I'm just back from the most amazing week painting the incredible and unique landscape of beautiful Skokholm Island with my lovely friend and fellow artist Bron Jones.
I also had the pleasure of making a few Puffin friends whilst I was there, some of the non breeding birds were so curious they actually decided to use me as a perch!
In case you haven’t heard of Skokholm, it's a small island located just two miles off the southwest coast of Pembrokeshire. It’s been a bird observatory and wildlife reserve since the 1930's and is nicknamed "Dream Island" because it's so special.
It’s a painters dream for sure; high red sandstone cliffs covered in bright orange and silver green lichen create a challenge on the palette and giant fingers of rock jut out at jaunty angles all over the rugged landscape. It takes your breath away.
Skokholm has a magical simplicity and a sense of remoteness that is enchanting. It spans around 260 acres, but at any given time there are never more than 26 people on the island (including the staff). Because there are limited essential resources, (like water and power!) there are no showers or flushing toilets.
A short walk up from the landing jetty there is basic accommodation, split between a cottage and a few converted outbuildings. These also house a communal kitchen and a couple of composting loos. There's no internet and phone signal is limited to a few spots. A lighthouse sits at the other end of the island but there are no other buildings and no roads! It really feels like you are in an alternate reality!
Although there are just a few of us humans, during the warmer months, Skokholm transforms into a bustling home for tens of thousands of breeding seabirds. It's a sight to behold! Throughout the day there's a whirlwind of activity as puffins, razorbills, guillemots, and gulls go about their business. And when the night falls, the Manx Shearwaters return from the sea, creating a cacophony of sounds as they return to their burrows.
At night we went out with dimmed torches to listen to the commotion, treading carefully to avoid clumsy Shearwaters and fragile burrows. We lay down on the ground in the darkness and watched them circling above us. Although all we could actually see was their silhouettes against the stars.
One night Richard the Warden took us all down a steep cliff path, normally out of bounds, to a spot where special nest boxes have been built for the endangered ‘Storm Petrels’. The staff have nicknamed the site the ‘Petrel Station’! These tiny but mighty little birds migrate all the way to South America and back each year. They breed in small rock crevices normally but the new boxes offer the staff the opportunity to monitor their breeding behaviour for the first time with special cameras. It was fascinating.
Oh, and let me tell you about the beautiful wildflowers that grace the island's landscape. Right now, you're greeted by carpets of white sea campion, pink thrift and patches of red campion amongst the fresh green bracken, look down at your feet and there’s wild pansy, violet, and pimpernel. It’s a delight everywhere you look.
All around the coastline there are Atlantic grey seals sunbathing on the rocks or chilling out in the clear teal green waters. When Bron and I went swimming off the jetty, two females came within a few feet to investigate us which was exciting! It's not their breeding season yet so we were safe enough.
We worked every day sketching and painting with an array of different mediums and between us have dozens of studies and thousands of photos, reference material that is sure to inspire us back in the studio for a whole new series of paintings.
It was such a privilege to be there and it's an experience that will stay with me forever: the captivating wildlife, awe-inspiring landscape, magical moments, friendship and lots of laughter.