Square & Compass – Pembrokeshire (6-13 July 2016)

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July 16th 2016
Published: July 16th 2016
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Our week in Wales is almost at an end. It’s been pleasant but the weather has been a bit colder and wetter than we’d have liked and so that has slowed us down a bit. We didn’t walk as much as we’d have liked this week but we’ve spent more time in the car and our morning starts have been a bit later than normal. We’ve been staying in a village called Square and Compass, on the northern coastline of St David’s Peninsula and about 7 miles (10 km) from St David’s itself. Calling Square and Compass a village is probably exaggerating its size; it’s more a collection of houses strung along the road and served by a garage-cum-convenience store with a rarely-open pub up the road.

We arrived here after a fairly long drive from North Devon via Cheddar Gorge, a series of motorways and a trip across the Severn River Bridge. No real problems until I realised that I’d spent all of our cash filling the car and the Severn River Bridge is a toll bridge. Some moments of panic ensued as we wondered/hoped they took cards and then Terry found £10.00 left in my wallet. And yes, they do take cards.

Our first visit after arrival was to the town of St David’s to purchase provisions but we ended up spending a few hours there as it’s quite pretty, there’s a cathedral to visit and the gallery at the information centre had paintings by Constable and Turner on display - I very much enjoyed seeing Constable’s 6-footer painting “Salisbury Cathedral from the Meadows”. Saint David is the patron saint of Wales and according to tradition was born close to the town. The cathedral is built on the site where David originally founded a monastery in the 6th Century but the cathedral itself was built by the Normans sometime in the 11th Century - the high alter supposedly sits over the remains of St David and there is also a separate shine to him. Unlike many cathedrals, this one was barely touched by Henry VIII’s cronies during the Dissolution of the Monasteries. This is because they’d already destroyed a nearby cathedral that contained the tomb of a Tudor ancestor. At Henry’s insistence that tomb was moved to St David’s and so the cathedral was saved. Architecturally, the cathedral is quite interesting. It has a wooden ceiling rather than the vaulted stone ceiling of most other cathedrals we’ve visited. It also has a sloping floor with a fall of 14 feet along the length of the cathedral – the slope was quite noticeable. Apparently the cathedral builders just laid the floor along the lie of the land rather than excavate. The first horizontal is at window sill level. The pillars in the cathedral all have wedge-like bases to account for the sloping floor. Because of its cathedral, St David’s is considered to be the smallest city in the UK – a cathedral traditionally giving a settlement city status. Adjacent to the cathedral are the remains of the Bishop’s Palace as well as the wall and tower gatehouse. I was surprised at the number of galleries in town but I suppose that’s an indication of its popularity on the tourist trail.

We’ve been surprised at the number of properties for sale in this region; most properties in the small villages near our cottage seem to have a “For Sale” sign outside. We’ve also been surprised by the housing stock – lots of bungalows (single storey homes) in comparison to other parts of the UK. I’ve enjoyed seeing the brightly painted houses in seaside locations. I've also been surprised at the amount of Welsh that we've heard spoken. It's not unusual to hear older people speaking Welsh in pubs and cafes and we heard a teacher speaking the language to her class on their visit to St David's cathedral.

We visited the town of Tenby yesterday and I think that I’d go so far as saying that it’s my favourite seaside town so far on this trip. It’s a walled, beachside town on the southern Pembrokeshire coastline and has sizeable, sandy beaches overlooked by colourful Victorian-era houses. At present it’s very pleasant, busy enough to have a bit of character but still feel relaxed – give it a few weeks and I reckon it will be bedlam. We had lunch in an old Tudor merchant’s house not far from the harbour and visited a National Trust reconstruction of a Tudor House next door - we were both very impressed with the huge fireplace in the kitchen. We learnt that Tenby is the birth place of Robert Recorde, a mathematician and physician who was the inventor of the equals sign.

On one rainy day we decided to head north and visited the towns of Fishguard, Newport and Cardigan plus a couple of smaller locations between. All of these towns are either fishing villages (herring) or old ports, and so located on substantial inlets or rivers. This turned out to be the day that we toured a pile of old rocks. First there was the small, Neolithic burial mound at Newport, followed by the ruined castle at Cilgerran near Cardigan, the St Dogmaels Abbey ruins near Cardigan and finally the large, Neolithic burial mound at Pentre Ifan, in the middle of nowhere and reached by a series of very narrow country roads. It was a surprisingly interesting day. The burial mound structures are quite large and as you look at them you have to ask “How did they get that stone there?”.

We have had a couple of days where we did get to experience the outdoors a bit more. The coastline of Pembrokeshire is basically two peninsulas that bound St Brides Bay. The southern peninsula is the Marloes Peninsula and once you get away from the industrial areas of Milford Haven and Pembroke Dock is a series of tiny villages along the coastline. Our first stop was Dale where there were a few yachts in the harbour and people were learning to stand up paddleboard. We walked along the cliffs and beach at Marloes Sands and I was very taken with the huge rock formations on the beach. Finally, our GPS lead us home via the scenic coast road. This really was a lovely drive and we passed through some lovely, but tiny, beachside towns. The road was steep, winding and the narrowest we’ve encountered so far, periodically with one car needing to back up so that cars could pass. Quite a few farms had signs out indicating that they were set up for camping and some had caravans and tents already set up in a paddock.

Today has been our final day. We went for a walk along the cliff tops but otherwise had a quiet day. We walked from the village of Porthgain to the even smaller village of Abereiddi and then back again. The day started out nice and sunny, turned cold, windy and overcast before we left home but by lunchtime was picture postcard perfect and our best day weatherwise in Wales. The village of Porthgain is just a few kilometres from Square and Compass and is the location of a pretty nice pub. The village has a small harbour that is home to a couple of fishing boats and the harbour is surrounded by the ruins of buildings and storage bins related to the local mining industry. They used to mine slate at Albereiddi and this was transported to Porthgain along a tramway before being cut at Porthgain and then put on ships. Later on road-making stone (dolerite) was shipped from the harbour and used on many roads throughout the UK. At Abereiddi the old slate quarry is now a large, deep swimming hole, open to the sea after the entrance to the quarry was blasted out to allow the sea to flood the quarry. We learned a new word today – “coasteering”. This is where you jump from a perfectly good cliff into the incredibly cold sea clad only in a wet suit; or at least that’s the version that the local kids were doing today. The advertisements for the commercial version of this extreme sport have photographs of the participants wearing a buoyancy vest and helmet. It was interesting watching todays participants psyche themselves up before jumping (even the second and third time) and to note how long it took before they actually made a splash – the cliffs were reasonably high.

Tomorrow we leave for the Peaks District, a 280-mile drive that will probably take about 6 hours. We hope to stop at one location for a bit of sightseeing enroute.

It’s now a few days after leaving Pembrokeshire and time to get this instalment finished. We had a very pleasant drive through Wales and into England. We drove along the coast to Aberystwyth and enjoyed great scenery along the way. We passed through towns whose names we had no hope of pronouncing and some even without any vowels in their name. After we turned inland we travelled through some lovely forest (love the tunnels the trees make over the road), over treeless mountains and along valleys before finally stopping at Powis Castle close to the English border. Powis Castle is the ancestral seat of the Herbert family. The family are still very involved with the castle and own around 80% of the furniture and artefacts on display. The castle was great but the garden was even better.

Additional photos below
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17th July 2016

I can see you had some grey days in Wales but I think that is par for the course in Wales isn't it? Nice to see the blue skies at Powis Castle. Enjoy the next part of your trip & I look forward to reading all about it.

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