Pembrokeshire & South Wales: Pt 6 – Pembroke Dock

Leaving Pembroke for our hotel just outside Haverfordwest, we stopped in the small town of Pembroke Dock, on the banks of the River Cleddau…

Pembroke Dock:

Status: Pembrokeshire, Town, Wales

Date: 08/09/2015

Travel: Car

Eating & Sleeping: N/A

Attractions: Cleddau Bridge, River Cleddau, Pembroke Dock Promenade, Victorian Martello Tower etc

Dock 1

We parked up on the edge of Milford Haven, which is both the name of a town sat opposite us on the far side of the bay, and the overall harbour itself, which the River Cleddau empties into underneath the Cleddau Bridge, shown in the distance to the right.

Directly across from us, shown on the left is a town called Neyland, whilst lying in the Bridges shadow is the small village of Burton Ferry.

Pembroke Dock is a beautiful place, and we had stopped to relax on the promenade for a while after having already travelled a few hundred miles from Lancashire to Pembroke Dock, via Cardigan, St David’s, Haverfordwest and Pembroke!

Dock 2

The Cleddau Bridge is a mammoth construction, and offers some spectacular views of the local countryside, and the Welsh coastline as you cross over it. We had already used it earlier in the day to cross the Cleddau on our way to Pembroke (even if the SatNav neglected to mention it was a Toll Bridge! But a reasonably cheap one at that, as it was only 75p each way for a Car).

The Bridge opened in 1975, mainly out of necessity. Prior to it’s construction, the only way to get from the area around Neyland towards Pembroke was either a long detour to skip out the Cleddau, or to take a ferry across the River. Rising traffic numbers soon made both of these impractical, so the Cleddau Bridge was born. A 2nd bridge was actually built at the same time, as another river joins the Estuary near the Cleddau, called the Westfield Pill, which acts as the Eastern boundary of Neyland. The 2nd bridge crosses this River and acts as a lead up to the main bridge.

Even before it opened, the Cleddau Bridge was notorious for an accident that occurred whilst it was actually being built, in 1970. Construction was proceeding almost like a click together kit, split into box sections which joined together. Each section was lowered onto the end of the previous 1, building the Bridge up piece by piece. Unfortunately this led to part of the Bridge on our side of the River collapsing as it was being built, killing 4 workmen. The original plan was to open the route in 1971, however the accident forced this to be postponed until 1975.

Dock 3

Whilst we were here to relax, there were of course a few things to go and explore, starting with 1 of Pembroke Dock’s most famous landmarks, the Victorian Martello Tower, connected to the promenade by a short pier.

The Tower is 1 of a pair, and was completed in 1851 by J & C Rigby, a firm from London who also helped to construct the breakwater at Holyhead in North Wales. It’s primary purpose was to protect 1 of the main roads leading into the Dockyard, and was large enough to hold over 30 soldiers, along with nearly 200 barrels of gunpowder. This Tower is at the North Eastern edge of the Dockyard, and contains the Gun Tower Museum, whilst it’s counterpart is at the South Western edge on Fort Road, watching the approaches from the West. They are a stunning piece of Victorian engineering, and a famous landmark for the town.

Dock 5

On the previous picture, just to the left of the Martello Tower you can see a large ferry. Moving to a better position, we could make out that it belongs to “Irish Ferries”, and is called the “Isle of Inishmore”, which entered service in 1997, a year after she was launched. The name comes from a genuine island called Inishmore, the largest of the Aran Islands group off the West coast of the Republic of Ireland.

Inishmore began life transiting the Irish Sea from Holyhead to the Irish Capital city of Dublin until 2001, and now runs the Pembroke Dock (Milford Haven) to Rosslare Harbour route, also in the Republic.

Dock 4

Looking back from the end of the Martello Tower Pier, we gazed back across the sparkling waters of the harbour towards the promenade, and it’s charming row of riverside houses in multiple colours.

To the right is the boundary wall of the Dockyard, where various ships dock to access the local Oil Refineries, along with the Irish Ferries crossing the Irish Sea. You can see the top of 1 of the large Aircraft Hangars that typifies the Docks, and a little known fact is that it was in 1 of these Hangers that the full scale Millennium Falcon prop for Star Wars: Episode V – The Empire Strikes Back was built in 1979.

Pembroke Dock is a lovely little town, in 1 of South West Wales’s beautiful natural harbours. The train station in the town is at the end of 1 of the West Wales Line branches coming from Swansea, via Pembroke. The line runs all the way to London, and obviously connects with the Irish Ferries allowing easy onward travel upon arrival in the UK, whilst trains from Rosslare can take you towards the cities of Wexford and Dublin.

After a pleasant afternoon by the riverside, we moved on to our hotel, to rest and get ready for the following day, where we hoped to reach Carmarthen, Swansea, Newport, and beyond…

Pembrokeshire & South Wales: Pt 5 – Pembroke

Our next stop was the town of Pembroke, famous for the incredible Castle ruins which overlook the town…


Status: Pembrokeshire, Town, Wales

Date: 08/09/2015

Travel: Car

Eating & Sleeping: Castle Cafe

Attractions: Pembroke Castle, Pembroke River, Mill Pond, War Memorial, St Nicholas Church, Mill Bridge, Clock Tower, St Mary’s Church etc

Pembroke 1

We parked up in the shadow of Pembroke Castle, a mammoth construction high on a rocky outcrop. Wales is famous for its magnificent Castles, such as those in the North at Conwy, Caernarfon and Beaumaris, and this is no exception.

To the right you can see a little path leading off around the Castle Rock, so we followed it to see where we ended up…

Gazing up at the exterior walls, we were in awe of its impressive construction. It’s a stunning building, and has to be 1 of the most fantastic Castles in the whole of South Wales. The path led all the way around the Castle, into the town centre where you can access the Castle’s main entrance.

