To think that this time last year we were staying at Waters Edge in Tenby, looking out over South Beach, enjoying the Six Nations on telly, and counting down the final months till our wedding. It was quite a journey to get there from London, but after what felt like hours on the train it was wonderful to be on the Pembrokeshire coast for a weekend of blustery walks and cosy evenings.
Matt’s dad is from Pembrokeshire originally so the area holds a special place in the family’s heart, with many holiday memories. The holiday apartment we were renting, for example, was one they had stayed at many times. It had the advantage of being a short walk up the hill into town, but away from the main bustle of the streets. Plus, the beach is adjacent.
The day we arrived, the rain was hurling itself against the wide windows of the seaside apartment, and we were glad to spend the afternoon huddled on the sofa watching the rugby. That evening we spruced ourselves up and made our way into Tenby proper, for Welsh lamb and red wine at Plantagenet House.
This cosy little restaurant with its roaring fires is the perfect winter dining spot if you’re in the area on a cold night. We celebrated the start of our holiday by going all out with three courses and prosecco to start.
On Saturday morning we set off to tour the sights of Pembrokeshire, starting with the epic pebble beach at Freshwater West, north-west of Castlemartin.
This mile-long stretch of beach, with a tidal range of 21ft, has so much to explore, with sand dunes, rock pools, cliffs, and a rainbow of pebbles to collect. The dangerous water is a favourite of experienced surfers, but if you plan on going in it’s worth checking the RNLI guidance.
Amongst the protected sand dunes you’ll find a pile of painted stones and rocks to commemorate Dobby the house elf, whose grave was filmed at Freshwater West in the last Harry Potter movie. Be careful as you search, as these dunes are very delicate and home to lots of protected wildlife.
Whilst you’re here, grab a bacon roll from the van in the car park, made with seaweed butter! (Thanks to my Welsh friend Emily for this tip.)
You’ll find these dramatic natural rock pillars a 15 minute drive from Freshwater West, at the end of a road passing through an army tank range (the B4319). Used by the Ministry of Defence as a firing range in the 1940s, the area has a faintly post-apocalyptic vibe, with abandoned homes and churches sitting alone in wide flat country side.
Stack Rocks are two detached pillars of limestone, home to nesting birds like guillemots and razorbills, towering above the waves. Further down the line of cliffs you can spot the Green Bridge, a natural archway carved by the sea.
If you’re afraid of heights then be careful, the cliffs are quite precarious and it’s a steep drop to the water below!
Bosherston Lily Ponds
Bosherston Lakes or Lily Ponds are famous for their summer waterlilies and their resident otters. If you park in Bosherston itself there’s a perfect walking route around the fish pond and rivers that takes just over an hour, with Broad Haven beach at the halfway point.
The best time to visit the Lily Ponds at Bosherston is June/July, but as the National Trust tells us, the lakes and lakeside woodlands are full of wildlife all year round, and this time of year you might be lucky enough to see snowdrops or even daffodils.
An easy walk around Bosherston’s beautiful lily ponds, with options to explore the dunes and pools of the Mere Pool Valley behind Broadhaven beach. The walk is mostly along even gravel paths with two narrow causeways. This walk is rich in wildlife all year round.The National Trust
The lakes are actually man-made, built by the Cawdors in the late 18th century (you can visit the family seat at Stackpole Court). The cracks and fissures in the underlying rock mean that water can flow in and out of them freely. They’re supplied by springs fed by a natural underground reservoir, and the water escapes the same way during dry spells.
Broad Haven South beach is huge, the flat expanse of sand making it the perfect playground for dogs and children alike. Its south-facing location makes it very popular in the summer, but this time of year you’ll have most of it to yourself.
Our stomachs growling, we made our way to Baradundle Bay, where The Boathouse Tearoom is helpfully located next to the car park at Stackpole Quay. Huddled inside, we tucked into some proper Welsh stew with crusty bread, finishing with frothy coffee to refuel us for the walk ahead.
Barafundle Bay is another area of the Stackpole estate, originally owned by the previously-mentioned Cawdor family. There’s no road access, you need to follow the Pembrokeshire Coast Path to get down to the beach, using the steep stone steps built by the family.
Amazingly, this award-winning beach boasts such accolades as the ‘best beach in Britain’ (The Good Holiday Guide) and the best place in the United Kingdom for a picnic (Country Life magazine). It’s also been given the Seaside award and the Green Coast award, and is in the 2004 list of the Top 12 beaches in the world!
Dinner: Fish n chips
After a day of many walks, we figured we deserved a substantial dinner. Matt’s dad bundled himself up and set out into the rainy darkness, returning with breaded fish, scampy and lots of chips from D. Fecci & Sons, an award-winning fish ‘n’ chip shop on Lower Frog Street.
