Explore Flat Holm Island: A Jewel of the Bristol Channel
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Explore Flat Holm Island: A Jewel of the Bristol Channel

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Why stick to the city limits when staying at The Exchange Hotel when you can take to the seas and explore a distant island, rich in history and maritime wildlife.

Let’s see what you can get up to at Flat Holm Island.

Why Visit Flat Holm Island?

Floating in the midst of the Bristol Channel, Flat Holm Island boasts exquisite views out to sea and all along the Welsh coastline and Cardiff Bay.

An isolated haven, minutes away from the busy capital city of Cardiff, Flat Holm Island is popular among those seeking calm and quiet.

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When taking a tour of the island, visitors can explore ancient military fortifications, the ruins of a cholera hospital and the many amazing creatures that call the island home. Conservation projects are hard at work, protecting the land and the wildlife that live here including the largest gull colony in the area.

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Today, visitors still flock to Flat Holm Island, much like the gulls that live there. Reached by boats that depart from Mermaid Quay between March and October, people come to the island to camp, explore and bask in the tranquil surroundings.

Visitors can choose to pitch a tent in the field centre, stay the night in Foghorn Cottage (a converted foghorn building constructed at the start of the 20th century) and attend wellness retreats.

There’s even a pub on Flat Holm Island, known as the most southerly of all Cardiff pubs, The Gull and Leek is where weary tourists can grab a pint and a snack.

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To start your journey of discovery, simply make your way to Mermaid Quay and hop on a Bay Island Voyage or Cardiff Sea Safari where each tour operates a different time schedule allowing from 2 – 12 hours on the island.

The History of Flat Holm Island

From the Bronze Age to the end of WWII, Flat Holm Island provided a base of retreat and solace as well as heavily fortified protection from foreign invaders.

Remains of military instalments and ancient buildings are still intact today. Here’s more about the fascinating history of this tiny island.

Earliest Settlers, Smugglers and Saints

During excavations of Flat Holm Island, a Bronze Age axe head was found which dated human presence on the island back to 700 BC. There was, however, no further proof of settlers living on the island at this time due to a lack of any other archaeological artefacts being found.

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The next inhabitants of Flat Holm Island were a group of Danish invaders who sought refuge there after losing a battle against the Saxons in 918.

After this, early records state that St Cadoc, a local Abbot and religious founder, used the island as a meditation retreat in the late 6th century. Today Flat Holm Island plays host to wellness weekends, a nod to the islands earliest users.

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Perfect for smugglers, Flat Holm Island is also said to have a hidden maze of underground tunnels and bunkers, with a secret escape route that leads directly out to sea. Caves on the island were said to have been used to store smuggled goods including tea and brandy. Both England’s and Wales’ customs agents had full view of Flat Holm Island yet many missed the smuggling operations going on due to theses sheltered tunnels and caves.

Military Fortresses and Modern Technology

One of the oldest buildings on Flat Holm Island is the lighthouse which first began signalling to sailors in December 1737. The lamp was first powered by coal, 25 tonnes of which were dropped on the island each month.

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Since this time, the lamp of the lighthouse has undergone many modernisations, and today it is solar-powered.

In 1860, Flat Holm Island became a military fortress, armed to protect the Bristol Channel from any invaders. Huge RML (Rifled Muzzle Loading) guns were fitted to sunken pits around the island ready to fire upon oncoming enemy ships many of which remain to this day, although most are missing pieces leaving just muzzles behind.

Other preparations were made to fortify the island against an attack including parade grounds, barrack space and an elaborately tiled water system, built to capture and store water for the inhabitants. Despite millions being spent, none of the military equipment ever needed to be used and only six men ever occupied Flat Holm Island at any one time. The water system, however, is still used today as a water source that feeds Flat Holm Island’s inhabitants.

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The world’s first wireless message was sent by Guglielmo Marconi on May 13th, 1897. The message, “Are You Ready?” was transmitted over open sea in Morse code to Lavernock Point and marked the beginnings of wireless communication technology. Marconi had failed to impress his own Italian Government and partnering with the General Post Office in Cardiff the technology was developed and pioneered.

Of course, Marconi’s technology was made even more famous when it was used to signal distress from the sinking RMS Titanic in 1912.

Cholera, Quarantine and World War

With Cardiff being a major port of the world, Flat Holm Island was in the shipping lanes to and from many countries around the world.

In 1892, five vessels from Hamburg were stopped before entering Cardiff, each of them infected with Cholera. To prevent an epidemic on the mainland, those infected were isolated and treated on Flat Holm Island in the basic hospital there.

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Over the subsequent years, Cholera patients from the mainland were also brought to and treated on Flat Holm Island, a practice that proved quite effective to prevent a widespread epidemic.

By the time World War II broke out, Flat Holm Island was home to 350 soldiers. Making use of the existing fortifications from the previous war and installing newer, bigger guns, Flat Holm Island was seen as an impenetrable fortress.

The hospital once used to treat the sick was repurposed as a mess hall and cinema, where films were scheduled every fortnight and concerts could be hosted once a month.

Discover and Explore from The Exchange Hotel

At The Exchange Hotel, we’re all about promoting the history of Cardiff and won’t let a little water get in the way of learning as much as we can about the city and its surrounding areas.

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The intriguing history of Flat Holm Island brings thousands of visitors each year to its shores, every person out to discover the wealth of history and the stunning maritime grasslands and scenery that the island boasts.

Why not schedule a trip to Flat Holm Island during your visit to Cardiff?

After your sea fairing adventure, join us at The Exchange Hotel and experience the lap of luxury inside one of Cardiff’s most impressive, restored landmark buildings; the old Coal Exchange Building.

Our comfortable rooms were inspired by the affluence and indulgence that originally adorned this grand building and, where possible, has been retained during the restoration.

At The Exchange Hotel, we aim to make Cardiff’s past part of your present, making every moment you spend in Cardiff an unforgettably memorable experience.

Call 0151 236 0166 or email info@signaturelviing.co.uk to book your visit or have a look at some of the best Cardiff hotel offers available here.

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