Last year my husband and I went up to Northumberland and wanted to go and see the puffins on the Farne Islands but it was the wrong season. We put it aside and thought we try again this year. It was them my husband remembered that there were puffins found on Skomar so we changed our destination to South Wales and created a new itinerary for this trip.
Now it is possible to take boat tips that take you around the Island and don't land but we wanted to actually go onto Skomar and there is only one company that do sailings that allow you to land and stay on the island. Interestingly we saw a news item about two weeks before we went on our trip saying that this boat had sunk on one crossing but there was no loss of life so it didn't make big headlines!
This company sails from “Martin's Haven daily at 10am, 11am and 12 noon (29th March 31st October) No Landings on Monday (except Bank Holidays) Island is Closed 14th, 15th & 16th May 2013 Extra Round Island Cruises will be available on these days from 10.00am.
During peak periods additional crossings may be scheduled.
Adults £11.00 - Under 16's £7.00 (no Advanced booking)
Landing fee of £10 for Adults, £9 for senior citizens & £5 for students”
That information is taken directly from their website
We had virtually decided not to bother going to Martin's Haven as the weather was very rainy and windy and they don't sail if the weather is bad. We tried one of the other companies to see if they were sailing and some were so we took a punt and drove all the way to Martin's Haven. This was a long way along narrow single lane traffic lanes. Heaven only knows what this is like in the peak season as you might spend you time reversing long distances.
You can't book this crossing prior to the day. So you can turn up at 8am and book for a sailing later in the day and sometimes at 8 am you are booking for the midday sailing as it is first come first served. You are then left with a dilemma – what do you do in those few hours as it is about an hour to get anywhere from Martin's Haven. Fortunately this didn't happen to us as there were twenty places on the next sailing which was five minutes away from when we arrived!
I think the company should have an office somewhere before the single lane roads and take the bookings there. That way only people booked on the small ferry will be driving down there rather than lots of frustrated, disappointed people who have failed to get onto any sailing.
THE BOAT AND SAILING
Once you have bought your ticket and been checked in you make your way to the small jetty, via the toilets as there are none on the boat and the only ones on the island are a mile inland.
The tiny little boat arrives and you board. To me this looked like a small fishing boat. It is licensed to carry fifty plus
passengers and on the way over we had about twenty on board and thought it was full. There was a wooden bench round the back of the boat to sit on. In the centre of this small area was a couple of sealed boxes and inside these were the life jackets and the life raft .Once we set sail one of the crew gave a very casual demonstration of the lifejackets.I thought of how careful they had been in the relatively calm and warm water around the Galapagos islands EVERY time we went on the zodiacs we had lifejackets on and kept them on until we got off the zodiacs. Here on a very choppy crossing on a pretty small boat we would have to wait for the crew to find the life jackets in these boxes before being thrown into a very cold sea. I did n't like our chances to be honest.
On the way back it was first come first on for the return sailing as so we got ther half an hour early and already there was a queue. They packed on the full load going back and people were everywhere packed and seated on these boxes holding the rafts and jackets. If the crew had had to get at them the people had no where to go. I really am amazed that they are licensed to carry that many as it seemed quite unsafe to me.
The crossing was quite pleasant on the way over and took about fifteen minutes. We saw sea birds of various types and one gull flew alongside the boat until the captain threw him a bit of something. He caught us on the return trip too. The return journey was less pleasant as the sea was choppier, the boat was packed and to top it off the rain was coming down hard and cold and there was no cover to the boat.
When you arrive the first thing you are greeted with are lots of steps upwards. Once you reach the top you are greeted by one of the volunteer naturalists and given a bit of a quick guide to the island. Although it is not that large it takes some time to actually walk around the entire island. We had just under three hours and in our view we were there to see the puffins so that was first on our agenda.
You could walk around the coast via trails or make your way across the centre to the old farm with its overnight accommodation, picnic area and the toilets and head on from there. We realised there was no way we were going to make it all around the island in the time we had as we wanted to spend time with the puffins and take photos etc. We decided to head towards where the puffins were nesting which was sort of slightly cutting off the corner then heading for the coast.
We were so lucky with the time we visited Skomar as the red campions and blue bells were in full flower and looked like carpets of pink and blue on the hills. That was a bonus for us as we had no idea that there were beautiful wild flowers in such abundance.
