Off the coast of Pembrokeshire just a short boat journey from Tenby is the monastic island of Caldey. This small island is home to a community of Cistercian monks who are continuing the centuries old tradition on this exposed island.
Caldey island has been inhabited since the bronze age, going through turmoil and raids. The island has had religious significance since 1131 when it was donated to the Benedictine monks from the Abbey of Tiron in France. At this time in history south Wales was being colonised by the invading Normans. The monks lived peacefully on the island until 1536 when when Henry VIII dissolved the monasteries of England and Wales. The Old Priory survived their departure and the elements of time and is still standing on the island today. The island was in private ownership but it wasn’t until 1906 that is returned to its roots and was purchased by a community of Anglican Benedictines who built the present Abbey, rebuilt the original St David’s Church and repaired the workers cottages. In 1929 Cistercian monasticism returned to the island and this community of monks now maintains the island and it’s traditional way of life.
At the southern end of the island is Caldey Island lighthouse. This stumpy lighthouse was first lit in 1829 to protect the traders using the coastal waters to transport coal and limestone to north Wales. It also acted as a marker to show the entrance to the Bristol Channel and differentiate it from the english Channel to those approaching from America.
It is just 16m high but sits on cliffs 65 metres above the high water mark on the rocks at the foot of the cliffs. It works in conjunction with Lundy North Lighthouse to guide ships up the Bristol Channel avoiding St Gowan Shoals and Helwick Sands near the Gower.
Walking from the landing stage through the sandy woodland it is easy to see why the monks chose this secluded spot to build their community. Being self sufficient they farm the island as well as make chocolate and perfumes for the day trippers who make the hop over in the summer months.
Caldey Island provides lots of options for photography from landscapes through to buildings and more intimate landscapes. It is difficult to achieve sunrise or sunset images as the island is closed to the public over night. It can also be very busy and so imagination is often needed to achieve people free moments. The island has lots of quiet corners which can be explored and used as a means to escape other people.
Caldey Island can be reached by boat from the small seaside town of Tenby in Pembrokeshire. There is a small ticket office at the harbour or at low tide tickets can be bought from the pontoon where a queue forms as people wait for the boats. These shuttle backwards and forwards from Easter until October although at busy times there can be quite a wait.