Grassholm (Welsh: Gwales or Ynys Gwales) or Grassholm Island[2] is a small uninhabited island situated 13 kilometres (8 mi) off the southwestern Pembrokeshire coast in Wales, lying west of Skomer, in the community of Marloes and St Brides.[3] It is the westernmost point in Wales other than the isolated rocks on which the Smalls Lighthouse stands. Grassholm is known for its huge colony of northern gannets; the island has been owned since 1947 by the Royal Society for the Protection of Birds, and is one of its oldest reserves. It reaches 42 metres (138 ft).

Grassholm National Nature Reserve is the third most important site for gannets in the world, after two sites in Scotland; St Kilda and Bass Rock. It serves as a breeding site for 39,000 pairs of the birds, and supports around 10 percent of the world population.[4][5] The turbulent sea around Grassholm also provides good feeding ground for porpoises and bottlenose dolphins.

The island has a significant problem with marine plastic, brought to the island by breeding gannets, as nesting material which the birds have mistaken for seaweed floating in the surrounding waters. The problem has been ongoing through twelve years of RSPB conservation to 2017, and surveys have indicated that 80% of nests contain waste plastics.[6][7][8]

Boats sail to Grassholm from St Davids Lifeboat Station and Martin's Haven on the mainland, but members of the public are not permitted to land.[5]

Geologically, the island is largely formed from keratophyre though the northwest coast and islet of West Tump are formed from basalt. A couple of NE-SW aligned faults cross the island. Raised beaches are present in places.[9]

Native name:
Ynys Gwales
Gannets on Grassholm - - 174369
LocationSM 597 093
Coordinates51°43′52″N 5°28′47″W / 51.7311°N 5.4796°WCoordinates: 51°43′52″N 5°28′47″W / 51.7311°N 5.4796°W
Area10.72 ha (26.5 acres)[1]
Highest elevation42 m (138 ft)
United Kingdom
CommunityMarloes and St Brides

The entertaining of the noble head

Grassholm has been identified with Gwales, an island in the medieval Welsh story Branwen ferch Llŷr (Branwen the daughter of Llŷr), one of the Four Branches of the Mabinogi. Gwales is the site of a fabulous castle where the severed head of Brân the Blessed is kept miraculously alive for eighty years while his companions feast in blissful forgetfulness, until the opening of a forbidden door that faces Cornwall recalls them to their sorrow and the need to bury the head at the White Mount (the Tower of London). Brân is the Welsh for 'Raven', which have a legendary connection with the Tower of London.[10][11][12]

And at the close of the seventh year they went forth to Gwales in Penvro. And there they found a fair and regal spot overlooking the ocean; and a spacious hall was therein. [...] And that night they regaled themselves and were joyful. [...] And there they remained fourscore years, unconscious of having ever spent a time more joyous and mirthful. And they were not more weary than when first they came, neither did they, any of them, know the time they had been there. And it was not more irksome to them having the head with them, than if Bendigeid Vran had been with them himself. And because of these fourscore years, it was called "the Entertaining of the noble Head."

— from Branwen ferch Llŷr (Branwen the daughter of Llŷr), translated by Lady Charlotte Guest[10]


On 15 July 1945, the cargo ship Walter L M Russ ran aground on Grassholm and sank.[13] Nine crew were rescued by the Angle Lifeboat.[14]

