PEMBROKESHIRE

 
Strumble Head Lighthouse: Flickr Athena's PixPembrokeshire is an ancient land, exquisitely formed by the movements of glaciers. Since pre-history, people have been drawn to the beauty of the area: There are many Iron Age Hillforts in the Preseli Hills, of which Foel Drygarn is a particularly impressive example. There's also Castle Henllys, a recreated Iron Age village of roundhouses, that stands on the site of a hillfort from 600 B.C. The Preseli Hills are also thought to be the origin of the bluestone used in the making of Stonehenge; St. David's Cathedral in the northeast of the park has been an important religious and intellectual site for whole country since a monastery was founded here by Saint David in AD589; then there's the magnificent Carew Castle and Tidal Mill; more recent history can be found in the form of past industrial sites such as the Victorian coal and iron mines of Stepaside and the brickworks at Porthgain.

All of Pembrokeshire's rugged and attractive scenery makes it of Wales' premier outdoor sports areas. There's climbing, kayaking, fishing, scuba diving, windsurfing, sailing, paragliding, coasteering...the list goes on and the list of tour and activity operators out there to help to get involved in these sports is equally long.

 

 


 

Marloes Sands, Pembrokeshire Coast Park

Pembrokeshire Coast National Park or Parc Cenedlaethol Arfordir Penfro was established in 1952 to preserve the beautiful coastline of the region. The national park's scenery ranges from sandy beaches, cliffs, and estuaries, to forests and marshes. It is unique in the country because it is the only national park whose territory is almost entirely coastal. The national park's outstanding natural scenery and environment has been protected in a number of ways. Here you can find 7 Special Areas of Conservation, a Marine Nature Reserve, 6


National Nature Reserves, and 75 Sites of Special Scientific Interest.

Layout
Pembrokeshire Coast National Park curls around the coast of south west Wales, covering a total of 629 km sq. The Preseli Hills in the north make up a large part of the park's inland territory. The park then extends along the coast south to St David's Head and Ramsey Island before hugging St Bride's Bay and stretching across Milford Haven to the east of Carmarthen Bay. Finally, Daugleddau Estuary, at the beak of Milford Haven harbour, is part of the park.

Pembrokeshire Coast PathThe delightful Pembrokeshire Coast Path runs for 186 miles from Poppit to Amroth and passes 58 beaches and 14 harbours.  Information about cycle routes, walking trails, and details about buses and trains, visit this website. You can also find information on cycle routes here.

Tour Operators:

Celtic Quest Coasteering [Office: Loton Park, Ambleston, +44 1348 881530, 1 person £45] offers coasteering tours, a wonderfully mad sounding sport that will have you cliff jumping, swimming, and scrambling up and down rocks.

There are over 350 known wrecks hidden beneath the seas off Pembrokeshire. Explore this fascinating environment with one of the following diving tour operators:
Pembrokeshire Dive Charters [Neyland Marina, Neyland, +44 801 445529] can take you out on a boat tour or out diving – these guys specialise in wrecks.

Razorbill Ribs [Office: Dolwar Fach, High Street, Cilgerran, +44 1239 613428] offers bespoke charter services: you can organise a diving tour to view the many wrecks in the area or local wildlife including seals and dolphins.  

There are many hiking trails throughout the park and whilst it is perfectly OK to explore them on your own, you can also find a number of guided tours:

Presli Venture [Parcynole Fach, Mathry, Haverfordwest, +44 1348 837709] offers coasteering, sea kayaking, and hiking tours.

Town Trails of Tenby [Walks start from St. Julian's Chapel, Tenby Harbour, Tenby, +44 1834 845841, Adults £4.50] has themed walks around the town of Tenby. Learn about pirates, poets, painters, and ghosts.

For a bigger list of adventure sport and tour operators, visit this website.

 

 



Preseli Hills: Flickr diverstonefly

Wales is home to two Newports: A large city in Gwent and this small town [pop.1,200] on the River Nevern. The town, called Trefdraeth in Welsh, was founded around the early 12th century by the Norman Martin family. Its castle, inititially build around the same time but having undergone many refurbishments, is not open to the public. It can be admired from the Pembrokeshire Coastal Path, which passes through the town. Newport is also a good base for exploring the Preseli Hills.