It took us about forty five minutes walking pretty fast to reach the coast although we did stop for photos of the flowers at various points. We also stopped once we reached the coast to watch the other sea birds and a few little puffins.
We wandered on and I am so glad we did as we came to the real puffin nesting area. There was another volunteer naturalist there ensuring that no one did anything they should not to the little puffins. You had to be very careful as they were small and quite happy to walk around your feet, they hid in the undergrowth and you might find yourself walking on one accidentally if you left the path.
It was like being back on the Galapagos islands as these cute little birds were quite unconcerned by all the people around them. They looked at us, crossed over the path in front and behind us and came right up to us. You obviously had to respect their distances yourself but they could come to you. You were not allowed to touch them but I think they would have moved off if you tried anyway.
We spent about half an hour here watching these gorgeous little creatures cleaning themselves, building nests, cleaning nests, flirting with each other, making their way to the edge of the cliff and flying off and even swimming in the sea a long way below us.
We realised we were running a bit short on time and needed to use the toilet and have our snack that we had brought with us. It was about another forty minutes across to the farm and we walked quite fast but again did stop for photos a few times.
The farm was exactly that an old farm which had fallen into disrepair. The barns have been converted into basic self catering accommodation for visitors and the volunteers stay here for a couple of weeks at a time. There is no shop, no food and no drinking water on the island so everything you need has to be brought with you and the volunteers get their provisions brought over by the little boats as it makes its way back and forth with visitors.
The pcinic room was one of the farmhouse rooms with a new glass roof covering it. There were a couple of covered areas with tables and benches. In these rooms there were information notices for you to learn about the farm in its prime and the island generally as well as the animals found there.
The toilets were long drop toilets and the antibacterial gel was there for hand washing as there was no water. I am not sure I would fancy a night there and I salute the volunteers for their dedication staying there for that long. I bet it gets really cold in winter too. There is some basic cooking facility but it is basic in the extreme.
Having had our snack and used the long drop we then decided, as we wanted to be on the 3 o'clock boat to make our way back to the landing jetty. It was about twenty minutes walk from the farm to the jetty.
We were a bit early but we were not the first there. We amused ourselves by chatting to other visitors and watching the seabirds swimming and flying around. Other more expert visitors were able to name the various birds so I learned quite a lot while we were there waiting.
It just started to rain as we were queuing. I was not really very appropriately dressed as my husband and I had a slight misunderstanding re my thicker coat. I thought he had put it in the car and I added my leather coat as I thought an extra coat. It turned out to be my only coat so I was a little chilly at times despite layering up under it. I did have good walking shoes and they are certainly needed as some of the places are quite rocky and uneven. The steps onto and out of the boat can also be steep and quite slippery when wet so you do have to be quite sure footed getting on and off the little boat especially if the sea is choppy.
If you think you might like to see these lovely little puffins then check the times as I believe late May and June and the best times and they were a bit late this year. This seems to be the best time to go as you also get the bluebells and red campions in flower. The boats don't sail in winter nor if the weather in inclement so you have to check on the day which is annoying.
I absolutely loved the few hours we spent on the island and if the weather had been nicer I would have been happy to spend longer. In the rain it is less pleasant as there is virtually no shelter. You also have to take any drinks and food you might need so if you are a family you might need to carry quite a bit The only toilets are at the farm and while children might be okay squatting in the grass I think few adults would be happy so bear that in mind before you set off on your walk.
The first ferry over to the island is at 10am and the first back is 3pm so you need to think about how long you want to be there. Three hours went very quickly for us but children may get fed up walking and find three hours a long time. If you are a bit late in the queue for the first boat you may have another hour to wait fro the next and that time could be hard to fill
If you like seeing animals in the wild then this is a perfect place to see these lovely little birds. It isn't cheap as you have to pay for the crossing and for the landing fee which has to be paid on the boat in cash which seemed a bit odd to us as we paid for the boat ticket before getting on so the crew man collected our ticket and the landing fee. You had to keep the return ticket for the return journey though how else you might have got onto the island is a mystery to me!
Apart from the questionable safety of the boat, the weird booking system and the very limited and restricted crossing times the island is worth a visit for the puffins especially and the other birds as well and of course the wild flowers too.
I could go on for ages but I think you get the idea – a lovely little island but you do take your life in a boat to get there and back.
Thanks for reading. This review may be posted on other sites under my same user name
The boat journey over and back is a bit scary as the safety procedure leaves a lot to be desired.
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