By Sunday the predicted storm was still on its way but had not yet hit the island. But still there were no visitors coming across to Caldey. The shop, the Post Office and café were closed and for Alan, myself and our two companions staying at St Philomena’s it felt as if we had the whole island to ourselves. One of the interesting things to observe is how different people respond to being away from civilization and the normal busyness of life. Our fellow companions were by this stage both feeling more than a bit frustrated by lack of internet connection and reliable mobile phone signal. Not being great users of a mobile, except in an emergency, and having by now become veterans of the vagaries of island communications Alan and I weren’t overly concerned. The one thing that did however create slight unease was the irregularity of the boat service to Tenby and the lack of advance communication as to when it would be going. However at this stage we had 2 more full days left to enjoy on the island.
After breakfast we attended the Abbey for Terce followed by Mass. Once again the beauty of the light in the building was breath-taking, especially with the addition of smoke from the incense. We were also struck by the beauty and simplicity of the liturgy, parts of which were very familiar, I really like the way the Peace is exchanged just before the Eucharist is shared, creating a very spiritually significant moment.
On our way out from worship we had a fascinating conversation with a lady, Rita, who is over 80 and has lived on the island for 35 years. Rita used to work at the Monastery and lives in one of the island cottages. “We are allowed to stay on the island us as long as we can look after ourselves”, she told us. “The only health care is over on Tenby but there is a boat and air ambulance for emergencies”. Rita has television but no radio and no internet but her love of the island seems to more than compensate for this. Sometimes however the timeless and otherworldly feel of the place has its drawbacks especially during the tourist season. In conversation with another island resident we were told the story of how one day she discovered unexpected visitors in her cottage. A couple of tourists had wandered in through the open door and imagining they were either on some kind of film set or in a model village, were happily exploring quite unaware that this was actually someone’s private residence.
In the afternoon while the monks and guests were taking their rest period, we were, with the Abbot’s permission, allowed brief visit to the monastery. The monastery does not permit female guests to stay but, keeping very quiet and making sure we were not observed, we visited the large and impressive library with its 2 small offices, the guest kitchen, a guest bedroom and the one bathroom which serves all the guests. The highlight of the visit was the chapel which was simple and beautiful, the center piece was a large wooden life-size sculpture of Christ being taken down from the cross, this had been carved with amazing detail from a single piece of wood. When one of the brothers dies he is placed in the chapel in front of this sculpture and prayers are said. Outside in the monastery grounds the monks are developing herb, vegetable and fruit gardens. Brother Daniel, the Abbot, is a keen gardener and also bakes bread for the monastery. On our travels we also met Penny the pig, the ultimate re-cycler, and a couple of very stately peacocks.
Our afternoon walk took us around the wild side of the island and by this stage, ahead of the promised storm, the wind was picking up. On our previous walk we had explored the area to the North East of the island overlooking John Paul Jones Bay. Although now famous for the Monastery, Caldey’s history has been far from peaceful. Pirates roved around the coast of Pembrokeshire as far back as the Vikings and Caldey Island was a haven for them. On the northeast coast of Caldey John Paul Jones Bay marks the spot where it is believed the pirate and American naval hero, landed during the American War of Independence.
Jones, a ruthless marauding pirate, is feted by some as the founder of the US Navy. He was born in Scotland, but he would have known about Caldey from one of his officers, the wonderfully named, Leekie Porridge. It is said that when Jones died in 1792 his body was pushed into a crevice in the rocks near Ord Point on Caldey. Legend has it that the sound of digging can sometimes be heard on John Paul Jones beach as if a ghost is searching for treasure. Pembrokeshire historian George Owen noted that people living on the island used horses for their ploughs “for oxen the inhabitants dare not keep, fearing the purveyors of the pirates, who often make their provisions there”. Welsh buccaneer Henry Morgan, later an admiral and Governor of Jamaica, is said to have used the island as a hideout whilst smugglers hid their booty in Cathedral Caves. The first concerted attempts to control local piracy were undertaken during the reign of Queen Elizabeth I, because of fears of Spanish invasion and raids by North African “Barbary Corsairs”. Yet Pembrokeshire’s seas remained as untamed as ever. It was not until the Napoleonic Wars, when Royal Navy ships began regular patrols along the local coastline, that piracy came to an end. Take a look at this website http://www.walesonline.co.uk/news/wales-news/uncovering-pembrokeshires-pirate-past-1833402.
Today our walk took us past the lighthouse around the south of the island around Chapel Point to Red Berry Bay, West Beacon Point and Star Cliff where the views are spectacular especially on a windy day, then back across the center of the island past the island’s herd of cows to the sand dunes, Priory Bay in the direction of Nannas Cave. 10,000 years ago when this cave was occupied the view across to the Gower would have been over dry land.
Over the years there have been significant archaeological finds here from Mesolithic to Medieval and apart from human remains, finds have included the remains of animals long since extinct on these islands. I can imagine, given the right weather conditions, sunrises from this spot most be truly stunning, however on this particular day, given that by now it was starting to blow a bit of a hoolie and the storm was on its way, we curtailed our explorations and headed back to St Phil’s.