See also


  1. ^ "SPA Description - Grassholm". Joint Nature Conservation Committee. DEFRA. Retrieved 2 March 2017.
  2. ^ "Grassholm Island". Ordnance Survey. Retrieved 7 February 2019.
  3. ^ Ordnance Survey. "SM5909". Geograph. Retrieved 16 November 2018. (click on map)
  4. ^ Anon. "Grassholm". RSPB wepages. The Royal Society for the Protection of Birds. Retrieved 11 April 2010.
  5. ^ a b "Visit Pembrokeshire: Grassholm". Retrieved 8 November 2018.
  6. ^ "Saving the birds ensnared on 'plastic island'". Euronews. 20 October 2017. Retrieved 20 October 2017.
  7. ^ "Gannets ensnared by twisted plastic around their legs on Grassholm island". Sky News. 20 October 2017. Retrieved 20 October 2017.
  8. ^ "Plastic Gannets". Autumnwatch. 19 November 2014. BBC. BBC2. Retrieved 20 October 2017.
  9. ^ British Geological Survey 1978 1:50,000 scale geological map sheet (England and Wales) 226/227 Milford (Keyworth, Notts)
  10. ^ a b "Branwen ferch Lyr: The Second Branch of the Mabinogi".
  11. ^ The Mabinogion: Branwen the Daughter of Llyr, translated by Lady Charlotte Guest. Online at
  12. ^ Newstead, Professor Helaine H., Bran the Blessed in Arthurian Romance pub. Columbia University Press 1939.
  13. ^ Mitchell, W H, and Sawyer, L A (1995). The Empire Ships. London, New York, Hamburg, Hong Kong: Lloyd's of London Press Ltd. ISBN 1-85044-275-4.
  14. ^ "History". Angle Lifeboat Station. Retrieved 30 May 2010.

External links

Bishops and Clerks

The Bishops and Clerks are a group of rocks and islets, approximately 1 1⁄2 miles (2.4 km) west of Ramsey Island, Pembrokeshire, Wales.

Caer Sidi

Caer Sidi (or Caer Siddi) is the name of a legendary otherworld fortress mentioned in Middle Welsh mythological poems in the Book of Taliesin.

The following poem of Taliesin contains the fullest description of the Briton “other world” that mythological literature can provide. It has been collated by Charles Squire (1905) from four different translations of the text, those being of Mr. W. F. Skene, Mr. T. Stephens, Prof. John Rhys, and D. W. Nash. Mr. T. Stephens, in his "Literature of the Kymri", calls it "one of the least intelligible of the mythological poems".

"I will praise the Sovereign, supreme Lord of the land,

Who hath extended his dominion over the shore of the world.

Stout was the prison of Gweir [Gwydion] in Caer Sidi,

Through the spite of Pwyll and Pryderi:

No one before him went into it.

The heavy blue chain firmly held the youth,

And before the spoils of Annwn woefully he sang,

And thenceforth till doom he shall remain a bard.

Thrice enough to fill Prydwen [the name of Arthur's ship] we went into it;

Except seven, none returned from Caer Sidi [Revolving Castle]."Am I not a candidate for fame, to be heard in song

In Caer Pedryvan [Four-cornered Castle], four times revolving?

The first word from the cauldron, when was it spoken?

By the breath of nine maidens it was gently warmed.

Is it not the cauldron of the Chief of Annwn? What is its fashion?

A rim of pearls is round its edge.

It will not cook the food of a coward or one foresworn.

A sword flashing bright will be raised to him,

And left in the hand of Lleminawg.

And before the door of the gate of Uffren [The Cold Place] the lamp was burning.

When went with Arthur--a splendid labour!--

Except seven, non returned from Caer Vedwyd [Castle of Revelry]."Am I not a candidate for fame, to be heard in song

In Caer Pedryvan, in the Isle of the Strong Door,

Where twilight and pitchy darkness meet together,

And bright wine is the drink of the host?

Thrice enough to fill Prydwen we went on the sea.

Except seven, none returned from Caer Rigor [Kingly Castle]."I will not allow much praise to the leaders of literature.

Beyond Caer Wydyr [Glass Castle] they saw not the prowess of Arthur;

Three-score hundreds stood on the walls;

It was hard to converse with their watchman.

Thrice enough to fill Prydwen we went with Arthur;

Except seven, none returned from Caer Golud [Castle of Riches]."I will not allow much praise to the spiritless.

They know not on what day, or who caused it,

Or in what hour of the serene day Cwy was born,

Or who caused that he should not go to the dales of Devwy.

