegan. Also not too expensive. Highly recommended!
Maybe the real reason Jane had wanted to go to Pembrokshire was to visit Skomer Island with a hope of seeing puffins. With a limit of 250 visitors allowed a day, and the single landing point meaning conditions didn’t always allow the boat to sail, getting there wasn’t a certainty. We were in luck though and at 11am Monday were boarding the Dale Princess then on our way.
The boat trip was fun and took about 15 minutes then up a long stairway to a greeting area where a Welsh Wildlife Trust warden gave us the low down and in particular asked us to stick to the paths as the whole island is riddled with burrows many of which contained nesting birds including the nocturnal Manx Shearwaters – about 300,000 breeding pairs apparently. We couldn’t expect to see any in day time excepting the macabre pairs of bodiless wings scattered about the island, leftovers from when the Greater Black-backed Gulls had a few for supper.
We walked up the old farmhouse which now serves as a visitor centre, attempts at farming having ceased in the 1950′s. Then we set off in the opposite direction to the others so we could have our picnic lunch looking out over the Mew Stone which is a rock out to sea at the south of Skomer. The rock ledges of Mew Stone was occupied with lots of birds that we decided were Guillemot, we’d been told a pair of Chough had been seen earlier but we didn’t spot their distinctive red beaks and legs.
On to The Wick, a steep cliffed feature like someone had cut a thin slice of cake out the island, and there were puffins everywhere. We’d been alone for much of the time so far but loads of people were puffin watching, the birds themselves didn’t seem much fussed though a volunteer told me they could get a bit stressed having to walk across the path to get to their burrows.
It was a fine sunny day so I managed to get some good photos despite having to rely on the autofocus as varifocals and cameras don’t mix. We also had a pair of Fulmars snuggling up high on a cliff ledge pointed out to us as well as more Guillimot and some Razorbills lower down on the cliff. It was a while before we tore ourselves away and continued round Skomer’s perimeter.
Skomer had been used for farming rabbits since the 14th century and there were still lots about, mostly your standard issue grey bunny but we also saw several black ones.
I had suggested we travelled to Skomer on the 11am boat instead of the 10am as the first boat back was supposed to be 3:30pm and I had visions of us getting cold and bored on a wet and windy island. In fact the opposite was true and we had to keep an eye on the time to make sure we were waiting for our boat 30 minutes before it’s 4:00pm sailing – it had been pointed out to us at the start that there was no later boat and ‘it was already rather crowded at the hostel’ (some visitors and researchers spend the night there).
A 2nd visit to the old farmhouse to use their compost loos and buy some water then back to the top of the landing stairs where we were entertained by more puffins, seals – in particular a young one that came over to our side of the bay and, on our descent to the Dale Princess for boarding, a close look at some Razorbills who hang out near the steps.
* Life for Celine, an elegant and friendly black cat – healthy at 15 years on her vegan diet – could have been terribly different. Celine started life at Hill Grove Farm where cats were bred for vivisection until it closed, mostly down to the efforts of activists, in 1999.
Controversial cat farm closes (BBC)
Save The Hillgrove Cats Campaign (YouTube)