Thursday, 18 December 2014


In Norman times a fortified manor was established in this part of Pembrokeshire, and the first family to occupy it was the de Stackpole family, hence the name of the present-day Stackpole Estate, a large area encompassing coastline and beaches, small lakes and woodland which is now owned by the National Trust.  The manor house itself has now been demolished, but the rest of the Estate remains.  The most charming part of the Estate is the area known as the Bosherston Lily Ponds, where a series of walks along pathways and over footbridges takes visitors through a nature reserve occupied by waterfowl, waders and otters.  Sadly, the otters proved infuriatingly elusive the day we visited.  The lower part of the reserve opens out onto the wide, sandy beach of Broad Haven, surrounded by rocks and dunes.  The National Trust land extends along the coast to Freshwater East, another sandy beach.  

Bosherston Lily Ponds

Stackpole Quay to the east of the Lily Ponds was built for the dual purpose of shipping out the local limestone and for bringing in fuel for the Estate.  There is a National Trust car park and cafe nearby, and from there the coastal path can be accessed, along which a short walk leads to yet another wonderful beach at Barafundle Bay.  Stackpole Head, meanwhile, is characterised by spectacular limestone cliffs and stacks.  Several of the caves at Stackpole Head have collapsed into blowholes.  There is a lovely 5-mile circular walk taking in the headland as well as Barafundle, Stackpole Quay and the Lily Ponds available by following this link.  

The clifftops to the west of Stackpole Quay

Wednesday, 10 December 2014


The Elegug Stacks, which lie south-east of Freshwater West, are two enormous limestone pillars rising up from the sea beside the cliffs.  Guillemots flock here in summer to breed, making use of the ledges on the stacks, which they share with other birds such as razorbills, fulmars and auks.  Nearby, to the west, is a natural rock arch known as the Green Bridge of Wales.  There are spectacular walks along the coast to the east, but would-be walkers need to check whether the Castlemartin MOD live firing range, marked by the words 'DANGER AREA' on the Ordnance Survey map, is in use or not before setting off.

St Govan's Chapel is a highly unusual, tiny chapel built into the rocks below the clifftops of this lonely stretch of the Pembrokeshire coast.  There is a car park catering for visitors to the chapel, which is reached by means of a steep flight of steps, making it challenging for the less mobile.  As long as you access the chapel from the car park you will be safe from the Castlemartin live firing activities.  If you feel up to the descent (and subsequent ascent!) of the steps you will be rewarded by the sight of a charming, spiritual relic of the 11th century which, as well as its simple architecture, offers lovely coastal views.  Near the chapel is a rock called Bell Rock, so called because legend has it that pirates stole the chapel's bell, but it was saved by angels who set it in the rock, making the rock reverberate like a bell when struck.

Map of the area.

Link to Castlemartin firing times

File:St Govans' chapel - - 876068.jpg
Photo by Anthony Gostling, via Wikimedia Commons

Thursday, 4 December 2014


The bay at Freshwater West is blessed with high dunes and a lovely sandy beach, however it comes with a sting.  There are quicksands at low tide at the north end, and there is a strong undertow on the ebb tide, so visitors should exercise caution.  At Little Furzenip, which lies halfway along the beach, there is a small thatched hut, a reminder of the days when seaweed was brought here and stored to be made into a Welsh delicacy called laver bread.

This spectacular bay has caught the attention of Hollywood on more than one occasion.  In May 2009 the beach was taken over by the Harry Potter team, when filming took place for Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows.  The most striking prop was Dobby's Shell Cottage, which is seen in the film with the dunes as a backdrop.  Then, just one month later in June 2009 the production crew of Ridley Scott's Robin Hood arrived and put on a dazzling display for any casual onlookers as they filmed the scene depicting a battle against French invaders with Robin Hood (Russell Crowe) leading his men into the fray.  The scene was so massive that it involved 800 actors and 130 horses as well as dozens of the boats that were built for the filming.   

Map of the area.   