They know not the brindled ox with the broad head-band,

Whose yoke is seven-score handbreadths.

When we went with Arthur, of mournful memory,

Except seven, none returned from Caer Vandwy [another name for otherworld]."I will not allow much praise to those of drooping courage.

They know not what day the chief arose,

Nor in what hour of the serene day the owner was born,

Nor what animal they keep, with its head of silver.

When we went with Arthur, of anxious striving,

Except seven, non returned from Caer Ochren [another name for otherworld]."Squire also provides an interpretation of the poem:

"The strong-doored, foursquare fortress of glass, manned by its dumb, ghostly sentinels, spun round in never-ceasing revolution, so that few could find its entrance; it was pitch-dark save for the twilight made by the lamp burning before its circling gate; feasting went on there, and revelry, and in its centre, choicest of its many riches, was the pearl-rimmed cauldron of poetry and inspiration, kept bubbling by the breaths of nine British pythonesses, so that it might give forth its oracles."Another few lines penned by Taliesin are sometimes connected to Caer Sidi, although they add little knowledge to what has already been stated in the verses above. These lines are contained in a poem called "A Song Concerning the Sons of Llyr ab Brochwel Powys" (Book of Taliesin, poem XIV):

"Perfect is my chair in Caer Sidi:

Plague and age hurt not him who's in it--

They know, Manawyddan and Pryderi.

Three organs round a fire sing before it,

And about its points are ocean's streams

And the abundant well above it--

Sweeter than white wine the drink in it."This confirms that the "heavy blue chain [that] firmly held the youth" was the sea surrounding Annwn, the Welsh Otherworld, and it makes the point that its inhabitants were freed from age and death. It reveals that the "drink of the host", the white wine, was kept in a well. Three singing organs are mentioned, an addition to the revelry of Caer Vedwyd [Castle of Revelry]. The first line is also thought to suggest that Taliesin himself was a privileged resident of this country.

Some clues are given in the poems as to where the island may be situated. Lundy Island, off the coast of Devonshire, was anciently called Ynys Wair, the "Island of Gweir", or Gwydion. The Welsh translation of the "Seint Grael", an Anglo-Norman romance embodying much of the old British and Gaelic mythology, locates its "Turning Castle" (Caer Sidi), in the district around and comprising Puffin Island, off the coast of Anglesey.Some attempts have been made to give the fortress a physical location, e.g. as the island of Grassholm off the coast of Pembrokeshire, but Caer Sidi is more likely to belong to the class of otherworldly forts and islands so prevalent in Celtic mythology.

Cresswell Castle

Cresswell Castle is a castle half a mile north of the village of Cresswell Quay, Pembrokeshire, south Wales. It is situated on the banks of the River Cresswell in what is currently private land. The buildings were originally a 13th-century stone fortified manorial complex, founded by the Augustinian Priory of Haverfordwest.


Emsger or South Bishop is the largest of the Bishops and Clerks group of islets and rocks, situated west of Ramsey Island, Pembrokeshire, Wales.


Gannets are seabirds comprising the genus Morus, in the family Sulidae, closely related to boobies. "Gannet" is derived from Old English ganot "strong or masculine", ultimately from the same Old Germanic root as "gander". Morus is derived from Ancient Greek moros, "foolish", due to the lack of fear shown by breeding gannets and boobies allowing them to be easily killed.The gannets are large white birds with yellowish heads; black-tipped wings; and long bills. Northern gannets are the largest seabirds in the North Atlantic, having a wingspan of up to 2 metres (6.6 ft). The other two species occur in the temperate seas around southern Africa, southern Australia and New Zealand.

Gannets hunt fish by diving into the sea from a height and pursuing their prey underwater. Gannets have a number of adaptations which enable them to do this:

no external nostrils, they are located inside the mouth instead;

air sacs in the face and chest under the skin which act like bubble wrapping, cushioning the impact with the water;

positioning of the eyes far enough forward on the face for binocular vision, allowing them to judge distances accurately.Gannets can dive from a height of 30 metres (98 ft), achieving speeds of 100 kilometres per hour (62 mph) as they strike the water, enabling them to catch fish much deeper than most airborne birds.

