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Welsh Wonder - Pembrokeshire

Article in CSMA Magazine 2010 - words by Hugh Graham

Hidden away on the southwest tip of Wales, Pembrokeshire may be off the beaten track, yet it is a big Welsh star. Forget all the old stereotypes associated with Wales: rain, bleak mining towns and gloomy chapels; travel writers have recently christened Pembrokeshire ‘the new Cornwall’, the ‘California of Wales’ and ‘Little England’. And they are not wrong.

Like Cornwall, Pembrokeshire has a jaw-dropping coastline of romantic craggy cliffs and beautiful sandy beaches (31 of which proudly boast Blue Flag status). It does have a flavour of California: surfers flock here, the water is warmed by the Gulf Stream and the county is one of the three sunniest places in the UK. As for the ‘Little England’ nickname, Pembrokeshire has in fact been called this beyond Wales for centuries, owing to the Anglo-Norman invasion of the 11th century. This resulted in a string of English castles, defensive forts and settlements – and to this day, a noticeable English culture endures throughout the region. Indeed, south Pembrokeshire has been a holiday favourite of the English since the 18th century, when the French wars forced them to holiday close to home, and Tenby in southeast Pembrokeshire became a fashionable place to take the waters.

That said, there is plenty of wonderful Welsh culture and history in Pembrokeshire, from St Davids (birthplace of Wales’ patron saint) to a wealth of Stone Age monuments. There is also a growing sense of Welsh confidence and style, reflected in a crop of new boutique hotels and chic restaurants that possess a modern flair while staying true to the area’s roots.

Those roots go deep. Humans lived in the area as long ago as 10,000BC in caves around Tenby. And for such a sleepy and remote place, Pembrokeshire’s history has had a huge influence on Britain’s history. Take Beddarthur, for example, in the Preseli Hills near Newport. Built by the Neolithic residents of Pembrokeshire, this stone circle is thought to have inspired Stonehenge. Next door to it, the bluestones from Cam Menyn, a Megalithic quarry, were actually exported to Wiltshire and used to build Stonehenge. And the dolmens at Pentire Ifan, east of Newport and the biggest Megalithic site in Wales, also resemble a mini-Stonehenge and predate the more famous monument by about 1000 years.

Pembrokeshire’s medieval period was also influential. In the fifth century, St David, a Celtic monk and missionary, brought Christianity to the pagans of western Britain. After his death, St Davids Cathedral became a place of pilgrimage (at one point, the Pope decreed that two visits to St Davids equalled one to Jurusalem). Today, the ornate and beautifully aged cathedral – this version dates from the 12th century – is still worth a pilgrimage, as is the nearby romantic ruin of the Bishop’s Palace, built in 1328.

This corner of the country also bore the brunt of many Viking invasions during the ninth century, hence the Scandinavian names of the islands near St Davids: Skomer, Skokholm and Grassholm. The islands are now bird sanctuaries, and can be visited by boat during Spring and Summer.

Pembrokeshire was also the birthplace of the Tudor Dynasty. Henry Tudor came into the world at Pembroke Castle in 1457. In 1485, he set off with his army to defeat Richard III at Bosworth, ascending to the throne as Henry VII and, soon after, fathering Henry VIII.

And finally, Pembrokeshire was the site of the last foreign invasion of Britain, and a rather comical one at that. In 1797, about 1400 French troops landed near Strumble Head, Fishguard, but surrendered when they thought they were outnumbered by the vast army of British redcoats in the field above – it turned out the ‘redcoats’ were actually women dressed in traditional Welsh tunics and tall black hats.

But most people don’t go to Pembrokeshire for the history: they go for the beaches, and Tenby combines the best of both worlds. Located on the south coast, it has impeccable white sands and a pleasing sense of faded grandeur with its classic Georgian buildings, old-fashioned street lamps and elegant seafront promenade, as well as a ruined castle and medieval city wall.

The beaches around St Davids, on the west coast, are even better. Broad Haven is gorgeously framed by dramatic, craggy cliffs, even if the town’s ambience is a bit ‘bucket and spade’. Newgale, a long and sweeping strand frequented by surfers, is truly magnificent: the coastal road above it resembles California’s scenic Pacific Coast Highway. Just outside St Davids, pristine Whitesands is a smaller surfer’s paradise, but just as good-looking, especially at sunset.

