Flat Holm is an island in the Bristol Channel, close to the Welsh capital of Cardiff. It has an interesting history and today has a visitor’s centre where tourists can stay for a day, a few days or a week. There are educational courses for school-age children and groups from universities are also encouraged to do research on the island.
One of the first tourists to Flat Holm was the Welsh Saint Cadoc who visited it in the 6th century and used it as a place to meditate, especially during Lent. It would have been very peaceful, as it is now, with bird calls and the cries of the gulls to break the silence.
The other island close to Flat Holm, is Steep Holm, and these names show the contrasting landscapes of these neighbouring islands. The word Holm or Holme is of Scandinavian origin and means ‘river island.’ It is believed that the Danes used these islands to navigate their way around the Severn estuary when they were raiding the area. They may have landed on the islands, but there is no evidence for this.
There is archaeological evidence that points to a Bronze age settlement on Flat Holme, although it could have simply been a hunting ground, as an axe-head dating from 900 – 700 BC has been found on Flat Holme.
There is a lighthouse on the island that was first used on 1st December 1737. The light was from a coal-fired brazier and 25 tons of coal a month was taken to Flat Holm from the mainland. (Of course, Wales had a lot of coal mines then!)
The Fog Horn station was built much later in 1908 but the lighthouse was still manned then. There were fortifications built during the Second World War and materials and supplies were transported around the island on a narrow gauge railway that had been of German construction in the First World War.
A fortress was built on Flat Holm between 1865 an 1869 as the Royal Commission decided that Flat Holm should be part of a “strategic defence system for the Bristol Channel”. The island was never attacked, however.
In 1883 the island played host to a cholera hospital so that any cases of cholera on the mainland could be contained in isolation on Flat Holm.
The island’s main claim to fame is that it 1897, Guglielmo Marconi and his assistant George Kemp transmitter the first wireless message that went across the sea from Flat Holm. The message was received at Lavernock Point.
Today the island is developing sustainable energy, using solar energy for its hot water supplies, a wind turbine and a biomass boiler. There is no water supply on the island, so rainwater is collected, stored and filtered for use.
You can visit the island on a day trip which takes five hours, including sailing time, or for an overnight stay, for a mid-week break or for a week’s holiday. There is one of the largest gull colonies in Wales, and the island is also home to dunlin, oystercatchers and rock pipits, among other birds. There are rabbits, slow worms and other wildlife as well as wild leeks, wild peonies and Rock sea lavender growing there.
If you visit Flat Holm, you will understand its attraction for Saint Cadoc!