The gannet's supposed capacity for eating large quantities of fish has led to "gannet" becoming a description of somebody with a voracious appetite.

Grassholm, South Georgia

Grassholm is an island 1 mile (1.6 km) south of Frida Hole, along the south coast and near the west end of South Georgia. The name "Em Island" was given for this feature, probably by Discovery Investigations personnel who surveyed this coast in 1926.

The South Georgia Survey (1951–52) reported that this feature is known to whalers and sealers as "Grassholmen," and that Em Island is unknown locally. The indefinite form of the name has been approved (without the suffix -en, which denotes the definite article in North Germanic languages).

Grassholm (disambiguation)

Grassholm is an island in Pembrokeshire, Wales.

Grassholm or Grass Holm may also refer to:

Grassholm, South Georgia, an island in South Georgia

Grass Holm, Orkney, an island off Gairsay in Scotland


Gwern; "Alder," is a minor figure in Welsh tradition, the son of Matholwch king of Ireland, and Branwen, sister to the king of Britain. He appears in the tale of Branwen, daughter of Llŷr, in which he is murdered by his sadistic uncle Efnysien which sparks a mutually destructive battle between Britain and Ireland.

Gwynn ap Gwilym

Gwynn ap Gwilym (1950 – 31 July 2016) was a Welsh poet, novelist, editor and translator.

He was born in Bangor but raised in Machynlleth, in Gwynedd, north-west Wales. He was educated at University of Wales, University College, Galway and Wycliffe Hall, Oxford, with an MA degree.

An Anglican clergyman, he was also a lecturer at the University of Wales, Aberystwyth. He was Parish rector of the Upper Dyfi Valley (churches Mallwyd, Cemaes Bay, Llanymawddwy, Darowen and Llanbrynmair). He lectured part-time at the former United Theological College Aberystwyth.In 1983 he won the Welsh Arts Council prize for his volume of poetry, "Grassholm", and in 1986 he was Poet Chair at the National Eisteddfod in Fishguard for his ode, "The Cloud".Gwilym died on 31 July 2016 from cancer.

List of islands of Wales

This is a list of islands of Wales, the mainland of which is part of Great Britain, as well as a table of the largest Welsh islands by area. The list includes tidal islands such as Sully Island but not locations such as Shell Island which, though they are termed islands, are peninsulas.

List of islands of the United Kingdom

This is a list of islands of the United Kingdom. The United Kingdom of Great Britain and Northern Ireland has thousands of islands within its territory and several external territories. This is a list of selected British islands grouped by constituent country or overseas territory. The largest British island is Great Britain, which forms a substantial majority of the United Kingdom and is the ninth-largest island in the world.


Llanrhian is a small village, community and parish in Pembrokeshire in west Wales, near the coast, south of Porthgain village. The community of Llanrhian includes the settlements of Llanhowell (Welsh: Llanhywel), Croesgoch, Portheiddy, Porthgain and Trefin.

The village is in the Pembrokeshire Coast National Park.

Marloes and St Brides

Marloes and St. Brides (Welsh: Marloes a Sain Ffraid) is a community in the West Wales county of Pembrokeshire.

The main settlements are the villages of Marloes and St Brides. Both villages lie on the southern shore of St Brides Bay

The islands of Gateholm, Grassholm, Middleholm, Skomer, Skokholm and The Smalls lie in the community.The community population taken at the 2011 census was 305.

Northern gannet

The northern gannet (Morus bassanus) is a seabird, the largest species of the gannet family, Sulidae. It is native to the coasts of the Atlantic Ocean, breeding in Western Europe and North America. The sexes are similar in appearance. The adult northern gannet has a mainly white streamlined body with a long neck, long and slender wings. It is 87–100 cm (34–39 in) long with a 170–180 cm (67–71 in) wingspan. The head and nape have a buff tinge that is more prominent in breeding season, and the wings are edged with dark brown-black feathers. The long pointed bill is blue-grey, contrasting with black bare skin around the mouth and eyes. Juveniles are mostly grey-brown, becoming increasingly white in the five years it takes them to reach maturity.

