Ynys Enlli sits about two miles from the tip of the Llŷn Peninsula. The island is owned by Ymddiriedolaeth Ynys Enlli – Bardsey Island Trust, which protects and promotes it as a place of special scientific, historical and spiritual interest. In 2023 it became the first site in Europe to be awarded International Dark Sky Sanctuary certification. It joins 16 other sites worldwide recognised as the most remote and dark places on earth.
The extraordinary pull of the island has attracted Mari Huws back every year since her first visit at the age of three. Mari is now a warden on Enlli with her partner, Emyr, and has given an insight into her life on the island.
I have always lived my life in the flow, moving from one thing to another; travelling, studying, working – with no particular plan or place I was trying to get to, just the feeling that I want to do something that matters. Last September the flow of my life carried me here, to work as a warden on Ynys Enlli with my boyfriend.
Overnight our world became a rock in the middle of the sea, two miles from the tip of the Llŷn Peninsula.
Thousands of years of history
Enlli is small. It’s only a mile and a half at its longest and a half mile at its widest. But its size doesn’t detract from its stature. The island is a Site of Special Scientific Interest (SSSI) and an Area of Outstanding Natural Beauty. It attracts thousands of visitors every year, but people have been drawn here for centuries. Traces of huts dating back to the Iron Age (700 BC) lie low in the bracken on the mountain, and ruins from a thirteenth century abbey stand almost in our back garden. The first abbey on the island was built in the sixth century.
We live at the end of a pilgrimage, where it is said that 20,000 saints are buried. Today, 20,000 pairs of Manx Shearwater birds nest here.
Over the centuries the island's population has ebbed and flowed. At the turn of the twentieth century there were over a hundred people living and working on the island. Today there's just a handful of us.
The island is an explosion of wildlife, and a rare place where the past and the present meet. The earth and heavens also meet in Enlli, according to some, and I must say that on a day when the golden sun melts into the glass-like sea, I tend to agree. However it’s a bit harder to believe on a stormy winter’s day.
The houses standing here today were built by Lord Newborough in the early 1870s. They have been built as strong as castles. There is nothing here to slow down the wild winds of the Irish Sea and yet they still stand proud after a hundred and fifty winters. Looking after these houses and their gardens throughout the year is one of our main responsibilities as wardens.
Freedom from the modern world
Coming to stay on Enlli is a unique experience. The island has always provided a pause from the hustle-and-bustle of the mainland, but today the islands peace and escapism from all the mod-cons of our modern world offers a memorable holiday for friends and families. There is no Wi-Fi or electricity in the houses, and the water flows straight from a well. It's an off-grid and unplugged experience like no other.
The holiday season runs from April to September. I was three years old when my parents first brought me here on holiday, and like many others, we returned every year since. That is the power of the island, there is something here that draws people back for decades.
Visiting and working on Enlli are very different experiences of course; and it’s easy to romanticise about living in such a wild and beautiful place. However a lot of our work is with a shovel and a spade or a mop and a cloth! There are no two days the same, with the exception perhaps of changeover day in the summer – when all accommodation needs to be thoroughly cleaned after parting with previous guests, before welcoming the next lot.
The job changes with the seasons. six months full, six months empty. From gardening to cleaning, planting trees to digging, building to painting – the maintenance work on an island is never-ending!
There is nothing glamorous about being a warden, but it is comforting to know that we are devoting our time and energy to conserving and preserving such a unique place. Not forgetting of course the pockets of time between tasks when we get to swim with seals, or kayak between two tides, or walk ancient paths as the sky is alive with birds from all corners of the world.
So even though our toilet is at the bottom of the garden and we have no shop around the corner, we step out from our front door into one of the most beautiful and wild places in the world, and there is nowhere else on the planet I’d rather be!