Skomer Island Puffins: 22 Things to Know Before You Go
If you’re thinking about gorking at the silly puffins of Skomer Island in 2023, we’ve made a handy list of things you need to know before you go.
(We’ve tried not to include too many photographic spoilers, as it’s a lovely thing to discover a place for yourself.)
What is Skomer? Is it good?
Skomer is a tiny island (2.92 km2 (1.13 sq mi)) and National nature reserve, less than a mile off the coast of Pembrokeshire.
The boat trip and island trails can be enjoyed between April and September; there are circular/loop walks to walk and plenty of wildlife. However, if you’re in Pembrokeshire at the right time of year, your Skomer trip will be accompanied (and we think improved) by a shit-tonne of silly Atlantic Puffins!
We really enjoyed wandering around with our little puffin friends. We definitely plan to visit again and would highly recommend it to anyone who likes walks, wildlife and ideally puffins. (Not recommended for: people who don’t like puffins).
The best time of year to go to Skomer Island (if you want to see puffins)
ALERT!!! Puffins are only on Skomer Island from April to early August! The island gets extra busy with puffin activity from June to Mid-July.
There is only one boat service that lands on the island, which runs from 1st April (or Good Friday, whichever is earlier) to 30th September. The island is closed on Mondays (except spring bank holiday).
Go mid-June. We went mid-June and it was great.
The best time of day to go to Skomer
You need to take a 12-15 minute boat ride to get to the island (booking details coming up). The boats depart all morning and return all afternoon. The time of your departure boat determines the time of your return, which will be a full 5 hours later!
Get the latest boat you can.
If you’re hoping to see puffins flying in with beaks full of fishy dinners, this is more likely in June and July, when the new pufflings (wee baby puffin chicks) need feeding. Also, according to our island briefing, puffins tend to bring in the din-dins around sunset.
We took the last boat to the island (12pm) and witnessed a few sparkling fishies (sand eels) in puffins’ mouths, towards the end of our walk.
Always book in advance
Skomer Island and it’s resident puffin population are very popular. Always book in advance to avoid sad faces!
After disembarking, you must immediately walk up 87 steps to continue your Skomer Island adventure. It wasn’t so bad. Here’s a photo of them >>>
The rest of the paths around Skomer are all unpaved and can be lumpy-bumpy in places. Wear sensible footwear.
An excellent welcome briefing
When you arrive on the island, as you recover from climbing the 87 steps and consider the incline ahead, the Island Warden gives an enjoyable, knowledgeable and thorough briefing. This actually got us really interested in the birds to come, with sights and sounds to look and listen out for on our expedition. We felt like two eager bird spotters as we set off with our binoculars. 🤓🤓
Alas, we forgot everything as soon as we spotted our first puffin but, on our return home, the guidebook proved itself a good investment…
Get a guidebook
The guidebook is great for getting an extra bit of insight into the wildlife you’ll experience on the island. We read ours afterwards and it answered a bunch of the questions we had pondered along the trail. There are also alternate walking routes, with distances, times, history and wildlife facts. 🤓
Will I need a map?
You don’t really need a map on the island as you have to stick to the trails. However, if you do get a guidebook, which you should, there is a map inside, which also shows which creatures to look out for on different parts of the island. Lovely stuff.
You do have to stick to the paths on Skomer Island, to avoid stomping on a puffin burrow and squishing a puffin. Nobody wants that. So there are only a few walk options.
The guidebook states, “the whole island trail is approximately 4 miles (6.5km) taking approximately 2.5 – 3 hours.”
If you’re only going once, we think it’s definitely worth walking the full trail, which is the outside loop of the Island, to see all the sights and plenty of puffins! This trail kept us busy for the whole 5 hours; we were rushing back to the boat at the end of the day.
There are a few steep sections, particularly in the southern part of the island.
Take all the food & drink you may need
There are no shops or refreshments available on Skomer Island, so bring all the food and drink you may require for your big day out.
There’s a small selection of refreshments available at the Lockley Lodge Visitor Centre, on the mainland (see below), before you catch your boat.
There is drinking water available at the Old Farm on the Island.
There is very little shade, shelter or seating!
We went on a very sunny day and there is no shade on most of the island. Make sure to pre-apply and reapply suncream!
If you need some shelter, there is a small exhibit at the farm, which was a lovely, cool, early stop-off to re-organise ourselves before we set out on our long walk. Before leaving the farm we looked for somewhere shady to have lunch but had no luck. There is one small shaded picnic table area – we think it had two tables, both were taken. There is no other shade available.
There is no seating around the island, so if you definitely think you’ll want to sit down, you may want to…
…Take a picnic blanket
As you may imagine, the ground can be a bit pooey (birds, rabbits, birds) so we were pleased to have a picnic blanket to sit on while we scranned our picnic scran.
You can hire binoculars when you get to the Island!
This was great news for us 😁 Especially as we weren’t sure if the puffins would be at a distance, only photographable/viewable with long lenses.
It was fun to have binoculars whilst on our island walk. Here are some things we saw with our go-go-Gadget eyes:
Close up puffins! Obvs.
Leaping guillemots – The binoculars meant we could sort of see the young birds diving off the cliffs, hoping for the best, as they plunged towards their first swimming practice.
Looking out to sea, to see what we could sea.
Synchronised seals – playing in the water at Pigstone Bay. We enjoyed their synchronised swimming routine from our vantage point on the cliff top.