Also by the main entrance you will find the Pembroke War Memorial, crafted out of Granite in 1924 by TW Colley & Sons, a local firm of Masons. Unveiled by Lieutenant General Sir Francis Lloyd (1853 – 1926, a British Army Officer in charge of the London District branch, helping to protect London from Zeppelin attacks during WWI), it commemorates all those from Pembroke who sadly perished in WWI (and later WWII).

Pembroke 7

The main entrance to the Castle is through the stunning Gatehouse, the full scale of which you can see by looking at the size of the actual entrance at the bottom of the building, compared with it’s overall height!

Two enormous flags emblazon the tops of the twin towers, with the Union Jack on the right, and the Welsh Flag (complete with mighty dragon) on the left. Nearly all of the towers within the Castle Complex are climbable, and whilst we couldn’t get up the flag towers themselves, the slightly shorter ones on either side were fair game, and offered some fantastic views across the rest of the Castle…

Pembroke 5

In this shot we had climbed the walls, and were scaling 1 of the smaller towers. From here we gazed out towards the famous Castle Keep, the tall rounded building at the other end of the complex.

The Keep dates back to the late 12th/early 13th centuries, when William Marshal (1146 – 1219, 1st Earl of Pembroke) purchased Pembroke Castle, which at that time was a much smaller affair, designed in a motte & bailey style, with a central wooden Keep.

Marshal replaced the existing buildings with new, grand stone affairs, starting with the new Keep, and the Inner Ward, the stone structures that surround the Keep. It was bounded by a large stone wall, however as this side was open to the Pembroke River, and at the top of large stone cliffs, the defences weren’t as extensive as at the landward end, which included the Gatehouse I mentioned earlier, with walls that reach multiple metres thick.

By the 13th century a Grand Hall had also been constructed, close to the Keep, to the far right of the 2nd picture. The whole area was contained within a large wall, with access being restricted to a gateway shaped like a horseshoe, which was presumably located just to the left of the great Keep.

The main Gatehouse itself, along with the other towering defensive walls that mark the Castles landward end weren’t built until much later, when the Pembroke family took possession of the Castle in 1247, before it became the property of the Crown. Indeed the English King Henry VII (1457 – 1509) was born here in 1457, becoming King after his forces later famously defeated King Richard III (1452 – 1485), to win the Battle of the Roses for the house of Lancaster.

Sadly, like many great Castles around Britain, it was the Civil War that started the process of decay, as the Parliamentarians captured the Castle in the 1640’s. After a revolt which saw the same forces defect to the Royalists, Oliver Cromwell (1599 – 1658, Ruler of England/Scotland/Wales) himself came and took the town, and gave the order for the Castle to be dismantled, and the building became abandoned. It would eventually be bought however by the Philipps Family in 1880, and Sir Ivor Philipps (1861 – 1940, Major-General in the British Army) began to restore the Castle to some of it’s former glory. Today it remains jointly owned by the Philipps and Pembroke Town Council, and the building itself is in remarkably good condition.

Pembroke 6

You may have by now also noticed the large map of Wales painted on the tarmac in the middle of the Castles Courtyard, which shows the locations of all the major Castles/Religious Sites around the whole of Wales. The map includes Conwy & Caernarfon in North Wales, as well as St David’s Cathedral, and Cardiff Castle amongst many others.

According to the Pembroke Castle Website, The Map is notable for being: “the largest painting in the UK and the largest map of Wales in the world.” Of course you get the best view from the top of the various towers, with the Gatehouse giving the best view of South Wales, and the Keep of North Wales.

Pembroke 8

Speaking of the Keep, we couldn’t resist climbing it as well, and we were treated to a great view, back towards the Gatehouse, and on to Pembroke Town Centre. Pembroke is in a unique setting, with half the town bounded by the Mill Pond and the Pembroke River.

The Castle Keep is a magnificent 75 ft tall, and as such you get the best views in this area of Pembrokeshire. Looking North West, you can see the outer defensive wall of the Castle, with the path we traversed when we arrived down below it.

Off in the distance, we spied the towers of the Pembroke Refinery over at Hundleton, on the far side of the Pembroke River, shown in the foreground. This vast complex has processed Crude Oil for use as various types of fuel since 1964. This eventually had knock on effects for the nearby village of Rhoscrowther, as during the 1990’s, Texaco (who owned the Refinery until 2000) bought most of the houses in the village, and subsequently demolished them, leaving only the centuries old Church, and a scattering of houses left today.

Just in front of the Refinery, directly on the bank of the river is the smaller Pembroke B Power Station, which only actually opened in 2012. It’s the largest Power Station in Europe to be powered by Gas, and it replaced the previous Oil Powered Station on the site which was demolished in the early 2000’s.

Pembroke 11

Turning to look West, the Castle has a rival for the Pembroke skyline, in the form of the “Priory Church of St Nicholas”, which is technically located in the small village of Monkton which is contiguous with Pembroke itself.

The original Church of St Nicholas was tied to Pembroke Castle, as in 1098 the Church was established within the Castle complex. This was long before William Marshal built the incredible structure you can explore today, so it’s thought that the very 1st incarnation of Pembroke Castle was in Monkton not Pembroke. The Church would soon be placed under the administration of the Abbey in the Town of Sees in Normandy, which is part of modern day France. This was presumably a consequence of the Norman Invasion of Wales, which followed William the Conqueror’s (1028 – 1087, Duke of Normandy) Invasion of England in 1066, largely completed by the end of 1094.

Of course this meant that it was the possession of a foreign country, and as England spent much of the next few centuries at War with France, it’s connection to Sees was soon severed, and it was put under the control of St Alban’s Abbey in Hertfordshire, England by the mid 15th century. This would last less than a century however, as the Dissolution of the Monasteries, instigated in the 1530’s by King Henry VIII (1491 – 1547, Founder of the Church of England) of England once more severed the buildings connection with its Abbey. It fared better than the many Abbeys Henry brought down, and was turned into the local Parish Church, which it remains today.

It’s a beautiful building, and along with the Castle it perfectly showcases the fine history of Pembrokeshire.

