South-West Wales – Travel Review
By Dominic Picksley
“Bore da,” my daughter Amelia nervously said to the kind chap behind the counter in the local shop as she topped up her sweets supply during our week in south-west Wales.
“Bore da,” he smiled back, pleased in the knowledge that someone from England had bothered to learn a little bit of Welsh, even if it was just to say “good morning”.–
They speak a lot of the national lingo in the north Pembrokeshire village of Cilgerran – where we were staying – and the surrounding areas, which must be some of the most picturesque in the whole of Wales.
Cilgerran, on the banks of the River Teifi, lies just inside Pembrokeshire, but not far from the borders of both Ceredigion and Carmarthenshire, and boasts an impressive 12th-century castle (now owned by the National Trust), much of which is still intact, as well as the Welsh Wildlife Reserve, that offers scenic walks by the river, in woodland and through the Teifi marshes.
“Air of glamour”
Our base for the week was Sykes Cottages’ Station Hall, an impressive three-bedroom house on two and a bit levels, that felt very spacious, homely and welcomed dogs.
The off-road parking box was firmly ticked, which is something of a prerequisite for us as finding a spot on the street can be a nightmare, but the pièce de résistance and biggest box ticker of all was… the hot tub.
Most evenings my children could be found in its relaxing warm waters following a busy day out and if they wanted some privacy, they could even pull down the shutters on the enclosure that surrounded it. They may not have been seen, but they could definitely still be heard.
The open-plan living room and dining room easily had enough space for all of us, with the central flight of stairs adding an air of glamour to proceedings. You were half expecting a Shirley Bassey-type figure to appear in her finest gown, belting out a classic while striding elegantly down the steps. And the enclosed garden was also another plus.
“Brush with fame”
The house was also a good location to start any adventure from, with Cardigan Bay’s attractive beaches to the west and north, the popular tourist destinations of St David’s, Tenby, Milford Haven and Saundersfoot to the south, while the Brecon Beacons were east of us.
It was in the aforementioned town of Tenby (top image) – after a very enjoyable couple of hours at nearby Manorbier Castle – that we even enjoyed a brush with fame, meeting a well-known celebrity running his dad’s shop, Dale’s Music. The Dale in question was Charles, better known as ‘Big Mac’ in Casualty and a former resident of Coronation Street.
He’s a Tenby lad and when not on set (he’s recently been in the BBC drama Sherwood), he likes to help out the family business, so my son Ben assisted him by secretly buying me a wallet with ‘The Who’ emblazoned upon it.
The next day we headed north to New Quay and Ben, Amelia and myself ventured out on paddle boards for the first-ever time, courtesy of Cardigan Bay Watersports.
“High in the hills”
After some quick instructions we paddled out into the picturesque bay, kneeling at first before we felt brave enough to stand up. And it wasn’t as tricky as I thought – definitely ‘simpler’ than being out on the water on a surfboard.
Needless to say, I still fell off several times, but the shallow, lukewarm waters made it pretty easy to clamber back on board and try again. The only disappointment was that we didn’t book for two hours, but the company are very popular and slots quickly fill up.
A world away from the hustle and bustle of Cardigan Bay, was Castell Henllys Iron Age village, just a 15-minute drive from Station Hall and perched high in the hills of the Pembrokeshire Coast National Park, far from the madding crowd.
After exploring several impressive roundhouses – after the children walked the barefoot trail – we then learnt how to use slingshots, using lumps of bread dough rather than rocks, probably to avoid near-certain injury.
The local ‘Demetae tribe’ folk were very friendly, too, telling us tales of life 2,000 years ago, when life seemed much simpler.
While in this part of Cymru, we also enjoyed an afternoon on Poppit Sands Beach, near Cardigan, and a couple of hours of crabbing at Aberaeron harbour.
Our route home took us past Aberystwyth, up the coast road, and a few miles inland we stopped at the Silver Mountain Experience, an old 19th-century mine that has been turned into a visitor attraction.
You can discover the old workings of the mine, read fascinating excerpts of its history or, like Ben and I did, take the Black Chasm tour, which involved being led into dark huts and some eerie caves by the scariest, creepiest young witch I have ever encountered.
It was not for the faint-hearted and you had to keep your wits about you as she loved nothing more than catching you unaware or even screaming in your face, all while wearing a psychotic grin.
Wales, what an amazing place, full of character, history, stunning vistas and long, sandy beaches. And we only scratched the surface. We’ll be back.
A week’s stay at Station Hall, with Sykes, starts from £614 per week
Paddleboard hire with Cardigan Bay Watersport is £20 per hour
Silver Witch Mountain Experience tickets – Adults £16.95, Children £12.95
Family ticket at Castell Henllys £18.50