Tuesday, 21 October 2014

SKOMER ISLAND AND SKOKHOLM ISLAND



Skomer Island and its smaller sister island Skokholm, just off the southern end of St Brides Bay, are important 'Sites of Special Scientific Interest', chiefly for their diverse birdlife and the rich marine environment surrounding them.  Skomer's claim to fame in birding circles is that it houses around half the world's population of Manx Shearwaters.  Also sharing this patch of land are razorbills, guillemots and chough among others.  Added to which there are around 6,000 breeding pairs of puffins, and gull varieties including herring, greater black backed and lesser black backed gulls.  There is limited overnight accommodation from April to September, and the island can be reached on day trips from Martin's Haven on the mainland.

The red sandstone Skokholm Island gets its name from the Norse for 'wooded island'.  In fact, nowadays the vegetation on the island consists mostly of maritime grassland, its growth kept in check by the numerous rabbits living on the island.  It was the Normans who were responsible for this, having built a rabbit farm there in the 14th century.  The rabbits of Skokholm are said to have been the inspiration for Richard Adams' novel Watership Down.  Another interesting fact about Skokholm is that it was here in 1933 that the first ever British bird observatory was founded by Ronald Lockley who, when not scanning the island for interesting birdlife, set about selling the resident bunnies to make money from their skins. Like Skomer, Skokholm is also reachable from Martin's Haven.

Map of the area.

File:South-eastern coast of Skomer - geograph.org.uk - 1434332.jpg
South-eastern coast of Skomer. Photo by John Rostron, via Wikimedia Commons

Wednesday, 15 October 2014

THE HAVENS OF ST BRIDES BAY



The southern half of St Bride's Bay is dominated by a string of havens: Nolton Haven, Druidston Haven, Broad Haven, Little Haven, St Bride's Haven and Martin's Haven.   Broad Haven is the largest and most resort-y of them, with a wide sandy beach backed by a small esplanade.  Nolton Haven once earned its living from the coal industry, and there are tunnels running out to sea from the abandoned mines.  Druidston Haven has a magnificent sandy beach, good for surfing, which is reached by means of a path and this, combined with limited parking, has kept it unspoilt, though there is a hotel with a bar and restaurant overlooking the beach.  The cliffs are partly formed from slate, which harbour graptolite fossils.  St Brides Haven is a sandy cove with rock pools overlooked by the Church of St Bride.  The remains of early Christian graves are visible in the cliffs.  Finally, at the southermost tip of the bay is Martin's Haven, where keen birders may spot choughs and other rare species.  Martin's Haven is the departure point for boat trips to the islands of Skokholm and Skomer.

Just round from Broad Haven is the picturesque fishing village of Little Haven, another former coal port.  At low tide it is possible to walk between the two.  I have saved this one until last as Little Haven is home to one of the most haunted pubs in Pembrokeshire which, this being the month of Halloween, merits a mention.  The Castle Inn, formerly the Castle Hotel, is frequented by a variety of ghostly visitors.  The main one is the White Lady, thought to be the ghost of a woman who owned the property in the 18th century.  She died under mysterious circumstances, her body washed up on the beach with head wounds, whether from murder or other means nobody knows.  Other ghostly occurrences in the building include a dark, heavy-set man who materialises in the bar from the feet up, a tall, thin man who appears at the top of the stairs, and an invisible cat which leaps onto people's beds.  Voices have also been heard, along with the sounds of a poker in an open fire, possibly resurrecting fireside chats from the past.

Map of the area.

