You may know that I have a strong connection to Pembrokeshire, the county in South Wales from which my paternal grandparents come and which was a family holiday destination for many years when my sister and I were still kids.
Since growing up, I’ve returned on a few occasions; the first time for many years during my honeymoon with Jo and since then with family too. A friend from Switzerland appreciated the area through my photos last year and asked for some tips of some “must-see” places to visit on a short summer trip. After emailing details at the time, it’s taken me a while to get the tips into shape for a blog post… but here it is, at last!
(NB: not all of the photos in this post are mine.)
Hotels and getting around
Pembrokeshire is a very rural area and although there is some public transport available – including the coastal buses – a car is almost essential to get around unless you’re planning a cycling holiday. The back lanes between many of the sights are very narrow and lined with tall hedgerows, so present a bit of a challenge to those less used to driving on the left!
The main towns in south-western Pembrokeshire are Saundersfoot, Tenby, Pembroke and Pembroke Dock, and Milford Haven. Pembroke Dock and Milford Haven are, as the names imply, not particularly picturesque but there are plenty of amenities there. Pembroke is a small town with little but the large ruined castle and fish and chip restaurant to draw visitors; Saundersfoot is small but picturesque, with plenty of guest houses, and Tenby is the busiest town, most oriented to visiting tourists.
There are plenty of hotels and guest houses across the county, but choose carefully based on other visitors’ reviews. I had a good experience at Portclew House in Freshwater East (although the room was tiny), at the Woodlands Hotel (a guest house) in Saundersfoot, and at the simple and functional Travelodge in Pembroke Dock. There are plenty of hotels in Tenby, but I have been less keen to stay there as it’s a heavily tourist-focused, busier (and therefore noisier), and more expensive than other places. If I needed to stay there, then I would probably use the modern and usually reliable Premier Inn chain hotel, and eat at one of the many restaurants in the town.
Once you get away from the towns, settlements are far and few between, so it’s a good idea to check distances before setting off and ensuring that you have a full tank of fuel if you want to roam the less populated areas. A map is essential and be prepared to pay close attention to obscure road signs!
Places to visit
My preferred area of the coastline is in the far south-west, between Freshwater East and Freshwater West beaches.
Freshwater East is where I spent most of my childhood family holidays. My parents rented a simple cabin on the eastern headland, with a view of the large beach, and I have many, many happy memories of playing there: from the large (but subsequently somewhat depleted) dunes to the caves and rock formations at the eastern end of the beach. (Be careful not to get cut off by the incoming tide, which submerges much of this end of the beach.)
Freshwater West is a magnificent stretch of sand backed with dunes, and well-worth a visit if the weather is fine or rough. In windy weather, the waves can be huge and crash high against the cliffs at each end of the long beach. It’s another very long beach, perfect for long walks along the surf. Be careful of quicksand, though: some areas at the north end of the beach need a little attention.
The beach is also known to cinema-goers from Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows – the fictional Shell Cottage was temporarily built in the dunes for the film…
…and Russell Crowe filmed sequences for his version of Robin Hood here.
Barafundle is a lovely, unspoiled beach, reached on foot by walking a mile from the pay-and-display car park at Stackpole Quay. (The Bosherston Lakes are also nearby, which are covered in water lilies from late spring.) I have only been here once, as a teenager, but remember it fondly due to a lack of tourist facilities and, therefore, a more natural experience.
The Castlemartin estate is a wide belt of British Army land, running along the coast between Bosherston and Freshwater West. The army uses the land as a tank firing range fairly often, but it’s left to nature the rest of the time, and nature thrives here. The area is sometimes closed to the public: on these occasions, drive up to the public viewing point between St. Twynnell’s and Castlemartin and watch the tanks practicing on the ranges.
When the land is accessible to the public, as signalled by a lack of red flags at access points, there are a few great things to see. the Green Bridge of Wales and Elegug Stacks are rocky features of the coastline which are on borrowed time. The stacks of rock are great at breeding time; the name Elegug means guillemot in Welsh and the name is appropriate for the number of birds nesting on the coast.
Also along this stretch of coast – and well-hidden in the only easily accessible route to the water near St. Govan’s Head – is the tiny chapel dedicated to the eponymous saint.
If you’re staying at Tenby from Monday to Saturday between Easter and October, then you’ll have the chance to take a tour to the island of Caldey. The island is a religious retreat but welcomes visitors, who can see the monastery and chapel before taking an easy walk across the small island to the traditional white lighthouse. The boat trip in itself is an experience – make sure you have a waterproof jacket handy! – and you can reward yourself with some hand-made chocolate from the island’s dairy when you arrive.