Layout
Newport is situated on the southern bank of the River Nevern as it meets St George's Channel. It is a small town which is easily traversed on foot. For buses, check out the Green Dragon Bus – in particular the Preseli Hills Walkers Bus (it runs roughly May to September, +44 845 602 7008); Richard Bros [+44 1239 613756] runs the 404 Strumble Shuttle and 405 Poppit Rocket, both of which pass through Newport. Check their website for routes and timetables.

Sights near Newport:

The Church of Saint Brynach is a Norman style church built on the site of St Brynach's original 6th century 'clas' in the village of Nevern, east of Newport. Saint Brynach Wyddel “The Irishman” founded the church after he spoke with angels on top of nearby Mynydd Carningli, “The Mountain of Angels”. The castellated tower is an original element of the Norman structure but the rest of the church that can be seen today is the result of sucessive renovations. The churchyard's Celtic stones are very beautiful: both the 10th/11th century Nevern Cross and the 6th century Vitalianus Stone have inscribed script in both Latin and Ogham. Inside Henllys Chapel too there is the Maglocunus Stone from the 5th or 6th century also with both Latin and Ogham script.

Castell Henllys [+44 1239 891319, Summer Adults £4.50, Winter Adults £4.50] is a reconstructed Iron Age settlement and for over 20 years was an archaeological training ground for students each summer. The area was inhabited from 600 BC until the 1st century AD. Three large roundhouses from this period have been reconstructed as well as a cheiftan's house and a granary – all rebuilt upon their original foundations. There is an informative Education Centre which holds finds from the site's long history of excavation.

Castle Henllys is off the A487 between Newport and Cardigan. Taxi from Newport is advised but there is a bus from Pentre Ifan prehistoric burial dolmen: Flickr mark_whatmoughCardigan to Felindre Farchog, the number 412. Castell Henllys is a 1-2km walk from there.

Pentre Ifan [free entry] is a dolmen dating back to 3500 BC. Three standing stones support a massive horizontal capstone with a pointed tip that looks towards Nevern River. It has often been noted that the angle of the dolmen's capstone seems to echo the shape and slope of nearby Carn Ingli, where St Brynach was wont to commune with angels. There was once a mound of earth surrounding the dolmen on three sides and within, in a shallow pit, was the burial site, possibly for communal use. The site is situated south of Felindre Farchog and south east of Newport off the A487. If you do not have your own transport, it is recommended that you take a taxi from Newport.




 



 

Fishguard Harbour

The unattractively named Fishguard [pop.3300] is a pretty town on the coast of south west Wales. It is usually said to consist of three parts: Lower Fishguard or 'Lower Town' is the older part of town that once earned its living from the sea. Its harbour was used as a setting in the films Moby Dick and Dylan Thomas' Under Milkwood; Fishguard, on the hill to the south, is a more modern development; and Goodwick, where the train and ferry stations are located.

The town's name derives from Old Norse, reflecting its possible history as a Scandinavian trading settlement. Lower Fishguard developed a healthy trade with Ireland, Bristol, and Liverpool, particularly in herrings and in the 18th century, it became such a successful port that it was attacked by a privateer called Black Prince after refusing to pay the ransome of £1000. In 1797, Goodwick was the site of the Last Invasion of Britain. Around 1200 French troops landed in the area. 14 of them were captured and locked in St Mary's Church by Jemima Nicholas, who threatened the men with a pitchfork.

Fishguard is a beautiful area, teeming with wildlife. Seals, dolphins, otters, kestrels, and turtles – these are just a few of the animals that visitors can see here.

Sights
Last Invasion Tapestry [Library Gallery, Town Hall, +44 1437 776122, free entry] tells the story of the French invasion of 1797. Made to celebrate the 1997 bicentennary of the event, the tapestry was embroidered by 70 local women. It is much in the style of the Bayeaux Tapestry which tells the story of the 1066 Norman invasion.

Celtic Diving [The Parrog, Goodwick, +44 1348 871938] has a huge range of courses that can help you get up close to the local wildlife.

 


 

St David's Cathedral

Saint David's and the Cathedral Close [pop.1800] is Britain's smallest city, an honour it owes to the magnificence of its cathedral. Situated on the River Alun on St David's peninsula, St David's is a small village with attractive coastal scenery that just happens to be the resting place of Wales' patron saint. The cathedral was a popular place of pilgrimage throughout the middle ages. The town's historical attractions, which also include the 14th century Bishop's Palace and the Tower Gate, as well as its lovely natural scenery, which forms part of the Pembrokeshire Coast National Park, make St David's a beguiling destination. The town has plenty of pubs, hotels, and hostels so it's a good base for exploring surrounding areas in the national park too.

