Bardsey Island Observational Research Project


Welcome! Croeso!

“Hi, I’m Kathie…”

This blog was created in 2010 as part of my Masters Degree in Screenwriting at Bournemouth University. The research project focussed on observing a location for five days, blogging about the experience and writing a 30 minute film script that was to be written as if our chosen arena were a character in the story. I had never before been to Bardsey (or Ynys Enlli as it is known in Welsh) but as I discovered, there is no better place to leave an indelible imprint upon your soul than this. As a result I wrote the script ‘Being on Bardsey’ which is about a teenage girl visiting this remote island for the first time with her grandmother. Bardsey Island not only became the arena with a character of its own in my script, but has since become a major feature in my life!

I completed my MA in 2012 and I have since returned to the island several times, and it is now a place that I visit regularly to write, paint, take photographs and meditate.

To read about my research project and along the way discover more about the island, please read the blog posts from the start. You’ll find the link to the next installment at the bottom right of each post.

If you enjoy this site, I’d really love it if you’d drop me a line to share your thoughts. Thanks for stopping by!

More Photos

Some more photos taken on Bardsey Island last month when we stayed at Carreg Bach, the tiny crog loft cottage that is the oldest of the houses on the island.

Island Cottages

This is a shot of the warden’s cottage and the adjoining house next door. In the publicly shared image, I’ve edited out the storm damage, which you can see from the original photo is quite extensive. In the winter storms, Bardsey experienced winds greater than 100 mph and several of the buildings were damaged.

Storm damage

Storm damage

Another photo shared on my Flickr collection is this photo I took of the small chapel on the island that revealed to me a slightly more unpleasant aspect to the island’s history.

Illuminated Walls

This little chapel on used to be the hermitage of an elderly nun. She lived on the island for many years with this tiny ascetic cell as her living space. Her scratchings on the walls told a sad story of devotion and deprivation hidden beneath the whitewash. The hammer on the table beside the purple-shrouded cross is placed there as an invitation to exchange Jesus’ suffering for our sins by banging in a nail. In a place that had witnessed so much suffering, this seemed to me to be too cruel a symbolism. I declined, instead placing a stone in the prayer basket hanging from the ceiling. The ghosts of the island became suddenly  too palpable and macabre. I left quickly, but it was difficult to let the feeling go and I felt that I carried it with my for the rest of my stay on the island. You can read more about this picture on Seeing the Gorilla photography blog.

Bardsey has been a holy place for some 1500 years, with reputedly the bodies of 20,000 pilgrims buried there. It was decreed that three trips to Bardsey were worth one pilgrimage to Rome.  I suppose pilgrimages are not meant to be comfortable and this, my sixth trip to Bardsey, was for me a challenge. For the first time I glimpsed something beyond the  spirituality and sacredness of this place to realise that those pilgrims, the sick, dying, righteous and penitent, made this journey seeking something different to the stunning beauty and peacefulness that I have found in this place.  The journey here was deadly, especially as the pilgrims were often already sick, probably gravely so, and such was the problem of travellers dying en route to the island that eventually it was said that you would go to heaven, not just if you died on Bardsey, but also if you died on the way there.  In reality, Bardsey may well have been a more grim destination than the beautiful island that draws me back each year. And rather than a spiritual journey, for those pilgrims, it must have been a more tortuous experience.

It took a while to break free of these sensations, well after I had returned home. My journey to Bardsey was meant to be a spiritual quest rather than a creative retreat and Enlli certainly gave me plenty to think about while I was there.

Whatever our beliefs, we humans should be kinder to each other, and maybe this should start with being kinder to ourselves.

Carreg Bach 2014

Carreg Bach

Carreg Bach

Had a wonderful nine days on Bardsey in early May. The crog loft cottage Carreg Bach came available at the last minute and we decided to go.  This quaint cottage is the oldest of the cottages on the island and is usually booked up a year in advance. So we were very lucky!

'My Little Stone' - Bardsey Island, Wales
As usual we took a lot of photographs. We had a mix of weather, from beautiful sun to fog to strong winds that whipped up huge waves.
'Overcome' - Bardsey Island, Wales

A combination of the strong winds shaking the simple slate roof that separated us from the elements, made sleeping challenging and I found I had a few sleepless nights. The Manx shearwaters were making the creepy calls that we have now become accustomed to, but in Carreg Bach they seem someone closer. I don’t know if this is because their flight paths take them a lot closer to Carreg Bach than Hendy, or whether it is the thinness of the roof that made it sound as though those birds were inside the cottage with us.

