Wednesday, 1 June 2016

Mapping Mountains – Trimble Surveys – Pembrokeshire Islands

14.05.16  The Smalls (SM 466 088), Emsger (SM 651 226) and Daufraich (SM 661 236)

Emsger, also known as South Bishop (SM 651 226)

The coast around Pembrokeshire has a reputation for beautiful scenery comprising secluded coves, cliffs, sea stacks and islands.  The islands are many, with Ynys Dewi (Ramsey), Skomer and Skokholm being three of the largest in area.  However, dotted around these three islands are a myriad of smaller ones, many are rocky, some have lighthouses situated on them and all are of interest. 

Over the last couple of years Adrian Rayner has organised a number of ‘island adventures,’ usually these are to islands that are not on the tourist trail where daily boats are scheduled to visit and drop people off for a set number of hours before picking them up and whisking them back to the mainland.  The islands Adrian concentrates on are those that are seldom visited and which require a skilled crew to get to, and drop off, and pick up any budding ascensionist.  These island adventures require diplomatic and logistical skills to organise and thanks should be expressed to Adrian for arranging them, as all I have been a part of have been great fun, packed with interest and variety.  Today’s little adventure comprised a visit to The Smalls, Emsger (South Bishop) and Daufraich, with the first two of these islands having lighthouses situated on them.

We met at St Justinian’s which is situated to the west of St David’s and is the departure point for the RNLI Lifeboat, as well as the departure point for Ynys Dewi (Ramsey).  During the previous night a northerly weather front had descended south and left a slight northern breeze which meant that landing on each island was under debate by the crew of our RIB.  The original departure was arranged for 8.00am, and it was nearing 9.30am when the proverbial thumb was lifted in to the air signifying that the adventure was on.

Our RIB for the day

Ayako heading down to board the RIB

As we skimmed across the water toward the southern part of Ynys Dewi the sky was grey and the sea relatively becalmed.  Our first landing destination was The Smalls which as their name implies are a small group of islets, wave battered and remote, and an approximate 12 miles from the western coast of Pembrokeshire.  This small group of islets are the furthest west of any land in Wales, few people visit and even fewer people land.  On our way we approached the landing steps on Emsger and the skipper judged that landing was feasible after visiting The Smalls as the incoming tide would enable us to land higher on the carved out steps that give access to the upper part of the island.

The landing steps on the northern side of Emsger

Leaving Emsger for later that morning we skimmed off west in to a literal sea of seemingly nothingness, the only rock visible was Gwales (Grassholm) and its adjoined West Tump to our south, these are the remotest P15 summits that Wales has to offer and are perched seven miles west of Skomer, they looked weather beaten and almost forgotten except for their colony of Gannets.  As the RIB made progress a small stick stuck out of the sea, just visible it shimmered its presence and as the RIB continued west the stick grew forever larger and slowly took on the shape of a lighthouse, still and grey it stood forlorn, a last vestige of man’s presence before Ireland is reached.

Gwales, also known as Grassholm (SM 598 093)

The Smalls (SM 466 088) - the furthest westerly point of Wales

The Smalls lighthouse has a fascinating history as an incident here in 1800 when one man died and the other lived in sight of his corpse for the following three months before rescue, initiated future three keeper manning.

As the RIB pulled up and lodged its front end against the steps leading on to the slime of copious amounts of seal poo, we clambered off one after another for our all too brief stay on this small but unique part of Wales. 

Approaching The Smalls.  Seated are (L-R) Rob, Sarah, Bob and Jon

The highest natural piece of rock still visible was agreed upon by a number of people and soon the Trimble was positioned on it gathering its customary five minutes of data.  During this time most people roamed the islet finding evidence of the old wooden piles still embedded in the rock that had formed a part of the older lighthouse.

