Located just off the coast of Pembrokeshire, Skomer Island is a nature reserve home to many different species of wildlife.
The island boasts the largest breeding population of Manx Shearwater in the world, and is also a wildlife haven for rabbits, grey seals, dolphins, guillemots, razorbills and more. The main attraction at the reserve, however, is the charismatic puffin, with over 10,000 of them coming to the island each summer to breed.
My parents have been visiting them at Skomer for years now, and after seeing only their photos, I was excited to finally meet these adorable seabirds for myself.
How to get there
The easiest way to reach the coast is by car. You’ll need to head towards Marloes, the nearest town, and follow a small country lane to get to Lockley Lodge Visitor Centre – for your GPS, use the postcode SA62 3BJ.
There’s a car park nearby especially for visitors to Skomer, where you can leave your car for the day to board the boat which crosses over to the island from here.
Skomer Island is open to visitors everyday except Monday’s (unless it’s a bank holiday), but the boats only run if the weather permits. It doesn’t matter if it’s rain or shine, but the sea needs to be calm – a strong northerly wind means there’ll likely be no boats that day. The captain makes a decision on whether or not they’ll sail each morning, so keep your eye on the weather, or you can check for daily updates on their Twitter account.
If the British (nay, Welsh) weather is on your side, boats to Skomer Island usually run three times a day at 10am, 11am and 12pm. The first return trip is at 3pm, meaning you’ll have plenty of time to explore the island.
You’ll need to plan your visit somewhat meticulously though, and not just inline with the forecast – there’s a limit on the number of visitors who can go each day, meaning you’ll need to get there early if you want to be one of them. Tickets for the boats go on sale from 8:30am each morning, and when they’re gone, they’re gone. We arrived about an hour before opening, and there were already 20 people ahead of us and a fast-growing queue behind.
To park your car in the National Trust car park nearby costs £5 for the day.
Tickets to Skomer can be bought from Lockley Lodge Visitor Centre – the landing fee costs £10 per adult, but is free if you’re a member of the Wildlife Trust of South and West Wales, or can be refunded if you sign up on the day. An optional booklet guide is £3 and provides you with a brochure with more info about the island and its residents.
Boat tickets from the harbour to the island is paid separately onboard, and costs £11 for adults and £7 for children. Only cash is accepted though, so make sure you bring change.
The sea is calm today and thick clouds are overhead, but luckily it’s quite warm when we set sail for Skomer at 10am.
The Dale Princess boat carries 50 passengers, but it feels like much more as we’re all packed on tightly for the 15 mins crossing.
The cry of seagulls can be heard over our boat’s engine, and as we approach the island the number of birds flying overhead increases and changes. You can already make out the distinctive black, white, and orange-coloured puffins flapping their wings in the sky, and spot them resting on the surface of the ocean before diving down to find their breakfast.
Once ashore, a quick safety briefing tells us a bit about the different trails found on the island, and a lot about where’s best to stop for lunch. Most importantly of all though, we’re told to stay on the footpaths at all times during our visit. Lots of the wildlife on the island, including the puffin, nest in burrows which can be easily damaged if stepped or sat on, so it’s vital you don’t stray off the path.
We follow the ‘island circuit’ to make the most of the coastal views, and what a view it is.
The terrain on the island is varied throughout, from flat footpaths through wild flower fields, to steep rocky hills which overlook the coastline. Some of these cliff views are sheer drops, and not for the fainthearted vertigo-sufferers like me!
For most of the trail, you get to enjoy the scenery all by yourself, only occasionally crossing paths with others. But the busiest place on the island by far is at The Wick, a beautiful spot located at the south side of the island. This is my favourite area too, as it features a stunning view of a cliff face that serves as the perfect backdrop to the huge colonies of puffins and burrows located along the bank.
The serious photographers among us are huddled behind the rope cordon here trying to get their best shot, with the faint clicking sound of their cameras heard among the crashing waves, and seagulls flying at eye level in the distance.
And what a photogenic bird they are!
Completely unfazed by our presence, they tilt their heads from side to side and step lightly to face all directions, almost like they’re posing for the camera.
Their burrows are found on either side of the footpath we’re gathered on, and on a few occasions we were lucky enough to see a puffin returning from sea with their catch still in their mouths. They land on the bank in front of us and wait for us to move out of the way, before scurrying quickly across the path and into their burrow on the other side – the pitter-patter sound of their bright orange feet as equally amusing as their penguin-like waddle.
If you can tear yourself away, the trail continues along the coast from here. We stop off for lunch by Skomer Head at the south-west of the island and have our picnic. There’s no restaurant or cafe at Skomer, so you’ll need to pack your own food and drinks.
At the centre of the island is the Old Farm, which remains from the 19th century. Farming here ceased in 1945, but the buildings have since been renovated to accommodate the staff and volunteers who work on the island. A number of rooms have also been built for guests who wish to stay overnight on the island, but you’ll need to book this in advance.
Staying the night means you’ll be able to see the Manx Shearwater, who are out fishing at sea during the day. We did spot a few during our visit, but sadly these are only remains which can be found scattered around the island – the unlucky victims who have fallen prey to the Black-backed Gulls.
I really enjoyed our time at Skomer Island, and I’m officially in love with the adorable petite puffins. Who knew they lived so close?
It might not be an exotic trip in faraway lands, but sometimes it’s nice to stop and appreciate what we have closer to home, too. If you’re planning a visit to Pembrokeshire, make sure Skomer Island is on your list!
Need to know
- June and July is an ideal time to see puffins, but they can be spotted from around March to August
- You can’t book advanced tickets for the boat, only on the day
- Dogs are not allowed on the island
- There are no refreshments on Skomer, so bring your own snacks and drinks
- Wear comfy shoes/boots, as paths are rough in places
- There’s very little shelter, so consider bringing an umbrella or hat/sunscreen