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Letter from Enlli

05 May 2024 5 minute read
Perfumed flowers of Gorse on Mynydd Enlli. (Photo: Ruth Bradshaw)

Ruth Bradshaw

There is yellow everywhere here. It is in the perfumed flowers of the gorse which covers the west side of Mynydd Enlli and spills out on to the land below.

It is in the cheerful constellations of celandines sprinkled liberally across fields and meadows and in subtler form in the faces of the daisies which dance alongside them.

And it is here too in the paint splatters of lichen which decorate rocks, stone walls and even the sides of buildings all across the island.

It is fitting then that we arrive on Ynys Enlli on a bright yellow boat with a bright yellow sun shining high in the sky above.

Blessed isle

We are here for a week’s writing course, a week without access to Wi-Fi, electricity or flushing toilets on an island with no paved roads and very little mobile signal.

But staying here feels less like stepping back in time and more like a chance to step away from our own age of constant connection.

Here you can appreciate how much we take for granted being able to get what we want, and remove what we don’t, at the flick of a switch or the press of a button.

And in return for forgoing many of the trappings of the modern world, the island is blessed with dark skies filled with stars no longer visible across most of the UK, and clean, pure air which allows hundreds of species of lichen to thrive, including rarities such as Golden Hair Lichen (more yellow) and Ciliate Strap Lichen.

Yellow lichen, Enlli. (Photo: Ruth Bradshaw)

Glittering patterns

I have never been easily contained within four walls and in a place like this with so much to experience it feels even harder to stay inside, especially when the sun continues to shine, even while a biting wind keeps temperatures low enough to require multiple layers.

I spend the free time between writing workshops and other activities exploring, sometimes finding a sheltered place to sit while I attempt to put my tumbling thoughts on to paper.

Over the week I make the short ascent to the top of Mynydd Enlli several times and walk back and forth along the rocky coastline, each day marvelling anew at the glittering patterns that sunlight and wind create on the shifting sea.

Evening light on Enlli (Photo: Ruth Bradshaw)

Eerie soundscapes

By day it is the agitating of Oystercatchers which dominates the soundscape but at night it is the eerie cries of Manx Shearwaters rising up from their underground nests as they call out for the partners they hope are arriving to join them.

The black and white seabirds return to land under cover of darkness in an attempt to avoid the Black-backed Gulls who would attack them given half a chance.

I find the Manxie call slightly disconcerting first, as it makes me think of a child choking back a sob, but I soon get used to it as there are so many of them about.

Manx Shearwaters are breeding here in ever greater numbers each summer now – 26,000 pairs were recorded in 2022 – many taking advantage of the burrows abandoned when the island’s rabbit population was wiped out by a virus in the 1990s.

Enlli seals. Photo by Gail Hampshire (used under Creative Commons Licence)

Snorting seals

On my final visit to the end of Pen Diban, beyond the lighthouse, I sit and watch sleek Atlantic Grey Seals bobbing up and down in the water as they watch me watching them.

When so many wild creatures treat me with either suspicion or indifference, it is refreshing to encounter some who seem as curious about me as I am about them.

There are more seals sprawling across the nearby rocks and occasionally making very human-sounding snorting noises.

The ground beneath me is a soft carpet of Scurvygrass speckled with the tiny purple stars of the Spring Squill which has begun flowering in earnest since we arrived on the island.

A few clumps of Sea Thrift add some contrasting pink, but it is still slightly too early for most of them. I would have to stay another week or two if I wanted to experience their full show.

Enlli is far removed from the kind of urban woodlands and green spaces in south east England I usually write about, but by the end of the week my head is filled with new inspiration and ideas for my writing, and a rekindled respect for those who live in such seemingly remote places.

As we head back towards the mainland on that bright yellow boat, I’m already thinking about how I can get back here next year when the Thrift is in full bloom.

Ruth Bradshaw visited the island as part of the Tŷ Newydd Writing Centre’s course ‘Cydio yn Awen Enlli/Writing on Enlli.’ You can find details of forthcoming creative writing courses here.

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