Pembroke 12

From the Gatehouse Towers, which we had climbed at the start of our visit to the Castle, we got a panoramic view across Pembroke Town Centre, and many of it’s major landmarks.

On the left, is the Mill Pond Bridge, which spans the similarly named “Mill Pond”, which was originally part of the Pembroke River, and acted as an inlet, or harbour where the River had its eastern terminus. The area was tidal, so a large Mill was built across it to take advantage of this. The building was presumably built around the start of the 13th century, as the British Listed Buildings website for the Bridge states that:

“Provision for the tidal mill was first granted in 1199 by King John to the Knights Templar”.

By 1821 a new Mill building occupied the site, along with a rebuilt Bridge/Causeway, with at least 4 storeys. After suffering 2 fires, the 1st in 1885 (after which it was restored), and the 2nd in 1955, it had to be demolished, leaving only the Bridge left. The loss of the Mill must have been a significant alteration to Pembroke’s landscape, and I can only imagine how impressive it must have looked, coupled with the town centre, beautiful scenery, and the Castle towering over the lot.

Over to the right, is another Church, this time called that of “Saint Mary the Virgin”, whilst again to the right of that is the famous Red Clock Tower. We were intrigued by both of these, and as an alternative route back to the car via the town centre/high street would take us past both of them, we left the Castle to find out more…

Pembroke 13

Like the Church of St Nicholas, St Mary’s is also a Parish Church, and the oldest parts of the structure date back to the 13th century, in the form of the Nave/Chancel. The building work follows a basic pattern that appears in a lot of Churches we have visited, that of the Nave and or Chancel being the oldest sections, followed by a Church Tower added sometime in the 14th or 15th Centuries, and indeed this is the case here, as the Tower was added during the late 14th Century.

A major restoration was carried out during the Victorian Era, beginning in the 1870’s, and concluding in 1880 with work done on the overall standing structure, the roof, and interior furnishings. These would be supplemented by 1st the West Porch (shown just behind the tree to the left) in 1926, and then the South Porch in 1937, which protrudes out onto the High Street between the Clock Tower and the building to its immediate left.

The Clock Tower itself is built atop what I presume was a 19th century building, which had its 1st Clock added in 1829. At this stage the building looked very different, with the Tower much shorter, and the outer sections either side of it were only single storey.

These were gradually raised to 2, then 3 storeys by 1899, and it was at this time than an extra section was added to the Clock Tower. Originally the Clock was directly above the top floor of the Tower, however it was replaced by a short Octagonal Section, which then led up to the Clock and the cupola at the top. The Clock itself was also replaced, by John Charles Froyne (Retired Dockyard Worker who lived in Pembroke, and later served as the town’s Mayor) at the same time, and it remains in working order today. Currently the building is in use as the offices of an Insurance Consultant.

It is possible the building sits on the site once occupied by the former Town Hall, however the current version is sat directly across the road, out of shot.

Pembroke 14

After a walk around the town centre, we took a stroll across the Mill Bridge, turning to look back at the Castle where our adventure had begun. It really is magnificent to look at, and anyone who is familiar with the famous, huge Castles in North Wales would not be disappointed to visit Pembroke Castle.

Pembroke is a great little town, in a stunning location. There is lots of history within the towns borders, and many sights for you to explore. Pembroke is linked quite well to the local, and wider country transport networks, with a railway station that is the penultimate stop on the West Wales line from London. The line splits into 3 branches after it leaves Swansea, towards Fishguard, Milford Haven, and Pembroke Dock (via Pembroke Town), giving the town direct connections to the major cities in South Wales, and the M4 corridor towards the British Capital, London.

Pembroke was a memorable town to visit, but we had 1 more stop of the day, in the neighbouring town of Pembroke Dock, on the South bank of the River Cleddau…

Pembrokeshire & South Wales: Pt 4 – Haverfordwest

Moving on from St David’s, we arrived in the town of Haverfordwest, and set out to explore, with the eerie remains of the towns Castle looming overhead…

Haverfordwest (Hwlffordd):

Status: Pembrokeshire, Town, Wales

Date: 08/09/2015

Travel: Car

Eating & Sleeping: Premier Inn (A40 North)

Attractions: Castle Ruins, Western Cleddau, Castle Square, Pembrokeshire County Hall, New Bridge, Shire Hall, Palace Theatre, St Martin’s Church, St Thomas’s Church, St Mary’s Church, Pembrokeshire County Hall etc

Haver 1

South Wales would appear to be a fantastic place for Car Parking. St David’s was quite cheap, having parked at the Pembrokeshire Coast National Park Visitor Centre, and Haverfordwest was even better, with a FREE car park up by the Leisure Centre, looking down across the rest of the town.

At 1st glance it looks to be very pleasant, multi-coloured buildings which remind me of coastal towns in the South of England, St Thomas’s Church Tower in the background, flanked by lush green tree tops. We set off to explore, heading down “Hill Street” as we descended towards the town centre, and the riverside…

Haver 2

On the way, we passed the “Palace Theatre”, a fabulous building which began life in 1849 as the new Corn Market, designed by William Owen, a local architect who hadn’t even entered the design competition for the building, but was awarded it anyway!

By 1862 the Corn Market’s prominence in the town was growing, as the towns Council Chamber was built on the 1st floor, and it would be another 50 years before the next major change in the buildings history.

1912 saw the arrival of Sidney White, a cinema entrepreneur from the City of Swansea, who bought the building and converted it into the Palace Cinema. The change of venue also saw a change in the exterior walls, as a lot of them were plastered over, although in various places you can see through to the stone underneath. Happily it would appear the building is still in use, having avoided the fate that befell many cinemas/theatres by the end of the 1960’s. It’s a beautiful building, which has so much more to it than originally meets the eye, and it was a great way to kick off our sightseeing tour around Haverfordwest.

Haver 2a

Haverfordwest was founded at least by the 12th century, and lies in a strategic position between St Davids, Milford Haven and Pembroke. Much of the town is built on a hill, with most streets sloping downwards, including the High Street, until they reach the river. Because of this, it was the perfect location to build a medieval Castle, with a commanding view out past the town, and across the surrounding countryside.

