Friday, 30 January 2015

LAUGHARNE



I first visited the estuary town of Laugharne - pronounced Larne - a few years ago on the way home from a weekend in Tenby with my husband.  I must confess I had never heard of it before, but the landlady of our bed and breakfast recommended the town, so we decided to look in on it.  After wandering around the town we decided to go for a walk along the path by the west bank of the estuary of the River Taf, on which the town is situated, and after a short distance we came across a sweet little building, barely more than a hut.  Peering through the window, it became apparent that what we were looking at was the 'Writing Shed' used by Dylan Thomas during his time living in Laugharne.  Thomas and his family spent the last four years of his tragically short life living in the Boathouse on the shore of the estuary, and the shed was perched just above it.  It was a lovely Sunday morning when we visited, and as we gazed out at the stunning views of the estuary and of the majestic Gower Peninsula away in the distance, it was easy to imagine what a source of inspiration this spot must have been for the most famous Welsh poet.  The characters in his most famous work, Under Milk Wood, were inspired by the inhabitants of Laugharne.

Dylan Thomas Boathouse


For visitors who want to follow a 'Dylan trail' there are a number of sites around Laugharne with connections to the poet.  Brown's Hotel was where he would retreat to after a bout of poetry-writing in order to indulge his other great passion in life: drinking.  The sign outside the hotel shows an image of the poet.  There are two former homes which were occupied by the poet and his family before they settled in the Boat House: Eros, a fisherman's cottage on Gosport Street and Sea View behind the castle.  The Boat House is now open to visitors, and contains a number of displays depicting the life of Dylan and Caitlin.  There is also a short film about Dylan's life, starting with his childhood in Swansea.  Refreshments are served from a tearoom with a terrace overlooking the estuary.  The castle, dating from Norman times and now a ruin, was a favourite haunt of Thomas when seeking peace and solitude.  The hillside cemetery of St Martin's Church harbours the graves of both Dylan and Caitlin.  Nature lovers will find plenty of birdlife down at the estuary, with egrets, lapwings, herons, oystercatchers, seals and even the occasional otter making an appearance.

The Taf Estuary
Map of the area

Saturday, 24 January 2015

PENDINE



By the time we reach Pendine, heading east from Amroth, we are no longer in Pembrokeshire, Pendine being at the western end of Carmarthenshire.  However, that does not mean we have seen the last of endless sandy beaches.  The beach at Pendine is 7 miles long, stretching from Gilman Point to Laugharne Sands.  In the 1920s racing enthusiasts made use of the vast expanse of sands in a series of attempts at breaking the land speed record.  Possibly the most famous car to make an appearance was the Blue Bird, a Sunbeam 350HP owned by Malcolm Campbell, father of Donald Campbell.  Campbell broke nine land speed records in the 1920s and 1930s, three of them on Pendine Sands.  A Welshman called J. G. Parry-Thomas sadly lost his life when attempting to beat one of Campbell's records.  Pendine Sands still attracts racing enthusiasts today, and each summer the Vintage Hot Rod Association holds its Hot Rod Races here.  On a slightly different note, it was from Pendine Sands that female aviator Amy Johnson and her husband departed for an ill-fated flight to New York.  The pair ran out of fuel and were forced to crash land just before reaching their target destination, resulting in serious injury to both. 

Today, the sands are popular with families, due to the abundance of shallow water at high tide making for safe paddling.  At low tide the sea can be as much as a mile out.  The area to the east of the village has been commandeered by the Ministry of Defence who use it as a firing range, but the sands are usually open for public use at weekends and on weekday evenings.  The glory days of land speed record attempts are recalled in the Museum of Speed in Pendine village.  During the summer months the museum's displays include the restored Babs, the car used by the unfortunate Parry-Thomas.  The car was buried in sand dunes near the village until 1969 when it was retrieved and lovingly restored.  A report on the rescue of Babs as well as vintage footage of some of the land speed record attempts at Pendine can be seen on the British Pathe website.

Map of the area.

File:Pendine Sands Sunrise 29-09-2008.jpg
Photo by Nogginkj, via Wikimedia Commons



Monday, 19 January 2015

AMROTH



Amroth's big sandy beach provides plenty of space for fun and games at low tide.  The exceptionally low tides at this spot also reveal the stumps of trees from an ancient forest.  There is a stream running down to the beach which marks the southern end of the Pembrokeshire Coast Path (the northern end being 180 miles away in Ceredigion).  A short distance to the north of the village is the National Trust owned Colby Woodland Garden, which in spring fills up with daffodils, closely followed by bluebells.
  
