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Our island haven; Paradise comes in many guises. For an adventurer trapped in London it is a small, rugged piece of Wales as Ian Parri discovers.

NO man, so they say, is an island. But there is something in the psyche of the man or woman brought up on an island which inexplicably draws on their souls.

They can never quite exorcise that need to be enveloped in briny air that stains the lips, and the screeches of gulls bobbing erratically in the prevailing winds. So the Isle of Wight, you might feel, is only an island in the geographical sense of the word; and you'd be right. It's hardly Robinson Crusoe country, after all.

But for adventurer, writer and raconteur Bear Grylls, the laid-back holiday isle on England's south coast where he spent his boyhood was the slipway from which he was launched on a journey of discovery which has dropped anchor off the coast of the Llun peninsula.

Still only 27, he certainly knows what it's like to live life in the adrenaline-charged fast lane. But for now he is seeking some peaceful isolation, away from life's hustle and bustle, and believes he has found it on his own Welsh island paradise.

He is also feeling not a little bit chuffed with himself for his haggling nous, which wouldn't go amiss in a North African souk. His chest swells proudly as he relates how he secured a 70-year lease on St Tudwal's Island West, complete with its own four-bedroomed house, having squeezed the asking price down from pounds 150,000 to just pounds 95,000.

Living in London as he does, he knows he'd be lucky to buy a kennel with man-flap for that sort of price-tag in that particular urban jungle, never mind a lease on his own island that runs until he'll be three years short of a telegram from the monarch.

He does, however, have to share his paradise with Trinity House, who have maintained a lighthouse there since 1877. Not that he'll mind that sort of illuminating company, as he seeks an escape from life in the social sweatbox that most big cities have become.

"I'm not a London sort of person, and I feel boxed in whenever I'm there, so I'd become desperate to get away and had been twisting my wife's arm for a while trying to persuade her that we should look for a place in Wales, " says the Island's new laird.

"I'd always liked Wales, ever since my Army days when I spent a lot of my time in the Brecon Beacons. So when I read about this island that was for sale for pounds 150,000 we decided to come to see it, although there was no way we could afford it.

"The estate agent was very nice, and he gave me the telephone numbers of local fishermen Owi and Meirion Jones, who would take us out to the Island.

"But he just laughed when I asked him for the keys to the house, and told me to take a crowbar with me.

"The moment we set foot on the Island, I was a different man. The place is so magical, special.

Our dog even went nuts over the place. We got back to London to see what we could scrape together and offered pounds 95,000, thinking that it would be the last we'd hear of it. I couldn't believe our luck when it was accepted; someone on high must be keeping an eye out for us."

IT MIGHT all seem to be an almighty gamble, and few would relish living for any sort of period on such a bleak pimple of grass and granite festering in the heaving waves of the Irish Sea. Bear Grylls, however, isn't a man averse to a bit of adventure. Many would call him an adrenaline junkie.

Four years ago he became the youngest British climber to conquer the 22,500 ft high Himalayan mountain of Ama Dablam, once described by Edmund Hillary as being "unclimbable".

But conquering Everest had been his ultimate dream since his childhood days. However, it all seemed to have gone horrifically pear-shaped when he broke his back in a parachuting accident while serving with the British Army in southern Africa. He broke two vertebrae after his parachute failed to open.

Today he freely admits that, during the nine long and frustrating months he spent spread on his bed recuperating, his hopes seemed forlorn.

"My dream of climbing Everest felt a million miles away, and I took down pictures of the mountain given to me by my father years ago, and dismissed the idea as being unrealistic, " he says.

Yet just six months after his adventures on Ama Dablam, he overcame almost impossible odds, including dangling unconsciously on the end of a rope for four hours after falling through the ice into a pitch-black crevasse, to clamber safely to the Earth's highest point.

He was just 23 at the time, the youngest Briton to make it to the summit, and had spent three months on the mountain achieving his aim. Three laborious months during which time four others seeking to realise the same dream met with untimely deaths.

