Sunday, 28 December 2014

TENBY

In a county brimming with beautiful sandy beaches, the popular resort of Tenby has more than its fair share of these. There are four fabulous beaches accessible from the resort: the North Beach, overlooked by a clifftop promenade and dotted with rocky outcrops; the small Harbour Beach adjoining the town's pretty harbour surrounded by pastel-coloured houses; the Castle Beach, from where at low tide it is possible to walk out to St Catherine's Island with its fort dating from 1867; and the vast South Beach, a dune-backed beach which stretches for two kilometers to Giltar Point, with the village of Penally at one end.

Castle Beach and St Catherine's Island

However, there is more to Tenby than beaches and the usual trappings of the holiday resort. The town has a long history dating back to when it was a Norse settlement - the -by ending on the name being a relic from this time. Tenby was seized by the Normans during the Norman Invasion, and a castle was built overlooking the harbour, the remains of which are still visible on Castle Hill. Tenby became a walled town in the 13th century, which came in handy during the Spanish Armada and the English Civil War, two of the most turbulent times in the town's history. Some of the arches in the walls now house quirky little shops, pubs and restaurants. There is a 16th century house near the harbour called the Tudor Merchant's House which is open to visitors and is furnished in the style of the time. Also near the harbour, on Castle Hill, is the Tenby Museum and Art Gallery. During the summer months there are a variety of boat trips available, including crossings to the fascinating Caldey Island - more on this in the next blog post.

The Harbour and beach


Tenby has long had a reputation for being popular with stags and hens, particularly during the summer months, so it can get a bit lively on weekend nights. That said, I have had several very enjoyable short breaks in the town, and I have never witnessed any trouble, just a lot of high spirits, so don't let this put you off visiting this most charming of Welsh seaside resorts.

 

                                                   Published by kind permission of Tim Baynes Art

Live webcam view of the harbour.

Map of the area.

Tuesday, 23 December 2014

MANORBIER



After the Norman Conquest of England during the 11th century a Norman knight named Odo de Barri received various pieces of land in South Wales as a reward for his efforts during the campaign, one of which was at Manorbier, a few miles from Tenby.  He set about building a wooden  hall surrounded by earthworks on the site.  His son William later improved on his father's endeavours by building a stone castle with a large square tower.  By the end of the 12th century, two high stone curtain walls and a gatehouse had been added.  The De Barri family, who had taken their name from Barry Island which they also owned, and who counted among their number the illustrious priest and author Gerald of Wales, held the castle for over 250 years. It then passed through the hands of a number of successive royal owners.  

The castle saw relatively little action during all of this time, the most dramatic episode having taken place in 1645, when it was seized by Parliamentarians during the English Civil War.  However, most of the castle was derelict by the late 17th century, although what remains today is remarkably intact.  The castle and gardens are open to the public for a large part of the year, and there is holiday accommodation available for rent on the site.  Guests should keep their eyes peeled if venturing outside after dark, when they might catch a glimpse of the castle's resident ghost, a lady in black who has been seen walking purposefully towards the castle entrance before disappearing.

The castle


The castle is surrounded by the charming Manorbier village, with its Norman Church of St James, a contemporary of the castle.  Down below there is a sandy beach served by a car park with an ice cream van during the summer.  The beach is popular with surfers and families alike, although care should be taken due to the strong currents.  The beach is backed by dunes and is crossed by a stream with pebbles containing crinoids and other fossils.  On the headland south of the beach is King's Quoit, a 5,000-year-old burial chamber.

The beach



 Map of the area.




Thursday, 18 December 2014

STACKPOLE



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

ELEGUG STACKS AND ST GOVAN'S CHAPEL



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 - geograph.org.uk - 876068.jpg
Photo by Anthony Gostling, via Wikimedia Commons

Thursday, 4 December 2014

FRESHWATER WEST



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 - geograph.org.uk - 239022.jpg
Photo by Jeremy Owen, via Wikimedia Commons