This is “Hill Street”, aptly named, which meets the High Street at the Church of St Mary’s, the square tower of which you can just see at the bottom of the road. Behind it, off in the distance, the spire of St Martin’s rises proudly into the sky, notable as the oldest of the 3 main Churches in Haverfordwest (along with St Mary’s and St Thomas’s), located just across the road from the Castle itself.

Haver 3

We soon reached St Mary’s Church, which is the largest in the town. It has an impressive history to match its fine exterior, with the oldest sections of the building through to be the Nave (12th century) and various Carvings (13th century). However, the main bulk of the Church had to be rebuilt during the 1240’s thanks to an attack by Llewelyn the Great (1172 – 1240, Prince of Gwynedd) in 1220.

A new Organ was installed in 1737 by Harris & Byfield, making it 1 of the oldest in the UK. The Tower was also once topped by a mighty wooden spire, however it was removed in 1802 as Lady Kensington, who lived in a house nearby, was worried it may eventually fall and land on her house.

The position of St Mary’s gives it a grand feel, at the top of the High Street, looking down towards the other major landmarks in town, including the Shire Hall.

Haver 4

Gazing down from St Mary’s along the High Street, Haverfordwest reminded me of 1 of the many charming Cornish Villages we had visited earlier in the year, with colourful buildings, sloping high streets and bunting flapping in the wind.

The High Street is full of grand looking buildings, each with a historical story to tell. Let’s take a look at a few…

Haver 5

Located at Number 41 High Street is the fine looking HSBC Building, which began life in the 19th century as 2 individual terraced houses. By 1900 it had been taken over by the Metropolitan Bank, and the premises were merged together by D. E. Thomas. The Bank was later taken over (presumably bought out) by the Midland Bank, founded in 1836 in the English city of Birmingham.

The building is of course now home to the HSBC, the 4th largest bank in the world. Beginning life in Hong Kong in 1865, the initials are a mixture of “Hong Kong” and “Shanghai Banking Company”. They bought out the Midland Bank in 1992, so the branch was rebranded, and remains open for business as HSBC.

To the left of the HSBC is Number 42, which is far older than its exterior facade would suggest. Around 1880 the building was bought by Bisley H. Munt and remodelled (including the addition of the Clock), and if you look closely you can see that the name is still above the shop window. Ever since Mr Munt began trading here, the store has been a Jewellers, and remains so to this day.

Haver 6

Just a few doors down from Munt’s Jewellers is the old Shire Hall, perhaps the stand out building on the High Street, designed by William Owen (who also designed the old Corn Market), and completed in 1837. It sat alongside the aforementioned Corn Market in the day to day running of the town, as the Market had the Council Chamber, and the Shire hall the Assize Courts. Just a decade before Sidney White arrived to convert the Market into a Theatre, a new Council Chamber was built here by Arthur Thomas in 1901. Pembrokeshire County Council moved in, and remained the buildings owners until the early 2000’s, when a new structure was erected specifically for the council along the banks of the River Western Cleddau, becoming their new permanent home.

Haver 7

At the end of the High Street, before you make your way across the Cleddau, you can stop in Castle Square, and gaze up at the mighty walls of Haverfordwest Castle above you.

Haver 8

If however you choose to bypass the square, you will reach the bridge shown above, known as the “New Bridge”, and another fine contribution to the town by our friend William Owen, in 1837. It originally opened as a Toll Bridge, the Tolls later being removed in 1878.

As noted earlier, it spans the River Western Cleddau, which itself consists of Eastern and Western branches which meet near Priskilly Forest, continuing their journey together down through Haverfordwest. The Western Cleddau eventually unites with the River Eastern Cleddau at Milford Haven to form a large estuary called the Daugleddau Estuary.

Looking past the bridge, you can see a creamy coloured building with a pointed roof. This is the new Pembrokeshire County Hall building, facing the much older part of town across the river.

Haver 9

The view from this side of the river, looking back at the town centre is fantastic, with a mixture of old and new along the riverbank. High above us, the great Castle watches our every move, and must have been a frightening sight to any advancing armies.

The original Castle was built in 1120, with most of the buildings crafted out of Timber by the Earl of Pembroke, Gilbert de Clare (1100 – 1148). It was 1 of Gilbert’s successors as the Earl of Pembroke (William Marshal) who would go on to replace the Timber buildings with new stone ones, with the blessing of the English King John (1166 – 1216) who had taken possession of the Castle. Marshal’s new defences proved effective, as an attack by Llywelyn Fawr (1172 – 1240, Prince of Gwynedd) in 1220 resulted in the near total destruction of the town, but he never reached the Castle, which survived. The attack also destroyed St Mary’s Church as I mentioned earlier.

Most of what you see today dates from around 1290, when the Castle was reconstructed by Queen Eleanor of Castile (1241 – 1290, Queen Consort of King Edward I). The Castle also saw action during the English Civil War, when the town was taken by an army on the side of the Royalists in 1644. At the end of the War Oliver Cromwell (1599 – 1658, Leader of England/Scotland/Ireland) ordered the Castle destroyed, and it fell into disrepair. Over the years it has had a number of reprieves, and seen use as a Prison, Police Station etc, and it was even the home of the Pembrokeshire Record Office until 2013 when it was rehoused.

Haver 10

The towns riverfront is a slick looking modern affair, a major part of which is the new Riverside Shopping Centre, connected to the town centre by a pedestrian footbridge.

The Eastern bank of the River (on the shopping centre side) is marked by a large Clock Tower, which I believe was a gift to the town. It also contains a “Vogue” shop, and as their website puts it, it’s in a “unique setting”.

Haver 11

Looking further up the River, you can see the main section of the Riverside Shopping Centre, as well as another historic Bridge over the River. This is the older of the 2, and as the other is the “New Bridge”, this is the “Old Bridge”.

