It’s amazing, really that this doesn’t happen more often given the impulsive and unplanned way that I usually travel. Having sadly left the rest of Ireland to be seen on another trip, we’re sailing away on Irish Ferries from Rosslare to Pembroke, Wales and I’m not entirely sure where we will go from there. I have not shared this uncertainty with my sister as I’m sure something will present itself when we disembark at the ferry terminal. Pretty sure. We have a room for the night in a bed and breakfast at someplace called Tenby, which I think can’t be that far away…can it? Wales isn’t that big. I left my sister browsing the gift shop and went to enquire at the onboard information desk about a bus or a train from the ferry terminal to Tenby. The agent is not from anywhere near Wales or Ireland, and has no knowledge of Tenby. But she printed out the not-very-helpful map of Pembroke that I already had on my iPad. Undaunted, we walked off the ferry as if I knew exactly where we were going.
Standing curb side I actually dithered (unusual for me) as fellow passengers scooped up two of what seemed like the only three taxis in the little shire of Pembroke. I came to my senses in time to stake ownership of the only remaining cab by throwing myself across the hood and, summoning my best negotiating skills, hollering through the window “Do you go to Tenby? I’ll pay whatever it takes!” And as fate would have it, the startled young lad behind the wheel lives in Tenby – about ten miles away. Just like that. Twenty minutes and £20 later we find ourselves in a spectacular seaside, cliff-top town almost surrounded by stunning beaches – one of the most beautiful places I have ever been. This stop was a very, very good call and we know immediately that we will want to stay more than one night here.
There are at least four beaches within a ten minute stroll of town, and many more stretching languidly all along the Pembrokeshire Coast. South Beach is apparently included in a National Geographic survey of the most beautiful beaches in the world. I believe it, except that I can’t imagine having to choose only one of these glorious beaches. Castle Beach gets its name from the remnants of St. Catherine’s Fort on the island of the same name, which at high tide really is an island.
Harbour Beach reminds us that we are in Wales again, the land of impossibly long words and seriously redundant consonants. It occurs to me that if the Welsh word for Help! is as loaded with vowels as most of the language seems to be, then a drowning person could be down for the count by the time they actually get the call out.
North Beach, at the foot of Goskar Rock stretches along lovely Carmathern Bay. In the summer months these beaches are jam-packed with vacationers but in the cool breezes of October we have them almost to ourselves. If I absolutely had to choose one beach from all of these spectacular expanses, it might be this one if only for its proximity to Tenby’s astonishing and seriously picturesque harbor. I think it must be terribly convenient to be able to walk out to your boat at low tide.
High on the cliffs, the completely captivating town of Tenby is a strollers paradise with winding, shop-lined streets, folksy pubs, intimate cafes and a beautiful shoreline path that invites visitors and locals to sit for awhile and take it all in.
At the risk of repeating myself from previous posts…I can’t resist a bookstore. I’ve been known to get lost in one for days at a time. This is another one of a breed I have only seen here in the UK. I’m thinking seriously about starting up this style of bookstore at home. I think it might really catch on.
Like most of the ancient towns and cities in this part of the world, who have had to defend themselves from invaders since their beginnings, Tenby is a walled city. These walls were built in the late thirteenth century after it was decided that the castle on St. Catherine’s Island was not sufficient to defend the city and its important harbour. The landmark Five Arches gate is still the main entrance into Old Tenby.
Tenby’s fortunes have ebbed and flowed over hundreds of years, largely dependent on the strategic importance of its harbour and the politics of its citizens. And half of Tenby’s population succumbed to the plague in 1650. These days it’s a flourishing summer vacation destination sometimes compared to the French Riviera. And on this particular October day the place seems positively tropical.
Earlier this year the Tenby Museum asked visitors and locals to describe Tenby in two words. My two words: can’t leave. We really can’t bear to leave this lovely place just yet, and we’ve heard of a Trappist monk colony on Caldey Island – a short boat ride from Harbour Beach. We’re going there tomorrow. Stay tuned!