Sheila looking out to sea

Gathering data at the summit of The Smalls, with (L-R) Jon, Bob, Sarah and Rob in the background

Standing on The Smalls felt rather empty, somewhat of a void, our stay was only brief and because of this we all pottered round investigating what the islet had and doing so as quickly as possible, when this happens time is taken up as is concentration, but even compensating for this the islet is still a forgotten place, an end of something rather than a beginning, a flatbed of wave battered emptiness that must be hell on earth during storms, the thought of manning the old lighthouse that supposedly shuddered during storms fills me with dread.

Wave battered and forlorn, the last vestige of land before Ireland

Sheila joining Adrian on the RIB with Sarah and Bob waiting their turn.  These steps were covered in seal poo and extremely slippy

Once back on the RIB we headed toward Emsger, which has at least two rows of carved steps signifying a landing place, we approached the ones on the island’s north.  On the way I spotted the first Puffins that to my knowledge I’ve ever seen, I was struck with how cute and small they are, almost like a sea budgie with little wings flapping ten to the dozen and with tiny little bodies.

(L-R) Daufraich, Emsger (South Bishop), Carn Llidi (mainland Pembrokeshire) and Carn Ysgubor on Ynys Dewi (Ramsey)

As we approached Emsger (South Bishop) the cloud had broken revealing patches of blue sky which according to the sea mariners aboard the RIB would herald choppier sea conditions.  Again the RIB was manoeuvred in to place with its front end lodged relatively firmly against the rock next to the landing steps and one by one we clambered on to the rock.  This island forms a part of the chain known as the Bishops and Clerks which stretch northward and take in Daufraich, Carreg Rhoson and North Bishop, with the latter two aligned south-west to north-east as rocky lumps of ribbed islets.

The south-eastern side of Emsger

Daufraich (SM 661 236)

Carreg Rhoson (SM 667 254)

(L-R) North Bishop, Carreg Rhoson and Daufraich

Emsger (SM 651 226)

The carved rock steps led steeply up toward the island’s lighthouse which was constructed in 1839, with it being automated and demanned in 1983.  The whole upper part of the island is now a part of the lighthouse and its surrounding ground, any vestige of natural earth or rock was on the periphery of this, with the natural high point of the island long since gone with it either buried under the construction or levelled due to the impending construction of the lighthouse.  Consensus of opinion gave the remaining high point as a scrub bit of earth adjacent to a corner at the base of one of the walls, this at least was convenient for Trimble placement and within a few minutes it was gathering data perched on the wall 0.99m above the patch of earth.

Bob getting on to dryish land on Emsger

Bob and Sarah heading up the steps

Rob and Adrian on the final steps to the lighthouse

Gathering data 0.99m above the highest remaining natural ground that was found

After the Trimble was closed down and packed away I walked down to the helipad which was constructed in 1971.  This gave views back up toward the lighthouse and across the carved westerly steps toward the remainder of the Bishops and Clerks.  By now our stay on Emsger was nearing its end and as I clambered back up the steps and round the lighthouse to the steps on the island’s northerly section people were making their way down to the RIB which had been circling the island during our stay.  Emsger is a great lump of rock which if not for the steps up to its lighthouse would prove a difficult place to get to the top of; it stands squat in the sea as an up thrust of rock with its beacon now signalling its position.

Adrian on the helipad with our RIB circling the island

Looking toward the lighthouse from the helipad

Beyond the westerly steps with North Bishop, Carreg Rhoson and Daufraich in the background

The RIB approaching to pick us up from Emsger

Once we were all safely in the RIB we headed toward Daufraich and approached it from its north.  The main island of Daufraich consists of two parts, with the most easterly given a 20m spot height on Ordnance Survey maps, this looked relatively easy to get to the top of once landed, however the higher 21m map heighted part of the island is its westerly section and this looked decidedly harder to get to the top of, although it did look doable.  As the RIB approached we still didn’t know if the skipper would take us in to attempt a landing, and as we neared the rock it suddenly came apparent that the go ahead had been given and Jon, Rob, Adrian and Bob all made a move toward the front of the RIB, with Ayako, Sheila and Sarah all wisely staying put, not wanting to be put off by a bit of wave battered steep and scrambly rock which for one slip would mean a decidedly wet and somewhat dangerous immersion in the Irish sea, I followed.