The Old Bridge was completed in 1726, given to the town as a gift by Sir John Philipps (1701 – 1764, 6th Baronet who served as MP for Pembrokeshire between 1761 and 1764).

On the left, opposite the Riverside Shopping Centre is the towns more modern Market, completed in the 1980’s. It’s quite a brutalist building, overhanging the River on pillars, yet somehow it does seem to fit in quite nicely with its neighbouring buildings. Overall we found the Riverside here to be quiet pleasant, and stopped for a break from exploring to enjoy our surroundings.

Haver 12

As Haverfordwest is essentially built on the side of a hill, there are many places where you can cut through between the various streets, usually consisting of a rather steep side road, or a set of steps. It’s amazing where you might end up following these shortcuts, and we ended up on a old, rugged looking street, almost level with the Castle, which we could see in the distance through a patch of foliage, which I think framed it rather nicely.

Haver 13

Our final stop was back where we started, having found our way into the Churchyard of St Thomas’s, opposite where we parked. It is 1 of the oldest buildings in the town, well part of it at least. It’s origins lie in the early 12th century, although its most obvious feature, the tall square tower, was only added in the 15th. It’s present appearance came about thanks to a major rebuild which occurred in the 1850’s, instigated by E. M. Goodwin.

The presence of so many Churches in Haverfordwest is quite unique, as apparently it is the only Welsh Town to have 3 different parishes within the boundaries of the settlement, all of which were set up during Norman Times.

So that was our trip to Haverfordwest, an interesting town which has been at the centre of Pembrokeshire for centuries, as the historic County Town, and the main settlement where the main roads out towards the other major towns/ports all meet. Architecturally there are many stand out buildings, all of which have a unique history to tell, and there is always more to them than meets the eye. The local railway station provides train services to Milford Haven in the West, and East towards the major cities of Swansea and Cardiff. From there you can get a train in various directions, although direct services run all the way through Hereford in England to the City of Manchester.

We pressed on however, towards the historic town of Pembroke, 11 miles to the South (even if the SatNav decided not to warn me about the Toll Bridge which crosses the Cleddau at Pembroke Dock)…

Pembrokeshire & South Wales: Pt 3 – Road to Haverfordwest

Leaving St David’s, we made for Pembrokeshire’s County Town, Haverfordwest. En route however, we spotted a couple of things of interest we weren’t expecting to find…

St Brides Bay & Newgale Beach – Pembrokeshire

Leaving St David’s, we had been following the A487 towards Haverfordwest, which had so far only really taken us through some luscious green countryside, with the occasional seaview as we came over the next rise. To our surprise, it was suddenly taking us downwards, and the vast expanse of Newgale Beach loomed ahead. We couldn’t help but stop to get some pictures!

Newgale Beach lies on the edge of St Bride’s Bay, which is where the River Alun (from St David’s) reaches the end of its journey. We were also still within the Pembrokeshire Coast National Park, as it follows the coast from St David’s to Pembroke, and we could see why they had chosen this part of coastline to protect. The views are absolutely stunning, looking both North and South around the Bay.

Pem 4

Roch Castle – Pembrokeshire

Leaving Newgale, we spotted a large Castle protruding above the trees near a farm just up the road, so we stopped to get a better look. In St Davids I had spotted an advertisement poster for Roch Castle, which helped me identify this Castle AS Roch Castle.

Roch Castle was built in the 12th century, after the Norman Invasion of England. Indeed it was a Norman Knight who built it, called Adam de Rupe. His family continued to own the Castle for many generations, until their line ended in the 15th century, so it passed to the Walter Family, who held it until the English Civil War forced them to flee their home, and the building was burnt by the Parliamentarians. This led to a period of decline, only reversed thanks to the intervention of 1st Viscount John Philipps (1860 – 1938, MP for Mid Lanarkshire from 1888 until 1895) in the early 20th century, and then the Griffiths-Roch Foundation in 2008 who now maintain and run the Castle.

Leaving St Bride’s Bay behind us, we closed in on Haverfordwest…

Pembrokeshire & South Wales: Pt 2 – St David’s

After a fascinating road trip down through West Wales, we arrived at our final destination, the UK’s smallest city, St David’s…

St David’s & The Cathedral Close (Tyddewi)

Status: Pembrokeshire, City, Wales

Date: 08/09/2015

Travel: Car

Eating & Sleeping: Sound Cafe

Attractions: St David’s Cathedral, Pembrokeshire Coast National Park, City Hall, Bishop’s Palace, National Park Visitor Centre, Celtic Cross, Cross Square, Tower Gate House, Bell Tower, River Alun etc

David 1

We parked up in a large car park opposite the Pembrokeshire Coast National Park Visitor Centre, a modern new building showcasing all that the Park has to offer. The Pembrokeshire Coast National Park is unique within the UK, as it’s the only National Park in the whole country to be focused upon a coastline. The Park covers an area of 234 square miles, with a length of over 180 miles along the Pembrokeshire Coast between just West of Cardigan round towards Tenby. St David’s is in a prime position, at the Westernmost point of Wales, right in the middle of the National Park.

The Park is 1 of 3 overall in Wales, with the others being the Snowdonia National Park in North Wales, and the Brecon Beacons in Mid Wales. Established in 1952, Pembrokeshire Coast became only the 5th National Park in England & Wales, of which there are currently 13.

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It was only a short walk into the city centre from the National Park Visitor Centre, and the 1st building of note we arrived at was St David’s City Hall. It is the home of St Davids City Council, who help to administer the day to day runnings of the city.

Whilst St Davids is commonly used to refer to the town, it’s official name is “St Davids & The Cathedral Close”, referring of course to the famous Cathedral which is a major landmark of the city.

St David’s is 1 of the ancient Cathedral Cities of Britain, alongside Ripon, St Asaph and many others. It is however only the size of a small village, and originally attained City Status in the 16th Century, as at the time any place with a Cathedral was recognised as a city. Unfortunately, when this criteria for becoming a city was abolished in 1888, St Davids become just a town. It would take over 100 years before the ancient status of City was restored, after a petition to Queen Elizabeth II, who recognised the status that St David’s had historically held.

