Dale Fort Blog Number 18

2 07 2013

A Magical Island

Grassholm can be found about 10 miles west of the mainland and is about 16 miles by sea from Dale Fort.


It is owned by the Royal Society for the Protection of Birds (RSPB) and managed by them as a National Nature Reserve.  Landing on the island is not allowed.

The name comes from  Old Norse and means “Green Island”.

Grassholm Panorama 2 jpeg

Grassholm may have been green in Viking times but these days it has a mainly white appearance due to the presence of many thousands of gannets and their poo.

Grassholm closer

Grassholm 3

There are an estimated 32,000 pairs of breeding gannets on the island.  Together with chicks and non-breeders that makes a population of some 120,000 birds.  These are huge (1.8 metre wing-span) birds all crammed together on a tiny island. It is probably the third largest Atlantic gannet colony in the world (behind St Kilda and Bass Rock), supporting 12% of the entire world population.  A visit provides one of the most spectacular natural history experiences on Earth.

Gannet 2gannet 1

It is also protected by the Grassholm Site of Special Scientific Interest (SSSI), Pembrokeshire Marine Special Area of Conservation (SAC) and Grassholm Island Special Protection Area (SPA).

A True Story of Grassholm

The King of Ireland married Princess Branwen sister of King Bendigeidfran.  All was well until after the honeymoon when it transpired that he had not been entirely honest about his domestic arrangements.  He proceeded to treat her cruelly by making her iron his beard and do the washing up.

Bendigeidfran and his mates decided that this was an unacceptable situation and travelled to Ireland to sort it out.  Diplomatic overtures failed and battle commenced.  The Irish had a magic re-animating couldron and so should have had the advantage but Bendigeidfran and chums were made of stern stuff and somehow managed to prevail.  They  killed (permanently) all the Irish baddies and rescued Branwen.

This sounds fine but they also suffered heavy losses and only seven of them survived.  Bendigeidfran was wounded and ordered his six remaining men to cut off his head and bury it in London.  (If only the Welsh Assembly Government had passed the Presumed Consent Organ Transplant Bill 2000 years ago he might have been saved).

They chopped it off but surprisingly it carried on talking.  “Let’s go to Harlech lads” it said.  So they went there and stayed for 7 years.

Meanwhile Branwen went into decline.  She felt that the whole business might have turned out better had she been prepared to do a few domestic chores.  She concluded that it was all her fault and died of grief.

The six survivors and the talking head next went to the castle on Ynys Gwales or Grassholm.  They stayed there for 80 years but no time passed for them, because Grassholm was a magical island and remains so to this day.  One day one of them opened the door facing south towards Cornwall and the enchantment was broken.  The head stopped talking and began to smell extremely dead.  They put it in a box and buried it on the site now occupied by The Tower of London.  Like King Arthur and his Knights it waits in limbo until Wales is in big trouble and it may emerge any time soon to save the day.

Nunzilla has been unavoidably delayed through no fault of her own and will appear here soon.  So don’t miss the next Blog.