Sights
Saint David's Cathedral [The Close, +44 1437 720202, www.stdavidscathedral.org.uk, free entry but for guided tours a donation of £4 is recommended] is at the centre of Wales' spiritual life. The original cathedral was established by Saint David before his death in 581 and it suffered a number of attacks by Vikings throughout the proceding six centuries or so. The present cathedral was begun in around 1181, though the one we see today has of course had a number of makeovers since then. The 15th and 16th century choir is certainly a highlight, with its carved oak misericords and beautiful vaulted tower lantern above. The cathedral is an impressive reminder of the man who encouraged his followers to 'be joyful, keep the faith, and to do the little things'.

The Bishop's Palace [www.cadw.wales.gov.uk, £2.90] was built by Bishop Henry Gower in the 14th century but there may have been earlier episcopal residences on the site from the 12th century. The imposing buildings acted as both a private residence for the bishop and as a space for ceremonial events.  The Bishop's Palace uses the same pretty purple stone as the cathedral and the motley buildings that make up the residences are further unified by an arcaded parapet. This is decorated by checkerboard patterns of yellow and purple stones as well as carved figures of animals, mythical creatures, and human heads.

The 14th century Tower Gatehouse or Porth y Twr, part of the cathedral complex, is all that remains of the gatehouses that once dotted the wall surrounding the cathedral area. The gatehouse now houses a lapidarium with displays of religious stones.

Whitesands Bay is a popular beach to the west of St David's. Not only is it an excellent place for swimming and other water activities like surfing but it also has an excellent historical pedigree: it is said to be the place at which St Patrick had his vision to convert Ireland to Christianity and from which he then set sail on that very endeavor. At low tide, submerged tree stumps from the distant past can be seen. These are the petrified remains of an ancient forest that was lost to the muddy tide.
From Whitesands Bay you can join the Pembrokeshire Coastal Path and enjoy watching the area's varied and abundant wildlife.

 


Ramsey Island cormorants Flickr georgeowensfxRamsey Island lies 1km off the coast of St David's Peninsula. With spectacular coastal scenery of cliffs of up to 120 metres high, the island is home to only two human inhabitants, the RSPB [www.rspb.org.uk] Warden and his wife. The rest of the island's population is made up of common buzzards, ravens, gulls, and razorbills among other secies of birds and a large grey seal colony as well.  

Tour Operators
Ramsey Island Voyages of Discovery [+44 1437 720285, www.ramseyisland.co.uk, Price range: Adults £25-60] offer tours and fishing trips. Their basic 1-1.5 hour Ransey Island tour takes in local wildlife and the sea caves.

Thousand Islands Expeditions [+44 1437 721721, http://thousandislands.co.uk, Price range: Adults £15-60] can simply drop you off on Ramsey Island to explore at your own pace or they can take you on 2 hour jet boat tours, on fishing trips, or out to watch whales and dolphins.

Venture Jet [+44 1348 837764, www.venturejet.co.uk, Price range: Adults £24-55] can whiz you around the area in fast, sleek jet boats, an exilarating experience which adds an extra dimension to a traditional wildlife tour.

 


 

St Bride's Bay

St Bride's Bay is a 12 kilometre stretch of rocky shores and sandy beaches from Wooltack Point and Skomer Island in the south to St David's Head and Ramsey Island in the north. The coast's complex rock formations offer some excellent fishing spots, beloved of locals and tourists alike, as well as interesting places to go scuba diving. Small villages dot the bay.

 

Haverfordwest Castle Flickr Cynulliad Cymru

Haverfordwest [pop.13,400], with its many restaurants, pubs, hotels, and shops, is a great little market town that can serve as a comfortable base for exploring Pembrokeshire. It also holds some interest in its own right: check out the Medieval castle that was probably built around 1100 on the site of a much older settlement dating back to the Iron Age and possibly to the Bronze Age.

 

Skomer Island

Distanced from the mainland by Jack Sound, the islands of Skomer, Skokholm and Grassholm are protected habitats for a big variety of seabirds as well as homes to colonies of seals, bottlenose dolphins, porpoises and puffins. Connecting boats to the islands and tours can be found at St Justinian's lifeboat station, at St Martin's Haven, and at Dale.

