The beautiful and unforgiving island that is Skomer is situated 2 miles off the Pembrokeshire coast of South Wales in Great Britain. It is first and foremost a nature reserve, and has been for more than thirty years. It is managed by the Wildlife Trust of South and West Wales.
During the summer months it can be home to thousands of sea birds. Some of the amazing varieties include Gannets, Puffins, Manx Shearwaters, Owls and Gulls. There are also opportunities (at certain times of the year) to see Dolphins, Porpoises, Atlantic Grey Seals and the unique Skomer Vole, among others.
There is only one way to get on and off Skomer Island, and that is by means of the Dale Sailing boats. The landings only occur from April until September, and only on specific days. Not only that, but weather plays a huge part in whether or not the boat will even run.
(The Boat is Returning to Collect Passengers from Skomer).
Skomer is most famous for its Puffin colonies who are the largest numbers in Southern Britain. This year was a particularly good year for their numbers, and I jumped at the opportunity to explore this island. Because I’m a keen nature and wildlife photographer it was a place that I had always hoped I would get to visit. Unfortunately for me, both the weather (that prevents the boat trips) and my health had previously stopped me from going. That was until June of this year, (hurrah!) when I finally stepped on to this amazing place for the first time!
In this blog post I am going to talk about my experience in detail, I will include some of my photographs, of both the island, the boat, the wildlife and I may even throw in a shot of me ‘in action’… all will become clear! But for those of you, who are intrigued to know more about Skomer then please continue reading. Hopefully by the end of this travel post you will be looking to perhaps visit the island yourself.
(An Oyster Catcher on a Stone Wall on Skomer).
So before we even get anywhere near the island, you have to be prepared for a very early start to your day. There are No Advanced Bookings what so ever, which means if you want a ticket you have to queue up for one. Nature enthusiasts, photographers, walkers, bird watchers, these are all the sorts of people you find who visit Skomer regularly, plus they all know the score. So in order for you to guarantee your place on one of those boat landings, you will need to be parked at the cliff car park (which is National Trust Land) and queue up at seven in the morning.
(View of the Car Park).
The Landing Tickets are issued by the Lockley Lodge which is situated on the hill leading down from the car park towards the sea. They are issued on a first come and first served basis only, so in the height of summer you must be willing to sacrifice a few hours stood and sat about waiting. The ticket office opens around eight to eight thirty in the morning, but the car park and the queue begins building from seven. The boats themselves run at intervals, with only fifty tickets per trip and a maximum person count for the island too, 250 people per day.
The first boat runs at 10am and the first return departs at 3pm. I will put this year’s Sailing information at the bottom of the post. There is a Boat Fee that is payable on the boat itself during sail (I will pop the prices for this year at the end of the post). Lockley Lodge is also a Gift Shop and sells some supplies useful for your day.
(Some of the items we got at the Gift Shop).
What can you do before you go? You can prepare yourself (and any family members) for a long day, ensure they all carry water and snacks, because there are no places to buy anything on the island. You must wear appropriate clothing, footwear and make sure that all persons are clued up on what they day will be like. There is a rather steep climb when you arrive for example, and only one set of toilets on the entire island. These are things to consider if you will have small children or anyone that is classed as elderly in your party. The island has a few rules, and if you cannot stick to them then I suggest you look for another day out. These include, no smoking, taking all rubbish with you, sticking to paths at ALL times and not interacting with the wildlife in a manner that is deemed inappropriate.
(National Trust Car Park at Martin’s Haven).
So as I mentioned earlier, the only way to reach Skomer is by boat, and this is not for the faint hearted. In fact the entire journey there and back can be a little daunting. The fisherman’s boat turned people carrier transports its passengers from the end of the cliffs at Martin’s Haven, just down the road from the village of Marloes. Once again this could be an issue for anyone with height issues, because you must walk along a cliff edge, and step into the boat from a railing and steps carved into the rock face. Once you have traveled on the boat, which is roughly twenty minutes but can depend entirely on the sea and the weather, you arrive to the island, and you will be required to disembark and climb approximately seventy stone and rock steps up to the safety of the flattened island surface.
