In recent years a small island in the UK with a rich pagan history has become internationally famous for its apples. No, it isn’t Summerisle, but a small island off the coast of Wales. Around ten years ago Ynys Enlli (aka Bardsey Island) became the home of the rarest apple tree in the world, and sparked a sensation.
Ian Sturrock with his children and Bardsey Apples
“One of the world’s rarest trees has become a must-have for green-fingered Welsh patriots. Nearly 10 years ago a birdwatcher noticed an apple tree growing beside a house on Bardsey, off the Lln Peninsula, and alerted Welsh orchard expert Ian Sturrock. One of the world’s leading authorities on apple species, based in Kent, later declared it the rarest apple tree in the world. Now Mr Sturrock – who specialises in growing native Welsh fruit trees by grafting small pieces of them onto rootstock – cannot keep up with demand for Bardsey apple saplings. Having sent them across Britain and overseas, he is now sending wood from a Bardsey tree to a nursery in the US – for grafting on the other side of the pond.”
It isn’t just any rare apple tree on a small Welsh island, Bardsey Island has been a pilgrimage place for pre-Roman pagan Celts and for early Christians, it is rumored to be the final resting place of Merlin the magician, and some claim it may be Avalon itself.
“Barber & Pykitt identify Ynys Enlli with the Isle of Avalon where King Arthur was taken to be healed of his wounds after the Battle of Camlann. The battle, they place at nearby Porth Cadlan on the mainland. Merlin’s “Castle of Glass” on Ynys Enlli would appear to be the “Chamber of Glass” where Queen Morgan (or Modron) Le Fay lived and worked with her nine sisters (Merlin’s companions) to heal King Arthur on the Isle of Avalon. Avalon, meaning “Place of Apples,” was an aspect of the Celtic Otherworld, usually called Annwfn…”
As a result both modern Pagans and Christians are eager to get their hands on the famous Afal Enlli (Bardsey Apple).
“Christian people want it because it’s got the Bardsey connection, … Pagan people like it because of the original Bardsey connection.”
So how does an apple from an apple tree growing on what might be the Isle of Apples taste? According to fans it has a tangy taste with a slight hint of lemon. But it may be awhile before enough is grown to satisfy an international demand (there is already a two-year wait for more saplings). In the meantime, 150 trees were sold to a Gwynedd business in hopes of producing a cider from the apples, and residents of other islands are buying the strain in hopes it will be hardy enough to thrive in that rugged environment. This includes residents of Hebridean islands off the coast of Scotland. So who knows, perhaps we will see a Sumerisle strain of apple sometime in the future.