Pembrokeshire - A Long Weekend
We recently spent a long weekend in Pembrokeshire - confirmation, if ever we needed it, of what an interesting, spectacular and beautiful county it is. We chose to stay at Penally Abbey near Tenby, with a lovely view out over the sea and Caldey Island. Our other alternatives might have been The Grove of Narberth or Penrhiw Hotel, but perhaps we'll stay at one of those next time.
The weather was not the best as we started out on the Friday, but it gradually improved the further west that we travelled. To just charge along the M4 would be boring so we diverted off, and drove along the fringes of Swansea Bay to Mumbles. The headland jutting far out into the bay is home to the lifeboat station, a former Coastguard station and a pier (in the course of renovation) so it made a pleasing lunchtime break and walk. We even noticed the possibility of buying the old lifeboat station. We decided to pass on that, though it will make a spectacular holiday home for someone once they've persuaded the seagulls to roost somewhere else.
Returning to the car we drove out along the Gower Peninsula and made another stop at Weobley Castle. It was interesting, though it would be eclipsed by the castle to come, and it had a fascinating view of the estuary of the Rover Loughor.
Finally we reached our destination at Penally Abbey and were delighted to be given a large room with a view over the garden to the sea. Dinner was equally delightful.
Next morning we fuelled up on a Full Welsh breakfast (that's like a Full English but with laverbread added) and headed to Pembroke to see the castle. To say we were impressed would be the ultimate understatement. The entry was less than half the cost we anticipated and we stayed twice as long as intended. Without question the highlight was the free castle tour conducted by Gareth; he was enthusiastic, knowledgeable and imparted a whole load of history about the castle, South Wales, the Normans and the Tudors.
With the tour completed we were free to wander the various parts of the castle. There were ramparts and towers and a dungeon, just like any self-respecting castle should have. There was also a long winding stairway downwards to a natural cave in the cliff under the castle. In medieval times this was only accessible by boat and at high tide to the castle occupants were able to keep themselves supplied during a siege, and thus to repel a siege that would have beaten any other place.
The last part of our visit was a climb of 100 steps up a narrow spiral staircase to the top of the keep. The views from the top were wonderful, especially in the prevailing sunshine. They revealed the full layout of the castle, the old town of Pembroke and the castle's impressive natural defences, being surrounded my cliffs and a tidal estuary on three sides.
From medieval history we moved on to nature and geology and headed to the south coast. We were able to drive out almost to the cliff edge beside the Green Bridge. This is a spectacular rock arch reaching out from the cliff into the sea, topped with a layer of grass which gives it its name. Although it was a calm sunny day the water swirled and boiled around the base.
From the Green Bridge we followed the Pembrokeshire Coast Path a very short distance to get the best view of the Elegug Stacks. These tall slender rocks rise from sea level to almost clifftop level and their flat tops were covered in shoulder-to-shoulder guillemots while other birds bobbed around on the water or tried to force themselves onto whatever tiny ledge they could find unoccupied. Then further along the coast path we found the Cauldron. It would take a braver man than me to peer down into its depths as the grassy clifftop rolls gradually over into vertical cliff. The Cauldron is a large and almost fully enclosed cleft where the waves pound in, even on a calm day. In wilder conditions it would undoubtedly be a savage spectacle.
Our final stop before returning to Penally was Barafundle Bay. We drove to Stackpole Quay, paused for an ice cream and then struck out along the cliff path to Barafundle. Just a short, easy-going walk brought us to the beach. With the tide low we were treated to a broad expanse of pristine golden sand backed by dunes, and we shared it with no more than half a dozen other people. Beautiful.
The next day we visited Tenby and Saundersfoot before reluctantly heading for home. I had not known before that Tenby is a walled town, with most of the ancient defensive walls intact. Within the walls is a warren of narrow streets filled with shops, pubs and restaurants hovering on the hill above the harbour. It was a little too touristy for our tastes so we headed along the coast to Saundersfoot, which we liked much more. The atmosphere was more open and spacious, and being Sunday there were plenty of visitors and locals alike getting out on the water on paddleboards, dinghies, yachts and cruisers. The long golden sand beach stretched out away from the harbour. At the head of the harbour was the brand new Events Deck and the Coastal Schooner Experience, due to open just a few weeks after our visit.
The trip was just too short, and we could have easily stayed a week. Next time we'll probably go to the west coast where we can visit St Davids, Dale, Skomer Island and many more interesting places.
14 Jun 2022, 12:55