Tuesday, 6 January 2015


We visited Caldey Island for the first time last year, and when we disembarked and wandered up from the shore we had the disorienting feeling that we had been transported to the Mediterranean.  The Cistercian monastery which forms the centrepiece of this fascinating island off the coast of Pembrokeshire has a distinctly 'hellenic' appearance, and reminded me of the monasteries of the Athos Peninsula which we once viewed from a boat trip while on honeymoon in Greece.  In common with the Greek monasteries, only men are allowed to enter the monastery on Caldey Island.  The island was first inhabited by monks in the 6th century, and the Caldey Stone dates from around that time, with its image of a cross and an ancient script known as Ogham which originated in Ireland.  In the 12th century the Benedictines arrived, and stayed until the dissolution of the monasteries by Henry VIII.  The oldest building on the island is the Old Priory, incorporating St Illtyd's Church, dating from the 13th century and recently restored.  

The Cistercian Monastery

It was not until 1929 that the present monastery was built, inhabited by Cistercian monks whose talents include chocolate and perfume-making.  Visitors can buy these products, and can get a glimpse of the chocolate-making venture in action.  The island also has its own postage stamps.  There are a number of walking routes, taking in two quite different sides to the island: the wooded part on the side where the boats disembark, and the wilder clifftop walks on the other side, with wonderful views of the coast of the mainland and out into the Bristol Channel.  The island's handsome whitewashed lighthouse also lies on this side.  Wildlife enthusiasts should look out for seabirds and seals.  The island is accessible by regular boat trips from Tenby in summer.  The day we visited the tide was too low to get the regular boat back, so we had to pile into an army landing craft and transfer from there to the boat further out, an unexpected but fun twist to our day out on the island.

The Caldey Stone

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