Carmarthen to Castlemartin / Freshwater West to St David's


NT CottagebridgeWe rented a cottage from the National Trust in the village of Amroth and spent the week with Helen, Gary, Ali and Mark. The cottage was secluded, set in a wooded valley adjoining Colby Woodland Gardens. We had to drive along a wooded track and cross a small bridge over a stream to get to it.

During the week, we covered the coast from Carmarthen to the headland of St.David’s.



CARMARTHENSHIRE


Pendine SandsCarmarthenshire is the county that links mid and West Wales to the south, taking in a 25 mile stretch of the southern coast from Llanelli to the 8 mile Pendine Sands to the west.

The River Tywi flows from Llandovery to Carmarthen Bay and into the Bristol Channel.



Carmarthen


Carmarthen CastleThe Romans established the fort of Moridunum here and there are remains of an amphitheatre to the north-east. We saw the gateway and towers of the medieval castle but not much remains now. Carmarthen used to be an important trading centre for local farmers and is still a busy market town.

Even at 5pm the town was crowded and we queued for ages to find a parking spot at Tesco and then nearly dented the car in the ridiculously narrow parking bays.



Llansteffan


LlansteffanThis little village stands at the mouth of the Tywi, where the estuary becomes a wide sandy beach, which at low tide is worked by cockle pickers. The Normans fortified the site, but the present castle ruins date from the 13th century. The nearest car park was by the beach and it was a long walk uphill to see its massive walls and impressive gatehouse.

Llansteffan CastleThe castle was continually fought over by the Normans and the Welsh princes and in 1189 the Welsh took it, under the direction of Lord Rhys. It then fell into the hands of the monarchy and Henry II gave it to the de Camville family who maintained control until 1338.

When the last male heir of the family died, their estates passed to Robert Penrees. By 1377, the Crown had regained control again, but allowed the Penrees family to continue as custodians. In 1495 Jasper Tewdwr received the castle and then allowed it to fall into a state of disrepair.

tractorWe took some narrow twisting roads towards Laugharne and had extreme difficulty trying to pass a tractor en route.



Laugharne


Dylan Thomas' boathouseLaugharne clock towerThis attractive town is best known for its association with the writer Dylan Thomas. We walked along the shore to the Boat House, where he spent the last years of his life and which now contains a collection of memorabilia. Returning, we saw the poet's writing shed which has superb views over the estuary.

The attractive village, pronounced 'Larne’, has some handsome 18th century houses and a rather fine clock tower.

Laugharne CastleThe picturesque castle, home in the 12th century to the Welsh prince Rhys ap Gruffud, stands over the salt flats of the Taf estuary.

View from Laugharne CastleOnly two towers remain of the original structure as the rest was rebuilt in the 16th century when Elizabeth I granted it to Sir John Perrot, who converted it into a Tudor mansion.

Unfortunately for the castle, Perrot became too powerful for Royal comfort, and in 1592 he was sentenced to death for high treason. It has been the subject of gradual restoration and has superb views from the top of the north-west tower, which retains its fine medieval domed roof.



Pendine Sands


Pendine sandsPendine sands are magnificent. This vast expanse of wide beach is part of the Pembrey Country Park and cars may be parked on part of it. We had seen it featured on Top Gear the night before, when Jeremy Clarkson drove a Jaguar over the firm sand.

Pendine sandsAt low tide the sea can be a mile away from the foreshore, and we walked out to it in the evening light. Several intrepid fishermen were down there and we took masses of photographs as the rain clouds blew in.

'Babs' in museumThe beach was used in the 1920s in several attempts to break the land speed record. On 25th September 1924 it was broken by Malcolm Campbell in the V12 Sunbeam Bluebird at an average speed of 146.163 mph.

Unfortunately, in 1927 J.G. Parry Thomas was killed trying to beat Campbell's new record of 175 mph. The vehicle in which he made this attempt, named ‘Babs’ was excavated and fully restored in 1969 and placed in the small Museum of speed located nearby..

To the east of Pendine is a Ministry of Defence firing range, but the sands are open to the public most weekends and afternoons. The MOD always gets the best bits of coast and large notices tell you not to pick up any missiles that you may come across. Nice holiday souvenir!


PEMBROKESHIRE


This county forms the southwestern corner of Wales; its Welsh name is Penfro, which means Land’s End, and there is sea on 3 sides.

The beautiful Pembrokeshire Coast Path runs along the 170 miles of shore, enclosing a national park and offshore, there are islands with Norse names that have extensive bird colonies.

Pembrokeshire Coast PathCoast Path sign



Amroth


Amroth

This little village overlooks a vast sandy beach backed by shingle and rocks. It is protected by wooden groynes and exceptionally low tides reveal the stumps of trees belonging to an ancient forest.

AmrothFrom here, the whole of Saundersfoot Bay can be seen and sometimes during storms, the sea picks up the pebble bank and flings it across the road.

Amroth CastleAt the eastern end of the village the grounds of Amroth Castle are occupied by a large caravan park. The castle was originally a motte with a wooden bailey that was later rebuilt as a small stone castle. Part of the 14th century gateway remains, although a new modern castle stands nearby but it isn't open to the public.