File:Little Haven from the path leading to The Point - geograph.org.uk - 236629.jpg
Little Haven. Photo by Tudor Williams, via Wikimedia Commons

Tuesday, 7 October 2014

NEWGALE



The most salient feature of the south-west corner of Wales is a large, semi-circular bay with Ramsey Island just off the northern end and Skomer Island just off the southern end, giving it a pleasingly symmetrical appearance.  This is St Bride's Bay, and towards its mid-point is Newgale with its 2-mile Blue Flag beach pounded by surf, making it a magnet for surfers, windsurfers and swimmers alike.  The beach is backed by a shingle bank which was thrown up by violent storms in 1859.  During the more recent storms which lashed the country earlier this year, Newgale made the news when the passengers of a bus hit by a giant wave had to be rescued.  Accommodation options at Newgale are dominated by the caravan and camping sites, and there are some shops and a pub.  The west-facing aspect of the beach makes for some fabulous sunsets on sunny summer days.  

On the approach to the bay from the south there is a roadside viewpoint with lovely views of the bay.  Also near this road down to the bay is Roch with its 12th century castle rising up from a rocky outcrop.  Once upon a time Pembrokeshire was divided into two distinct areas, the Welsh area and the English or 'Landsker' area.  Castles such as the one at Roch were built on the borders between these areas for defensive purposes.  During the Civil War in the mid-1600s the castle was passed between the two sides like a parcel, and it fell into neglect after the Civil War, but in 1900 Viscount St David undertook extensive restoration work.  The castle is now an elegant hotel, where in addition to its sumptuous facilities guests may get more than they bargained for in the form of a white-clad figure passing through closed doors.  This is thought to be the ghost of one Lucy Walters, former mistress of Charles II, who was born at the castle and who, with Charles, bore an illegitimate son who would become the Duke of Monmouth, leader of the 1685 Monmouth Rebellion, a role which was to lead to his execution.

Webcam showing surf conditions at Newgale.

Map of the area.

File:Newgale beach from the cliffs - geograph.org.uk - 1524893.jpg
Photo by Andy F, via Wikimedia Commons

Thursday, 2 October 2014

SOLVA



The main street of the village of Solva leads down to an inlet which has been likened to a mini Norwegian fjord, due to its steep sides and the extent to which it penetrates into this stretch of the Pembrokeshire coastline.  This topography makes for a delightfully sheltered haven for the leisure craft that call in here.  During the 19th century there was a fleet of 30 ships based here, and there were scheduled departures for America from the harbour.  However, the village's last steamship came to an unfortunate end, torpedoed by a U-boat in 1915.  Solva is the kind of place which was beloved by pirates and smugglers, and as was usually the case where these activities were rife, many of the houses had concealed cubby-holes which were used to hide contraband.  Even the local chapel was not immune to being linked to the smuggling trade: its candles were made from tallow smuggled into Solva.  The story goes that the excise officer got wind of this, and confiscated the candles, leaving the congregation fumbling in the dark.  

File:SolvaHarbor(Garethrees).jpg
Solva Harbour. Photo by Garethrees, via Wikimedia Commons



Solva is divided into two parts, Upper Solva and Lower Solva.  Lower Solva wends its way through a deep valley, and its main street has a pleasant mix of pubs and shops and leads down to the harbourside, where there is a pub and a cafe.  The village makes an ideal starting point for walks along the Pembrokeshire coast path.  Solva Woollen Mill, on the banks of the River Solfach, was established in 1907 and is still making carpets and rugs.  There is a shop and tea room for visitors, who can also see some of the old mill workings.  Regular events in the village include a Duck Race held each Easter Monday and a range of regattas in the summer.

Colourful Lower Solva


Map of the area.




Monday, 22 September 2014

ST DAVID'S



Walking down through the centre of St David's, you get the impression of a typical large Welsh village, with a couple of pubs, a small but select range of shops, cafes and restaurants, and rows of rustic cottages.  However, when you reach the end of the main street, the sight that greets you makes it obvious that this is no ordinary village.  In fact, St David's is a city, thanks to the beautiful cathedral nestling in a dip just off the bottom of the main street.  The cathedral dates from the 12th century, and the adjoining ruins of the Bishop's Palace date mainly from the 14th century.  The patron saint of Wales, St David founded a monastery in this spot in the 6th century, and during the Middle Ages St David's became a place of pilgrimage.  Another ecclesiastical site to the south of the city, St Non's Chapel, is reputed to be the birthplace of St David's mother, and it has a healing well.