After your swim, stick around St Davids itself and soak up the atmosphere. Known as Britain’s smallest city because of the cathedral, it is actually a village. But for all it’s history, it feels modern and slightly bohemian, with trendy cafes, an organic ice cream parlour, sophisticated foodie restaurants, art galleries and an outdoor adventure store. The latter caters to the sporty types who come here to rock climb, surf, hike and kayak.

Newport, west of St Davids along the north coast, also has a gem of a beach: Newport Sands, a mile-long strand backed by sand dunes, cliffs and a golf course. In the village, pastel cottages and narrow streets are pleasingly old-world, but despite all the Stone Age sites nearby, Newport is not stuck in the past. It has a burgeoning foodie scene; a prime example is Llys Meddyg, a chic boutique hotel and restaurant featuring Welsh fusion cuisine.

Nearby Fishguard lacks great beaches, but it’s coastal scenery is powerful, particularly at wild and windswept Strumble Head, where a lighthouse perches above a raging sea. This is Wales’s closest point to Ireland. Fishguard is not as charming as Newport, but the old town by the harbour has real character. And Fishguard must have some literary residents, as the excellent Seaways bookshop stocks an impressive selection of wordy tomes.

If you are more interested in beaches than in history or culture, head back to the south coast. Barafundle Bay, west of Tenby in the Pembrokeshire Coast National Park, is one of the most enchanting spots in Wales. Voted ‘best beach for a picnic’ by readers of Country Life magazine, it is small and sheltered and its calm waters are ideal for family swimming. Nearby, golden Broadhaven South Beach is just as pretty as Barafundle, but more exposed. Freshwater West, 20 miles to the west, is pounded by Atlantic rollers that make for spectacular surfing.

Birdwatchers are just as common around here as beach enthusiasts. Stack Rocks, west of Barafundle, is swarming with guillemots, razorbills, kittiwakes and fulmars in the summer. The spectacle is mesmerising, as is the nearby sight of the Green Bridge of Wales, a limestone arch.

Equally entrancing is St Govan’s Chapel, eastwards towards Bosherston. With waves crashing below and birds soaring overhead, it is Pembrokeshire in a nutshell: majestic coastal scenery, wildlife, history - and a touch of magic.



48 hours in....Pembroke

courtesy of Visit Pembrokeshire

Hidden in a quiet corner of Pembrokeshire are some of the best beaches in the UK. World-renown climbing cliffs and the hottest surf beach in the country.
Stroll round Henry Tudors castle, take loose-leaf tea with Aunty Vi, get stranded at the Point House pub and find a 14th century chapel built into a cliff.

Here are our twenty things to do with 48-hours in, near and around Pembroke...

1. Walk to Barafundle Bay. Time and time again this beautiful beach has been voted as the best beach in the UK. You’ll understand why when you go there.

2. Explore Pembroke Castle – Henry Tudors birthplace. You can explore inside the castle and walk round the 900 year town wall, popping into the Cornstore, overlooking the mill pond, for refreshments.

3. Grab a gourmet lobster lunch from the best street food stall in the UK – Café Mor at Freshwater West beach.

4. Walk round Bosherston Lily ponds to the 8-arch bridge and go enjoy a cuppa tea in the Stackpole Walled Garden, or visit the Olde Worlde Café in Bosherston where you’ll get served a good old fashioned cream tea with a loose-leaf brew.

5. Wander round Angle Bay to the Point House and prepare yourself to get ‘stuck in the pub’ when the high tide temporarily cuts off the road for an hour – the perfect excuse for an extra round of drinks!

6. See Pembrokeshire from a new angle and join a National Trust guide on a kayaking trip out of Stackpole Quay. Get on the water, explore caves and play in the surf then maybe stop on Barafundle to explore this idylic dune backed beach before paddling home. Then celebrate with the biggest slice of cake you could ever wish for at the Boathouse Café.

