Pembrokeshire has a lot to offer visitors, from zoos, farms and castles to hiking, kayaking and coasteering. But one of our favourite days out is a 20 minute boat ride from Tenby harbour to the unique and tranquil Caldey Island to explore the intriguing monastery, stunning landscapes and fragrant gifts.
Author Christopher Howells and photographer Ross Grieve have captured the daily life of the monastery and its religious celebrations in their book Caldey Island. The book also contains interviews with the monks and islanders, and records the history of the island and its unspoilt environment:
‘Just a few miles off Tenby’s medieval harbour lies Caldey Island. A mile-and-a -half wide and two miles long, the island has been home since the 1920s to a community of Cistercian monks and a number of villagers, some employed by the Abbey Estate.
‘Every summer this fascinating community is visited by around 55,000 tourists.
‘Caldey’s history of monasticism is comparable to that of Iona and Lindisfarne. The island still possesses a working abbey and anyone who has visited or stayed on the island will know it is a rare place indeed. It has a romance, mysticism, an atmosphere and an exceptional landscape.
The tourist season on Caldey generally starts on Easter Monday and runs until October. Eight boats provide the service between Tenby and Caldey, and on a normal day in summer each may make six trips, carrying forty passengers on each crossing.
‘The island’s business operations include the Caldey Boat Pool, which provides passage for visitors, the retail of gifts and perfume, rental income earned from the tea shop and chocolate maker, and the letting of six houses on the island. The Abbey runs itself as a separate entity. Everything Caldey does as a business relies on a continued boat connection with the mainland.
‘The island’s perfume industry began in the 1950s.When the sale of dried flowers and herbs had been successful, Brother Thomas suggested they sell lavender water. Its success led to the abbey asking a Polish pharmacist, Henry Kobus, to leave London and develop a perfumery for them. He cultivated a foreign species of lavender and lemon verbena on Caldey and worked out how to extract oil from gorse flowers for use in a perfume. After Kobus had left the island in 1959 to marry the sister of one of the monks, the community was advised by the renowned perfumier, Walter Poucher.’
Excerpt from Caldey Island, written by Chris Howells and photographed by Ross Grieve. Published by Graffeg 2010. Available at all good bookshops, or online.
Tickets to Caldey are purchased immediately prior to the boat ride from a kiosk in Castle Square above Tenby harbour – no pre-booking is necessary. There are no sailings on Sundays or in adverse weather.