Tudor history, fabulous beaches and cream teas
48 hours in Pembroke
A Norman settlement built on a rocky promontory with a main street running along a ridge that ends in one of Wales’ most impressive castles, the colourful town of Pembroke is steeped in history and makes a fascinating base for excursions around the south of the county.
Step back in time…
Make your way along the sunny high street with its cheery, colourful, mismatched houses and let the historic layout draw you towards the castle walls. With many surviving medieval burgage plots (long, narrow plots stemming from one main street), the town centre is interlaced with alleyways and narrow passages between buildings that lead steeply down off the ridge. Explore this interesting lacework before you reach the castle – Pembroke’s shining jewel – first built in the 11th century and now open to visitors year-round. Learn about its fascinating history and marvel at its imposing walls which have been constructed, rebuilt and restored over the last thousand years to house many important figures – the most significant being Henry VII who was born here and begun the Tudor dynasty. Daily events over summer, including re-enactments and falconry displays along with informative and interactive exhibits in the castle.
After you’re done inside, examine the majestic fortress from all angles by taking the lovely circular route around the millponds that would once have been the castle’s moat. This accessible, tarmacked loop can be walked or cycled, and the best views are from the tidal wall on the castle’s far side, built to contain the millpond and prevent the water escaping with each tide. From this angle, the township is practically hidden behind the battlements… a sight not to be missed! You can also hire a rowing boat from Paddlewest to enjoy the aspect from upon the water itself, or even take a half-day canoe tour of the Cleddau estuary to get a deeper feel for the landscape and historically important waterway. Watch out for herons, swans, coots and moorhens, and keep your eyes peeled for bats flitting across the water at dusk.
As you wander past…
Stop for tea and homemade cake at the Quayside Café in the Cornstore building. Looking out over the water at the castle walls, you can indulge in scrumptious views and food simultaneously! After you’ve lunched, perhaps amble back through town, stopping in some little shops and galleries along the way. We love Leicester House Gallery and Gifts for sea-scape prints, lovely greeting cards, pottery and homeware; the owner also hand-dyes colourful rolls of paper for those extra special presents and sells all kinds of craft supplies for the artists among you.
Also pop your head into Saltwater Studio, where owner and graphic designer Amanda designs wall-worthy poster prints of local scenes and sells solely Pembrokeshire-made products. Follow the bronze plaques set into the pavements on the Pembroke Town Trail to learn more about the town’s rich history involving the Knights Templar, Cromwell and of course Henry Tudor. Venture into the town hall, which was once the old courtroom, where you’ll find Pembroke Museum. Exhibits include the silent movies of William Haggar, a pioneer of British cinema, and the Pembroke Murals, a pictorial history of the town through time.
If you fancy an al fresco afternoon drink…
There are a number of great pub choices. The Waterman’s Arms has a terrace that juts out over the water’s edge where you can sit with the millpond lapping gently at your feet, or find a space on the sunny bridge between the upper and middle ponds with a pint from The Royal George. On the high street, you’ll find the Old Cross Saws Inn, which has a sunny beer garden enclosed by trees and medieval stone walls.
For dinner, head south to the Stackpole Inn. Having won many awards and accolades over the years, this traditional pub’s gorgeous creeper-clad exterior is almost as appealing as its food, which is carefully cooked by a talented head chef with years of experience in Michelin and AA Rosette restaurants and sourced from local producers wherever possible.
The next day…
There’s so much to see! Pembroke is ideally situated so you can find somewhere lovely in any direction. Many of the must-see places are serviced by the Coastal Cruiser bus service (number 387), making it easy to be an eco-conscious traveller, or to simply relax and ditch the car for a day.
Hop on the Coastal Cruiser to explore the Angle Peninsular. The sheltered West Angle Bay sits in the mouth of the Haven Waterway so is a perfect place for snorkelling or just relaxing on its golden sand, before a scrumptious crab roll from beachside vendor Café Môr. From the beach there is a lovely circular walk all around the headland, passing some very unspoiled and remote little coves before reaching Freshwater West and turning back inland. This is a strenuous but rewarding section, and walkers should note that there are no escapes or road-based short cuts around the headland until you cut back in land at the beach. For something shorter, walk north around the coast to East Angle Bay then cut back through the village.
The bus route services all the beauty spots on Pembrokeshire’s southern coast, including Freshwater West, where you can try your hand at riding the famous waves with a lesson from Outer Reef Surf School.
For an inland adventure, explore the picturesque ruins of Lamphey Bishop’s Palace, or why not get off at St Govans Chapel, a late medieval building on an ancient hermitage site where the saint allegedly hid from pirates. The steps can be steep and slippery, but it’s worth it to see this beautiful little stone hideaway. It’s a nice walk from here along the coastal path to the Stack Rocks and Green Bridge of Wales. These incredible natural rock formations have been carved out of the limestone cliffs by the force of the ocean and powerful wave action over thousands of years. This is a lovely, mainly flat walk of under 1.5 miles, through the Castlemartin firing range’s rich habitat, home to many animals and plants as a result of the area being largely closed off to humans. Be sure to check if it’s firing before you come.
The bus can pick you up from Stack Rocks and take you back to Pembroke, or you can get off for tea and cake in the sunshine at Bosherston Tea Rooms (also known as Olde World Café) or a pub lunch at The St Govans Inn next door. There’s a lovely walk around Bosherston Lily Ponds – go in June to see the lilies in bloom – which comes out onto the exquisite Broadhaven South beach. This also makes a wonderful nighttime stargazing adventure, as the beach’s car park is one of the country’s few designated dark sky areas. Cross your fingers for good weather and see if you can spot the milky way!
If you want to experience this beautiful stretch of coastline from in or on the water rather than the clifftops, why not do an afternoon of coasteering or paddleboarding with Outerreef. Arrive at the breath-taking Barafundle Bay from the water, swimming, jumping and traversing your way around the cliffs from Stackpole Quay, or in a kayak on a leisurely tour. Or, for those with a head for heights, book onto a day of climbing the exquisite cliffs of south Pembrokeshire with Climb Pembroke or The Climbing Company . The instructors will guide you to the most suitable routes in groups limited to 1:2, teach you skills, or simply climb with you if all you need is someone to belay.