Nesting takes place in colonies on both sides of the north Atlantic, the largest of which are at Bass Rock (75,000 pairs as of 2014), St Kilda (60,000 pairs as of 2013) and Ailsa Craig (33,000 pairs as of 2014) in Scotland, Grassholm in Wales, and Bonaventure Island (60,000 pairs in 2009) off the coast of Quebec. Its breeding range has extended northward and eastward, colonies being established on Russia's Kola Peninsula in 1995 and Bear Island, southernmost island of Svalbard, in 2011. Colonies are mostly located on offshore islands with cliffs, from which the birds can more easily launch into the air. The northern gannet undertakes seasonal migrations and hunts for the fish that form the bulk of its diet by high-speed dives into the sea.

The gannet was previously hunted for food in parts of its range, and the traditional practice still continues in the Outer Hebrides of Scotland and the Faroe Islands. It faces few natural or man-made threats, and since its population is growing it is considered to be a least-concern species by the International Union for Conservation of Nature (IUCN). As a conspicuous and common bird, it has been mentioned in several ancient myths and legends.

SS Walter L M Russ

Walter L M Russ was a 1,538 GRT cargo ship that was built in 1927 by Neptun AG, Rostock, Germany for Ernst Russ. In 1945, she was seized by the Allies and passed to the Ministry of War Transport (MoWT). It was intended that she would be renamed Empire Concourse but she ran aground on 15 July 1945 at Grassholm in St George's Channel, and was wrecked.


Scleddau is a village and a community in the county of Pembrokeshire, Wales, and is 2 miles (3.2 km) south of Fishguard on the A40. In 2011 the population of Scleddau was 1,013 with 34.2 per cent able to speak Welsh.The River Cleddau which lends its name to the village flows under the main road. Castell Hendre-Wen and the Round Barrow on Jordanson Hill are both Scheduled prehistoric Monuments dating back to the early Iron Age. 1 mile (1.6 km) south-east of Scleddau, and within the community, is the Grade II Listed Church of St Justinian, in the village of Trecwn.

Smalls Lighthouse

Smalls Lighthouse stands on the largest of a group of wave-washed basalt and dolerite rocks known as The Smalls approximately 20 miles (32 km) west of Marloes Peninsula in Pembrokeshire, Wales, and 8 miles (13 km) west of Grassholm. It was erected in 1861 by engineer James Douglass to replace a previous lighthouse which had been erected in 1776 on the same rock. It is the most remote lighthouse operated by Trinity House.

The Private Life of the Gannets

The Private Life of the Gannets is a 1934 British short documentary film, directed by Julian Huxley, about a colony of Northern Gannet (Morus bassanus) on the small rocky island of Grassholm, off the coast of Wales. It received a special mention at the 3rd Venice International Film Festival in 1935 and won the Best Short Subject (One-Reel) at the 10th Academy Awards in 1938. The title was chosen by producer Alexander Korda as a reference to The Private Life of Henry VIII (1933), his breakthrough film of the previous year.

The "truly landmark film," provides, according to WildFilmHistory, "an absorbing and atmospheric account," by combining, "close-up, slow motion and aerial shots." This, "groundbreaking footage," "Shot with the support of the Royal Navy," "reveals the incredible private lives of these birds as they squabble over territory, perform spectacular dives and regurgitate fish for their young." The production was headed by "renowned biologist Julian Huxley," who enlisted, "some of the top figures in the British scientific and cinematic world," for what, "is classed by many as the world's first natural history documentary, its thorough and academic approach a stark contrast to the expedition format of its predecessors." "A comprehensive insight into a fascinating creature," it, "was the first wildlife film to receive an Academy Award."

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