Sunday, 29 June 2014

South Wales and Taking a Break From Writing - Part 1

I have just returned from a week spent at a cosy cottage in Pembrokeshire, Wales. To many authors this would be the ideal writer's retreat. However, at the beginning of the holiday I promised my wife, Katie, that I would not be working whilst we were away and I kept to my word.

Outside of cottage, complete with gypsy caravan

Last year we visited North Wales, which was full of imposing mountain peaks and winding, forest valleys. The South could not have contrasted more. Here we had rugged, rocky coastlines overlooking small islands. The North was about the scenery, the South was all about the wildlife. Nowhere was this encapsulated more than on Skomer Island.

The island itself had many accessible tracks that had to be adhered to strictly to protect the countless seabird burrows, which completely covered the ground. With only 150 people allowed on the island per day and the boats bringing them at staggered intervals throughout the morning, it was easy to feel like you had to island to yourself. Of course, this could not be farther from the truth. Skomer is home to hundreds of thousands of seabirds.

Getting up close with the puffin colony at 'The Wick' was on a par with seeing fairy penguins marching up the beach at Philip Island, Australia. These birds are beautiful, bizarre, often comical and completely unlike any other species in the British Isles. Their look, movement and personality is much more evocative of their flightless cousins and at times, it did feel like these were penguins rather than birds. Even in flight, their lack of tail feathers gave them an odd, unnatural disposition. Their wings buzzed frantically like a hummingbird's as they "swam" through the air.

Although the puffins were the star attraction, they were far from the only wildlife on the island. We saw oyster catchers (very noisy), guillemots, razor-bills, pippets, jackdaws (silver headed crows) and even a colony of seals. Though sadly, the little owls eluded us. The only downside was that with so many birds living in close proximity, it was impossible to walk for more than a minute without encountering the dead in various stages of decomposition wherever one looked.

Despite its isolation, Skomer did have a small human settlement. This was made up of rangers, volunteers and researchers. As I walked the windswept trails, my writer's brain kicked in and I could not help but try to imagine what it would be like to live in a place such as this. A place where by sheer weight of numbers, humans were not the dominant species. If the boats were to stop coming, what would become of this settlement? Would it be a paradise or a prison? Would the people band together for mutual benefit or would they turn on one another? Would it be the Swiss Family Robinson or Lord of the Flies? How would I cope in such a situation? The possibilities are endless. By the time we were ready to catch our return boat, I was feeling truly inspired.

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