7. Catch the Coastal Cruiser walkers bus and walk a section of the Pembrokeshire Coast Path. Bosherston – Freshwater East and Freshwater West – Angle are two popular sections.

8. Broadhaven South is one of the best places in the UK’s to go star-gazing. Stackpole National Trust regularly host star-gazing nights to reveal the mysteries of the night sky.

9. Freshwater West beach is the place to cut your surf teeth. Local surf schools offer surf camps, guaranteeing to get you on your feet and riding the waves before you leave.

10. If you’ve got a head for heights then St Govans Head, near Bosherston, is the place to put your climbing skills to the test.

11. For a romantic weekend check into Stackpole Inn. This award-winning gastro pub offers rooms in the pretty village of Stackpole. Their outdoor garden is sunny spot for an afternoon drink and their restaurant menu irresistible!

12. Go meet Jerry and eat rabbit pie at the Speculation Inn, near Hundleton.

13. Find St Govan’s Chapel nestled into the base of the cliffs at St Govan’s Head, near Bosherston.

14. Lamphey Bishops Palace is what remains of a grand medieval palace of the bishop's of St Davids. A beautiful place to wander round.

15. Stack Rocks and the Green Bridge of Wales are the dramatic natural rock arch and rock pillars on the Castlemartin Peninsula. The road to the Stack Rocks passes through an army tank range and is open at weekends. Please call to check if the range is open to the public during the week: Castlemartin Range - 01646 662367

16. Book onto a guided walk with a Pembrokeshire Coast National Park ranger through Castlemartin Military range west.

17. In 1940 the Sunderland T9044 ‘flying boat’ sank off Pembroke Dock. Local enthusiasts have now found the wreck and are undertaking an ambitious project to bring this unique wartime icon to the surface. Visit the Flying Boat Centre in Pembroke Dock to learn about world's largest flying boat station at Pembroke Dock, see photos of the famous Sunderland and learn more about the Battle of the Atlantic.

18. There’s a full-days walking to be enjoyed between Stackpole Quay and Bosherston, taking in Barafundle Bay, Broadhaven beach and Bosherston Lily Ponds, not to mention some of the best tearooms in Pembrokeshire.

19. Otters at dawn - Join Stackpole National Trust volunteers for a dawn otter-watch around Bosherston Lily Ponds, followed by tea and bacon butties afterwards.

20. The Stackpole Walled Gardens and café are worth a visit at any time of year. The gardens used to support the Stackpole estate house and are now a Mencap project that produces vegetables and flowers, which can be bought in the shop. The woodland and exhibition on the site of the old house are all within walking distance and well worth the stroll.


Pembrokeshire Guide 48 hours in . . . Pembrokeshire

The Telegraph

an insider guide to the wild Welsh coast
by Kerry Walker

Untamed, underrated, and ripe for adventure If you think Wales is all drizzle and sheep-grazed hills, you need to go further west. In Cardigan Bay’s southwestern crook, Pembrokeshire is an instant heart-stealer. Here, purple-grained cliffs fall abruptly to golden bays, caves, and rock stacks lashed by the Irish Sea. There are mood-lifting views as you ramble through kissing gates, over stiles and across gorse-clad headlands on the 186-mile coastal path; and enthralling wildlife on islands where puffins, dolphins, porpoises and grey seals are often spotted.

North of cathedral-topped St Davids, where Wales’s patron saint was born 1,500 years ago, single-track lanes twist to off-the-radar coves and whitewashed taverns with vast sea views and just-caught fish on the menu. Adventure, you say? You’ll find it kayaking or coasteeering around the rugged coastline, surfing on the broad sands of Freshwater or Newgale, or striding into the heather-brushed moors of the Preseli Hills in search of ancient hill forts and standing stones.

Do Take the bumpy boat across to Skomer from Marloes (get the first crossing) as the puffins return to their burrows after a long winter at sea. Come in the second week of July to see ridiculously cute pufflings. Now the weather is brightening up, drive a stretch of the 180-mile Coastal Way – one of three recently launched touring routes designed to showcase Wales's natural beauty. The road trip takes in the full sweep of Cardigan Bay: from St Davids in the south, to Aberdaron in the north.