(Return Boat Docking at Martin’s Haven).
Skomer Island is approximately 2 miles in length and 1.5 miles wide, so it takes a fair time to move around it. Obviously some of the paths do not go close to the cliff edges and this is also due to a safety aspect, for the birds and the visitors.
The best times to visit Skomer Island are when the birds and nesting and breeding. This can be anytime between May and August depending on the type of bird. My family and I were more interested in seeing the Puffin colony than anything else. I had never before seen a Puffin and I was astounded by how sweet and small they were. Would you believe me if I told you that the birds are everywhere? They are walking around, in and out of Burrows. They are flying around you, below on the cliffs edges and over the top of your head. Some are swimming in the sea or even floating upon the surface. But birds are everywhere!
(Farm Houses, Toilet Block and Accommodation on Skomer Island).
I think what I loved most about this island was its unique look, its unusual inhabitants, and also its ability to combine conservation and protection for its wildlife, while still allowing people like myself to visit and take all of it in. Skomer is much underrated in my personal opinion. Of course we don’t want hundreds of people trying to get over there and we certainly don’t want ignorant people who wish to disturb this incredible habitat. What we do need however are nature enthusiasts who don’t mind paying a little money, for an amazing experience, because I assure you that is what you’ll get.
(The Puffins Are Showing Affection).
My Top 5 Tips for a Skomer Trip
1. Ensure you are well prepared with some good footwear. The paths, although neatly laid out, are rather rocky and there are many climbs, wear shoes that have grips, walking shoes are best. You can pick them up reasonably cheap these days at outdoor shops and well stocked shoe shops.
2. Only bring the essentials you will need for half a day, because you will be carrying them with you, but don’t forget all of these very important items or something similar. Waters, Bite Cream, Sun Cream, Thin Waterproof Clothing, Refreshments, Hand Sanitiser, Sweets for Energy, Hydration Tablets if you suffer from Cramps, and finally Tissues. You will also need a carrier bag to take all of your rubbish home with you.
3. Bring a Camera! There will be some awesome opportunities to take photographs of a variety of wildlife and this should not be something that you should pass up on.
4. Think Ahead! If the weather forecast is going to be bad, such as strong winds, high tides and/or torrential rain, then you can almost guarantee that the boats will not be running. Try and decide and make arrangements so that you are prepared for a last minute change of plan. If the boats do run then that’s great, but be prepared for a long and probably wet day on the island. There’s very little shelter on Skomer, when I say that I promise I’m not exaggerating, there’s hardly a tree, and there are only a couple of buildings most of which are reserved mainly for islands staff.
5. Be Realistic On Time. You may underestimate the size of Skomer if you haven’t visited before. It takes time to weave through the paths and enjoy the many views, but you will be given a specific boat time that you must return to the mainland on. Make sure that you take note of what sections of the island you will need. The toilets are situated at the farm buildings in the centre of the island, but the best place to see the Puffin Colony is usually at The Wick.
(A Puffin has Caught Sand Eels).
Finally I’m going to show you some of the photographs that I managed to achieve while on Skomer this June. I wasn’t lucky enough to see the incredible and unique looking Albino Puffin, though someone I know of did manage to photograph this beauty, and they sent me an image so that I could see it, I was so pleased. I will also include an image of myself that my husband took of me while I was photographing.
(A Puffin Stands Proud).
(A Puffin Protects its Burrow).
(Sabrina in Action, Photographing Birds).
Sailing Times and Current Prices for 2017
You can check if boats are running by checking out the Skomer Boat Info on Twitter. Boats only run from Tuesday to Sunday, except Bank Holidays Mondays. The boats also only except cash so make sure you bring sufficient amounts with you by working out the prices for you and your trip mates.
The boats first run at 10am, with that boat returning at 3pm, and so on, until five lots of people have been landed.
Thank you for reading this travel post today, if you visit Skomer after reading my review then please let me know, I would love to hear your thoughts, and I would like to know of anything you may have seen that I did not.
✩ Sabrina ✩