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The centre of St David’s is characterised by a beautiful 14th Century Celtic Cross, which stands proudly in the middle of the aptly named “Cross Square”. Behind the Cross and to the left, you can see the Tabernacle, a Presbyterian Church of Wales building completed around 1815.

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Just past the Cross lies a small Memorial Garden, bordered with colourful flowers, and views towards some of the cities most well known landmarks.

St David’s Cathedral is enclosed by a 15 ft high stone wall, protecting this sanctuary from attack for numerous centuries. To access the Cathedral Close, 4 large gates were built into the walls, although only 1 example still survives, the 14th century Tower Gate House, shown above to the left. It forms the main entrance into the Close, and directly beneath the gate lies the Bishop’s Dungeon.

Accompanying the Gate House, directly to the right of the main gate, is an Octagonal Bell Tower dating back to the 13th century, complete with a full complement of 10 bells.

From where we live in Lancashire, St Davids is around 226 miles, so to travel that kind of distance there must be something very special at the other end, to make the trip worth doing. The main reason we decided to come here was to visit St David’s Cathedral, and whilst we had seen pictures of it, we were unprepared for how truly magnificent it really is up close. Our 1st view of the Cathedral was over the Close Wall, looking down into the Close below. We picked the perfect day to come weather wise, and so far we were nothing short of impressed.

As I said before, St David’s is fully located inside the Pembrokeshire Coast National Park, and the scenery here is fantastic. Not only is St David’s just 2 miles away from the coast of the Irish Sea, it also provides some great views of the surrounding countryside, such as a large rocky formation off in the distance towards Treleddyd-Fawr, another area of the National Park.

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Proceeding through the Gate, we found ourselves at the top of a steep flight of stairs, on a mound overlooking the whole Cathedral precinct. The view is astonishing, and you are really able to appreciate the scale of what you see before you.

The religious history of this site goes back to before 589 AD, when Saint David founded a small monastery here, which would eventually become the City that still exists today, taking its name from its founder. As many of you will know, St David (500 – 589) is the Patron Saint of Wales, and was born in nearby Caerfai, also in Pembrokeshire. He passed away on March 1st in 589 AD, so this became known as St David’s Day in Wales.

Over to the right of the Cathedral, are the ruins of the Medieval Bishop’s Palace, but more on that in a minute.

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St David’s Cathedral is the successor to Saint David’s original Monastery, which was destroyed numerous times in the centuries following his death, through raids etc. The present building wasn’t started until 1181, although it was beset by problems from the start, such as the collapse of the Cathedral Tower in 1220, followed by Earthquake damage in the late 1240’s.

The beautiful Nave roof was completed between 1530 and 1540, and the building flourished for over a century, until the English Civil War reached the city in 1648. The Parliamentarian Army ransacked/destroyed much of the building, and it would be another 200 years before the major damage, that done to the West Front, was repaired, overseen by John Nash (1752 – 1835, also responsible for the Royal Pavilion in Brighton, Parts of Buckingham Palace and the Guildhall in Newport, Isle of Wight). You can easily tell the areas which Nash rebuilt, as they are a different colour of stone to the rest of the building, with a purple hue.

David himself is buried at the Cathedral, in St David’s Shrine, which still exists today, having been lovingly restored following centuries of neglect. His remains are supposedly held within 1 of the shrines reliquaries, and he remains beloved by the people of Wales even today.

1 of the most recent additions, built in the late 2000’s are the new Cathedral Cloisters, with multiple walkways enclosed within large oak frames. They enclose a large open green space, and also contain the new Cathedral Cafe.

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Separating the Cathedral from the remains of the Bishop’s Palace is the River Alun, which has the appearance of a small stream. You can cross the River using the small stone bridge in the centre of the picture, which leads directly towards 1 of the 2 Cathedral Shops, shown on the left bank of the River. The other shop is located within the Cathedral Nave.

The Alun begins a few miles away, North of St David’s around Tretio Common, before beginning its journey South, heading through the centre of the city, and finally emptying out into St. Brides Bay.

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The Bishop’s Palace is a separate attraction, and whilst the Cathedral is completely free to enter (although a small donation is suitable), the Bishop’s Palace is a paid attraction, with tickets available from the nearby Cathedral Shop building.

The main portion of the surviving Bishop’s Palace can be attributed to the work of Bishop Henry de Gower, who served as the Bishop of St David’s between 1328 and 1348. Work on the Bishop’s Palace progressed alongside major works on the Cathedral, which saw some of its most prosperous years.

The building would be used by the different Bishops of St David’s until the 16th century, when the Bishop’s residence was moved to the village of Abergwili in Carmarthenshire, under Bishop William Barlow (Died in 1568). The Bishop’s Palace in St David’s went into decline, and by the end of the 17th century it had become ruinous.

Many of the major exterior features survived, such as the Great Hall, which visitors can explore for themselves. Despite it’s sad history, it remains an important part of the heritage of St David’s, and no trip to the Cathedral would be complete without it.

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We had actually arrived in St David’s at around 8am, having left Lancashire at 2am, and made the 5.5 hour trip (with a few stops) to Pembrokeshire. After some exploration, it was time for breakfast, and we found a brilliant little cafe called the “Sound Cafe” on the high street looking out towards the Memorial Gardens/Cathedral.

St David’s is a beautiful little city, in 1 of Wales’s most idyllic locations. It is the smallest city in the UK, as well as the only city in the UK to be located within a National Park. Built around its connection to the Patron Saint of Wales, and incredible Cathedral, it is a must see for anyone travelling to West Wales. All the locals are very friendly, and there are plenty of attractions both within the city and the wider area to spend a pleasant few days out here, such as a trip out by boat to Ramsey Island. It certainly ranks very highly amongst our Welsh trip destinations over the years, and we are very glad we made the trip here.

