Best reached from Tenby, Caldy Island still has the atmosphere of being a storm-battered triumph of human settlement. The present occupants are a colony of Trappist Cistercian monks, but the island was first settled by the Benedictines. The church and parts of the monastery date from the 12th to 16th centuries. Whilst only men may visit the monastery itself, the other religious buildings are open to all members of the public. Perfume, made by the monks from flowers and herbs is on sale.
Carew, which nestles in a creek about halfway between Tenby and Pembroke, is most picturesque. The 14th-century church has an intricately carved 11th-century Celtic cross 14ft high, outside. Carew Castle is early Norman, though its more important association is with Rhys ap Thomas, who was one of those who welcomed Henry Tudor when he landed and fought on his side at the Battle of Bosworth. The name of the village comes from Thomas ‘Carew who was born in Kent. For several generations, the Carews were keepers of the castle, and the family tombs can be seen in the church. Downstream is one of the few working tidal mills in Britain today. It was restored in 1972.
The attractive harbour town was the setting for the 1971 film version of Dylan Thomas’s Under Milk Wood. Nearby Carregwastad Point was the scene of the last invasion of Britain when, in 1797, 120 French troops led by the Irish-American William Tate, landed here to raise a rebellion against George III. The force had intended to raid Bristol, but was diverted by winds and landed without opposition. However, legend has it they mistook the red cloaks of the local women for British military uniforms and surrendered at Goodwick. The oak table used for the surrender is now in the Royal Oak in Fishguard.
Dominated by the hilltop ruins of a Norman castle ‘slighted’ by Cromwell during the Civil War, the houses of this important market town crowd the slopes of two hills. There are splendid views from the castle, which now houses the town’s museum’s art gallery and record office. St Mary’s Church dates frOm the 13th to 15th centuries.
Milford Haven (the haven) is an inlet 20 miles long, cutting into the south west corner of Wales. Nelson described it as one of the world’s finest natural harbours. A century or so earlier, Defoe had listed 16 creeks, 5 bays and 13 anchorages for shipping. He suggested that a thousand vessels could moor there ‘and not the top mast of one be seen from another’. Henry II used it as a base for his invasion of Ireland in 1171. In 1485, Henry Tudor landed on its shore before proceeding to Bosworth Field and winning the crown of England. Milford Haven (the town) was founded in 1793 on land belonging to Sir William Hamilton, husband of Nelson’s mistress. Samuel Starbuck and other religious dissidents from America established the port in order to continue their whale oil business during the Revolutionary War. The community originated in East Anglia, travelled to Nantucket and from there went to Nova Scotia. Milford Haven was patterned on New Amsterdam (New York), with three straight streets parallel to the waterfront crossed at right angles by three others. The port is now a major oil terminal.
Pembroke Castle, on its rocky headland above the town, is protected on three sides by the sea. The massive circular keep, dating from about 1200, stands within a curtain wall fortihed by six towers and a forbidding gatehouse. This was the birthplace in 1457 of Henry Tudor, who was to emerge victorious as King of England after the Battle of Bosworth in 1485. Beneath it is a huge limestone cavern called the Wogan, which opens onto the river and was formerly linked to l the castle by a winding staircase.
Pembrokeshire National Coast
A 167 mile footpath follows the wild coastline of Pembrokeshire from Amroth to St Dogmaels. The wild coast and its outlying islands are partof the National Park, which stretches inland to encompass the Preseli Hills and Milford Haven.
Only 2000 people live in St David’s, and yet this tiny city might reasonably be described as the Canterbury of Wales. It was here, in the 6th century, that St David – the country’s patron saint established a stronghold for Christianity in the west. The cathedral that bears his name is the third to be built on the spot the original was destroyed by raiders. Work on the present building began in 1180 and was not completed until 1572. The interior is as rich as the exterior is plain, and there is much fine carving. Nearby stand the ruins of the medieval Bishop’s Palace. On the headland at Whitesand Bay, a plaque marks the site of St Patrick’s Chapel, from where the saint supposedly sailed to Ireland in the 5th century. Ramsey Island, a half mile offshore, is a privately owned bird sanctuary; Grassholm Island, 12 miles west of St David’s Head, hasone of the world’s largest gannetries.
Skomer is littered with the relics of ancient settlements, suggesting it was heavily populated. The present inhabitants are all navigators by nature: kittiwake, cormorant, petrel, puffin, razorbill, guillemot, and shearwater. There are even some normally land-based birds such as buzzard and peregrines.
Tenby is finely situated on a rocky headland between two big, sandy bays. Tenby Castle on the headland overlooks the old harbour. Its 13th century ruins, including a gatehouse and double tower, inherited the site of an ancient Welsh fort cited in a 9th century poem: Dinbych-y-Pysgod, ‘Little fort of the Fish’. The town clusters closely inside its medieval walls. The tower of St Mary’s Church, for example, is 13th century, itself the rebuilding of an even older church, but the main structure is 15th century. Tenby was a flourishing port from the 14th to 16th centuries. From these high days dates the gabled Tudor Merchant’s House, with a Flemish chimney, and fine extant frescoes.
Tenby Museum, on Castle Hill, specialises in finds from Hoyle’s Mouth; the cave where archaeologists have found palaeolithic flints, a human jaw and teeth, and bones of extinct animals such as the cavebear and reindeer. St Catherine’s Rock, just offshore, has a Victorian fort. Giraldus Cambrensis was born 4 and a half miles south west at Manorbier, and was rector of the parish during the 12th century. He was the author of Itinerary through Wales, a historical and geographical survey of early medieval Wales. On Caldy Island, 2 and a half miles away, men have lived for thousands of years, monks for hundreds. St Margaret’s Island, a bird sanctuary, can only be visited with a permit. To the north of Tenby following the Pembrokeshire Coast to Wiseman’s Bridge or the coast road, near Amroth, was where Churchill,Montgomery and Eisenhower came to watch practices for the D-Day landings.