Further adventures / The blog

Self-islanding with a donkey

Nice to get the chance to dust off the donkey! Here’s Chico on telly, on an island. You can see the whole episode here – the series is airing in Wales at the moment and will be showing on ITV proper sometime soon.


And here’s the backstory:

A year ago we set off to live on Bardsey Island, at a moment’s notice. The island trust were urgently in need of wardens – the holiday season had begun and their previous wardens had left suddenly due to illness. A patchwork of trustees, previous farmers and chaplains were holding the fort. We had got to know an ex-warden who’d moved in near us in Aberystwyth, and we couldn’t say no when she said they were in need of people to step in.

Three-year-old Osian had been about to start at his school’s nursery, and I was dithering about shoehorning his tiny wild self into the uniform and the establishment. Four-month-old Tali wasn’t about to do anything much for a while, and Bardsey seemed the sort of thing that was undoubtedly an adventure, but that could actually be done while spending a lot of time in the garden with tea and rattles, and on the carpet of the warden’s house.

Carpet safari on a holy island

I’ve got masses more to write about those carpet-safari months – parenting on an island, parenting as an island, self-isolation before it was cool (a wry ha ha). Hunan-ynysu is the Welsh for self-isolation (hee-nan uh-nuh-see), and it literally means self-islanding. And what an island to do it on: Bardsey is very much loved as a pilgrimage destination of thousands of years’ standing, home to the bones of 20,000 saints (and Victorian exaggeration), and a ‘thin place’ – close to heaven and the golden sunset-lit horizon and the Irish Wicklow hills, and long off-grid hours for visitors to spend in peaceful contemplation and meditative ambling.

Apart from the warden’s nutjob children wailing on the lane, losing shorts in the bracken, attempting to play ‘I’m Still Standing’ on the untuned, stringy violin at the music nights (all done by the big one), and getting her head stuck under a chair at the denouement of my big number (the little one), and a hundred other tragicomic events. More on all of this will be coming up on this blog, a little out of turn, later on.

In the meantime, Chico’s glorious appearance.

I’m not sure where I was exactly, last summer. I was in a hormonal baby haze, in a kind of dappled-collage of domestic memories, of a flowery garden and floury kitchen, stacks of romance and heaps of lost-woman woe too. Rhys was the one thinking straight, and it was his sharp, logical mind that saw in this the opportunity to live with Chico for a while. We look forward, in ordinary life, to a time when we can open the kitchen stable-door of some future home and drink our morning tea while rubbing the donkey’s ears, and here was our chance to do so, for a few months at least.

It wasn’t me!

That we were on an island was of little concern to Rhys. He was a man with a vision. I was no use to his vision – my ambitions were scaled down to the size of the nappy bucket. It felt like another whole woman who walked around Wales (still does, although she breathes sweet future promises in my ears every now and then).

So he made it happen. With the blessing and help of Colin, Bardsey’s renowned boatman and gatekeeper, and farmer Gareth, swarthy men of Bardsey. Neither Colin nor his island-historian parents could remember of a donkey on the island, which was reason enough to get the beast over.

There’s a reason I like to walk from where I am. I’m not a fan of the combustion engine on land or water, and thanks to my preferences, and complete lack of recent practice, neither is Chico. Despite his own epic mileage, Chico hadn’t been on motorised transport since winter 2014. I couldn’t contain any more worry and responsibility, and so for a change I was very happy to be staring into the nappy bucket and pretending nothing else was happening.

… And then taking full credit when the film crew started rolling.

… Next instalment coming soon: Getting the beast to the island!


Getting all that kit up to the top of the hill at Chico speed



Very nice guy presenter Sean Fletcher, and sleeping baby

bardsey 3


  1. Polly Pearshouse says:

    Just love your writing and the thought of gazing into the nappy bucket while a whole new adventure was developing.

  2. Breathing sweet future promises in my ears… they are so quietly whispered I almost miss them.

    • Yes, mine too. I think that some of staying sane, whether in the indentured labour of parenthood or these strange corona days or any other reason, is to know when to ignore them.

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