(c) Neil Kedward
Britain’s only coastal National Park celebrates its own Platinum Jubilee this year. Gillian Thornton took a trip to Pembrokeshire.
Despite being an island nation, many of us in Britain aren’t blessed with easy access to the sea. So, for an inland islander like me, a holiday in the Pembrokeshire Coast National Park is a real treat because nowhere is more than 10 miles from the shore.
This glorious corner of South Wales may be one of the smallest of Britain’s 15 National Parks, but it is also one of the most diverse, the vistas changing constantly with the light and time of day. And whatever type of seaside ticks your boxes, you’ll find it here, from rugged headlands and hidden coves to wide open sandy beaches, all backed by deep valleys and farmland, heritage sites and historic towns.
(c) Visit Pembrokeshire
Book a stay at The Grove of Narbeth and you are just a few miles inland from this unique National Park. This romantic hotel, nestled in rolling countryside close to the market town of Narbeth, offers individually designed bedrooms, fabulous gardens, and a gastronomic restaurant with 3 AA rosettes. And beyond the boundaries, the stunning landscape of the Pembrokeshire Coast National Park.
Created in February 1952, barely three weeks after Queen Elizabeth II came to the throne, the National Park stretches almost continuously from the outskirts of Cardigan in the north, winding west through Fishguard and around St Davids Head before turning south and eventually east through Tenby and Saundersfoot to Amroth.
If, like me, you can’t resist a walk beside the water, watch out for signs to the Pembrokeshire Coast Path National Trail that hugs the water’s edge for 186 miles from St Dogmaels and Poppit Sands to Amroth. If you don’t want to do a there-and-back route, you’ll find more than 200 circular walks linking into the coast path on www.pembrokeshirecoast.wales – everything from easy access walks and gentle strolls to more energetic half-day hikes.
(c) Owen Howells Photography
Just eight miles from The Grove of Narbeth, the small seaside resort of Saundersfoot boasts a Blue Flag sandy beach and a small harbour that was originally built to transport coal from mines in and around Stepaside. The mines are long gone but the route of the old tramway connecting them with the quaysides at Saundersfoot is a lovely level walk passing through three short tunnels from beach to beach.
Near neighbour Tenby is an award-winning holiday resort that was originally established by the Normans as a fortified town. Little is left of their castle, but the narrow streets inside the town walls are packed with atmosphere and charm. I enjoyed the town museum on Castle Hill where archive photos and film show how Tenby evolved from an upper class seaside spot in the late 19th century to a popular family resort after World War I. For some classic Instagram shots, take the winding promenade walk for views over broad sands to the brightly painted facades of the seafront villas.
Tenby’s modest castle ruins pale into insignificance beside the substantial fortifications at nearby Manorbier and Carew. But biggest of all is Pembroke Castle overlooking the deep waterway of Milford Haven. This strategic fortress was the birthplace in 1485 of Henry Tudor, son of Welsh prince, Edmund. As Henry VII of England, he was to launch one of the most famous royal dynasties in history.
(c) Visit Pembrokeshire
Wherever you go along the Pembrokeshire Coast National Park, there are cliff paths to explore, beaches to enjoy, and water sports to try. Never been kite surfing? Not tried sea kayaking? Now’s your chance. Take a cruise to sea whales and dolphins. Visit a seal colony or get up close and personal to some cute puffins on one of Pembrokeshire’s offshore islands. Or simply soak up the tranquillity of tiny harbours such as Porthgain; colourful villages like Solva; and country parks like the National Trust’s Stackpole estate with its lily ponds and country walks.
Visitors can gen up on the National Park and book activities at Oriel y Parc, the National Park Discovery Centre at the entrance to main street of St David’s. This, I guarantee, is like no other city centre you have experienced. Barely more than a large village with fewer than 2,000 permanent residents, St David’s is Britain’s smallest city blessed with a bijou cathedral nestled in a hollow beside the substantial ruins of the medieval bishop’s palace. And all just a stone’s throw from the sea.
But behind all this stunning coastline and the protected National Park lies the inviting Pembrokeshire countryside. Explore gently undulating farmland near the coast and, in the north of the county, the Preseli Hills, a landscape of wild moorland, heath and grassland rising to just over 500 metres. On a clear day, you can see Ireland and Snowdonia from the summit of Foel Eyr.
Pembrokeshire’s blend of natural beauty, history and heritage is thoroughly addictive. One visit will never be enough!
For more information, visit prideofbritainhotels.com/hotels/grove-of-narberth/.