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Carmarthen to Castlemartin / Freshwater West to St David's


Freshwater West


Freshwater West The road runs through extensive dunes here and it is a Site of Special Scientific Interest. A vast expanse of flat, sandy beach and crashing surf combine to make this a spectacular bay, although a strong undertow on the ebb tide and low water quick sands make it dangerous. A submerged forest is revealed at low tide.

Seaweed hutHalfway along the beach, at Little Furzenip, a small thatched hut dates from the time when seaweed was brought here for storing and drying. In the past, this beach was famous for the edible seaweed Porphyra Umbilicalis, which can be washed, cooked and mashed to make a traditional delicacy known as laver bread. About 20 small huts were once located here but only one remains and it has been recently rebuilt by the National Park Authority.

Beach pathFrom here, the coast path is has a series of steep hills along folded Old Red Sandstone cliffs streaked with yellow algae, secret coves and bays with a number of Iron Age Forts. There are no escape paths along this section, where the cliffs rise to 150 feet and Sheep Island and Rat Island lie close to the shore.

East Blockhouse At East Blockhouse, there are military buildings dating from Elizabethan to modern times and Ministry of Defence signs tell walkers to keep to the path. The plateau inland was used as a World War II airfield but is now used for farming.



West Angle Bay


West Angle beachWest Angle Bay has a large beach of soft sand and gently rolling surf offers views of the fortifications that once protected Milford Haven. West Blockhouse can be seen across the Milford Haven estuary.

Thorn IslandCafe at West AngleAfter visiting the friendly beach café for lunch we walked along the path to see the old fort on Thorn Island, just offshore. We had been told this was converted into a hotel but greater plans seem to be in the pipeline to make it a luxury resort linked to the mainland by a cable car.



Angle


TowerA mile to the east, Angle has a number of historic buildings including the church, 15th century fishermen’s chapel, dovecote and a very unusual medieval tower-house.

Oil refineryThe Seamen's Chapel has a painted vault and stained glass windows depicting scriptural sea scenes. A rough track leads down from the church to Angle Bay, where a few boats are laid up on mud and shingle with a good view over the Milford Haven waterway and a ferry point for Thorn Island.

There is a large gleaming oil refinery between Angle and the Pembroke River with ships moored against massive jetties built out into the Haven. More old forts pepper this area.



Pembroke


Pembroke castlePembroke was originally settled by the Normans and the town is dominated by its mighty castle. The birthplace of Henry Vll, it is impressive in its sheer size and location, standing on a rock surrounded on three sides by water.

KeepFounded by Roger of Montgomery in 1093, it stood firm against Welsh attacks. Pembroke's strategic importance soon increased, as the Normans embarked upon their Irish campaigns from here. In 1189 the castle came into the hands of William Marshal, who transformed the timber castle into a mighty stone fortification.

View over PembrokeThe castle was badly damaged during the Civil War, the first occasion on which it had fallen during a long and bloody history. Cromwell himself came to besiege the castle which only fell after seven weeks when the water supply was cut off and a train of siege cannon arrived to start a bombardment.

Wogan's CavernWe were all impressed by this castle and it is like a huge maze of battlemented walkways linking the many towers – we were constantly losing one another.

PembrokeThe keep is the best of its kind in Britain and once had four floors. We climbed the 98 spiral stairs for the best view over the area. Yet another 50 steps down, beneath the Northern Hall is the Wogan Cavern, an enormous natural cave overlooking the river.

The small town has many old buildings, some painted in bright colours and over the river bridge we found a delightful pub with a waterside terrace.



Pembroke Dock


Martello TowerDuring the Napoleonic Wars warships were built at Milford Haven but in 1814 the Admiralty established its own yards at Pembroke Dock, which was then a fishing village called Paterchurch.

Irish ferryMartello towers and barracks were constructed for defence and terraced houses built for the shipyard workers. We visited the Gun Tower Museum, housed in one of these towers, which has a collection of military heritage displays and equipment.

Shipbuilding ceased in 1926, but in 1938 the dockyard, under the Air Ministry, received its first Sunderland flying boat. During the Second World War it was the world's largest flying boat base and the starting point for Atlantic convoys, consequently suffered many air raids. The docks are now used by both military and commercial ships, and a vehicle ferry runs from here to Rosslare in the Irish Republic.

Canon at Hobbs PointThere are a couple of restored canons at the jetty at Hobbs Point where we had a very fine view of the Cleddau Bridge which opened in 1975. Cleddau BridgeThe bridge replaced the ferry service from here, when the first river crossing point was miles inland at Haverfordwest.

We paid the modest toll to cross over and were rewarded with excellent views in both directions.