Eat Late spring and early summer are prime foraging time, and Ed Skyes from Llys Meddyg (East Street; 01239 820008) in Newport will show you where to find the likes of razor clams, samphire and sea purslane. After the walk, the fresh ingredients are cooked up for lunch – either on the beach or in the garden. Summer’s in the air, surf’s up, and Café Môr (07422 535345) is back on the beach at Freshwater West – with Jon Williams serving locally sourced seafood and seaweed from his funkily converted fishing boat.


48 hours in . . . Pembrokeshire

Day one

Launch your coastal road trip in the cheerful seaside town of Tenby, where Georgian townhouses in chalk-box pastels rim the harbour. Grab a freshly roasted espresso or ice cream cone at The Stowaway (2 Penniless Cove Hill; 07971 783319), tucked under the harbour walls, then head down to cliff-backed Castle Beach – a fine scoop of sand that does a vanishing act at high tide. Boats depart from here to the more peaceful Caldey Island, where around a dozen Cistercian monks live in the monastery. On the island, make for secluded Priory Bay and St Margaret's Island – a nature reserve that's home to grey seals and seabirds. Return to Tenby for lunch on the sea-facing terrace of The Salt Cellar (The Esplanade; 01834 844005), where locally sourced food is served with panache. Look out for the Pembrokeshire beef with slow-braised ox cheek and smoked mash, and chamomile panna cotta with blackcurrant parfait.

Driving 30 minutes to the west, you'll reach Stackpole, where you can park and take a half-mile walk over cliffs and dunes to pinch-yourself pretty Barafundle Bay on thePembrokeshire Coast Path. This golden curve of sand, which shelves into clear turquoise water, regularly ranks highly in polls of Britain’s best beaches. If you're visiting in summer, drive a few minutes westwards to see dragonflies skimming across the Bosherton Lily Ponds. A 15-minute pootle northwards brings you to Carew Castle: originally a Norman motte and bailey, later an Elizabethan mansion, and now highly romantic ruins. Take the mile-long walk to the beautifully preserved tidal mill, then veer west along the coastal road that fringes crescent-shaped St Brides Bay – perhaps stopping for a drink at clifftop Druidstone (01437 781221). In the evening, you can spy sunset from the quaint fishing village of Solva.

Your base for the night is the coastal honeypot of St Davids, the UK’s dinkiest city, which is home to just 1,800 lucky souls. Book ahead for dinner at Cwtch(22 High Street; 01437 720491), an intimate stone-walled bistro serving the likes of homemade fish cakes and duo of Welsh lamb. Nightlife in St Davids is deliberately low-key, but on warm nights there’s quite a buzz on the patio at the back of The Farmers Arms (16 Goat Street; 01437 721666) – and occasional live music and jam sessions at Oriel Y Parc (High Street; 01437 720 392), the visitor and cultural centre.

Day two

Begin with a wholesome breakfast (think smashed avocado on sourdough with poached eggs, toasted seeds and chilli oil) at endearingly retro The Meadow (18 High Street; 01437 720990), then make your way across to mighty medieval St Davids Cathedral, a riot of soaring stone pillars and intricate coffered ceilings. Pilgrims have flocked here for centuries to glimpse the shrine that allegedly contains the bones of Welsh hero and patron St David, who was born here in the 6th century. After a mooch around art galleries in town – such as Goat Street Gallery (28 Goat Street; 01437 721119), housed in a former chapel – get some fresh sea air on the magnificent hour-long circular walk around St David’s Head. The ragged, gorse-draped cliffs offer stirring views of Ramsey Island, and lead to an Iron Age hill fort and Neolithic burial chamber.

