Tuesday, 25 June 2013

Island Child: My life on Skokholm with R M Lockley

Ronald Lockley first went to live on Skokholm in November 1927: the following July he married Doris Shellard, a near neighbour to his previous home just east of Cardiff. Their daughter Ann was born in May 1930 at Martin’s Haven, in what was then known as Lower Island Lodge, now much changed as an information centre and appropriately called Lockley Lodge.

Ann made her first crossing to the island a few days later. Numerous family photographs provide a vivid testimonial to her childhood years, while her father’s copious diaries tell of the highs and lows of island life. There were certainly many lows, like poor lambing seasons and low prices for fish: on one occasion they even carried their catch to Cardiff but fared no better.

Above all there was the wildlife of Skokholm, especially the birds to be studied, and the establishment of the first Bird Observatory in Great Britain in 1933. From about that time Ann has memories of life on Skokholm and its natural history. For instance, she cannot remember a time when her father was not studying the Manx Shearwaters, especially the little colony on The Knoll, the rock ridge sheltering the buildings from southerly winds.

Memories too of the increasing number of visitors. Among them Julian Huxley, who she thought of as being long like a caterpillar so knew him as Mr Caterpillar. Of W. S. Bristowe, a spider authority, whose birthday it was during his visit, Doris making him a spider birthday cake. Others included John Buxton who was to marry one of her father’s sisters; H. Morrey Salmon who helped build the first Heligoland trap and whose sons were welcome playmates for Ann; and John Fursdon, later to become warden of the island in 1946.

There were at times hazardous boat journeys, pushing off from Martin’s Haven in a strong northerly, or passing through the tide races in Jack Sound or round St Anne’s Head. Ann says, “I can relive every moment of it still” when describing a near disaster as they planned to cross to Martin’s Haven. Her father’s diary simply recorded “we had healthy exercise and excitement, we changed our soaking clothes and had dinner.”

Visitors to Skokholm were usually transported from Dale by the Sturley family. Edgar the skipper hardly moved from his place at the tiller; John, amidships; Jim, the youngest, in the bow. Ann loved sitting next to Jim because he wore a dried starfish in his headband.

In the late summer of 1940 island life drew to an end because of the war. After 13 years the Lockley family departed. Everything from that season’s preserved gulls eggs to water tanks, furniture and livestock, including sheep and ponies, was transported to the mainland and the start of more pioneering, at Cwmgloyne, and later at Dinas Head north Pembrokeshire.

Indeed, and despite the title, about a third of the book is devoted to these mainland years, an intriguing part of the Lockley story which is often overlooked. As to Ann herself, she helped with the re-opening of Skokholm in 1946, of Skomer just for that season, and later spent some time on Caldey. After qualifying with a Diploma in Dairying she went to New Zealand under their immigration scheme in 1953, married and has lived there ever since, but quite naturally still misses the Pembrokeshire coast.

This is a fascinating book about the Lockley family and not just their life on Skokholm. When you have read it, search for a copy of her father’s Early Morning Island with more about Ann and Skokholm: though, as she says herself, she “cannot decide whether it was a children’s book or a children’s book for grown-ups!” There is even a photograph of Jim Sturley complete with starfish!

This a review of the book written by Ann Lockley and published by Gwasg Carreg Gwalch. Review by David Saunders first appeared in the summer edition of Natur Cymru

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