Carew


CarewWe decided to go a short way inland to Carew as there is another interesting castle there. This ruined shell is part medieval fortress and part Elizabethan mansion overlooking the river crossing. Gerald de Windsor was constable of Pembroke Castle on behalf of Henry I when he decided to build his own fortification.

Much of what remains today was the work of Sir Nicholas de Carew in the 13th century but it was greatly improved and extended by a very colourful character, Sir Rhys ap Thomas around 1500. Sir John Perrot took Carew to an Elizabethan manor when he built the great northern range with its huge windows, but he died in the Tower of London before the work was completed.

Tide MillCeltic crossDuring the Civil War the castle was owned by Sir George Carew but it changed hands four times. It was still occupied for some years but eventually abandoned in 1686.

We also visited one of Britain's few remaining working tidal mills, crossed the stone causeway and returned around the 23 acre millpond. There is also an intricately decorated 14ft Celtic Cross, one of the finest early Christian monuments in Wales.



Neyland


Cleddau Bridge from NeylandThe terraced streets of the little town were built in the 1850s around the terminus of Isambard Brunel's South Wales Railway. Brunel had planned a port for ocean-going steamers, but Neyland never quite lived up to expectations and lost its rail link in the 1950s. Streets still bear the names Brunel Ave, and Great Western Terrace. Now there is a large marina and at Hazelbeach, a rock and shingle shore .



Milford Haven


Milford HavenMilford Haven was developed as a whaling station and a naval dockyard by the Quakers in the late 18th century. The venture failed to prosper and the town faced a decline until the 1880s, when large new docks became the centre of a thriving fishing industry.

statue at Milford HavenIn the 1950s the oil industry boomed and the deep water estuary became the biggest in Europe. It prospered until the ending of the oil boom in early 1980s and the docks have now been renovated to provide a variety of entertainments and attractions for visitors around a superb 150-berth marina.

modern oil refineryThe modern oil refinery is massive and there are views of another one across the river from a bandstand on a hill above the town. I was expecting the town to be like a big industrial estate but it was nice and the marina was quite beautiful and unexpected.



Sandy Haven


Sandy HavenWhen walking west on the coast path it is possible to walk across the tidal creek of Sandyhaven Pill at low tide and on to an Iron Age fort on Little Castle Head. There is a small bridge and stepping stones that avoids a 4 mile detour. On the eastern shore near Herbrandston there is a caravan park and a good view of the fort on Stack Rock. Nearby is the site of the demolished Esso oil refinery with mile long, disused jetties .

St Ishmael's was once the site of a Norman castle but now marked by a road side mound and a path winds to a tiny cove at Monk Haven.



Dale


Gann EstuaryThe road into Dale passes the pretty mudflats of the Gann Estuary where there is a fine view of the refinery at Milford Haven, its steel chimneys glinting in the sunlight and it actually looked quite attractive!

DalePicturesque Dale has two beaches - the shingle and sand beach facing on to the waters of Milford Haven is not for swimming but is one of the most frequented water sports centres in the area. This was once a prosperous port and the beach at West Dale, facing out to Skokholm island is a sandy cove beneath a huge Iron Age fort.

Unusually there is a one-way system in the village and to the west is an old wartime airfield.



St Ann's Head


Kete
We drove south to the NT car park at Kete and saw notices saying there was no turning beyond here. This meant a mile’s walk on the tarmac to the lighthouse, coastguard station and a few whitewashed cottages on this windswept headland.

St Ann's HeadIn 1485 Henry Tudor, having previously fled from Wales to Brittany, landed at Mill Bay and within a fortnight won the English crown at Bosworth Field. There is a little memorial to this above the bay. Henry built a chapel dedicated to St Ann which included a beacon-fire burning at night.

Coastguard stationA lighthouse, lit by coal fires, was first erected in 1713 and passing ships had to pay a toll of 1 penny per ton of cargo. Although the beam from the present lighthouse is visible for 20 miles, the Sea Empress ran aground at Mill Bay in 1996, causing one of the world’s worst oil spills.

Stokholm Island was the site of Britain's first bird observatory in 1933 which is now a farmhouse. The island is a resting place for many migrant species while puffins and storm petrels are abundant.



Marloes Sands


Marloes SandsA 10 minute walk from the car park west of Marloes village leads to one of Britain's finest beaches with golden sands and colourful, sandstone cliffs. Bathing can be dangerous in heavy seas and parts of the beach are cut off by the rising tide.

Marloes Mere, at the western end of the beach, was once famous for its leeches which were gathered for London doctors in the 18th century.



