Monday, 24 November 2014


Pembroke Dock was once home to a Royal Naval Dockyard, and there are reminders of that time in the form of the elegant Georgian architecture in the areas around the waterfront.  One example is the Garrison Chapel built in 1834 and originally used as a place of worship, although later incarnations include a theatre and a museum.  The chapel was restored with the help of lottery money, the work being completed in 2006.  Now the chapel houses the Pembroke Dock Heritage Centre, which, among other topics, tells the story of the 'flying boats' which used to be based in Pembroke Dock as well as the history of the dockyard as a whole.  The Centre aims to restore a  Sunderland flying boat; admission is free, though donations are welcomed.  The dockyard built 263 ships for the Royal Navy, including combat vessels and royal yachts, and its closure in 1926 had a devastating effect on the local economy.  Other notable buildings include the two Gun Towers, dating from the mid-19th century, one of which houses the town museum.

During the years 1930-1957 Pembroke Dock housed an RAF base, and was also home to the United Kingdom's largest operational flying boat base.  This made the town a prime target for World War II air raids.  In one attack in 1940 11 oil tanks caught fire, then in 1941 the town found itself in ruins following a series of raids.  Since 1979 Pembroke Dock has been the focal point for more peaceful pursuits, such as providing a ferry service for passengers crossing to Ireland.  Just inland from Pembroke Dock is Pembroke with its castle, occupying a location overlooking the estuary of the Pembroke River, an offshoot from the Cleddau.  The castle, which was restored in Victorian times and stands guard over the town of Pembroke, has seen a lot of action over the years, including an attack by Owain Glyndwr and a siege by Cromwell during the English Civil War.  Next to the castle is the town's main street, which has a mix of mainly Georgian and Victorian architecture.  

Map of the area. 

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Photo by Richard Fensome, via Wikimedia Commons

Friday, 14 November 2014


In the mid-1880s, due to the exceptionally deep water offshore, the small shipbuilding village of Neyland, on the north bank of the River Cleddau, was chosen by Isambard Kingdom Brunel for a railway terminus and steam packet port for crossings to Ireland and America.  This move was to transform the fortunes of Neyland, bringing not only the railway and the port, but other attendant job creators such as a refrigeration plant which produced ice for packing fish for onward transport, and a wagon works.  A huge pontoon was built for access to the vessels, and a station was installed for the rail passengers, who must have been somewhat confused to be confronted with signs saying 'Milford Haven'.  Further prosperity came from Neyland's role in the sea trade with Ireland, Portugal and Brazil.  However, in 1906 much of the trade was switched to Fishguard.  In 1964 the final nail in Neyland's coffin came with the Beeching cuts, which put paid to the rail link.  

Nowadays, Neyland is known for its excellent marina facilities at the Neyland Yacht Haven.  Neyland is evidently proud of its Brunel associations.  Each year there is a Brunel Festival, and down on the waterfront there is the Brunel Quay.  In 1999 the locals raised £30,000 to pay for a statue of the famous engineer, but in a sad sign of the times the statue was stolen in 2010, probably by metal thieves.  Last year the statue was replaced, so lets hope this one survives.

To the east of Neyland is the Cleddau Bridge, 820 metres long and linking Neyland to Pembroke Dock.  Before the bridge was built there was the choice of a 28-mile journey by road or a ferry service.  The construction of the bridge was marred by delay and tragedy.  The bridge was supposed to open in 1971, but in 1970 disaster struck when four workers died and five were injured due to the collapse of a cantilever.  Construction was halted after the tragedy, and the bridge finally opened in 1975.

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Photo by Penny Mayes, via Wikimedia Commons

Saturday, 8 November 2014


The Milford Haven waterway is generally recognised as one of the greatest natural harbours of the world.  Such waterways invariably have a rich history attached to them thanks to their relatively calm, deep waters providing a safe haven for vessels and their occupants, and Milford Haven is no exception.  The Haven's virtues caught the attention of the Vikings as long ago as the 9th century.  In 877 a Viking chieftain called Hubba wintered there with 23 ships and 2,000 warriors.  Later, the waterway proved of great strategic importance to the Normans during their conflicts with the Welsh princes.  During the reign of Henry VIII two forts, East Blockhouse and West Blockhouse, were built to protect the Haven, and these were probably manned during the Spanish Armada and the Civil War.  Then during the Civil War the Royalists built an armed encampment and gun emplacement at Pill near Milford Haven.  