If you do hire and do enjoy your binoculars, there is a reasonably-priced specialist binocular retailer at the Lockley Lodge Visitor Centre on the mainland – you can try them all out to choose the perfect pair for your adventures.
How close can you get to the puffins on Skomer?
As mentioned before, you do have to stick to the trails on Skomer Island, so your clodhoppers don’t flatten a puffling.
However, the puffins are plentiful and close enough to enjoy with just your eyes, no binoculars or long lenses required. They were often very close, sometimes right by our feet!
(Obvs can’t guarantee the birds will be this close, as they are wild animals, but they seemed happy enough to be close by.)
Lockley Lodge Visitor Centre
The ticket office/gift shop/Visitor Centre is on the mainland, at Martin’s Haven.
Make sure to swap your e-ticket for actual tickets so you can board the boat.
The Visitor Centre, as you might expect, has puffin-based spoilers everywhere! If you don’t wanna see too many puffins before you get to the island, keep your eyes closed or send someone else in.
This little shop did stock some refreshments – drinks, ice cream, crisps.
We recommend popping in after you’ve been to the island to check out their mostly puffin-themed gifts and aforementioned binoculars.
Things change all the time around these parts so always worth checking with a real human, if you have any questions, before heading out.
Pembrokeshire Islands Boat Trips: 01646 603123
Lockley Lodge Visitor Centre, Martin’s Haven: 01646 636800
The car park is National Trust, so it’s free to National Trust members and £6 to everyone else.
There’s a gate at the bottom/far end of the car park, then a short walk down to the jetty, via the Visitor Centre and public toilets.
To save yourself a long-ish walk through a boring car park, pay immediately as you enter the car park, then go park at the far end, at the bottom of the hill, to be closest to the Visitor Centre (ticket office) and departure point.
PayByPhone: 803527 (Martin’s Haven)
There are public toilets at Martin’s Haven slipway (with nesting swallows swooping in and out, mind your head).
The only toilets available on Skomer Island are at the Old Farm, which is approximately 15 minutes walk from your arrival and departure point.
How do I book a trip to Skomer Island?
Book your Skomer trip here (it’s the only place).
You can buy tickets at the Visitor Centre, but boats are usually fully booked, so we recommend booking in advance to avoid disappointment.
PACKING LIST. DON’T FORGET…
- Your e-ticket (bear in mind phone reception can be patchy in Pembrokeshire, so consider taking a print out or screenshot to be sure)
- Photo ID
- £6 for car park (or free with National Trust membership card)
- Snacks to keep you going
- Picnic blanket
- Suncream (there is no shade, you’ll probably want to reapply)
- Camera – obvs (with batteries, memory cards)
- Tripod (if you want)
- Long lens (if you want)
- Binoculars – can hire for £5 on island or buy in shop before you go
- Waterproof (coat/poncho)
- Something warm to put on in case the wind picks up (Skomer is an exposed island, out at sea!)
- Suitable footwear – it’s an uneven path all the way round
- Tissues – just in case
- Lip balm – always lip balm! With SPF!
- Anything else you may want or need.
The Skomer Island adventure is plenty of activity for one day, in our opinion. However, just in case you’d like to add a food-based treat (or two) to your day, here’s a tiny itinerary:
Breakfast/brunch – Runwayskiln
A sweet little place, with a glorious sea-view, serving delicious food.
If you’re lucky, you may be able to squeeze in a wee bit of delectable delight from Runwayskiln before your boat.
+44 (0)1646 636545
11:00 – Arrive at the car park an hour before boarding
12:00 – Boat to Skomer. Hooray! Boaty puffin walk adventure!
17:00 – Return boat from Skomer to mainland
Walk your achey legs slowly back to your car,
Shop for souvenirs, or binocular(s),
Change out of your sweaty dusty things
Into fresher clothes before heading for dins…
18:30 – The Griffin Inn, Dale
Book a table on the outside roof terrace for another lovely sea-view.
The Griffin do excellent things with fish AND also have pub classics (and a children’s menu) for when you just want straight-up pub grub from the Pub Chef of the Year (2021).
Dale beach car park is the closest place to park (3 minute walk to the Griffin).
FUN PUFFIN FACTS
A few fun puffin facts so you can be the giver of fun information to your lucky companions on your day out on Skomer Island:
A RECORD BREAKING 42,513 birds were recorded on and around Skomer in the first annual puffin count of 2023.
For more info about how they count the birdies, check out this blog post from the Skomer Island team.
Puffins always return to the same burrow/nest, every year.
Puffin Pronouncements (Is somebody hungry?)
Puffins make a noise that sounds like a rumbly tummy. See if you can hear it in amongst all the bird-based noise of the island.
The puffins go diving for sand eel suppers to bring back home for their pufflings BUT they have to be quick when they return to land because the lazy, greedy gulls try to steal the sand eels out of their beaks. Just like they do with our fish and chips!
A puffin can fly at speeds of up to 50 mph (80km/h). They fly close to the surface of the water and beat their wings several times a second.
Puffin (lack of) Prowess
…but puffins are not very graceful when they land on the water. You may seem them bump into the crest of a wave, or on calm waters they will do a majestic belly flop.
If you have found this article useful and would like to support us in creating more treats like these, we’d love it if you ‘bought us a [metaphorical] nice cup of tea’ to help us continue researching, discovering and reporting back to you in useful ways.
Thank you so much! d&j xx