Pages from Guillaume Brouscon of Le Conquet's atlas showing Wales

A cog vessel of the type familiar to William of Worcester and his informant Slaterbarrow


The Skerries were an important navigational marker to early sailors. The British Museum Lansdowne MS includes ‘Directions for the circumnavigation of England and for a voyage to the Straits of Gibraltar’ which gives the route from Pembrokeshire to North Wales and thence to Chester.

… see goth half tide betwene the smale[1] and Skidwalles[2] and the bersays[3] . And it flwith est and west on the mayne londe and at the Ramsir north and south the stremys renne in the sonde and be owten the Bisshoppis and his clerkis north northwest and north and south. And kepe more nere the Ilonde than the mayne londe till ye be passid the point and thorowe the sande, than go north till ye come at a nothir Rok. And than your cours is north northest for to go with barseis stremys. And if ye go to Chestir ye shall go fro[m] the scarris[4] till ye come anens the Castell of Rotlande[5] . And take your saught on the mayne londe of Wales Rotlonde and the Redebank of Chestere watir north and south.

The Skerries are mentioned in the 15th century Itinerarium of William of Worcester. This remarkable man, born in Bristol but a long-time resident of Norwich, left MS notes in Latin comprising some 332 pages, now preserved in the Library of Corpus Christi College, Cambridge.[6] William did not actually visit Anglesey himself but received first-hand information from a mariner named Nicholas Slaterbarrow, whom he met in Bristol. Slaterbarrow told him that Anglesey ‘was well populated with about 1000 inhabitants’. He gave William an account of a voyage round Anglesey he had made sometime previously. As Slaterbarrow rounded Carmel Head he noted the Skerries, which he passed on his port side. He estimated them to be one mile in length, gave their width in bowshots and said they were uninhabited. As he recounts in his quaint mixture of Latin, English and French

… insula proxima sequens vocata le Skerrys in boriali Walliae continet in longitudine I milare, et in latitudine II bow shottys et non est populata, jacet in le north syde de Anglesey, vocatt aliter north north east

Canon Hulbert Powell took William to mean that the Skerries were eleven bowshots wide[7], but this seems too great and it is more likely that he meant two bowshots. John Leland’s Itinerary in Wales made in the 1530s did not include Anglesey but in an Appendix he mentions the Skerries[8]. Leland describes the islands as maxima insula Mona adjacens and places them not past ij myles from Cair Noe.

Under Henry VIII came the Act of Union with England and the Breach with Rome. After Henry’s excommunication, the danger of foreign invasion became very real. Henry’s Chief Minister Thomas Cromwell met this challenge by ordering a survey of military fortifications along the coast of England and Wales. His principal agent in Anglesey was Sir Richard Bulkeley, Chamberlain of North Wales, who reported to Cromwell around the year 1539 that

the Isle of Anglesey lies open upon all countries; it is but a day’s sail from Scotland. Breton lies open on it and the men of Conquet[9] know it as well as we do; so also the Spaniards know every haven and creek, and Ireland and other countries lie open upon it.

Bulkeley and his contemporaries were very conscious that Anglesey was an island, and therefore isolated, for even though the Menai Straits were comparatively narrow

there are but three passages between Caernarvonshire and Anglesey, the least of them further than a man can shoot over with a flyer.

In compliance with Cromwell's demands for a survey, Bulkeley listed

all hayvnes bays crickes within the Ile of Anglesey - the Roode of Saynt Donwen[10] in forlond and the iij enterynges there, the bay of Malltrayth and the Crick in the myddest of the said bey, the Crik of Aberfrowe, the Crik of Crigille, the Crik of Kemyran, the bay of Roscollyn and the Roode of the said forlonde of Roscollyn, Saint Bride is bay[11] , the baye of the holihead and the havyn in the myddest of the said bay, the Crik of Glasselyn[12] and bay ... the Crik of Saynt Patrick, the Crik of Kemmeys, the Crik of Kemlyn, the mylne bay[13], Amlogh, the Crik of St Hilary[14], the ffreshwater Roode under Saynt hillary is forlonge[15], the Roode of the two Ilondes of Stadan[16], the crik of Dulas and the entering there, the bay of the Reyde Warth[17] and the crik of the said bay, the Roode of the table Rounde[18], the Roodes all along and under the lond of Gray cote[19], the entering of Sounde of prestolme, the Ile of prestholme[20] and the entering of Penmon, the Crosse Roode and so along the shore to the haven of Bewmares[21].

At the place where the ellipsis occurs, Bulkeley also lists the Roode of Cardinals betwixt the Skerries and the shore and in this reference he gives us the origin of the name Carmel Head, which afterwards became corrupted successively into Carven Point, Carren Point and Carnel’s Head before becoming the Carmel Head of today. An association with the Cistercian grange at nearby Mynachdy[22] is possibly the origin of the appellation Cardinals.

1 The Smalls rocks off St. David’s head
2 St.Tudwal’s Island
3 Bardsey Island, Ynys Enlli

4 The Skerries
5 Rhuddlan castle
6 William of Worcester (more properly, Worcestre) is said to have had but one eye, and to have been swarthy-looking. His obit. is uncertain, but must have been prior to 1485. See Ian Wilson The Columbus Myth Simon and Schuster 1991 p.59 for Worcester’s role in the Bristol cod fishermen’s discovery of Newfoundland.
7 Transactions of the Anglesey Antiquarian Society 1949
8 Lucy Toulmin Smith John Leland’s Itinerary in Wales 1906
9 The port of Le Conquet is near Brest in Britanny. In confirmation of what Bulkeley says, in 1546 Guillaume Brouscon of Le Conquet produced his pocket tidal almanac including maps of Britain and Ireland. The former maps marks Holyhead and Beaumaris by name. See NMM NVT/40 MS81/153.
10 Llanddwyn Island roads
11 Porth Santes Ffraidd [St. Bridget], or Trearddur Bay
12 Essentially the mouth of the Alaw river
13 Bull Bay in the wide sense
14 This must refer to Porth Eilian, formerly known as Porth yr Ysgaw

15 Still known as Freshwater Bay
16 The larger of these islands is now known as Ynys Dulas. Lewis Morris (Cambria’s Coasting Pilot 1737-41) calls it Ynys Scadan or The Island of Herrings (W. ysgadanyn, pl. ysgadan = ‘herring’). However, in Morris’s later work Plans of Harbours 1748 it appears as Ynys Cadarn or Strong Island.
17 Red Wharf Bay
18 Bwrdd Arthur, Lla
nddona, site of the Iron Age hill-fort of Din Silwy
19 The Grey Coast, so called from the colour of the Carboniferous limestone cliffs which characterise it, runs from Red Wharf Bay to Penmon point and Puffin Island
20 Puffin Island, originally known in Welsh as Ynys Glannog and in English as Priestholme
21 B. E. Howells (Ed.) Calendar of letters relating to North Wales Cardiff 1967 p.38; Aled Eames Ships and Seamen of Anglesey A.A.S. 1973 p.20
22 mynachdy = ‘grange’, not ‘monastery’ as often stated; the latter is mynachlog