Caldey is an ongoing study of a small island off the coast of Tenby, West Wales.
Home to around 25 permanent residents and a monastic order of 10 Cistercian monks and classed as one of the Holy Islands of Britain , Caldey has a history spanning 1500 years. Lying 3 miles from the coast of Pembrokeshire, it is reachable by a 25-minute boat journey. Home to diverse wildlife, rare fauna, and rich in architectural history, the unique atmosphere and enchantment of the island is almost tangible.
Having first visited as a child, I felt compelled to return in order to satisfy a long-held fascination with the island and to explore the memories of that original encounter. I spent two weeks working as a volunteer in the garden and helping with housekeeping, connecting with and documenting some of the island’s residents and monks alongside discovering the beauty and fragility of the island for myself. I endeavoured to learn about the human experience of living on Caldey: the frameworks to which daily lives adhere, interactions between residents and the ways in which they inhabit their environment.
To be a resident of the island mean to have a role: aiding the monastery to continue its work and supporting one another as a community. A practical disposition is a prerequisite, as well as a resilient nature. The residents who stay the longest are those who adapt to and embrace the unpredictable nature of the environment. Winters can be harsh and prolonged with little respite for this vulnerable isle.
Although, to the outside world Caldey can appear an isolated place, many people I encountered expressed an overriding sense of freedom. I learned that the population are linked by a common desire: a simpler and more spiritual existence.