AFTERNOON Stop in Abereiddy, a few miles north, to see the startlingly turquoise Blue Lagoon in a flooded former slate quarry, before pushing slightly north for a fresh-as-it-comes seafood lunch at The Shed (01348 831518) in Porthgain. The crab sandwiches are excellent. Follow this with a pint of local ale (try the malty, subtly hopped Felinfoel Double Dragon craft ale) at nautically themed tavern The Sloop (01348 831449), right opposite. From here it’s approximately a half-hour drive north to Strumble Head, a lonely, wind-battered headland, with expansive sea views and gulls swooping over the lighthouse. Drive on through Fishguard to ravishing Dinas Island, where a National Trust three-mile circular walk leads over sheer wildflower-studded cliffs that plummet to smuggler’s coves straight out of a Famous Five novel. In spring, you might see puffins returning to these shores at Needle Rock.

LATE Stay the night in the laid-back coastal town of Newport, its high street lined with cottages, galleries and cafés. Top billing here goes to Llys Meddyg (East Street; 01239 820 008), a Georgian coaching inn turned rustic-chic restaurant with rooms. Sip a cocktail (the Garden Mint Mojito is fabulously fresh) in the garden if the weather permits – or by the inglenook fireplace in the wood-panelled bar if it doesn't. Foraged ingredients give dishes a unique twist: think home-smoked salmon with pickled cucumber and seabeets, and sirloin of Dexter beef with wild garlic and pennywort. For a nightcap, hop in a taxi for the 10-minute drive back to Fishguard, where pubs like The Royal Oak (Market Square; 01348 218632) regularly host Celtic folk bands. What to bring home . . . Stop off at the Wickedly Welsh (Unit 13, Withybush Trading Estate; 01437 557122) chocolate factory, deli and café on the fringes of Haverfordwest. You can pick up artisan pralines, truffles and bars in myriad flavours – from Welsh sea salt and caramel, to rhubarb crumble and custard. Close to the Neolithic burial chamber of Pentre Ifan in the Preseli Hills is Bluestone (Cilgwyn; 01239 820833), a microbrewery producing ales from the water that trickles through the rock of the same name.

When to go . . .
Pembrokeshire is wilder and wetter during the winter months, with gusty westerlies making it feel even chillier at times. If you get lucky, spring can be a terrific time to visit, with mild weather and everywhere erupting prettily with blossom and wildflowers. Summer is best for camping trips and water-based activities like swimming, surfing and coasteering, but this being Wales, you should still expect the odd shower. Avoid school holidays to snag better deals and sidestep the crowds. Autumn can be lovely, with the odd golden day for quiet rambles in the Preseli Hills and along the Pembrokeshire Coast Path.



CountryfileWith a wealth of natural attractions it’s no wonder that the wild coastline of Pembrokeshire has romped home with this year’s top spot. It’s a haven for marine life, with dolphins and porpoises often seen from Strumble Head, whale watching boat trips off the coast, and plentiful puffins and seals at Skomer. Surrounded by the sea on three sides, no part of Pembrokeshire is more than 14 miles from the coast and locals claim to have salt water in their veins. Bask on the wide sandy beaches, trek the 186 mile-long Coast Path, and don’t forget to stop in at St David’s, the smallest city in Britain. Judge Miranda Krestovnikoff says: "Pembrokeshire has a really special place in my heart as it’s where I had my first ever scuba dive. "Living in the South West, it’s a firm family favourite of ours, we love that the beaches are less crowded than Devon and Cornwall but the wildlife is no less spectacular with choughs, puffins and cetaceans to see offshore. The coastal path is a joy to walk and there are so many great places to eat local and seasonal produce. A worthy winner!" You said: "St David's in Pembrokeshire is just perfect. It is beautiful, unspoilt and there is space to breathe. It is special to all our family and Whitesands Bay has been the setting for some wonderful memories." Rachel Brennan

Rough GuidesRough Guide praising it as “one of thefinest natural playgrounds in Europe”. “Many still underestimate this small country, often overshadowed by its neighbours. But these are exciting times for Wales – the country is winning accolades for its extraordinary beauty and remarkably preserved historical sites. “Culture vultures, foodies, festival junkies, adventurers, hikers and extreme sports enthusiasts will be spellbound here, be it amid the rugged peaks of Snowdonia, on the sandy beaches of the Gower Peninsula or in the quaint rural towns and villages.”

Lonely PlanetLonely Planet quote: "The phrase 'good things come in small packages' may be a cliché, but in the case of Wales it's undeniably true"



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