A pot of tea, and a Bacon/Sausage/Egg Balm later, we were ready to hit the road for the next stage of our journey, heading towards the town of Haverfordwest…

Pembrokeshire & South Wales: Pt 1 – Road to St Davids

At 2am one chilly Tuesday morning, we set off for the City of St David’s in the Welsh County of Pembrokeshire, around 5.5 hours away by road. En route, we would experience some stunning Welsh locations and towns, most notably around Cardigan…

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Sunrise – Ceredigion

2am is quite a time to start a journey, and by 6am the sun was rising over the Ceredigion Countryside, glistening over a layer of haze drifting over the hilltops. The moon was shining high in the sky, and the whole scene was like something out of a fairytale. What also made it special was that we were alone, out in the middle of West Wales, and whilst everyone else was sound asleep, we were taking in some unique views that we hadn’t seen the like of before.

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Cardigan Bay (Looking North) – Ceredigion

Just 10 minutes up the road, we reached the coast, and stopped to watch a stunning sunrise over Cardigan Bay, the largest Bay in Wales, which stretches from the area around Porthmadog, past Aberystwyth, and into Pembrokeshire around Fishguard.

In the distance, the peaks of North Wales, possibly even the Snowdonia National Park, loomed out of the hazy horizon like ghosts, whilst the lights of Aberystwyth twinkled in the near distance, just round the coast. The town is reasonably isolated compared to many others in Wales, with the nearest large towns/cities up to 2 hours away by road. The town is famous for its University, Promenade and substantial Castle Ruins which overlook the seafront.

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Cardigan Bay (Looking South) – Ceredigion

Looking across the bay to the South, the coastal A487 snaked off into the distance, towards the town of Aberaeron, whose shining lights you can see in the middle distance. The coast here is a mixture of beaches, rugged terrain and clifftops with sheer drops down to the water below.

Looking past the Bay itself, the vast expanse of the Irish Sea was laid out before us, with the neighbouring island of Ireland somewhere off in the distance, far out of sight.

Cardigan Guildhall – Ceredigion

In the centre of the town of Cardigan, stands Cardigan Guildhall, widely regarded as 1 of the finest buildings in the West of Wales. The initial designs for the building were put forwards in November 1856 by R J Withers, and approved the following year. He based his design on the style of John Ruskin (1819 – 1900, Victorian Architect/Philanthropist), a trend which would soon become common around Britain, known as “Ruskinian Gothic”. Cardigan Guildhall however is notable as the 1st building in the UK to use the style, which would eventually be used on such famous icons as Manchester Town Hall, and London St Pancras International.

When the Guildhall opened in July 1860, it contained a mixture of offices and Market Stalls, becoming a focal point for the town. The Clock Tower was a later addition, designed by Richard Thomas, and paid for by the then Mayor, David Davies (1818 – 1890). The Clock Mechanism was built by a firm from the English City of Derby called the “Midland Clock Works”, and was installed by 1892.

Outside the main entrance to the building sits a cast Iron Russian Field Gun, and its placement here is perhaps almost Ironic, as well as a memorial to a famous day in history. On October 25th 1854, the well known “Charge of the Light Brigade” was led by Lord Cardigan during the Crimean War. The original intention was to send the Brigade after a Russian Battalion in retreat, however they were instead sent against a volley of Russian Field Guns, which ended in tragedy for the Brigade. The mix up has been blamed on miscommunication, but it remains controversial today, as historians are unsure who to place the blame on. This very gun was used against the Brigade, and it reminds the town that it was their Earl, James Brudenell (1797 – 1868, 7th Earl of Cardigan) who led the charge.

Cardigan (Other Sights of Interest) – Ceredigion

The Guildhall lies at the top of Priory Street, where it meets the High Street. Looking back down Priory Street, there are a few other buildings of note, starting with the former Courthouse (shown in the 1st picture to the right), a small ochre coloured building completed in 1935. By 1943 it was home to the Cardigan Petty Sessions Court, which had presumably previously been held in the Guildhall.

To its immediate left, lies the towns Police Station, which opened in 1895. It was built by J Williams & Sons, who were also responsible for the construction of various other buildings around the town, including the Post Office.

Looking past the 2 of these, you can see the tower of St Mary’s Church, a historic place of worship the oldest parts of which date back to the 14th century (Nave). It stands where an old Benedictine Priory was located from the 12th – 14th centuries, in a prominent position on the North Bank of the River Teifi (out of shot to the right of the building). Just along the river you will find the ruins of Cardigan Castle, built sometime around the 11th/12th centuries.

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Dawn over Cardigan – Ceredigion

Sadly we didn’t have time to explore the rest of Cardigan, but we left via a large road bridge over the River Teifi, getting a great view back towards the Castle/Town Centre. Just outside Cardigan we stopped to admire the beautiful Welsh Countryside, illuminated by the sun which had by now risen fully, glistening over the low lying mist.

Fishguard – Pembrokeshire

20 miles South West of Cardigan, we had arrived in Pembrokeshire, and stopped to admire the views above the town of Fishguard. The town is effectively split into 2 parts, with the main town, and “Lower Fishguard”, the original fishing port that grew into the larger town. It was on a large incline between Lower Fishguard and Fishguard Town that we stopped in a layby, and gazed out across the Harbour.

It’s a vast area, which is defended from the crashing waves of the Irish Sea by a large Sea Wall, extending out into the water. Fishguard is now a major port, as Stena Line services to Rosslare Harbour in the Republic of Ireland regularly cross the Irish Sea from here.

Looking back at Lower Fishguard you can see how charming the area looks in the 3rd picture, a lovely Welsh fishing port in an idyllic setting.