County boundaryA tiny stream meandering down to the beach marks the old county boundary between Pembrokeshire and Carmarthenshire and the southern end of the Coast Path, which goes all the way to Cardigan.

Colby Woodland GardenIn a secluded valley just to the north of Amroth is Colby Woodland Garden, where the stream cascades down a hillside through a series of pools and ponds. A cottage here was our home for the week and we spent a morning wandering around the lovely walled garden and grounds.

On our last night we had a superb meal in the Cartwheel Restaurant. We found our way back along the half mile track to the cottage with torches as it was pitch black.



Wiseman's Bridge


footpath through tunnelThe road to this little hamlet from Stepaside, winds through woods known as Pleasant Valley, while the coast path to Saundersfoot follows a disused railway track which involves walking through three railway tunnels.

Wiseman's BridgeThe firm sandy beach was used for exercises in preparation for the D-Day landings and in 1943 Eisenhower, Churchill and Montgomery met there whilst preparations were being made.

It seemed pretty popular as cars were parked all along the road around the bay.



Saundersfoot


Saundersfoot harbourThis little resort has a long sandy beach and an attractive harbour full of pleasure boats. Saundersfoot used to be a small fishing village and there was also some shipbuilding here.

SaundersfootIn the 19th century, the harbour was built to export coal from nearby mines, when high quality anthracite was found, but there are few traces of this industrial past left. Boat trips are run from the harbour for fishing and viewing the marine wildlife and coastline.

The village is pretty and well worth a visit as there are several of the usual seaside shops, cafes and amusements, and a harbour café cooks magnificent chips!



Tenby


Tenby north beachThis is the largest and most popular resort in the area, with two sandy beaches, which together have over a mile of fine sand and good bathing. It is a really nice town with steep, narrow cobbled streets, multicoloured Georgian villas and fishermen's cottages. There are lots of shops and pubs and we spent quite a lot of time here during the week.

Tudor Merchant's HouseThe town's past prosperity is reflected in the cosy Tudor Merchant's House now restored by the National Trust. The plague of 1650 killed off more than half of the population of Tenby, which had a devastating effect on the town and many of the buildings became empty, abandoned and destroyed. The town remained poor and in a state of decay for over a hundred years until the mid 18th century when seaside resorts became the destination of the wealthy.

Tenby HarbourIts name in Welsh, 'Dynbych-y-pysgod', means 'The little fort of the fishes' as it used to be a fishing village and its beautiful little harbour is still crowded with boats, some offering fishing or coastal trips.

Little remains of the Norman castle as most of it was destroyed during the Civil War, but much survives of the 13th century town wall, including the old west gate, now known as Five Arches.

Norman castleFive ArchesSt Catherine's Island

On St Catherine's Island, which can be reached from the south beach at low tide, is a 19th century fortress, one of a protective ring that once defended the military dockyards of Milford Haven. We went over to it but it is fenced off.

Military ranges near Penally prevented us from seeing Giltar Point, and as we approached from Tenby, red flags flew as a warning.



Caldey Island


Caldy ferryCaldey Island is certainly worth a visit as there are good sandy beaches and excellent walks. Our 45 minute boat trip from Tenby was a bit rough but great fun when we were sprayed with sea water.

Caldy MonasteryThe first monks came to Caldey Island in the 6th century, and memories of those days survive in a cross with an inscription in the Celtic ogham alphabet. The Benedictines arrived in the 12th century and remained on the island until the dissolution of the monasteries by Henry VIII.

Making chocolateMonastic life resumed in 1929, and the rebuilt monastery is now home to around 20 monks of the Reformed Cistercian Order. It is a very pretty building and looks Italian.

The monks make chocolate and perfume and we went into the shops to buy some before wandering along the path to the chocolate factory.

Caldy old churchWe went into the old church as only male visitors are allowed into the monastery itself. Inside there were a load of messages that people had written to God including one that started 'Yo Big Man in the sky...'

Chapel point lighthouseOn the other side of the island at Chapel Point, we saw the lighthouse before walking back to catch the boat.



Lydstep


Lydstep headlandWe had extreme difficulty finding the road to Lydstep Point and nearly wrecked the car on a cattle grid leading into the NT car park. Lydstep Haven has a sheltered, sandy beach but it has been completely taken over by a caravan holiday centre. We discovered later that a better road goes through this site, although it is not at all obvious.

Lydstep PointThe headland is unspoilt and steep steps lead us down to a small bay with caves that we couldn't reach as the tide was in. Further along the coast, past a firing range on Old Castle Head, a steep flight of steps leads down to the sandy beach of Skrinkle Haven with its high rock arch protruding into the sea.

From the top of the cliffs, we overlooked the lighthouse on Caldy Island and the views of the cliffs around Proud Giltar were impressive.

We were able to look down and see how the static caravans had completely overwhelmed the hills around the bay, which is a shame.

 


Manorbier


Manorbier CastleThe castle overlooks a sandy beach and nestles in a narrow valley carved from two streams which flow into Manorbier Bay.

