UK stay: Skomer Island puffin tour on a hike along the Pembrokeshire coast
A whirr of wings as a bird approaches the landing field on a vast green plateau on Skomer Island, guarded by majestic cliffs and the rugged Atlantic.
In close-up, the mighty steering wheel transforms into an endearing and unsightly figure, flaunting its large webbed orange feet and folding its wings to slow down and stall. Finally, he drops into the grass near his companion and their sandy burrow.
Lots of birds actually land so awkwardly that they dip their beaks in and fall, to get up, quickly look around to make sure no one is watching, then waddle to their nest.
Puffins arrive in large numbers to nest on Skomer Island off the Pembrokeshire coast each May
The Atlantic puffin is probably the most attractive of British birds. Even its Latin name is ridiculously cute: Fratercula arctica, meaning arctic brother, because its black and white plumage resembles a monk’s robe. But it could also translate to Little Arctic Brother. I like this.
I drove west to Pembrokeshire, the Welsh region with probably the sweetest appeal – though they really are all special, from the sparsely populated hills of Powys, to the dark mountains of Snowdonia, or Eryri, as the locals call it.
Just as it is only polite to learn a little French on your way to France, you should learn a little Welsh on your way to Wales. When two ladies stand aside on a narrow stretch of coastal path for me to pass, I say ‘thank you’ and they say ‘Croeso’. ‘You’re welcome.’ âDiolch! “(” Thank you “), I call back. They smile. It’s not hard.
I am here for the coastal path and the puffins, which arrive in large numbers to nest on Skomer and the neighboring island of Skokholm each May. I drive through Marloes – “Paired with Llareggub” reads a cheerfully irreverent sign on the edge of the village. An old joke from Dylan Thomas. (Read Llareggub backwards and you’ll get it.)
Wing it: walk the coastal path near St David’s where the waters are crystal clear (stock image)
We sail from tiny Martin’s Haven, a group of bird lovers. The little boat tilts and rolls over the big gray swell, and you think again how lucky we are to live on such a wild and sea-covered island, with over 4,000 islands of at least a half. acre.
Even before entering Skomer’s North Haven, the seas and cliffs roar with shearwaters and murres. But it’s the quaint and comical puffins we’ve come to see, so undisturbed by humans that you can stand a few feet away from them as they waddle between their burrows; or stay on sentry, anxiously watching for the return of their fishing companions; or have neighborhood tiffs here and there.
St David’s on the mainland is the starting point for this walking tour, where I spend my first evening on the beach at Caerfai Bay with a beer, watching the sunset. âBetter than any pub garden, eh? Said an old man with a ponytail.
The next day is the trip to Skomer, followed by many more glorious moments of this seven day exploration of the Pembrokeshire coastline. I walk 10 to 12 miles a day. With many climbs up the headlands and descents to hidden coves, it takes around five hours to walk. In the small bay of Porthsychan, I see seals five or six meters from the beach staring at me with suspicion but curiosity.
Dinas Head is a beautiful, almost circular walk past Pwllgwaelod beach, back to the sheltered cove of Cwm-yr-Eglwys. I’m a little wrong after that, but that means I’m discovering Cwm Rhigian’s Fairy Vale. And in Newport, there’s the wide, sunny estuary of Afon Nyfer, and great food and pints of Doom Bar at the Golden Lion.
The picturesque village of Fishguard with its cluster of colorful waterfront cottages
“The puffin is probably the most attractive of British birds,” writes Christopher Hart of the Daily Mail.
You should also eat at the Royal Oak in Fishguard, while imagining a small, crazy French invasion here in 1797, when troops surrendered to the Fishguard Fencibles, the Papa Army of the day. Why Fishguard? One explanation is that the French were very drunk.
In summer, the trails at the top of the cliffs are colored with wild flowers and bees. There can be gusts on this coast – that’s part of the call. Mid-week a huge Atlantic storm hits and I spend a morning in the pouring rain at Fishguard’s Marine Parade, then the afternoon back to my B&B, reading old Welsh folk tales.
The next day, dressed in rustling raincoats, I left for Strumble Head. The cliff top trails indeed seem narrow above the boiling White Sea, and 50mph wind gusts rock me. Also exhilarating, however, as I climb the steep Garn Fawr tor, then up the coast and Ynys Meical Lighthouse.
The wind weakens and I meet a man on the headland, watching the Manx Shearwater.
“I hope the puffins are doing well on Skomer,” I said.
“They’ll be okay,” he nods. âThey were there before us, and they will still be there after we leave. “
Mac’s Adventure offers six nights in B&B while on vacation on the Pembrokeshire Coast, including daily baggage transfers and all transfers from your accommodation to the path, full tips and itineraries, and 24/7 support, from Â£ 595, macsadventure.com, 0141 530 8886. For the Puffin trip to Skomer, visit pembrokeshire-islands.co.uk.