13th May 2018
A Day Out in Tenby, Pembrokeshire, Wales
It was a very mixed group that gathered on by the tractor on Tenby beach as instructed. Old and young, able and not so able. There was no sign of a boat. Waves crashed on to the beach behind us as we all looked uncertainly at each other. There was no sign of a boat nor of anyone in authority. We all cheered up when a young man arrived, jumped into the tractor and reversed it and the jetty attached to it to the water’s edge. A few minutes later a boat arrived. As the boat nudged the end of the jetty each passenger was handed carefully aboard. There was a pause in this operation when a large wave forced the boat to retreat out to sea but it was not long before everyone was on board and we were racing towards Caldey Island. It was too early in the season for the ferries to be running regularly to the island but I had been fortunate to discover Tenby Boat Trips had started operating their Seal safari. It was a great trip with an excellent skipper whose knowledge of the island and wildlife kept us informed, interested and on the sheltered side of the island. We saw two seals lying on the rocks, two swimming in the sea and a lone puffin bobbing on the waves as well as a variety of sea birds on the cliffs.
As we returned to the beach I noticed that the fort on St Catherine’s Island was open. As this island is cut off at high tide opening hours are not regular. I had arrived in Tenby on the Pembrokeshire coast in Wales the previous day to discover that April was slightly too early in the season to guarantee everything would be open but it seemed that today I was going to be lucky. I made my way across the beach to the island and climbed several flights of steps to the fort on top of its cliff. I was in time for a presentation about the history of this fort which is not as old as it looks having been built as a precaution in case Napoleon III decided to invade England. In fact, it was France that was invaded and Napoleon became exiled in England. It is not often I am enthralled by lectures on the history of my own country but the quality of this presentation was such that I listened to every word. The fort has had a chequered history of cannons that were obsolete before they were fired, an owner that went bankrupt and unsuccessful attempts to establish a zoo there. The new owners seem to be reviving its fortunes with interesting events planned for the summer.
On my way back in to the town I stopped to visit the parish church of Saint Mary one of the largest parish churches in Wales. The original church was built during the thirteenth century and was enlarged in the fifteenth century. This church has a beautifully carved chancel roof and two medieval chapels. But, historically, not a very tolerant congregation it seems as the fishing community were banished to their own church on the harbour because they smelt too strongly of fish. The tiny church of St Julian on the harbour was built towards the end of the nineteenth century to replace the Fisherman’s Chapel that had stood at the seaward end of the old stone pier. It was when the pier and chapel were demolished that the fishermen had briefly joined the congregation at St Mary’s before the Rector organised the construction of a new church.
Close to St Julian’s church is the Tudor Merchant’s House the home of a wealthy merchant during the sixteenth century. Visitors enter the house through what would have been the tradesman’s entrance at the side of the house. Business and living quarters had separate entrances and the family would have entered the living quarters via a staircase that led up the first floor at the front of the house. The house has been furnished as it would have been when the merchant and his family live there and volunteers on duty in the property guide visitors around its three floors.
Tenby is famous for its medieval town walls that once extended from the cliff above the South Beach along St Florence Parade and South Parade to the corner at White Lion Street, and thence returning towards the cliff over the North Beach. There were also walls around the harbour area. These were linked to the castle of which very little remains today. However, a large section of the walls is still intact including six towers and the Five Arches, one of the original gates. After walking along the walls I re-entered the town through this gate.
After walking through the town I took the path that encircles Castle Hill. From here I had a good view of the four lovely beaches that fringe the town, Tenby Harbour Beach, Tenby Castle Beach the Tenby North Beach and Tenby South Beach as well as the harbour and the old and new life boat stations. The new station is open to the public. At the top of the hill are the remains of the castle and the Welsh National Memorial to Prince Albert, consort of Queen Victoria which was built in 1865.
Also on Castle Hill is the Tenby Museum and Art Gallery. In the Story of Tenby Gallery visitors can learn about Henry Tudor’s legendary escape from the town, read about the decline and growth of the town as a resort and uncover Tenby’s exciting involvement in the preparations for the D-Day landings during World War II. One of the museum’s two art galleries”:http://www.tenbymuseum.org.uk/projects/art-collection/ features a permanent collection and the second changing temporary exhibitions. The many artists featured in the permanent gallery include Gwen John and Augustus John who spent their childhoods in Tenby. Various stages of their artistic careers are featured including two very early works by Gwen, one of which depicts Tenby. However, my favourite gallery was in the toilet – a lovely collection of drawings by local children and it did not cost me a penny to view them.
By this time, it was late afternoon and I was ready for a break. Earlier I had noticed a cosy little café, the Fat Seagull which was advertising a traditional Welsh cawl (a meat broth) as its soup of the day. I decided some soup was just what I needed. Unfortunately, they had sold out so I settled for one of their homemade sultana scones with jam and cream. It was delicious so light and fluffy I could have eaten a second one but I did not have time to linger.
Tenby is a popular place for seaside holidays and for many years has been attracting thousands of visitors every summer. These include Roald Dahl and Beatrix Potter. As a child Roald Dahl stayed at the Cabin by Tenby Harbour every Easter holiday between 1920 and 1936 with his mother and siblings. On at least two occasions Beatrix Potter stayed at Number 2 The Croft (now an apartment block overlooking the North beach) with her parents. As I sat in the gardens across the road I wondered if Beatrix had once sat here and been inspired by what she saw.
I continued along The Croft hoping to find my way on to the Coastal Path which I knew was nearby. Just beyond the Park Hotel I found a signpost with the acorn sign used to indicate the coastal path. I followed the path through the woods until I came to a sign pointing to Allen’s View. I decided to make the detour and came across a beautiful woodland garden. Scattered around this garden of wild flowers and shrubs were carvings of birds of prey fashioned from tree trunks. They made me smile it was all so unexpected.
Beyond the garden there was a view across the countryside and down to the sea. Sitting there enjoying the peace and panorama was the perfect way to end my day in Tenby.
Where to Stay in Tenby
The Heywood Spa Hotel is a small, friendly hotel in a quiet, residential area a few minutes’ drive from the city centre and sea front. There are several car parks in Tenby and plenty of parking at the hotel for those who are happy to take the easy twenty-minute walk to the sea front. Facilities include a good-sized swimming pool and a well-equipped gym as well as spa treatments and a brasserie restaurant. The Heywood Spa Hotel offers a great combination of comfort and sophistication.