Martin's Haven


Martin's Haven We parked above Martin’s Haven and went to see the small exhibition centre about Skomer Island Nature Reserve. Skomer is the breeding ground of almost half the world's population of Manx shearwaters, nesting in cliff-top burrows. Puffins, guillemots and razorbills are also common, while grey seals breed in shoreline caves and dolphins can also be seen.

Skomer  IslandThe seas and shore around Skomer support a great number of creatures and plants, including corals, sponges, sea firs, sea slugs and dogfish. In the summer, there are boat trips to the island from Martin’s Haven.

Celtic Cross RingMost of the Dale peninsula belongs to the National Trust and the headland is called Deer Park.

It is enclosed by an old stone wall and we walked all around the headland to see some dramatic views of the coast, Skomer and Deadman’s Bay. There is a Celtic Cross Ring in the wall here too.



The Havens


Little HavenThis remote sandy cove of St Bride’s Haven has rock pools to explore and is popular with sea anglers. The ancient church overlooks the beach and remains of early Christian graves can be seen in cliffs beyond the ruined limekiln on the headland. The Gothic mansion known as St Bride's Castle was built in 1800 by Lord Kensington who was a former local MP.

The coast road around here is narrow and runs through sand dunes. We were fortunate to drive it when there weren’t many cars around. Little Haven is a picturesque little fishing village with steep hills around a small harbour.

Broad HavenBroad Haven has quite a lot of modern development but it also has a wide expanse of sand. Shops and hotels overlook the little esplanade and we saw several groups of wind surfers battling their way through the tide.

Further on, there is a steep climb down a cliff path to Druiston Haven. It consists of a pebble bank at high tide, but the low water reveals a mile of sand.

Nolto HavenDriving north we reached the last of the ‘Havens’, Nolton Haven. The coal industry once brought prosperity to this pretty bay and tunnels from abandoned workings run out deep beneath the sea. Remnants of a landing quay overlook a sandy cove backed by grassy slopes, complete with a large caravan park.



Newgale


NewgaleWe continued along the coast road and missed Roch Castle which is a mile or so inland, but it is now holiday accommodation. It is a 12th century tower perched upon a rocky pinnacle and was the birthplace of Charles II's mistress, Lucy Walter, who was mother of the tragic Duke of Monmouth, who was executed for his rebellion against James II.

Ramp over the pebblesThere is a massive natural shingle bank at Newgale. The tide was in so we didn’t see the two miles of sand that attract surfers and swimmers. The northern end of the beach is said to mark the divide between English-speaking Pembrokeshire and the Welsh-speaking country to the north.



Solva


pub for lunchOn to the main A487 now and we reached Solva in time for a rather fine ploughman’s lunch in a pub by the harbour. Solva has a history of sea trade, piracy and smuggling dating back to the 7th century and now the harbour is usually thronged with pleasure craft.

lime kilnsBy the early 19th century the village had a fleet of 30 ships and there were scheduled crossings to America. Its last steamship was torpedoed by a U-boat in the harbour mouth in 1915.

SolvaWe didn’t see the town at its best as it started to rain but I can imagine that this can be a very pretty place.



St David's


St David's Cathedral Cathedral naveWe finished this trip at St David’s and intend to return to visit the rest of this beautiful Headland.

St David's is the smallest of all UK cities and was granted city status by Queen Elizabeth II because of the presence of the cathedral, although it is, in reality a small village.

tower ceilingThe present cathedral dates largely from 1176 and is built into a valley below the town. It is stunning inside and incorporates a carved Renaissance ceiling in the nave and a wonderful painted ceiling in the choir, which can be viewed by a mirror.

It was the birthplace of the Patron Saint of Wales, who founded a monastery here during the 6th century and it became a place of pilgrimage in the Middle Ages making St David’s one of the great historic shrines of Christendom. Nowhere in Britain is there a more ancient cathedral settlement and it survived the plunder of the Norsmen in the 'Dark Ages'.

Bishop's PalacewindowBeside the cathedral we visited the massive and ornate ruins of the Bishop's Palace which date mainly from the 14th century and are being painstakingly restored.

During the Middle Ages there were few landowners in Wales wealthier than the Bishop's of St David’s. As well as being princes of the church, they were Marcher Lords in their own right, owing allegiance only to the king.

St David's centreVisitor CentreThere is a new visitor centre in the city, a pretty market cross and the smallest City Hall you can imagine.



Ramsey Island


Sign for Ramsey IslandThis is our second visit to St David’s and last time we took a boat trip to this bird sanctuary of cliffs and mountain heath. We must have visited at the wrong time of year as there was a distinct dirth of birdlife, although we enjoyed a lovely day’s walk around the island.

Apparently guillemots, razorbills and kittiwakes nest on 400ft precipices above isolated coves, while fields grazed by sheep and deer provide a perfect habitat for birds such as lapwings.


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