Ynys Echni or Flat Holm island is an interesting daytrip from Cardiff. We went on the former car ferry, Westward Ho. The exit from Cardiff Bay through the barrage is dramatic.
You can see the island from the top of the Garth mountain in Wales or from Weston-Super-Mare in England. Our companions came from Shrewsbury (a group came by train) and closer to home – Olwg Camera Club from Church Village and cricketers we knew.
We went past Penarth Pier and watched Lavernock Point recede as Flat Holm came clearly into view.
It wasn’t quite what we expected, having more buildings and “stuff” there. From a distance, the warden and volunteers looked a bit like wreckers on the stony beach (if you watch Poldark); of course, they were full of friendliness and had a wealth of knowledge about the island and the stuff on it.
We landed near the cliffs where the herring gulls nest and pink thrift grew. We walked over to the main visitors area. In June – slightly late this year – it is breeding season, and some walks are off limits to visitors. Cardiff City Council has the Flat Holm Project which conserves it for seabirds and is supported by the charity, Flat Holm Society.
Over in the buildings near the lighthouse, we got an introduction, paid our £5 landing fee and got tea at the pub. We had taken sandwiches – there’s drink but not food. They also have an excellent guide book and a free guided tour.
Among the stuff there is the rare wild peony (caged off to stop rabbits eating it), and the Welsh leek which is tall and has a garlicky-oniony smell. And then there are strange constructions which turn out to have been built by Victorians or for World War defences. Mostly, they have a gull or two on top.
We saw the old farmhouse: there was a religious retreat from the 6th century, as was Steep Holm nearby. There was farming long ago (they sent thousands of rabbits to market in Cardiff) although now it is all managed grassland on one side and more growth for the black-backed gulls area – they nest on the ground. On the west beach (where soldiers hauled guns up in World War II), the pattern of a sea bed can be seen.
The Project would like to see some of the buildings restored – it’s hard to know. the cholera hospital lost its slate to the farmhouse roof and is falling down.
The black-backed gulls breed by the mown paths, for the good reason that they need some flat space to land and take off. They were very vocal about us walking by the eggs or chicks.
Gulls looked accusingly, from posts or along paths, and screeched.
The lighthouse was being repaired and we couldn’t go in.
Nearby were two fascinating structures from the Victorian times. In the photo at the back, you can see the sunken gun position: the gun was raised to fire using the Moncrieff carriages (no longer there). The stonework and brick work were superb. In front in the photo is the water collecting device of unglazed tiles which runs down into a tank and is the only natural source of water on the island.
It is simple and effective and gets a clean – water scrubbing only – regularly. I thought a clean might be due soon. Like the water, all power on the island is from renewable sources. All amazing stuff.
Altogether, a good trip.