This was originally going to be a mini-adventure with the children, however their social life was far too busy to fit me in, so instead my long suffering hiking buddy – Fran – joined me on what was to be a puffin extravaganza!
We arrived at the National Trust car park at Lockley Lodge very early (even for Fran who loves to be super early) in the morning to beat the crowds as it’s first come first on to the island – no pre-bookings allowed. However, as the rain was falling and the cloud low, there was plenty of availability. I was told that on a sunny day then the queue/waiting time could be huge, and the island very busy.
The trip starts with a boat ride over to Skomer a kilometre or so away, which took about 15 minutes. It’s a bumpy affair and with no cover at all, so waterproofs would have been useful (and not the denim shorts like I had on!). Alas we didn’t spot any dolphins during the crossing, which is regular bonus, but we did have our first sighting of puffins in flight.
Once landed there is a quick briefing and words of wisdom from the NT staff – namely ‘don’t stray of the path’ and ‘there are no trees and everyone has binoculars, so if you need to wee then be quick’. Then its up the hundred or so cliff steps to start exploring.
Skomer Island is just short of 3km2, so walking around the circumference at a leisure pace is easily managed – the choice is to go clockwise or anti-clockwise. I’m guessing that most people head to The Wick first (and perhaps only there and back) where the vast majority of puffins are. However as it was so quiet (first boat over) we walked anti-clockwise around the island saving the Wick until ¾ of the way around.
*Warning the paragraph below has a twitcher warning*
Even though the visibility wasn’t great and it was still raining we were not disappointed. Sightings included puffins galore plus plenty of gannets, wheatears and a few oystercatchers. We tried our hardest to spot the rare short-eared owl, by scanning walls with our binoculars but to no avail, and we missed the razorbills and guillemots by only a week – timing is key to your visit depending on what you want to see.
In the late morning the fog lifted and the sun came out. This little island is gorgeous like this and if you have even the remotest of twitching tendencies then it’s a fantastic way to spend the day.
The puffins scurried right across your path and you could easily spend a half-day watching them as they may be tiny but they have large personalities, they love to hang around in small groups and seemingly have meetings and discussions. Their landings are something to behold too.
Our boat was 2.30pm back and I would have loved to spend longer on the island. However I will be back next year, probably with the kids (fantastic child activity) and maybe overnight.
- Take binoculars – the puffins are right there by your feet, but if you want to watch the other birds, especially the magnificent gannets diving into the sea, then binoculars are essential
- Take food and drink – they have a few things to buy on skomer like bottled water and chocolate, but don’t expect a café!
- Take waterproofs (or sun cream) – there are no trees, therefore the island is very exposed to the elements be it sun or rain (more likely)
- The puffins are on Skomer from May – July
- You can stay overnight (they even hold yoga retreats)
- It’s a photographers dream – my little point and shoot was almost laughable compared to the monster lenses I saw. However the puffins are so close to you that you can get some great images with a smart phone!
- Circumnavigation is the obvious route, however make sure you go inland too, it’s really pleasant.