Skomer Island, the largest of the three, is a 2.92 km square treasure chest of prehistoric history. The many ruins of houses, standing stones, and stone circles have ensured much of the island official Ancient Monument status. As for surrounding waters, these are part of Wales' only Marine Nature Reserve and are home to a colony of seals. Skomer Island has a healthy Puffin population and up to 12000 of these odd little birds can be found on the island during breeding season each year.

Skokholm Island also has a population of puffins during the breeding season.  The island's shores loom with tall old red sandstone cliffs, which are inhabited by all manner of other sea birds too. There is basic accomodation on the island and it may be booked by visitors. Visit  http://www.welshwildlife.org/StayingonSkokholm_en.link for details.  

Grassholm is well known for its gannet colony, which is made up of up to 80,000 birds. Gannets have a wingspan of up to 2 metres and are impressive creatures to observe, whether nesting upon the rocky outcrops of the island or diving from great heights into the water to catch fish. The waters sounding the island also play host to bottlenose dolphins and porpoises. The smallest of the three islands, it does not allow for landing.

 


 

Pembroke Castle

The town of Pembroke [pop.7,200] was founded in the 11th century by the Norman Arnulf de Montgomery, whose earth and timber fortification went on to become the magnificent stone castle that we see today and the undisputed highlight of the town. Besides the castle, there are some pretty Tudor and Georgian buildings in the main street, a result of the prosperity of the town during the middle ages, when skilled Flemish immigrants enabled the wool trade to flourish here, and the dominance of Pembroke Quay as a trading port.  The entie town was once enclosed in a large town wall and much of this can still be seen today.

Sights
Pembroke Castle
[+44 1646 684585, www.pembroke-castle.co.uk, £5.25] was originally a motte and bailey fortification beside the river, built by Arnulf de Montgomery in the 11th century. The town's present spectacular stone is the result of a programme of reconstruction carried out by William Marshall in the 12th century. Overshadowing the Tudor and Georgian buildings of the Main Street, it is reputed to have been the birthplace of the English king Henry VII. The castle last saw action when it was attacked by Oliver Cromwell and his Roundhead forces. Wogan Cavern beneath the castle is a large natural cave and shouldn't be forgotten on your visit. 

Pembroke has had a long history of military involvement in one way or another: The Town Hall [Main Street, +44 1646 683092, www.pembrokeshire.gov.uk] for instance has a WWII air raid shelter at the rear of the building. For more military heritage, check the Enjoy Pembrokeshire website: http://www.experiencepembrokeshire.com/history-archaeology/military-heritage/pembroke

 

 


 

Pembroke Dock Wikipedia

The region around Pembroke is a fascinating one for the history buff. An important area militarily and economically throughout the medieval and early modern period, there are plenty examples of conspicuous consumption in the form of stately Georgian houses and even a Bishop's Palace as well as countless buildings that served as gaols or bomb shelters.

Layout
Get around the area by bus. Pembrokeshire County Council operates a number of services throughout the South West. You can visit www.pembrokeshire.gov.uk for more information.

Sights
Arnulf de Mongomery, Norman founder of nearby Pembroke Castle, also founded Monkton Benedictine Priory by granting the Church of Saint Nicholas to a community in Normandy called the Abbey of Seez. The priory stood on the site of an earlier Celtic Christian place of worship. The Dissolution of the Monasteries in the 1530s brought the priory into ruin. Indeed, much of what remains today is the result of later building work.

Pembroke Dock has some interesting naval heritage as from 1814 it was home to the Royal Naval Dockyard. Pembroke Dock still acts as a working port and so if you are interested in travelling to Ireland you can embark from there.

Lamphey was the site of a luxurious country retreat, used by the bishops of St David's. The ruins of the Bishop's Palace [Lamphey, +44 1646 672224, www.cadw.wales.gov.uk, Adults £3] we can see today date to between the 13th and 16th centuries. Amongst the beautiful parklands there were fishponds, fruit orchids, and vegetable garden, everything a wealthy bishop needed to relax.

Pembroke and the region around it have a wealth of military heritage, for example Golden Hill Prison (now Golden Farm), which housed American and French prisoners from the American War of Independence. Visit the Enjoy Pembrokeshire website for more information: http://www.experiencepembrokeshire.com/history-archaeology/military-heritage/pembroke.