Just under 2 miles from the tip of the Lleyn Peninsula, Bardsey Island has been welcoming enthusiastic visitors, ferried from the mainland, for thousands of years. In the early days they were nearly all religious pilgrims now they are mostly wildlife enthusiasts including a few pilgrims.
Early Christians in the middle ages believed three pilgrimages to Bardsey equalled one to Rome hence references to the great number said to be buried on the island. Devout monks settled there in the 6th century and under the guidance of St Cadfan began building a monastery. By the 13th century the Augustinian Abbey of St Mary was well established, remains of which can still be seen today. After the dissolution of monasteries in 1537 Bardsey was abandoned. The only visitors left were pirates and other ne’er do wells.
Finally in the 18th century fisherfolk and a farmers set up a small respectable community leading hard working but honest lives. By the beginning of the 20th century there was a population of around 100. At that time successive community leaders were regarded as ‘King of Enlli’. In 1925 the majority of folk left Bardsey for easier lives on the mainland. Just a handful of stoic fishermen and farmers remained.
Since 1979 the island has belonged to the Bardsey Island Trust, a body of enthusiasts, academics, public figures and the church, all ardent Bardsey lovers. Their aim is to protect and study the island’s wildlife and ecosystem, to encourage visitors to appreciate Bardsey as a place of natural beauty and pilgrimage, to encourage education, to protect the buildings and archaeological sites, to promote the artistic and cultural life of the island and to engage in farming for the benefit of the island. Welsh opera singer Bryn Terfel and film maker Peter Greenaway are patrons of the trust.
Peter Greenaway remarked of Bardsey “It is an area of sheer pulchritude (irresistable beauty).” “What a mesmeric island. A splendid boat trip from Porth Meudy. On arrival seals greet you on the rocks.The ancient Abbey. The majestic Lighthouse. The fascinating (and very trusting) ornithology building. This is a haven for twitchers.”
The Bardsey Bird & Field Observatory, one of only two accredited bird observatories in Wales, was founded in 1953. It has been monitoring Bardsey’s birds and wildlife ever since. It is based in the old farmhouse at Cristin. The whole observatory can be booked for group visits.
Unusually Bardsey Lighthouse built in 1821 is a square towered construction. At 30 metres tall it is the highest tower of its kind in Britain. It is painted in red and white bands and guides shipping up and down Cardigan Bay in the Irish Sea. When first constructed it was particularly welcomed by seafarers sailing the otherwise treacherous passage from Liverpool.
Visitors staying in Aberdaron holiday cottages on the southern tip of the Lleyn Peninsula will find they are very close to Porth Meudwy, the departure point for the Bardsey Island ferry. Whether twitchers, wildlife enthusiasts, nature lovers, walkers, pilgrims or just plain curious, all are welcome. Bardsey Island is a National Nature Reserve, Site of Special Scientific Interest (SSSI), Special Protection Area (SPA), an Environmentally Sensitive Area (ESA) and an Area of Outstanding Natural Beauty.