Roof beams

'Home Away From Home' - Bardsey Island, Wales

The cottage is very cosy inside and it’s hard not to feel like you’ve been transported to another time. I took so many photographs of the inside of the cottage as I found it so compelling. I kept finding myself imagining the people who had lived in that cottage over the years. At times it felt a little creepy, and I’m not normally given to the creeps, so perhaps it was the weather or the strangeness of staying in a different cottage or perhaps it was the long nights when I just couldn’t sleep. Whatever it was, it sparked my imagination which came through in my writing. Bardsey never fails to give me ideas and this visit was no exception.

'In the Middle' - Bardsey Island, Wales

As always we were treated to some fabulous sunsets.

Thank you Ynys Enlli for another great trip.

I will post more pictures soon!

2013 The Sequel

Well I was right. The kids didn’t come with us. We were going to be on this island this time without them. I was quite worried as I boarded the boat this time. I was even a little sad. What would it be like with just the two of us? How would the kids get on at home without us? We weren’t going to be able to get back if they needed us and depending on the weather we might not even be able to phone them. We needn’t have worried. They got on fine. They even managed to send post at the end of the first week with supplies that I’d forgotten and a few goodies in case we’d run out of snacks. Food did get a bit short towards the end of the second week, but we were just fine for snacks. As it happened we were happily making trips to the little farm shop each day and buying flapjacks and cans of ginger beer. Little luxuries that we hadn’t indulged in so much on previous trips. It was nice.

We took turns cooking and it all ran pretty smoothly. Adrian took thousands of photographs and quite a bit of time lapse.

We had picnics and sat up nights listening to the Manx sheer waters and doing night photography.

I got a fair bit of writing done too. It seems like my writing mojo has returned and the ideas are flowing faster than I can write them down. Bardsey magic is magic!!

The weather wasn’t too bad. We had fires in the evening in the log burner. We photographed seals and helicopters and Adrian got some fabulous shots of the Milky Way.

All in all it was a fabulous trip. Thanks again Bardsey!


2013 part 2 helicopter


2013 pt2 mountain view

2013 Early Summer

On our trip to Bardsey this year we were joined by Adrian. He’d visited the island before but only overnight. Being away from work and phone signal and electricity and the internet is a BIG thing for him to sign up for. Of course we were armed to the teeth with power packs and solar chargers, so we would still be able to charge iPhones and iPads and Kindles. So not exactly the low tech trip of previous visits.

The kids found it harder to tear themselves away from their lives this trip. They didn’t venture out to meet up with others as much. They didn’t attend the art classes as they had on previous visits. They seemed more concerned with maintaining their home routines of dancing practice, fitness and vocal warm ups.

2013 pt 1 Meals

Adrian and I had a great time. He really fell into the freedom of the island life. He took photographs, he read, we walked and talked, he emptied the toilet bucket (most welcome!) and he sat with me watching the seals in awed silence.

My visit to the island was different to my trip in 2012. It was better because we were all together but it was profoundly different because I wasn’t alone and in my own space and my time wasn’t quite as much my own. But we had good times together. We took a lot of photographs.

We also messed around a lot more than on previous trips. We took silly panorama photos, taking turns to stand at one end of the picture and then running around behind the photographer to appear at the other end. I spent a lot of time looking through my jeweller’s loupe magnifying glass, enlarging the microcosmic worlds inside of flowers and rocks to the size of great canyons and vistas before me, populated with giant greenflies and aphids. I studied the eyes of snails and the patterns on their shells. I took photos of lichens and buttercups with my iPhone through the loupe lens.

It was wonderful. Doing nothing. I spent my evenings doodling and doing watercolors. I drew alien lifeforms on my iPad and morphed pictures of the children into strange creatures. It was all so different from the more spiritual journey of last year. But it was still Bardsey – a wonderful warm adventure. A sort of coming home.

2013 pt 1 Bardsey main street

Leaving Bardsey was very very different though. Mostly this was because we knew we would be coming back again at the end of the summer. Adrian was hooked. He wanted to come back and what’s more he wanted a two week stay. As we boarded the boat I had a sneaking suspicion we would be coming back alone. The kids had missed their friends and YouTube and technology so much but two whole weeks will undoubtedly be too much for them.

We shall see!!

2013 Hendy