Approaching Daufraich

Our route went up somewhere just left of centre

Thankfully the rock proved relatively dry and was not slippy, this gave us all good purchase and although the going was steep there were adequate hand and foot holds to be found.  My confidence on rock is not as it once was, partly because I rarely have necessity to scramble on it these days, and therefore when confronted with 20m of scrambly rock perched above bottomless depths my mind and body goes AAARRRGGGHHHHHHH.  However, all was fine, fine, fine and I followed the others up to the summit.

Somewhere below was the route we'd just come up

The westerly part of Daufraich has two summits, both given the same 21m spot height on Ordnance Survey maps and ideally both needed surveying but time dictated that only one could, and all present agreed that the higher summit was the one that we were standing on, and as the others went over to visit the other 21m map heighted top I positioned the Trimble on what looked to be the true summit and it beeped away perched on its rock as gulls circled overhead and the RIB slowly manoeuvred back toward our landing spot. 

Gathering data at the summit of Daufraich

Carreg Rhoson (SM 667 254)

The Trimble set-up position at the summit of Daufraich

As the Trimble gathered its data I walked over to the other summit and joined Jon, Rob, Adrian and Bob as they assessed which was higher, it was a close call, but the one where the Trimble was positioned received our vote for being the higher. 

Jon checking his hand-held GPS near the summit of Daufraich

Heading toward the second 21m map heighted summit that consensus of opinion gave as slightly lower

Jon at the summit of Daufraich

It was now time to go and I walked back to the Trimble to close it off, take a few photos of its set-up position and set off down the rock to join the others on our downward route.  Rob and Bob partly guided me down and I’m thankful that they did, and after a few minutes of nerve jangling perched over the watery depths we were safely seated in the RIB and the skipper span it round and headed toward the southerly coast of Ynys Dewi (Ramsey).

Jon, Adrian and Bob at the start of the scramble down

Safely back on the RIB and leaving Daufraich

The southerly coastline of this island proved wonderful to see with steep and rock chopped islands butting out of the sea, set against the crumbled cliff line of Ynys Dewi.  The RIB was taken between many of these smaller islands and underneath their sheer cliffs, many plunging directly down from small grassed summits above.  It proved a wondrous place to see as we slowly meandered past the sculptured islands and through a cave where sunlight glimmered across the rock and sea.

The eastern cliffs of Carn Llundain

Rounding the southern part of Ynys Dewi (Ramsey)

Heading through the cave

Being watched

All that remained was a speedy whizz across the sea past The Bitches rocks toward our departure point at St Justinian’s.  It had been another fantastic experience visiting places that few people ever get the opportunity to see let alone stand on, and thanks to Adrian for organising the trip and to Venture Jet for their professionalism and taking us to some of Wales’ more remote islands.

Survey Result:

The Smalls

The summit data for The Smalls did not process, the first data set that has not done so with the Trimble, with the following remark appearing whilst processing:  A position has been detected that is not compatible with the current coordinates.  Perhaps an Irish base station was picked up during data logging or perhaps The Smalls are just so far out in the Irish Sea that coordinates do not exist for processing data!


Summit Height:  33.8m (converted to OSGM15) (significant height revision)

Summit Grid Reference:  SM 65116 22619

Drop:  33.8m (30-99m Twmpau status confirmed)

Dominance:  100.00%


Summit Height:  21.7m (converted to OSGM15)
Summit Grid Reference:  SM 66199 23673

Drop:  21.7m (converted to OSGM15) (Double Sub-Twmpau addition confirmed)
Dominance:  100.00%

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