File:Freshwater West beach - - 860140.jpg
Photo by Colin Bell, via Wikimedia Commons

Saturday, 29 November 2014


On 9 August 2012 I blogged about a shipwreck off the island of Eriskay which gave rise to a book and film called Whisky Galore, due to the fact that the stricken vessel was loaded with thousands of cases of whisky, making it a magnet for plundering islanders.  It may be a little known fact that Wales has its very own version of Whisky Galore.  In 1894 the Angle lifeboat was called out to Thorn Island, where the schooner Loch Shiel, bound for Adelaide, had run aground with cargo which included a large consignment of 100% proof whisky along with thousands of cases of beer.  Some of the whisky was recovered by customs men, but much of it went 'missing'.  One of the recipients of this boozy haul reportedly died after drinking copious amounts of the whisky. Years after the event, a diver found one of the bottles of beer and, finding it to be still drinkable, decided to sample it.  He subsequently found that had he left it be it would have been worth £1,000,  making it the most expensive beer of his life.  The good news about the Loch Shiel is that the brave lifeboatmen of Angle managed to save the lives of the crew and passengers on board.

The village of Angle lies near the end of a narrow peninsula, and enjoys magnificent views of the Milford Haven waterway - Angle Bay below the village is a great place for people who like watching passing ships.  At the back of the church of St Mary's churchyard is a tiny 15th-century seamen's chapel with stained-glass windows depicting sea scenes.  Behind the church is a fortified tower believed to be Norman.  At the end of the peninsula is West Angle Bay, with a beautiful, clean beach, an ample car park and a recently opened cafe which is getting good reviews.  A short walk from the car park takes you onto the coastal path, from where there are good views of Thorn Island with its Napoleonic fort, built in the 1850s and used for a time as a hotel. In 2011 the fort went up for sale, a snip at £750,000, although the amount that eventually changed hands was significantly lower.  

Map of the area. 

File:Thorn Island Framed.jpg
Thorn Island. Photo by Mike Graham, via Wikimedia Commons

Monday, 24 November 2014


Pembroke Dock was once home to a Royal Naval Dockyard, and there are reminders of that time in the form of the elegant Georgian architecture in the areas around the waterfront.  One example is the Garrison Chapel built in 1834 and originally used as a place of worship, although later incarnations include a theatre and a museum.  The chapel was restored with the help of lottery money, the work being completed in 2006.  Now the chapel houses the Pembroke Dock Heritage Centre, which, among other topics, tells the story of the 'flying boats' which used to be based in Pembroke Dock as well as the history of the dockyard as a whole.  The Centre aims to restore a  Sunderland flying boat; admission is free, though donations are welcomed.  The dockyard built 263 ships for the Royal Navy, including combat vessels and royal yachts, and its closure in 1926 had a devastating effect on the local economy.  Other notable buildings include the two Gun Towers, dating from the mid-19th century, one of which houses the town museum.

During the years 1930-1957 Pembroke Dock housed an RAF base, and was also home to the United Kingdom's largest operational flying boat base.  This made the town a prime target for World War II air raids.  In one attack in 1940 11 oil tanks caught fire, then in 1941 the town found itself in ruins following a series of raids.  Since 1979 Pembroke Dock has been the focal point for more peaceful pursuits, such as providing a ferry service for passengers crossing to Ireland.  Just inland from Pembroke Dock is Pembroke with its castle, occupying a location overlooking the estuary of the Pembroke River, an offshoot from the Cleddau.  The castle, which was restored in Victorian times and stands guard over the town of Pembroke, has seen a lot of action over the years, including an attack by Owain Glyndwr and a siege by Cromwell during the English Civil War.  Next to the castle is the town's main street, which has a mix of mainly Georgian and Victorian architecture.  

Map of the area. 

File:Martello Tower, Pembroke Dock - - 726626.jpg
Photo by Richard Fensome, via Wikimedia Commons

Friday, 14 November 2014


In the mid-1880s, due to the exceptionally deep water offshore, the small shipbuilding village of Neyland, on the north bank of the River Cleddau, was chosen by Isambard Kingdom Brunel for a railway terminus and steam packet port for crossings to Ireland and America.  This move was to transform the fortunes of Neyland, bringing not only the railway and the port, but other attendant job creators such as a refrigeration plant which produced ice for packing fish for onward transport, and a wagon works.  A huge pontoon was built for access to the vessels, and a station was installed for the rail passengers, who must have been somewhat confused to be confronted with signs saying 'Milford Haven'.  Further prosperity came from Neyland's role in the sea trade with Ireland, Portugal and Brazil.  However, in 1906 much of the trade was switched to Fishguard.  In 1964 the final nail in Neyland's coffin came with the Beeching cuts, which put paid to the rail link.  