Manorbier BayWhen Giraldus Cambrensis was born here in 1146, the new stone castle built by his family, the de Barris, was noted for its sumptuous baronial hall and living quarters. Gerald was a distinguished medieval writer and also known as Gerald of Wales, several of his works are still in print today.

Inner wardIt is still impressive, with solid towers, gatehouse and high curtain walls. The inner ward is very attractive, with its colored garden, constructed around an old well and ruined fireplace. We spent quite a while exploring the towers and rooms, before visiting a nice café in the village.

King's QuoitFrom the top of the tower we could see the interesting Church of St. James, active during the Norman times when the castle was established.

We decided to take a stroll along the Coast Path to Old Castle Head. Priest's NoseWe stopped to see the remains of a 5000 year old burial chamber, known as King's Quoit, which consists of a massive capstone supported on two uprights.

Priest's Nose has a series of large vertical cracks with the sea uncomfortably far below and close to the path.



Swanlake Bay and Freshwater East


Freshwater EastYou can only get to Swanlake via footpaths and therefore this is an isolated place and a good surfing spot.

Freshwater EastThe road passes beside a wide crescent shaped beach at Freshwater East. It is backed by dunes, faces east and is thus sheltered from the prevailing winds. It is a popular family destination and a holiday centre has been built into the hillside a short distance away from the beach.



Stackpole Quay


Stackpole QuayStackpole's cliffs are mainly carboniferous limestone, spectacularly rugged and full of caves, arches, blow holes and stacks. To the east is old red sandstone and there is a spectacular 'collision zone' between the two.

This concrete capped, now disused quay was built 250 years ago to ship local limestone and to bring in fuel for the Stackpole Estate. Nowadays it is used by a few fishermen and for launching canoes. Nearby are several holiday cottages which are a group of farm buildings restored and converted by the National Trust in the 1980s.

Unfortunately the Boathouse Tea Room was closing as we arrived but apparently it serves locally-caught fish.

A cliff top walk leads to the fine sandy beach of Barafundle Bay, backed by dunes and woods. This is reached by a long flight of stone steps down the steep rocky sides of the valley and is one of Pembrokeshire's most beautiful beaches. Behind the cliffs is an area of dune grassland called Stackpole Warren which was once a rabbit warren.



Stackpole Estate


Bosherston lily pondsThe estate is centred on a vast area of lily ponds created in the 18th century to enhance Stackpole Court which was demolished before the NT acquired the estate. The lakes were created by damming three narrow valleys and are now the centrepiece of an important National Nature Reserve.

We parked at Bosherston and walked by the water's edge and over footbridges. The best time to see the lilies is early summer and fortunately we had that experience many years ago.

BroadhavenCoast PathFrom here, a road leads to the sheltered south-facing sandy bay of Broad Haven. This is awesome, a bay almost enclosed by a horseshoe of rocks and dunes.

The coast path goes from Barafundle, around Stackpole Head and on to Broad Haven, but lazy motorists like us have to drive through the estate to reach it.



St Govan's Chapel


St Govan's ChapelSt Govan's ChapelA flight of steep, well worn steps lead down to this miniscule chapel that is built in a fissure in the rocks. The story goes that St Govan was being pursued by pirates when the rocks split open to provide a hiding place, and he stayed here preaching and praying until his death in AD 586. The present chapel dates from the 11th century. Outside is a small well whose waters were thought to have healing powers.

Huntsman's LeapThere is a legend behind the naming of Bell Rock, because apparently a church bell was stolen by pirates. It was said to have been saved by angels who set it in the rock and when St Govan struck the boulder, it sounded as loud as a cathedral bell.

Just to the west is a 180ft cleft in the cliffs known as Huntsman's Leap. A huntsman is reputed to have jumped his horse over it and then, on looking back, to have died of fright!



Elegug Stacks


Castlemartin Firing RangeWe took the road through the Castlemartin Firing Range which was open, but there were a group of learner tank drivers busy practicing and notices telling us to leave by 7pm as firing would begin. At the end we arrived at a bus stop for the coast path shuttle bus, a really thoughtful service, I hope it is well patronized.

Elgug StacksThe cliff path here is dramatic with two great limestone pillars rearing up from the waves beside high cliffs. In the summer, guillemots arrive in great flocks, perching on any available ledge beside auks, razorbills, fulmars and kittiwakes.

Green bridgeJust to the west, a beautiful 80ft high natural rock arch, known as the Green Bridge of Wales, thrusts out from the cliffs. A wooden platform has been built to allow people to view it better and in the sunshine it really is a magnificent site.

The headland immediately to the east shows traces of the defensive ditches and ramparts of an Iron Age fort. There is no path to the west through the range so we retraced our route to Castlemartin



Castlemartin


Traffic islandThe most conspicuous feature of this village is what appears to be a walled traffic island, but on closer inspection, it is an 18th century cattle pound that has been converted into a small public garden.

Church of St MichaelWe found a tiny road to the Church of St Michael and All Angels, which stands in isolation at the bottom of the hill. Its immense castellated tower may have been built as a defensible strongpoint against local pirates, a tradition throughout the south-west.


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