Sunday, 17 August 2014

FISHGUARD



The first thing many people think of when they hear the name Fishguard is the ferry service to Ireland.  In fact, the name of the port the ferry goes from is Goodwick, down the hill from Fishguard town centre.  One word of warning to anyone heading to Goodwick to catch a ferry from the M4 direction: allow plenty of time.  The first time we made the journey we thought we had plenty of time, only to find that the roads became progressively narrower and slower as we neared Fishguard, meaning we almost missed the ferry.

Anyway, back to Fishguard itself.  In 1797 the town was the scene of what is often referred to as the "last invasion of Britain", the invasion in question being on the part of the French, who proved to be unequal to the forces led by Lord Cawdor, otherwise known as John Campbell.  Lord Cawdor used Fishguard's Royal Oak Pub as his Headquarters, and it was here that the French surrender was signed.  The pub has battle memorabilia recalling the event, while the Town Hall houses a tapestry called the Last Invasion Tapestry.  Fishguard is somewhat split into two, with the higher part of town housing most of the shops, galleries including the West Wales Arts Centre, as well as the aforementioned pub, while the Lower Town, laid out around the mouth of the River Gwaun, has the feel of a fishing village.  To the north lie the ruins of the Old Fort, built in 1781; it was from here that guns were fired to warn off the approaching French ships in 1797.    

Map of the area.  

File:Fishguard Harbour.JPG
Photo by Tim A Lee, via Wikimedia Commons

Tuesday, 12 August 2014

DINAS ISLAND

Dinas Island is not actually an island at all, but a rounded rocky headland between Newport and Fishguard. A walk along the coast path around the headland provides fantastic views of the Pembrokeshire coastline. On the Newport side of the peninsula the path can be joined at Cwm-yr-Eglwys ('Valley of the Church'), named for the ruined church of St Brynach's overlooking the beach. The church, which dates from pre-Norman times, succumbed to the sea twice in the mid-1800s: once in 1850, when the chancel was destroyed, then again during the so-called Royal Charter Storm of 1859 (the Royal Charter was a ship which ran aground on Anglesey during this once-in-a-century storm). The 1859 storm did for most of the rest of the church, so that following demolition work in 1880 there was just one end left standing plus the graveyard. A sea wall was built to protect the site. Walkers wanting to reach Pwllgwaelod, which lies on the Fishguard side of the peninsula, have two choices: stick with the coast path following the peninsula around to Pwllgwaelod, or head inland on a wheelchair-friendly path along a valley which cuts across the landward side of the headland. Pwllgwaelod has a small sand-and-shingle beach with a pub/restaurant which was occasionally visited by Dylan Thomas.

Map of the area.

File:Ruins of St Brynach's, Cwm-yr-Eglwys - geograph.org.uk - 1800572.jpg
Cwm-yr-Eglwys. Photo by Richard Law, via Wikimedia Commons
 

Wednesday, 6 August 2014

NEWPORT



First up, potential visitors to Newport should be aware that there are actually two Newports in Wales.  This one is the small town of Newport, Pembrokeshire, which is in the south-west portion of the country.  The other one is a larger town just to the east of Cardiff.  This Newport grew up as a garrison town around the castle, built in the 12th century by Robert FitzMartin, a Norman knight and first Lord of Cemaes.  The town later became an important trading port and market town, with a herring fishing fleet.  The eccentric Welsh antiquarian and historian, George Owen, born in the 16th century, was somewhat dismissive of the markets of Newport and of St Davids further round the coast, describing them as "not worth the speaking of, partly for what they be so small and bad". 

Notwithstanding this unkind remark, the town has more recently developed into a popular stopover for visitors.  Set back a bit from the coast, the town centre straddles the main Cardigan-Fishguard road, and is a pleasant mixture of pubs, cafes and small shops.  The old port, known as Parrog, still has parts of the old quay walls and two former lime kilns.  There are two beaches, Parrog Beach and the extensive Traeth Mawr, where the remains of a petrified forest can be seen when the tide is very low.  The Nevern Estuary is a draw for birdwatchers, with ducks, swans and egrets among its feathered inhabitants.  

There is a form of medieval football called Cnapan which used to be played on Traeth Mawr beach.  The sport - actually in some ways more akin to rugby - was played by opposing teams from neighbouring parishes, and the object was to get the ball to one team's parish church by whatever means possible.  The game was described in detail by the aforementioned George Owen, who claimed that its purpose was to provide some exercise for the naturally warlike youth of the nation during times of peace.  The game was revived in Newport, playing against Nevern, during the mid 80s-90s but was discontinued for 'elf and safety reasons (sigh!).  However, its legacy lives on in the form of the Cnapan 'restaurant with rooms' in the town.

Map of the town.

