Last islanders say farewell to the hard life: Will Bennett reports on a turning point in the history of Bardsey, off the north coast of Wales

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The Independent Online
THE DAY which Arthur and Jane Strick have long been dreading is approaching. It will mark the end of their remarkable way of life and bring the island of Bardsey to a turning point in its history.

Mr Strick is 63 and has an arthritic hip. His wife is 57. The physical demands of the simple but harsh existence they have led on the island for 20 years mean that they must soon fix their retirement date.

When they move to the cottage they have bought on the mainland, the trust which owns Bardsey, two miles off the tip of the Lleyn Peninsular in North- west Wales, may put in a manager rather than replace them with new tenants.

Whatever happens when they leave, there will be more emphasis on the island's role as a nature reserve and less on agriculture. A way of life which at the turn of the century supported 10 farms will be over.

Bardsey, one and three quarter miles long and three quarters of a mile across at its widest, is an island of serene tranquillity. The Strick's farmhouse and half a dozen holiday homes are hidden from the outside world by a 550ft (168m) hill rising sheer from its eastern shore.

It was an important early religious centre. The first monastery in Wales was founded here by St Cadfan in the sixth century and according to legend there are 20,000 saints buried on the island.

Bardsey's spiritual quality remains and many of the 500 visitors who stay in the holiday cottages each year come on religious retreats. An Anglican nun lived there as a hermit until forced to leave by age and ill-health last spring.

Her departure reduced the permanent population to four, the Stricks, an employee of the Bardsey Island Trust and his girlfriend. At the beginning of the century more than 100 people lived there and the island had a chapel and a school.

The Stricks came to Bardsey in 1972, already devotees of the island lifestyle. They met whilst working on Lundy in the Bristol Channel and spent 10 years there after their marriage.

'I suppose that we are neither of us particularly sociable people and it just sort of worked out that it was the right way of living for us,' Mrs Strick, who comes originally from Kent, said.

Her husband, a Devonian who once played the trumpet in a Soho jazz band, added: 'I think these places have a certain atmosphere which one finds captivating.'

For all Bardsey's gentle beauty, few people could cope with the Stricks' way of life. They do have a television, an electricity generator and, since 1984, a bathroom, but there are no other amenities and the only telephone is a portable one.

They have 400 sheep and a few Connemara ponies on the 427 acres (173 hectares) which they farm. To get lambs to market in the summer Mr Strick has to make 10 journeys across often turbulent waters.

He uses a battered yellow landing craft, a wonderfully eccentric but very practical form of transport, to carry the animals. One year when the weather was bad it took until October to get them all across.

Market prices are uncertain when the lambs do arrive. Their income is supplemented by an EC grant, selling ponies bred from the Connemaras and fishing for lobsters and crabs. In the winter the visitors leave and the island is sometimes cut off for days by the weather. The Stricks relish the solitude.

But with every year the work gets harder and now, as the Stricks ponder retirement, the Bardsey Island Trust, which bought the island more than 10 years ago for pounds 100,000, is considering its future.

Dafydd Thomas, the trust officer, who lives in Criccieth, said: 'We have set up an agricultural sub-committee to see how the island should be farmed in the future. One possibility is that we shall put in a manager and farm it ourselves.'

The trust is also keen to enhance Bardsey's role as an important bird and wildlife centre. The island already has a bird ringing station and is a national nature reserve and a site of special scientific interest. There are now plans to establish it as a marine nature reserve.

For generations Bardsey's farmers left because the life was so hard. The Stricks stayed precisely because of its stern simplicity but reluctantly have had to concede that it is not a place to grow old.

(Photograph omitted)

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