“ Contact: Starida Sea Services / Little Bryn / Beaumaris / Anglesey / North Wales / Tel. 01248 810251 „
Britain has over 12,000 miles of coastline and nowhere is more than 70 miles from the sea. Our seas, islands, and coasts are incredibly rich and contain wildlife spectacles that are the envy of the rest of the world. Half of the population of grey seals, the world's rarest seal, lives and breeds around our shores. During the summer, our rocky cliffs are home to 'seabird cities' with millions of puffins, guillemots, razorbills, shags, fulmars and kittiwakes choosing here to raise their young: no other country can boast the sheer number and variety of breeding seabirds that we have.
A trip during the summer to see our fabulous wildlife can be one of the highlights of a holiday and many charter boats offer such trips to famous landmarks. One of these landmarks is Puffin Island off the coast of Anglesey.
Puffin Island is a large lump of limestone rising 190 feet above sea level. At 68 acres, it is not large, but the sheer cliffs present around most of its circumference provide ideal habitat for breeding seabirds, so in summer the island lives up to its name.
Cruises around the island are run by two companies, both of which operate from Beaumaris Pier. Starida Sea Services have a large passenger vessel, the Island Princess, which is licensed to carry up to 57 passengers. Tickets are obtained from the kiosk at the pier and cost £7.00 for adults and £5.00 for children. The cruise lasts over an hour so this is good value for money. The times for the cruises vary and the day's times will be shown on the kiosk.
Getting on to the boat can be a bit of an adventure; the pier's stairs, subjected to soaking by seawater and algal growth, can be slippery. The crew provide assistance for anyone who needs it, however.
Once safely on board, the captain introduces himself and starts a commentary about the cruise. Although the destination is Puffin Island, the four mile trip from Beaumaris has spectacular views of Beaumaris and its castle, Snowdonia, and the Great Orme in the distance, so motoring to the island is never boring.
It is worth picking a calm, dry day, if possible as Island Princess has no cover for passengers. If the sea is a bit rough, I'd advise not sitting at the back of the boat. On one of the trips I went on, the passengers on the back row were soaked by water crashing over the side as we turned through the swell. Not nice!
On a sunny day, this is a wonderful experience. On the trip to Puffin Island, as well as the fabulous scenery, there is plenty of wildlife to see. Terns will be seen diving into the water after fish, oystercatchers fly past in squadrons, calling their loud 'pleep pleep' call, and black guillemots can often be seen loafing on the surface of the water. There is also the possibility that a porpoise or bottlenose dolphin may be spotted, so keep your eyes open.
Upon reaching the island, the first destination is the seal colony. The captain is able to manoeuvre the boat close to the island and its grey seals. Many can be seen 'hauled out' on the rocks, whilst offshore seals will be seen with their heads above the water, gazing back at the staring humans. Grey seals are impressive creatures: large bulls can be over ten feet long weighing over half a tonne. The pups (which will be present during the summer) are really cute with their fluffy white coats and endearing expressions, never straying far from their mums. Photographers will be able to take superb shots of the basking seals; even a compact camera with a reasonable zoom will obtains great shots, so take yours with you.
Above the seals is the cormorant colony, the largest in Wales. Up to 750 pairs are present, along with their smaller cousins, the shags, presenting lines of jet black, prehistoric-looking birds to gaze at. Binoculars are useful here to get the best views.
For many years, the island was a religious centre and the remains of a twelfth century church can still be seen. It is said that St. Seriol is buried here as well as, perhaps, King Maelgwn Gwynedd. In Welsh, the island is called Ynys Seiriol (Seriol's Island).
As the boat proceeds anti-clockwise around the island, the other seabird colonies come into view. Once again, the captain is able to get very close to the island and the sight of thousands of guillemots, razorbills, kittiwakes, and puffins is spectacular. The birds line up on the tiny ledges, only inches away from each other. It always amazes me that the eggs do not roll off, they have so little space on the ledge. The air will be filled with birds, too, and the noise of so many birds is almost deafening. If the wind is in the right (wrong!) direction, it is possible to smell the colony. Think 'fishy poo' and you have some idea of the scent of thousands of fish eating birds living in close proximity!
As well as birds in the air and on the cliffs, there will be plenty in the water. The birds seem almost tame as they fish away, only yards away from sixty people in a boat, seemingly oblivious or uncaring that they are being observed. Once again, photographers will be spoilt for choice with so many tempting targets to choose from.
Once around the island, the Island Princess reaches Penmon Lighthouse. This spectacular black and white striped lighthouse guards the shallows off Penmon Point and is still in use even though it is now 179 years old, although it is no longer manned. After a talk about the lighthouse, the Island Princess starts the few miles back to Beaumaris Pier and dry land.
This is a wonderful way to spend a summer's afternoon. With the sun, the sea, salt spray, the screaming of the birds, and the antics of those curious seals, as well as the man made and natural wonders of Puffin Island and the lighthouse, anyone who likes getting out on the water will find plenty to do on this trip. I have taken this tour four times now and never tire of it, due to the beauty and variety of the island and its wildlife. If you're in the area on a nice day, I can thoroughly recommend a tour on the Island Princess. If you want a bit more variety, Starida also offers tours of the Menai Straits, as well as sea fishing trips of up to ten hours.