Rugged Ramsey Island, off the St Davids penisula, is an RSPB Reserve and was farmed right up to the 1960s.
Its name is Norse-derived and scholars dismiss the idea that it means Raven’s Island, stating that it stems either from the Norse personal name Hrafn or the Norse name for wild garlick Hramsa, the ey, of course, meaning island. The mile wide Sound between the island and the mainland is a treacherous strip of water with a rock called The Horse, only visible at low tide, and a vicious ridge of fang-like rocks called The Bitches, once known as The Bitches and Whelps. There is an ancient legend attached to the latter, which at half flood tide causes a wicked torrent of water to flow through and over them. They have been the downfall of many boats. The legend states that the teeth were cut by St Justinian’s axe as he retreated to the sanctuary of Ramsey, then attached to the mainland, to escape from the lax ways of his fellow monks at the monastery of St David. The story goes that the axe became blunter with each cut and the last rock, known as The Axe. is larger than the others.
Rabbits were a staple ‘crop’ on Ramsey as on the other islands off the Pembrokeshire coast, but cattle, sheep and deer have been raised there, the smaller animals taken across by boat and the cattle and farm horses being towed swimming across behind. The last man to farm on any scale on Ramsey was in the thirties and forties when Bertie Griffiths had the tenancy. Regulations on sheep-dipping were strict in those days and the local policeman at St Davids had to “go overseas” across the Sound to supervise the dipping
The last time deer were shipped over in the 1970s it was by helicopter courtesy of the Royal Navy at Brawdy.
The Welsh name for Ramsey is Ynys Dewi (David’s Island) and in medieval times Henry 11 landed there on his way to Ireland. The story goes that he set one of his Norway Goshawks on a Peregrine Falcon, but the local bird knocked his larger adversary out of the sky at the monarch’s feet, and ever thereafter he sent to Ramsey for his eyasses.
The island is just under two miles long and a mile wide and its highest point, Carn Llundain is 446-feet high, from where there are splendid views right across half the County and out to sea where the famous reefs, The Bishops and `Clerks and the Hats and Barrels, stretch out to distant Grassholm, the home of a colony of some 30,000 gannets.The sheer cliffs at the West end of the island soar dramatically off the water and, seen from the seaward side, are colourful with seaweed, lichen and different kinds of rock. Here there are seals, breeding in the inaccessible pebbly coves, and fulmar and the descendants of Henry’s peregrines patrolling the cliffs.