Shakespeare was an early enthusiast of the waterway, declaring: " far it is to this same blessed Milford; and, by the way, tell me how Wales was made so happy as t'inherit such a haven."  Later in 1802, Lord Nelson described it as the finest natural harbour in the Northern Hemisphere.  Ironically it was the husband of his mistress Emma, Sir William Hamilton, who bankrolled the building of the town of Milford Haven, with Charles Greville in charge of the planning as the town became a whaling station and a naval dockyard was opened .  The latter closed in 1926, however Milford Haven assumed an important role in the preparations for D-Day, when the docks became part of the US Navy advanced amphibious base.  The LTS (landing ship tanks) were overhauled there and made ready for the Normandy landings.  More recently it was the oil industry that discovered the benefits of the Haven's deep waters, what with the increasing size of oil tankers.  Esso was the first company to open a refinery there in 1960, followed by several others, and between the 1960s and 1980s Milford Haven was one of Europe's biggest oil ports.  Since then there has been a decline, and in fact it was just a few days ago that it was announced that a deal to rescue the Murco refinery had collapsed threatening hundreds of jobs.  

The town of Milford Haven still retains signs of its planned origins, while its growth over the years has led to the surrounding villages of Hubberston, Hakin and Steynton becoming part of the town.  The docks, like so many elsewhere in the country, have undergone a renovation, with a variety of attractions for visitors.  The Heritageand Maritime Museum is housed in the old Custom House and has displays on whaling, fishing and petroleum.  The Waterfront Gallery proclaims itself the largest gallery in Pembrokeshire and showcases the best artists and craft workers in West Wales.  The town also has a marina for the use leisure craft.  A short distance from the waterfront is the Torch Theatre, which puts on plays and cinema screenings.

Map of the area.

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Milford Marina. Photo by Deborah Tilley, via Wikimedia Commons

Saturday, 1 November 2014


The small village of Dale lies on a sheltered bay near St Ann's Head, with local beaches suitable for all kinds of waterborne activities. The oil refineries of Milford Haven can be seen in the distance from the beachfront. The village church, the Church of St James the Great, dates from at least the 13th century. The churchyard contains the remains of countless unknown shipwreck victims, including those who perished during the great storm of 1868. There is an inverted ship's bell on the south wall which was presented to the church by the Navy in 1960; the bell was used as a font in the chapel of nearby HMS Harrier until it closed that year. To the west of the church a path leads to Westdale Bay with a sandy beach and red sandstone cliffs, which is overlooked by the site of a huge Iron Age fort.

Between Dale and St Ishmael's is the Gann Estuary, a treat for birdwatchers with wading birds including little stint, curlew and sandpiper. Otters breed in the reedbeds and there is also the chance to catch sight of a kingfisher in the upper reaches. The area around St Ishmael's has been inhabited since the Stone Age, and there are numerous relics from different points in history since that time, including standing stones, ancient graves and the iron age forts of Great Castle Head and Little Castle Head. The remains of a Norman motte and bailey castle lie on the spot known as St Ishmael's Tump. The village and its church are named after a 6th century Cornish saint who went on to become the Bishop of St David's. A pathway leads from the church to the tiny cove of Monk Haven, where traders and pilgrims used to land on their way to St David's. Another sandy bay in the area is Lindsway Bay, where in 1955 the Queen visited during her Coronation Tour, and Princess Anne and Prince Charles took their first steps on Welsh soil. In August 1973 at nearby Longberry Point the tanker Donna Marika went aground during stormy weather. Some of the local villagers had to be evacuated because the tanker was full of aviation spirit, and there was a risk of an explosion occurring due to the violence of the storm.

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Monk Haven. Photo by Robin Lucas, via Wikimedia Commons

Monday, 27 October 2014


Marloes Sands can be reached via a 10 minute walk from the car park at the edge of Marloes Village.  The bay here is strewn with the most extraordinary volcanic rocks with layers  that were once horizontal but as a result of past geological upheavals have ended up almost vertical.  The Sands are overlooked at one end by the vertiginous slopes of the small tidal island of Gateholm where archaeologists have found traces of human habitation in the form of rectangular dwellings surrounding a courtyard.  The dwellings, estimated as being from the 6th century, are thought to have been an early Christian monastic settlement.  Marloes Mere, just inland from the beach, is home to wetland birds.   During the 18th century leeches were gathered here for medical use.

St Ann's Head, which dominates the mouth of the vast Milford Haven inlet, is home to a few whitewashed cottages, a coastguard station and a lighthouse which has been converted to holiday accommodation.  Approaching the headland via the coastal path from the village of Dale, the path passes a bay called Mill Bay.  This bay assumed great historical significance in the 15th century: in 1485 Henry Tudor, having previously fled to Brittany to begin a 14-year exile, sneaked back into the country at Mill Bay and shortly afterwards defeated Richard III at the Battle of Bosworth, a victory which led to him being crowned King Henry VII of England.

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Photo by Paul Mercer, via Wikimedia Commons

Tuesday, 21 October 2014


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.

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South-eastern coast of Skomer. Photo by John Rostron, via Wikimedia Commons

Wednesday, 15 October 2014


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.

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Little Haven. Photo by Tudor Williams, via Wikimedia Commons