To the Mountain
I'm an island person. There are a lot of us about. Some were born on islands, some live on them for a while and some fall in love with the idea as soon as they experience the magic of a place with entirely fixed borders. A place surrounded by the sea and dependent on tide and weather. It started for me when I was a teenager and living in North Devon. From my bedroom I could see the beam of both lighthouses on Lundy and the idea of living there seemed unutterably romantic. I went on to be a cook on Fair Isle and to spend the first four years of our marriage on Hilbre - that was tidal so a little bit different but an island all the same. We spent our honeymoon on St Agnes in the Isles of Scilly and once we moved to north east England celebrated family events on Holy Island. I've put together a collection of short stories set in islands called Offshore.
I'm writing this on Bardsey, off the Lleyn peninsula in North Wales. There's no internet so the piece won't appear on my website for a while. It's bank holiday Monday and the sun's shining but all I can hear is water, gulls calling, seals crying and the hum of insects - it's very hot. Sometimes day-trippers are brought to the island by Colin the boatman, but if they've already arrived this morning they're making no noise.
We first came to Bardsey nearly 40 years ago to spend some time with our friend Peter who was warden of the Observatory. We'd met him first in Fair Isle and now he lives on Islay (island people often seem to shift islands in a strange kind of dance). The weather was atrocious then, wet and foggy, and the observatory accommodation seemed gloomy and damp. A mountain runs down the east side of Bardsey - the observatory sits on its lower slope - and then it seemed to suck all the light from the place. In the mist and rain I never felt the attraction of climbing to the top to see the view back to the Welsh mainland. The hill became almost a mythical obstacle in my mind, impossible to conquer.
Now things are very different. Cristin, the observatory, is light and attractive. The facilities are basic but the kitchen is wonderfully equipped and in the evening you can sit on the terrace and watch the sun setting over the Irish Sea.
This morning I climbed the mountain. The task that had grown in my mind into a major expedition was hardly more than a steep stroll through heather and bracken. Halfway to the top there was already a fantastic view to the south end, past the boathouse to the lighthouse and beyond. From the top the Welsh mainland with its bank holiday traffic jams and packed beaches and cafes seemed close enough to touch, but half a world away.
You don't have to be a birdwatcher to stay here. It would be a great place to come to write. There's no internet, though you can get mobile signal from some parts of the island. And if you climb the mountain you might see your story with a completely new perspective. It worked for me.