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A view from Enlli island to the Irish Sea: Angus D. Birditt

Far out until the eye can see is the Irish Sea in all her colossal might and utter beauty. Everywhere you look, gliding just above the enormous intimidating currents, banking high up in the bright white ethers, or flitting around in the foreground of the island’s rough and craggy coastline, are birds of such diversity and fervour, of which I’ve never seen before. They are, I'm sure, searching for the same seafood delicacies I am searching for on my visit to this remote island.

I’m standing on the very edge of Ynys Enlli (or Bardsey Island), my toes balancing off the last rock edge before it drops down and meets the crashing waves. With my back to the island and the rest of the Welsh mainland and beyond, I find myself in a wild and isolated world of its own.

Just two miles off the Welsh mainland, the island of Enlli (pronounced ‘En-th-ley’) is a renowned pilgrimage site, one where 20,000 saints are said to have been buried. To get to the island, you will need to cross perhaps one of the most treacherous stretches of water known in the British Isles, a channel where four currents meet, with 12 million cubic tonnes of water passing through every minute. Due to the arduous crossing, you would be forgiven for thinking there was a regular service to the island, all aboard a big bulky ferry, but the reality is somewhat different. Cue Maria Stella, a small 3-tonne yellow fishing boat that, to be fair to the little vessel, crosses the huge currents with surprising ease, but didn’t half give us an unforgettable experience, particularly on the bitterly cold and rough windy day we crossed over, if you get my drift. Let's just say, it's known as 'the island in the tides' for good reason!

To book onto the fishing boat, there is only one man to contact, a man who is said by the local community to ‘truly know these waters like the backs of his hands’. And that man is Colin. A quick phone call to Colin the day before travelling will soon tell you whether the seas will be kind for the next day. Thankfully for us, the tides and weather were kind, and off we went across the rather rough seas. Back before Colin and his Maria Stella, which he built, it's astonishing to think that islanders used to row in small wooden boats to and from mainland Wales regularly, and even to Liverpool sometimes, to buy and trade fresh produce – a truly mighty effort.


Back on the island, you really do feel that you have reached somewhere special. The wildlife seems unspoilt and naïve to human interference. It is surprising and wonderfully refreshing to have all kinds of wildlife not scared of you, seeing you as part of nature. Walking down the island's coastline in late summer, seals lie in their hundreds merely feet away - of course, I kept my distance from the pups and their proud mothers - and the birdlife happily flicking and chirping all around you, unfazed by my presence. In my wide-angled view of both island and sea on the south-side of Enlli, I can spot a huge diversity of wildlife; hundreds of seals and their chubby cream-furred pups, whimbrels, curlews, gannets, sandpipers, oystercatchers, sandwich terns, herring gulls, great black-backed gulls, kittiwakes, Mediterranean gulls, golden plovers, rock pipits, white wagtails, pied wagtails, and more!

Now it is late summer, and a storm is passing through. In fairer weather, in spring and summer, there are normally around 20 or so people living on the island; the few wardens and farmers (the latter are also the island’s fishermen traditionally) that work the island and maintain its buildings, plus those working and volunteering at the local bird observatory. In summer, there are also plenty of visitors that come for the day or stay for several. Twice a year, an artist comes for a weekly residency on the island – my other half, Lilly, being the reason for my dwelling on the island. Then in autumn and winter, only 2 wardens stay through the tough colder months of the year. The farmers and their animals transfer over to the mainland.

For me, I was here to discover the local food of the island. The few wardens (Emyr, Mari and Jack) and farmers (Gareth and Meriel) on the island are remarkably self-reliant, growing as much food as they can on their own plots of land – each has a house and garden to maintain, these houses harp back to the Victorian period when the last lord of the manor commissioned his own 'model village' - all rather charmingly done if you ask me. In the summertime, when the weather allows, they can grow plenty of fruit and vegetables that can be stocked into autumn and winter. Alongside the monthly shipment of essentials like tin cans of beans and other staples imported from the mainland, the islanders have access to local seafood like brown crab and lobster, and when an animal is slaughtered, lamb and beef from the island's Welsh Mountains and Stabiliser breeds. Gareth, the farmer, tells me that most of the meat he sells goes to a well-known supermarket under their 'own brand', sadly not highlighting the high levels of farming standards and 'island life' these animals experience. I do believe island status is being petitioned. Most mornings when the seas are calm, you'll spot Gareth just off the island on his 3-tonne boat, checking on his traps, hoping to find lobster, crab and other such seafood delights. Gareth is very acute to keeping only the right size of lobster and crab for consuming, using a EU-regulated measurement with every catch, throwing any undersized sea creatures back into the crystal abyss below.

For any visitor to enjoy such delights, they will have to book into the island’s endearing café that boasts perhaps one of the best views in the UK, an undisturbed view of the Irish Sea. Run by Gareth and his wife, Meriel, the café is an old Welsh stone shed equipped with a table and a few chairs, plus a gas heater for the colder days of the year. Open most days in summer, Meriel will offer you a menu full of hearty-portioned meals made using the wealth of produce found and sourced on the island, from homegrown fruit and vegetables, to locally caught brown crab and lobster. I gladly devoured the brown crab linguine and lobster salad, alongside a few local craft ales made just over the waters on the mainland. Meriel also makes a range of exceptional homemade puddings, from crème brûlée to sticky toffee pudding that rounds off a very satisfactory meal. I also hear that, when in season, the Welsh roast lamb is a must, perhaps that's something to look forward to next time.

There is also an exhibition centre on the island with an array of beautiful artworks inspired by the nature, landscape and history of the island, which are available to buy, most of the work produced by artists living and working on the island.


Being on Enlli, even for a few days, you come to love island life, its wild and isolated existence, separate from the mainland and the rest of the world, with no electricity or cyber world there to distract you. From its breath-taking views and abundance of wildlife to the blustery and spellbinding walks and the warm-hearted welcoming community, and of course, the outstanding local food on offer, it's a special place to experience. 

Find out more about Enlli Island and Lilly Hedley’s work here inspired by Enlli.

Exploring Enlli / Bardsey Island

Words & photography by Angus D. Birditt | @angusdbirditt

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