It turns out this isn’t just any old chippy. In the Second World War, the allied commanders – including Eisenhower and Churchill – stayed in Tenby and Churchill suggested they go for fish and chips. Where do you think they ended up? Fecci’s! According to local legend 14-year-old Rosie Fecci asked them to move so she could clean their table.
It’s time to explore the seaside town of Tenby. Notable features include 4km of sandy beaches, the 13th century medieval town walls including the Five Arches barbican gatehouse, Tenby Museum and Art Gallery, the 15th century St Mary’s Church, the National Trust’s Tudor Merchant’s House, and the beautiful rainbow houses along North Beach.
Tenby has so much history – there are 372 listed buildings – and there are loads of blue plaques to find as you explore the town. As a Tudor fan, I was most interested in the blue plaque describing the escape of Henry Tudor, the future King Henry VII of England, who sheltered at Tenby before sailing into exile in 1471 during the Wars of the Roses. If you love this sort of thing too, you can also find plaques commemorating the visits of Dylan Thomas, Roald Dahl and Beatrix Potter.
Another local landmark is the lifeboat house, a Grade II-listed building that became famous after featuring on Grand Designs in 2011. It took the owners seven years just to start building, which involved negotiations with the Crown Estate to buy the freehold for their strip of the beach (a first for the UK). It has no road access, so all the building materials had to be transported across the sand and craned up the 40ft-high pier, which meant regular dashes between the tides. The result is an amazing nautical private home – such a shame it’s not available for holiday rents!
Round the corner is the actual functioning lifeboat station, which has been there since 1852 when it was established by The Shipwrecked Fishermen and Mariners’ Royal Benevolent Society. The station is classed as an “Explore” lifeboat station by the RNLI, with a really great visitor experience. When the boats are not on call, visitors can go inside and look around, see the lifeboats, read all about the history, and visit the gift shop.
Up on the headland behind the two life boat stations you’ll find Tenby Castle, a tiny Grade II-listed stone structure dating from the 13th century, with amazing views back towards the town. You can follow the walkway all the way around the line of the original curtain walls, ending at Tenby Museum & Art Gallery which is built on the remains of the castle’s great hall.
Through both the Georgian and Victorian eras Tenby was renowned as a health resort, with many features of the town being constructed to provide areas for healthy seaside walks. The beaches of Tenby have really good disabled access, because the walkways were built to accommodate Victorian nannies pushing prams!
The surviving old town castle walls wind their way through the buildings, most of which are in Victorian revival-style architecture in pastel colours. There are loads of cafes, boutiques and art galleries typical of a seaside town – it reminded me a lot of St Ives or Falmouth. A personal highlight was a shop called The Cranny, which was bursting with bottles of craft spirits from independent distilleries.
On Upper Frog Street you’ll find Two Red Dogs, which stocks hoodies, t-shirts and “other lovely stuff” all inspired by, designed and printed in Pembrokeshire.
The largest privately-owned castle in Wales, Pembroke Castle is open to visitors between 9:30am and 5:30pm, with a cafe, gift shop, group tours and lots of interactive exhibits.
Of course this medeival castle is steeped in history, most of which you can learn about on your visit. It was first built in 1093 by Arnulf of Montgomery during the Norman invasion of Wales. A century later, the castle was rebuilt in stone by William Marshal, one of the most powerful men in 12th-century Britain. Then in 1452, the castle and the earldom were presented to Jasper Tudor by his half-brother Henry VI. Jasper Tudor brought his widowed sister-in-law (Margaret Beaufort) to Pembroke where, in 1457, she gave birth to Henry Tudor (or “Harri Tudur”), who was to become King Henry VII of England.
Underneath the castle is massive natural cavern known as the Wogan, which was apparently used by smugglers who accessed it by boat from Pembroke River. You might recognise it from the film of Shakespeare’s Richard II from the Hollow Crown series, as the cave where David Tennant is imprisoned.
Dinner: Bay Tree
After another busy day, we made our way back into Tenby for cocktails and steak at The Baytree, appropriately located on Tudor Square.
Of course the day we were leaving was the sunniest, dryest day of the trip. We managed to fit in a wonderful windy walk along Castle Beach, with St Catherine’s Island on one side and pretty painted houses on the other.
St Catherine’s Island is a small tidal island which is only reachable at low tide. The island, formerly a private residence and zoo known colloquially as St Catherine’s Rock, is the location of St Catherine’s Fort, which Sherlock fans might recognise as the high security prison from season 4 episode 3 of the BBC show.
To say we didn’t want to leave is an understatement, but we boarded our train at Tenby Station with our packed lunches and returned dutifully to London and our jobs.
I’ve only scratched the surface of what Pembrokeshire has to offer, and I can’t wait to go back again and again. This first trip was a perfect February weekend, and Tenby is the ideal home base to explore the area from.