File:Foreshore at Parrog, Newport Sands - geograph.org.uk - 415803.jpg
Photo by Robin Lucas, via Wikimedia Commons

Wednesday, 30 July 2014

CEMAES HEAD



The coast of Pembrokeshire is, in my opinion, the most spectacular stretch of the Welsh coast, largely due to its soaring cliffs and dramatic headlands.  As we move out towards the open sea from St Dogmaels we encounter the first of these headlands, Cemaes Head, which can be reached via a well-worn circular route starting from St Dogmaels or Poppit Sands.  The geology of the headland is laid bare for all to see, with crumpled layers of rock bearing witness to the upheavals of the past.  The cliffs here, at 550 feet  high, are the highest in the Pembrokeshire Coast National Park, and are a nesting area for guillemots, cormorants and fulmars, while the base of the cliffs is an important breeding area for Atlantic Grey Seals - you may spot them basking on the shore if you can bear to look down.  If you point your eyes heavenwards, you may see chough as well as birds of prey such as kestrels and buzzards, and bottlenose dolphins are often seen out to sea.  Other charming creatures to look out for are the grazing ponies who do a great job keeping the vegetation under control, which in turn helps the chough by improving their grassland habitat.  There are lovely views of the Teifi Estuary and Cardigan Island to the north from the top of the headland.  

Map of the area. 

File:Cliffs on Cemaes Head, Pembrokeshire Coast - geograph.org.uk - 430187.jpg
Photo by Philip Halling, via Wikimedia Commons

Sunday, 27 July 2014

ST DOGMAELS

Like many places in this part of Wales, St Dogmaels has an alternative Welsh name: Llandudoch. St Dogmael was a 6th century saint said to be a cousin of the more famous St David.  The village, which lies on the Teifi estuary across the way from Cardigan, is best known for the ruins of its 12th century Tironian Abbey, occupying a site on a hillside where there was an earlier Celtic church dating from the 7th century. The abbey, which is run by Cadw, is open to visitors, who can also visit a museum and visitor centre in the restored Coach House, where fine examples of early Christian and medieval stones are on display.  The abbey has its own theatre group which performs Shakespeare plays during the summer - next up is the Merchant of Venice from 6-9 August.  Next to the abbey is the church of St Thomas, with further interesting stones with inscriptions that provide the key to an early alphabet. Further down, where the estuary opens out into the sea, is a sandy beach with dunes known as Poppit Sands. Swimmers need to exercise caution here due to the mid-tide currents, and in particular they should avoid the deep-water channel further out.

Map of the area.

File:St Dogmaels Abbey - geograph.org.uk - 309701.jpg
Photo by Trish Steel, via Wikimedia Commons

Tuesday, 22 July 2014

CARDIGAN

Cardigan lies on the estuary of the River Teifi, hence its Welsh name Aberteifi. The river separates the Western counties of Ceredigion and Pembrokeshire. It used to be a walled town with a medieval castle built in 1093 by Robert Montgomery. In 1176 the first National Eisteddfod was held at the castle. The town went on to become a thriving maritime centre, and was at one point the second most important port in Wales. Many goods were exported from the port and there was a large herring fleet. The port was also a major departure point for emigration to North America, with ships such as The Active and The Albion taking passengers to New Brunswick in Canada, and the Triton heading to New York. One of the families who emigrated from here was that of the architect Frank Lloyd Wright. The Cardigan Bay Maritime History Project known as 'Over the Waves' is dedicated to recording the area's seafaring past.

Today, Cardigan is a busy market town, with a pleasant mix of independent shops and galleries. Many of the buildings have their original Georgian and Victorian frontages. The Neo-gothic Guildhall contains an indoor market and a gallery, while other places to view arts and crafts include the Custom House shop and gallery and Pendre Art Gallery and Cafe. There is entertainment to be had at the Theatr Mwldan, and there are events and festivals throughout the year, including a River and Food Festival and a Film Festival. For nature lovers, just upstream from the town is the Welsh Wildlife Centre, with walking trails meandering among the marshes and hides dotted about for viewing the birds and other wildlife. One of the more unexpected sights at the centre is a herd of water buffalo, and if you are very lucky you may spot an otter.

For a list of events in Cardigan and the surrounding area see here.

Map of the area.

File:Cardigan River.jpg
Photo by Jprw, via Wikimedia Commons

Wednesday, 16 July 2014

MWNT AND GWBERT

It takes a bit of work to get to the beach at Mwnt, involving the negotiation of narrow roads and a fair few steps down from the car park, but it is well worth the effort. The beautiful little beach is overlooked by the church of Eglwys Mwnt, a simple whitewashed building built in the 13th or 14th century on a site originally occupied by an earlier 6th century church. The font inside the church is made from Preseli stone and there are ancient pieces of carved wood. Beachgoers frequenting Mwnt are occasionally treated to the sight of dolphins just offshore.

File:Mwnt - Wales 03.jpg
Photo by Dickelbers, via Wikimedia Commons


The village of Gwbert lies in an elevated position above the mouth of the River Teifi, which marks the southern boundary of the county of Ceredigion. The sand dunes on the estuary to the south of the village support a multitude of plant species. To the north is Cardigan Island Coastal Farm Park, with rare breeds from all over the world. The headland by the Farm Park offers fine views across to Cardigan Island, a small uninhabited island 200 yards offshore, once the home of puffins, but sadly no longer since the island was overrun by rats from a shipwreck and the little blighters ate all the eggs and chicks. However, the island remains a nature reserve, with thousands of nesting sea-birds and also a flock of wild Soay sheep. Below the Farm Park the cliffs are riddled with caves, and these are the haunt of a colony of Atlantic grey seals. If you are lucky enough to be in the area towards the end of a sunny day, the sunsets from the clifftop are spectacular.

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Sunset at Gwbert. Photo by Ian Knox, via Wikimedia Commons


Map of the area.