Gateholm Island

Gateholm is a projecting curve of rock, like a sheltering breakwater marking the northern end of Marloes Sands and sticking out like a rudimentary arm into Broad Sound, which separates the bird sanctuary islands of Skokholm and Skomer.

It is really an island only at high tide, since at low water it is accessible on the Marloes side where there is a rather tricky way up onto its grassy top.

It is uninhabited except by nesting seabirds such as fulmars, gulls. cormorants and shags, but that is not to say it has not been a human habitation. Archaeologists have found evidence of rectangular huts arranged round three sides of a rectangular courtyard which is believed may have been an early Christian monastic settlement of around the 6th century. Who knows, one of the many well-known local saints may have stayed here or visited the settlement some time in the dim and distant past!

The grassy top is a mini environment of the usual fauna in the area with vernal squill, sea campion and sea pinks, and choughs often pick at the clifftop turf in search of insects

There is a triangulation station at 132 feet up on the seaward end, which is the highest point, and just around the corner to the north is Albion Sands, a little cove where in April 1837 the paddle-steamer Albion, the first such vessel to be bought by a Bristol Channel port, was wrecked on her delivery trip to a new owner. Six months earlier the vessel had done the trip from Dublin to Bristol in the record time of twenty one and a half hours. But on the fateful day she was taking the risky shortcut through Jack Sound, between the mainland and Skomer Island, when she foundered. Her 50 passengers and crew were rescued together with 180 pigs, five horses and all the movable cargo, fittings and gear. Part of her machinery can still be seen at low tide on the sands, which serves as a secluded bathing place when Marloes Sands are crowded.

Gateholm belonged over the years to several members of the local gentry, including the Philipps family of Haythog, the Laugharnes of St Brides and the Kensingtons of St Brides Castle. Rabbits were kept there as a cash ‘crop’ and sheep were grazed there until recent times. When a northerly storm blew up, fishermen working round Skokholm would head straight for Gateholm and the Horse Neck on the sheltered eastern side and a flat rock where boats could be pulled up by means of iron rings set into the rocks for this purpose. The men always carried tackle in case they needed to hoist the boat up onto the Horse Neck. Local author Roscoe Howells writes in his book ‘The Sounds Between’ that fishermen would spend time there when it was too rough for fishing, clearing stones in readiness for an emergency. Others ashore would go there in rough weather to help haul the boats up.

Share this page