Back To Basics
The Great Outdoors|November 2019
The Welsh island of Bardsey has no cars, electricity grid or indoor toilets, and virtually no phone signal. Helen Iles spent five days there, and discovered that remoteness and community spirit sometimes go hand in hand.

ON THE FIRST TWO NIGHTS I was gifted clear skies and no moon. The Milky Way arced from the north of the island, disappearing into the lighthouse on the southern end. Looking towards the core of the galaxy along its long coiling arm, millions of stars shimmered in the crystal skies. Satellites rotated their lonely journeys and planes commuted across the northern hemisphere. Clouds drifted in and out. Shooting stars left burning trails as I silently made wishes.

It was clear to see our relationship with space as a rock in the galaxy, rather than the centre of everything. The island had reminded me we are here by chance not by right.

I’d arrived on the Tuesday for a five-day stay on the remote Bardsey Island or Ynys Enlli: a remote rock two miles off north-west Wales’ Lleyn Peninsula with no cars, paved roads, electricity grid or indoor toilets. Here the elements scrape against the bare land, but the roaring winds and passing squalls allow a small pocket of people to exist on the rock like beautiful but inconspicuous lichens.

The island is tiny: one and a half miles long and half a mile wide. There’s a rich timeline of life from Iron Age settlements through to the modern-day: artefacts and evidence have been found that show it has been populated for over four thousand years. In recent centuries it became an important centre for Christian pilgrimages, hence legends of 20,000 saints buried on Bardsey.

The first boat arrives in the morning if the sea and tides permit, a lifeline that is eagerly welcomed. Sometimes it is full of awestruck day-trippers, a few for the first time but many returning to revisit where they left a bit of their hearts last time. The boat is greeted by a gaggle of children, happy residents, wardens and not-so-happy people returning to the mainland. This was my second trip. Having been captivated with the landscape last time, I was back for a few days photographing, walking and trying to capture the rich essence of the island.

After the first night, I started to settle into island life. Gareth the fisherman and-farmer brought me a small lobster and a tub of butter after I’d asked in passing if anyone had any spare last night. A small shop sells essentials, such as home-grown vegetables and wine, but all other food has to be brought in.

Most of the houses were built in the 1870s. They are heated by wood burners, light is provided by solar lamps, and the kitchens are mostly made of cold, beautiful slate. There is the modern addition of a gas cooker and a fridge. All water has to be boiled and filtered. In Nant (my house), the bathroom is a bowl and a hot kettle in a small room upstairs. The toilet is a Ty Bach (small house) outside, a compost-and-sawdust affair that requires nerves of steel and an open mind.

The island is crisscrossed with pathways that allow you to explore everywhere. The highest point is Mynydd Enlli at 167 metres (547 feet). From here the view is incredible: south over the square iconic red and white lighthouse, east along the Lleyn Peninsula towards Snowdonia, north towards South Stack lighthouse on Anglesey, and west over the wide-open seas towards Ireland. The coastal path leads you beautifully around the island. There are coves and beaches to be explored. I divided the island into four: the mountain and east slipway, the north coves, the rugged sea-weathered west coast, and the south point, with its magnificent lighthouse. One of the benefits of being on an island there is always a sheltered side.

MAROONED

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