A trip to the exotic island of Flat Holm
12:02pm Friday 13th September 2013 in Penarth news
AN intrepid group of Senior Citizens made an excursion to the fascinating island of Flat Holm in the Bristol Channel last month and we thought we might share our experience with your readers.
On arrival at Mermaid Quay, we were greeted by the luxury cruiser, Sea Vision operated by Vydex Corporation of Cardiff, our conveyance for the island visit. Heading out through the Barrage locks, tea, coffee and pastries were served setting us up for the adventure ahead.
Dionne Bowden, the vessel's captain is an expert navigator and knows the Channel and its tides intimately and she was ably assisted by Kate Mathew and Richard Nicholas who effected the transfer to the island by means of an accompanying RHIB craft,safely and professionally.
Once on the island we were welcomed by Matt the senior warden and his two able and informative assistants, Vicky and Molly, who gave us a comprehensive conducted tour of the island.
Viewed from Penarth sea front and the Barrage, the island of Flat Holm hides its many secrets. Closer inspection reveals a richness of history, geology, flora and fauna,fully meriting its status as a Site of Special Scientific Interest. Unlike Steep Holm, which is English, Flat Holm - Ynys Echni - belongs to Wales.
Used as a refuge by the Danes, invaded by the Normans and fortified during two World Wars, it has not always been the tranquil haven it is today. Supporting its wartime activity, a 2 gauge railway was built in 1941 to carry troops,supplies and military equipment across the island from the landing stage at the north end. Traces of the railway remain, although you must be eagle eyed to find them. More obvious are the circular pits in which anti aircraft guns were hidden; they had the dual advantage of being invisible from vessels at sea and protecting the gunners themselves.
The most conspicuous building is the lighthouse completed in 1736 after much petitioning and a shipwreck that claimed the lives of 60 soldiers. Originally lit by a coal fired brazier, the light is now electric, solar powered and automatic.
Other items of interest include the remains of an isolation hospital,a tiled water catchment slope,where rainwater runs to an underground tank,the fog horn station and for geologists a pattern of rare undulations etched on a flank of limestone many centuries ago.
Wildlife is profuse with rabbits, slow worms, unusually mottled with blue, no fewer than 4000 pairs of lesser black backed gulls,nesting on the plateau and some 300 pairs of herring gulls on the cliffs.These together with migrating peregrines, kestrels, sparrowhawks and oystercatchers and a myriad of butterflies during the hot summer days are a joy to behold. For the botanist, rare plants include the wild leek and peony.
One of the farmhouses has been adapted to provide accommodation for the wardens and visitors can be catered for by the renovated fog horn keepers building and there is even a café/pub,the most southerly in Wales!
Only a third of a mile across and ideal for a three hour exploration, Flat Holm exudes islandness, for the sea is constantly in view and the cries of gulls and the song of the waves against a rugged shore provide mesmerising background music. A trip to this intriguing place is really very worthwhile.
By Keith S Farr