Leaving Fishguard behind us, we made the final push for St David’s, just 15 miles away along the coast…

Eastern Europe: Pt 9 – The Journey Home

After a fascinating trip which took in the Polish City of Krakow, the haunting remains of Auschwitz/Auschwitz Birkenau, and the town of Zakopane high in the mountains, it was time to head home, but the adventure didn’t stop there. It’s amazing what you can see from a plane on a clear day…

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Krakow – Poland

Flying out of Krakow International Airport, we were able to look back and get the best view yet of the city, as centuries of history lay in 1 great expanse before us. If you actually zoom into the picture a bit, right to the centre you can even make out the towers around the Market Square, of the Cathedral and the former Town Hall, as well as the Castle Complex atop Wawel Hill not far away.

It was a fitting send off to a magnificent city, as we left Poland behind us…

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Pardubice – Czech Republic

Leaving Polish airspace, we began our journey over the neighbouring Czech Republic, and the 1st major place we encountered was the city of Pardubice. It is easily characterised from the air by the airport at the Southern end of town, which, whilst technically a military installation, is also used for commercial flights, particularly during the Summer months.

Pardubice is a very historic city, with a large central square where you will find the “Green Tower”, a large Clock Tower which dominates the skyline. Snaking its way around the town to the North, and just visible in the lower portion of the picture, is the Labe River, the 2nd longest river in the whole country.

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Prague – Czech Republic

Just 62 miles West of Pardubice we flew over a much larger settlement, and when I got home I finally managed to match up the pictures with satellite images of the area, concluding beyond reasonable doubt that it was the city of Prague, the capital city of the Czech Republic.

Prague was founded over 1000 years ago, and has been the capital city of various Empires and countries ever since. By 1348 Prague was the new capital of the Holy Roman Empire, after Charles IV (1316 – 1378) moved his court there. In 1918 it would also become the capital of Czechoslovakia, a joint state comprised of the Czech Republic and Slovakia which broke away from the Austro-Hungarian Empire at the end of World War I. The Union remained in place until 1993 when the 2 countries split, and Prague is currently the capital of the Czech Republic.

Its most famous landmark has to be the great Cathedral of St Vitus which towers over much of the city. Not far away lies Prague Castle, whose history can be traced back centuries, although the modern incarnation was only completed in 1929, and is the official residence of the countries President.

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Scarborough – England

Prague was the last stop in mainland Europe I could discern for definite from the pictures I had taken, so it was on to the North Sea, where England came into view. We were level with the Yorkshire town of Scarborough, famous for its charming harbour, sea views, and Medieval Castle Ruins which sit atop the large hill that protrudes seawards from the mainland, shown above.

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North Yorkshire Coast – England

We continued North along the coast, being treated to some truly fantastic views across North East Yorkshire, as we headed for the next major seaside town…

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Whitby – England

We were soon flying past Whitby, easily identifiable thanks to the 2 stone piers that provide shelter for the towns harbour. Whitby has a number of other famous landmarks, including the ruins of Whitby Abbey, which is situated up on top of the cliff just to the left of the river Esk, which empties out into the North Sea here.

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Teeside – England

We soon reached the border between the historic counties of Yorkshire, and County Durham to the North, marked by the River Tees, shown above. It is 1 of three major rivers that we would be flying past before we reached Newcastle Airport, and each has a large industrial setting, along with a major town or city.

The Mouth of the Tees is surrounded by numerous towns, with Redcar in Yorkshire directly to the left of the river, and Hartlepool in County Durham to the right. The largest town in the area, Middlesbrough (Yorkshire), is visible further upstream where the river begins to bend, and includes such famous landmarks as the Riverside Stadium, Middlesbrough Town Hall and the historic Transporter Bridge. You can find out more about the town of Middlesbrough in my dedicated post from an earlier visit here.

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County Durham Coastline – England

Living in Lancashire, I am used to flights leaving from/arriving into Liverpool John Lennon, Manchester, Blackpool and Leeds/Bradford Airports, so I haven’t actually flown up the English East Coast before. Needless to say it was a fantastic treat for me, and the views continued to be incredible, as we made it to the coastline of County Durham.

A lovely sunset shone across the North Sea, but we still had a few places left to see…

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Wearside – England

The 2nd major river mouth we passed was that of the River Wear, also known as Wearside, still in County Durham. The City of Sunderland is located on both banks of the Wear, and if you look to the centre of the picture, just below the bend in the river you can see the “Stadium of Light”, the home ground of Sunderland A.F.C.. Near the mouth of the river you can see the vast expanse of Sunderland Docks, which historically traded in Coal and Salt.

Protecting the entrance to the harbour are 2 large stone piers, each with a Lighthouse on the end, whilst in the city centre you can visit such sights as the Wearmouth Bridge, the Winter Gardens and take a trip on the Tyne & Wear Metro, which runs from Sunderland round towards the nearby city of Newcastle. You can find out more about the city of Sunderland in my dedicated post here.

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Tyneside – England

Our final picture, and also our 3rd major river, covers the area known as “Tyneside”, located around the River Tyne, which runs into the North Sea near the top of the picture.

On the far side of the river is the settlement of North Shields, historically in County Durham, known for its large parks which lead down to the beach, and impressive Town Hall. Sitting opposite North Shields is Tynemouth on the coast, with its famous Castle Ruins on a hill overlooking the beach. Just to the left of Tynemouth is North Shields’s twin town of South Shields, which it is connected to by the Shields Ferry.

You can find out more about North Shields in my post here, and South Shields in my post here.

The large city of Newcastle-upon-Tyne is just out of shot to the right, in the historic county of Northumberland, and holds the distinction of being the largest settlement in the North East of England. Find out more in my post here.

At the bottom of the picture you can see a Lighthouse, which sits on St Mary’s Island, looking back towards the town of Whitley Bay. St Mary’s Lighthouse was built in 1898, by a local company from Tynemouth called John Miller & Co. It was a modern replacement for a small Chapel from the 11th century which had been used as a lantern tower to warn ships of the dangerous rocks as they neared the coast. Although it’s no longer used, it remains an important local landmark, and a popular visitor attraction.

Not long after we flew past the Lighthouse, we were touching down at Newcastle International Airport, back where we started at the beginning of our adventure into Eastern Europe. Although we were home, there were plenty of new adventures around Britain waiting for us…