You might think from the title of this post that I’ve given up writing about globetrotting and taken to doling out dating advice.
“Dear Lonely in Lloydminster,
Trust me on this, there is no better way to a girls heart than with chocolate and perfume. Good luck!
Surprisingly, this age-old recipe for romance has also been just the remedy to revive a declining colony of monks who for hundred of years have come to Caldey Island, off the Pembrokeshire Coast of Wales, in search of solitude and spiritual enlightenment. They are an ancient order whose lifestyle revolves around manual labour and self-sufficiency. They have been here in one religious form or another since the sixth century, struggling to barely sustain themselves on the tiny island. Then, sometime in the 1950’s they discovered that the islands wildflowers lent themselves perfectly to the making of perfume. As interest grew in Caldey Island perfumes, so too did interest in Caldey Island and tourists began to visit regularly. Chocolate and shortbread were added to the monks repertoire and today the place is thriving, with an Internet cafe, a post office and even it’s own currency – the dab. It’s a short trip by colorful motor launch from Harbour Beach at the base of Tenby town to Priory Beach on Caldey Island.
A five-minute walk up the path from the beach takes us to the ‘new’ Caldey Abbey, built in 1906 by Anglican Benedictine monks – an order that eventually converted to Catholicism. The Abbey is surrounded by lush gardens with delightful nooks for contemplation and prayer. There’s a little tea house and a souvenir shop stocked with chocolate, shortbread, perfume and a good range of religious paraphernalia. The Monastic Guesthouse hosts some 750 visitors each year.
In ancient times, churches established priories as outposts in sparsely populated or remote areas. The history of Caldey Island’s Old Priory is vague but it is thought to have been built sometime in the tenth century, and likely sits on the same site as the original settlement of the sixth century. The Old Priory was a place where the earliest monks lived, worshipped and raised their animals. I was completely enchanted by the beautiful and peaceful St. Illtyd’s Church here and could only imagine the stories within these ancient walls and polished stone floors. The beautiful stained glass window is thought to be St. Illtyd himself and King Arthur. The monks craft their chocolate in an outbuilding of the Old Priory. We bought some and it was heavenly.
Displayed on a wall in St. Illtyd’s is the Caldey Stone – considered a significant antiquity for it’s Latin inscription and for the markings just slightly visible along the intact edge of the top of the stone in Ogham script, an ancient language that originated in Ireland.
From the crest of the short stroll across the island, through fields of grazing sheep to the Caldey Light we had a gorgeous view back at the Welsh mainland and Tenby. The lighthouse was installed in 1829 to aid navigation for ships plying coal and limestone to and from Wales. In the early days of tran-Atlantic crossings this light ensured that ships from ‘across the pond’ didn’t make the costly navigational error of mistaking the large Bristol Channel for the English Channel. Like most lighthouses around the world, this one is now fully automated so the light keepers cottages that anchor it are rented out. It was a glorious day when we strode along the high cliffs, with the sun shining and a warm wind blowing. But I thought about how amazing it might be to experience a mid-winter gale, nestled here in one of the cottages sipping on a mug of mulled wine, with a roaring fire going, watching the angry Atlantic ocean lashing the cliffs while penning the ‘next great Canadian novel’.
The tides had turned in the few hours we spent exploring the island. We could tell by the fact that the little motor launch that was to take us back to the mainland was stranded in shallow water off the now land-locked loading pier.
The clever monks of Caldey found an innovative solution (while certainly enriching the guest experience!) with the purchase of a WWII-vintage landing craft to shuttle guests to the boat at low tide.
We have been enchanted by Tenby – it’s gorgeous beaches, stunning coastline, charming shops and cafes, and it’s welcoming people – and we are supremely happy to have come here. I hope to come back someday and spend more time…perhaps in a light keepers cottage. For now we are off again, to points-as-yet-undetermined via Cardiff. Stay tuned!