Amroth Castle used to be a proper castle, formerly called Eareweare and probably dating from the 12th century.  Howeer the present-day building is a country house built to look lilke a castle.  In the mid-19th century it was used as a lunatic asylum, then it was taken over by a shipping magnate called Owen Colby Philipps, who onced owned the White Star Line of Titanic fame.  Just to the north is St Elidyr's Church, which was granted to the Knights Hospitallers of Slebech by a charter in 1231.

Map of the area.

The seafront at Amroth

Monday, 12 January 2015

SAUNDERSFOOT



Saundersfoot is a small resort just along the coast from its better-known neighbour Tenby.  The village was given the name St Issells after the Norman Conquest, and St Issell's Church, one kilometre to the north of Saundersfoot still stands as a reminder of that time.  The church, which stands in a large graveyard with a stream running through it, is a fine example of a restored medieval church, the oldest features of which date from the 13th century, while the tower probably dates from the 14th or 15th century.  Saundersfoot was originally a fishing village, then a harbour was built in 1829 and it became an important port for the export of anthracite or coal from local pits.  Saundersfoot coal was much prized by Queen Victoria, who insisted that it be used to power the first Royal Steam Yacht.  The Old Coal House, also known as the Barbecue Building, was the headquarters of the Saundersfoot Railway and Harbour Company.  It was badly damaged by fire in the 1930s, but was rebuilt and until recently housed the Tourist Information Centre.  Visitors who want to follow in the footsteps of those who were involved in the mining industry can get details of the Miner's Walk from the TIC, a 10.5 mile walk which follows the route of the old steam trains from the collieries to the harbour.

Today the big draw for visitors to the resort are the lovely sandy beaches in and around the village, most of them Blue Flag beaches.  The Main Beach is formed from golden sand and has a dog ban in place from May to September.  Coppet Hall Beach to the north of the village probably got its name from 'Coal Pit Hall', a relic of the coalmining days.  Glen Beach, reached via the harbour, is backed by wooded cliffs and has rock pools at the harbour end.  The beach at Wisemans Bridge played an important role during the Second World War, as it was used for some of the D-Day landing rehearsals.  Between Saundersfoot and Tenby is Monkstone Beach, south of Monkstone Point, ideal for families with its safe bathing and its rock pools.

Map of the area.

Main Beach

Tuesday, 6 January 2015

CALDEY ISLAND



We visited Caldey Island for the first time last year, and when we disembarked and wandered up from the shore we had the disorienting feeling that we had been transported to the Mediterranean.  The Cistercian monastery which forms the centrepiece of this fascinating island off the coast of Pembrokeshire has a distinctly 'hellenic' appearance, and reminded me of the monasteries of the Athos Peninsula which we once viewed from a boat trip while on honeymoon in Greece.  In common with the Greek monasteries, only men are allowed to enter the monastery on Caldey Island.  The island was first inhabited by monks in the 6th century, and the Caldey Stone dates from around that time, with its image of a cross and an ancient script known as Ogham which originated in Ireland.  In the 12th century the Benedictines arrived, and stayed until the dissolution of the monasteries by Henry VIII.  The oldest building on the island is the Old Priory, incorporating St Illtyd's Church, dating from the 13th century and recently restored.  

The Cistercian Monastery


It was not until 1929 that the present monastery was built, inhabited by Cistercian monks whose talents include chocolate and perfume-making.  Visitors can buy these products, and can get a glimpse of the chocolate-making venture in action.  The island also has its own postage stamps.  There are a number of walking routes, taking in two quite different sides to the island: the wooded part on the side where the boats disembark, and the wilder clifftop walks on the other side, with wonderful views of the coast of the mainland and out into the Bristol Channel.  The island's handsome whitewashed lighthouse also lies on this side.  Wildlife enthusiasts should look out for seabirds and seals.  The island is accessible by regular boat trips from Tenby in summer.  The day we visited the tide was too low to get the regular boat back, so we had to pile into an army landing craft and transfer from there to the boat further out, an unexpected but fun twist to our day out on the island.

The Caldey Stone


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.

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.