Nowadays Bear Grylls - he was christened Edward, but prefers to use the ursine nickname and the "take 'em all on" image it proffers - makes best use of his hair-raising adventures to earn a living.

He is a highly thought-of speaker on the leadership and motivational training circuit, a regular guest on TV programmes, and his book, Facing Up - which traces the breathtaking tale of his ascent of Everest in detail - has proven to be a best-seller since it was first published last year.

Oh yes, he also stars in a TV commercial for a certain brand of anti-perspirant.

He lives with wife Shara aboard a houseboat moored on the Thames, his work as a speaker and in the media making it necessary for him to have a base in London. But he insists that his thoughts are entrenched elsewhere; St Tudwal's Island West which is one of a pair of granite blobs deposited in the northern reaches of Cardigan Bay as if tossed there by some unimpressed mythical giant.

The other, St Tudwal's Island East, less than a mile offshore from the popular village resort of Abersoch, is owned by Liverpudlian writer and animal lover Carla Lane. It hasn't suffered from human habitation since medieval times, when it harboured a monastic settlement.

But it famously made the headlines a number of years ago when a herd of deer living in desolation there decided that the grass did indeed appear to be greener on the other side. They made a dash for freedom by swimming through the treacherous waves to the mainland, before being promptly rounded up again, poor things.

Its partner island, and the Grylls' new domain, has had rather more recent brushes with the human race. Its last permanent residents fled gratefully in 1935 when the lighthouse was automated, although its 20-odd acres of lush, if somewhat salty, grass have constantly been let as grazing land for mainland farmers' sheep.

The only other company to be had on this bleak outpost are the plump grey seals which waddle on to its craggy shore, and whose eerie wailing kept lighthouse keepers aplenty awake through countless sleepless nights in years past.

The pair of cottages abandoned by those keepers have since been converted into one property, which is in remarkably good, if bleak, condition D even if on the exterior it is a flat-roofed architectural nightmare.

Surrounded by a wall almost four feet high, intended as a wind-break, the dwelling was obviously designed more to ward off the elements than to prove aesthetically pleasing. Its only other signs of human habitation are the seaweedengulfed steps leading up from the sea to what passes for a jetty.

BEAR Grylls, though, couldn't give two hoots.

He is obviously thoroughly infatuated with his acquisition.

"The house couldn't be lived in when we first saw it, but we've worked on it as and when the money becomes available. Both our families have been to the island and just love the place. We want it as a hideaway for the summers, and also to spend winter breaks. But it's not a place where you could live all the time.

"Shara was very nervous about it all when we bought it, because we were so broke. But she's taken it on as her own project now, and just loves the island and the community in the Abersoch area. We're definitely hooked. The locals are so friendly, and I think that the Welsh are awesome."

But he hasn't as yet set a place aside for his pipe and slippers by the fireplace in his island bolthole, and fully intends to engage in one or two other hair-raising escapades before getting the tobacco pouch out.

"I've already fixed anchor points on the island's cliffs so I can get some climbing practice in, although the wife's furious about it. And I'm planning to do a solo crossing of the Atlantic in a rib (inflatable boat), keeping it afterwards to cross between St Tudwal's and the mainland."

Even living a frugal island lifestyle, one must obviously have a fresh store of tales with which to regale one's audiences. And there's just no escaping those darned bills, even if you put a mile of sea-water between yourself and the postman.

CAPTION(S):

The decor may not be much to boast about at the moment but they are working on that and the view makes up for any inconvenience RUGGED: Bear and Shara may have no one to chat to over their garden wall but that is fine by them. In London they are surrounded by by the stresses of urban life but in St Tudwal's Island West they have found the perfect place to get away from it all Pictures: CHRISTOPHER JONES
COPYRIGHT 2001 MGN Ltd.
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Copyright 2001 Gale, Cengage Learning. All rights reserved.

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Title Annotation:Features
Publication:Daily Post (Liverpool, England)
Date:Oct 24, 2001
Words:1634
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