Aside from the city's religious heritage, the other main draw is the nearby RSPB Reserve of Ramsey Island.  Boat trips to the island can be booked from ticket offices in St David's, and they leave from St Justinian, around a mile from the city.  We went on one of these trips the first time we visited St David's and, although the seals were not on view on that occasion, the knowledgable guide gave a fascinating insight into the abundant birdlife of the island, which includes guillemots, razorbills and kittiwakes.  There are sheep and deer grazing on the island, which provide an ideal habitat for lapwings and other birds.  To the northeast of the city is St David's Head, where there is a Neolithic cromlech and an Iron Age fort, near a stone rampart called The Warrior's Dyke.  The headland was once part of an ancient route linking Pembrokeshire to Salisbury Plain.

Map of the area.

Britain's most rural cathedral setting

Wednesday, 17 September 2014

ABEREIDDY



The people who used to operate Abereiddy's slate quarry, which was closed in 1904 after being flooded by the encroaching sea, might be surprised to find it a hive of activity still, over one hundred years later.  This delightful spot on the south-west coast of Wales is now a pool 100 metres across known as the Blue Lagoon, and is a favourite spot for a range of outdoor activities such as diving, kayaking and the curious sport of 'coasteering', which involves exploring the coast by a combination of climbing the cliffs and plunging into the sea.  Another popular way to enjoy this stretch of coast - and the one favoured by us on our visit - is by walking the coastal path while marvelling at the antics of the coasteerers down below.  In 2013 the lagoon hosted the Red Bull Cliff  Diving World Series. The Blue Lagoon is owned by the National Trust, and the number of visitors flocking there has created some conflict between the operators of the activities and the conservationists, necessitating an agreement on limiting the number of people who can use the lagoon each day.  The village itself consists of a number of colour-washed cottages backing onto a sand and shingle beach made a greyish-black by the slate.  Many of the scenes from a 1961 film starring Peter Cushing were filmed in Abereiddy.  The film, 'Fury at Smugglers' Bay', depicts the ravaging of a small seaside village by pirate wreckers.

Map of the area.

File:Abereiddy, the Blue Lagoon, with 'Coasteers' diving - geograph.org.uk - 1406824.jpg
Photo by Keith Salvesen, via Wikimedia Commons

Monday, 25 August 2014

PORTHGAIN



You only have to look around you to realise that Porthgain's past was much more industrial than its leisure-oriented present.  The remains of large brick hoppers are still clearly visible, recalling a time in the early 1900s when crushed granite was brought to the village prior to shipment from what was at the time an important industrial port.  40,000 tons of the stuff were shipped yearly by coastal steamers, and the granite-crushing continued until 1932 when the crushing plant was closed.  Slate from a quarry to the south was also shipped out of the harbour.  The hoppers have been left in place as a scheduled ancient monument, in addition to which the village was made a 'conservation area' in 1987.  Prior to this period the main activities were the 'burning' of limestone and fishing, which continues to this day with the local fishing boats sharing the harbour with leisure boats.  The village pub, The Sloop, has a characterful interior with plenty of nautical images and memorabilia and a small terrace overlooking the harbour.  Once upon a time the boatmen were able to moor up right alongside the pub, causing it to be known as the 'Step In'.  Many visitors to the village use it as a starting point for a walk along the wonderful Pembrokeshire Coast path, aided by a bus service called the StrumbleShuttle which, with careful timing, enables walkers to walk one way and bus the other.  The Porthgain to Abereiddi stretch of the path was once voted one of the top ten walks in the country.

Map of the area.

File:Rusting anchor, Porthgain - geograph.org.uk - 1524078.jpg
Photo by Pauline Eccles, via Wikimedia Commons