A small cove, Martin’s Haven, foots the curve of Pembrokeshire’s St Brides Bay. There, the 50-seat Dale Princess carries visitors over the brisk Irish Sea to Skomer Island.
The seascape here is as captivating as a treasure map. Archipelagos of skerries and islets named Tusker Rock, Crab Stones and Deadman’s Bay pass by, along with glimpses of natural arches and caves. The final skip across Jack’s Sound to Skomer is windy but exhilarating, passing rock formations and sheltered coves, before disembarking at North Haven.
Sand eels make up a large park of a puffin’s diet ©Getty
Skomer’s landmarks are even more delightful. Seal Hole and Shag Rock live up to their names, and inland there are waterfalls, streams and ponds to picnic by. As well as all the natural sights, there are ancient standing stones, forts and remains of ancient settlements to explore.
Skomer seen from the mainland ©Getty
The beautiful island makes a fantastic backdrop for photos of Skomer’s famous puffins. Thousands of pairs breed here. They’re easy to spot; waddling about comically, with mouthfuls of gleaming sand eels. The island’s isolation means predators are absent, making an ideal breeding ground for burrow-nesting seabirds.
Tiny Skomer (just two miles east to west) is also a popular breeding ground for burrow-dwelling Manx shearwaters. However, you’ll have to stay over in the comfortable visitor accommodation to see these nocturnal birds.
Puffins make look clumsy on and but they are extremely efficient swimmers and flyers ©Getty
Other island birds to look out for include kittiwakes, guillemots and razorbills, as well as migratory birds such as skylarks, swallows and chiffchaffs, which use Skomer as a stop-over. Trails criss-cross the island, but for the full Skomer experience, pick up the main four-mile coastal trail.
Catch the 15-minute ferry from Martin’s Haven to North Haven. You may already be able to spot puffins on the cliffs as the boat approaches. Volunteers working on the island will greet you ashore, followed by a short briefing from the resident warden. Follow the coastal footpath, lined with the red campion and bracken, towards The Wick passing Captain Kites, a breeding site for grey seals. Sadly you may see corpses of manx shearwaters along the path, as these ground nesting birds are predated heavily by the great black-backed gulls.
3. Puffin paradise
The Wick is a dramatic cliff face layered with thousands of nesting seabirds. Razorbills, guillemots, kittiwakes and fulmars build their nests here on the smallest of ledges, then spend their time defending their eggs from predatory gulls. Lining the footpath on the opposite slopes is a vast colony of puffins, active here from May to August, after which they head out at sea and won’t return to their burrows until the following March. You may be lucky enough to see one return with a bill-full of shiny sandeels and catch their comedy landing technique. Dusk is a special time to see the puffin colony when fishing duties are over – but you’ll have to stay overnight at the newly converted eco-accommodation to witness this.
Thrift covers the island in spring and early summer ©Getty
3. Island views
The coast path continues from The Wick along to Skomer Head, an exposed headland covered with pink thrift, which is particularly beautiful in spring. It’s a well managed path but can be rocky in parts. Look for the tiny island of Grassholm, 7 miles away, home to the second largest gannet colony in the north Atlantic.
4. Garland Stone
Heading north from Skomer Head take the opportunity to spot seals as you follow the path through a rabbit enclosure and past a rocky outcrop called Pigstone Bay. Along the cliffs look out for the hardy sea campion, which grows well due to its excellent root system. After walking up a shallow slope you’ll reach Garland Stone, the best place on the island to see grey seals as they haul themselves onto the low rocks to bask in the sun – if you want to see pups visit during autumn.
Short-eared owls ©Getty
5. The last stage
Head inland through the north valley towards the farm buildings, and to the only toilets on the island. Along the way you’ll see yellow iris and, if you’re fortunate, a few short-eared owls, which hunt up and down the valley in daylight. It’s the highest point on the island and offers superb panoramic views.To end your walk, follow the path to North Haven to catch the boat back to the mainland.
How to get there
The Dale Princess runs from Martin’s Haven to Skomer between April and October, six days a week, although strong winds can prevent sailing. Get there early – booking is first come first served and there is a limit of 250 people per day allowed on the island to protect the wildlife. Sailings begin at 10am.
The Clock House
Friendly and relaxed four-star guesthouse with a guest lounge and outdoor patio. Modern rooms have a coastal style. Delicous local produce and fresh coffee in cafe next door.
Welsh Wildlife Centre, Cilgerran, Cardigan
You can stay on Skomer in comfortable three-star accommodation. Pillows and duvets are provided but you need to bring your own sheets, pillowcases and sleeping bag. Lovely solar-heated showers.
Discover more great walks in Britain here.
Main image ©Getty