Caldey Island lies about 3 miles off the Pembrokeshire coast and faces Tenby. It’s a small island which, for centuries, has been the home of monastic orders. It was a Celtic holy island and that tradition has continued, first with Benedictine monks and then the Cistercians. Currently the Reformed Order of Cistercians are on the island.
Visitors are welcomed and they can laze on the sandy beach at Priory Bay, or tour the island visiting the old churches which abound on this holy island. You can stay on retreat at Saint Philomena’s and pay a donation for its upkeep, but you will be expected to make your own bed and help with the household chores such as the washing-up. It is not a place for a romantic holiday as Lundy could be.
I remember visiting the island when I was a child, when the monks were selling lavender perfumes and sachets; today they produce a range of toiletries for sale at the island’s gift shop, mostly made, I suppose from the flowers that the monks grow in their garden or that grow wild on the island.
The island recently acquired a multi-purpose vehicle which is used as an ambulance, police vehicle and fire engine. This is a customized Land Rover which is capable of travelling all over the island.
Visitors – day trippers – can relax in the tea gardens or picnic area, but there is limited access for the disabled on the island. It is possible to get around in a wheelchair, but if you take a boat at low tide, you have to negotiate about 100 metres of sand to reach the mobile jetty on Tenby Castle Beach. At high tides, boats leave from Tenby Harbour steps.
The island is open from Easter to October, but it is not possible to get there on Sundays. Boats leave Tenby depending on the weather because of landing conditions on Caldey Island. Tenby is the place to go in Wales for stag and hen parties, but Caldey Island is not the place for revelers. It is a place for quiet contemplation and meditation, whether this is done in a church, or outside in the church of Nature.
However, it is not all spiritual as there is a chocolate factory on the island, and the monks make their own shortbread and so do the villagers. Although it is a spiritual place, it also caters to more human needs.