Nowadays, Neyland is known for its excellent marina facilities at the Neyland Yacht Haven.  Neyland is evidently proud of its Brunel associations.  Each year there is a Brunel Festival, and down on the waterfront there is the Brunel Quay.  In 1999 the locals raised £30,000 to pay for a statue of the famous engineer, but in a sad sign of the times the statue was stolen in 2010, probably by metal thieves.  Last year the statue was replaced, so lets hope this one survives.

To the east of Neyland is the Cleddau Bridge, 820 metres long and linking Neyland to Pembroke Dock.  Before the bridge was built there was the choice of a 28-mile journey by road or a ferry service.  The construction of the bridge was marred by delay and tragedy.  The bridge was supposed to open in 1971, but in 1970 disaster struck when four workers died and five were injured due to the collapse of a cantilever.  Construction was halted after the tragedy, and the bridge finally opened in 1975.

File:Neyland from Pembroke Dock - - 1731.jpg
Photo by Penny Mayes, via Wikimedia Commons

Saturday, 8 November 2014


The Milford Haven waterway is generally recognised as one of the greatest natural harbours of the world.  Such waterways invariably have a rich history attached to them thanks to their relatively calm, deep waters providing a safe haven for vessels and their occupants, and Milford Haven is no exception.  The Haven's virtues caught the attention of the Vikings as long ago as the 9th century.  In 877 a Viking chieftain called Hubba wintered there with 23 ships and 2,000 warriors.  Later, the waterway proved of great strategic importance to the Normans during their conflicts with the Welsh princes.  During the reign of Henry VIII two forts, East Blockhouse and West Blockhouse, were built to protect the Haven, and these were probably manned during the Spanish Armada and the Civil War.  Then during the Civil War the Royalists built an armed encampment and gun emplacement at Pill near Milford Haven.  

Shakespeare was an early enthusiast of the waterway, declaring: " far it is to this same blessed Milford; and, by the way, tell me how Wales was made so happy as t'inherit such a haven."  Later in 1802, Lord Nelson described it as the finest natural harbour in the Northern Hemisphere.  Ironically it was the husband of his mistress Emma, Sir William Hamilton, who bankrolled the building of the town of Milford Haven, with Charles Greville in charge of the planning as the town became a whaling station and a naval dockyard was opened .  The latter closed in 1926, however Milford Haven assumed an important role in the preparations for D-Day, when the docks became part of the US Navy advanced amphibious base.  The LTS (landing ship tanks) were overhauled there and made ready for the Normandy landings.  More recently it was the oil industry that discovered the benefits of the Haven's deep waters, what with the increasing size of oil tankers.  Esso was the first company to open a refinery there in 1960, followed by several others, and between the 1960s and 1980s Milford Haven was one of Europe's biggest oil ports.  Since then there has been a decline, and in fact it was just a few days ago that it was announced that a deal to rescue the Murco refinery had collapsed threatening hundreds of jobs.  

The town of Milford Haven still retains signs of its planned origins, while its growth over the years has led to the surrounding villages of Hubberston, Hakin and Steynton becoming part of the town.  The docks, like so many elsewhere in the country, have undergone a renovation, with a variety of attractions for visitors.  The Heritageand Maritime Museum is housed in the old Custom House and has displays on whaling, fishing and petroleum.  The Waterfront Gallery proclaims itself the largest gallery in Pembrokeshire and showcases the best artists and craft workers in West Wales.  The town also has a marina for the use leisure craft.  A short distance from the waterfront is the Torch Theatre, which puts on plays and cinema screenings.

Map of the area.

File:Milford Marina - - 891433.jpg
Milford Marina. Photo by Deborah Tilley, via Wikimedia Commons