Summer in Pembrokeshire
Sandy coves lined with blackberry bushes looking out over a gentle, turquoise sea. Puffins, lily pads, beach shacks and wild, windswept beaches. Pembrokeshire has much in common with Cornwall except for the crowds. It’s quiet, peaceful and serene and with its world-class beaches, picture perfect glamping sites and the wonderful Grove of Narbeth hotel, it’s the perfect place for a family summer holiday.
We were supposed to be going to Canada. The plan was to fly to Vancouver, hire an RV and drive into the wilderness to explore the beautiful mountains and lakes of that majestic country. But a series of unexpected events led us instead to a field in West Wales. Sometimes fate can be cruel and merciless and sometimes it can give you something so unexpectedly wonderful that you thank the gods for serendipity and chance. This is what happened to us this summer.
We only book our holiday three weeks before we are due to leave. With the school holidays looming and nothing whatsoever planned, I spend a frantic Saturday afternoon cycling through my favourite ‘go-to’ places to stay, cursing our characteristic lack of organisation and apathy towards planning. After many, many non-starts I am amazed to find one available cabin at Cwtch Camping, an idyllic glamping site situated up on a hill just outside the prettily named village of Rosemarket in Pembrokeshire. After a quick phonecall to the owner Beth, we secure a bell tent in which to house the boys and then we are all set. Two weeks later we hop in the car and travel the entire length of the M4 to the very West of Wales, almost as far as one can go without bumping in to Ireland.
We arrive at Cwtch late on a Monday afternoon and after dumping our bags in our cabin and briefly exploring the camp we jump back in the car and head to Druidstone beach for an early evening swim. This is something we do only for the first time on this trip, but we resolve to go every evening and so now it’s a firm family tradition. We find it to be the perfect way to transition from the sweltering heat of a day at the beach to a cosy, snugly, cwtchy evening around the fire. We park at the top of the lane and clamber down the steep steps to the deserted, moonscape beach below. We shed our clothes and run shrieking into the sea. It’s cool, but not cold, and the salt water in our nostrils and the sand in our hair tells us all that our holiday has properly begun.
Our mornings and evenings are spent at Cwtch. It’s entirely off-grid with a Calor gas stove and hot shower being the only obvious interlopers from the modern world. We cook hotdogs and burgers and pans of pasta on the barbecue and toast marshmallows over the fire. We rely on torchlight, candles, the flickering flames of the fire and the light of the moon to see. It takes a day to get used to having no electricity but it soon becomes liberating to see our devices fail one by one. First the Nintendo Switch, then the Apple watches, and finally the iPhones, retaining just enough charge from our short car trips use the National Trust app and post the odd photo to Instagram.
We are enormously, marvellously, wonderfully lucky with the weather, catching the end of the unprecedented heatwave. Most mornings we awake to Welsh mizzle but by midday the clouds trundle off on their merry way leaving gloriously sunny skies behind them. We head, as we always do in Pembrokeshire, to Barafundle bay, one of the nicest beaches in the world. We park at Stackpole Quay in the National Trust car park and, although we usually amble across the headland, this first day we take the longer path past the Bosherton lily ponds and down to Broadhaven South beach where we stop for a picnic lunch and a paddle in the sea.
After lunch we walk across the coastal path to Barafundle. As we descend the wooded path we catch our first glimpse of the turquoise water and shimmering sand through gaps in the dense blackberry brambles lining the path. It’s one of my favourite views in the world, like peering through a secret portal into a new and wonderful world. We climb down the final few steps and Edward runs straight into the waves and the rest of us take off our shoes to feel the soft, warm sand on the soles of our feet.
We joyfully spend every day of our holiday at Barafundle, but we do also manage to squeeze in a trip to Marloes Sands one morning. We arrive to see the most enormous, sweeping sandy beach in front of us. We want to run down to the sand but turn instead to walk the coastal path to Martin’s Haven where the day trippers are boarding boats to see puffins and pufflings on Skomer. We arrive back at Marloes Sands to find the beach almost entirely vanished, with just enough space for us to sit on a rock and eat our lunch*. We have a quick swim in the sea before the tide sends us packing and we gather up our belongings and return to our beloved Barafundle to while away the rest of the afternoon.
* If we'd not had a packed lunch with us we would have eaten in the Runwayskiln Cafe which is, by all accounts excellent
GROVE AT NARBETH & LAUGHARNE
After three short days it’s time to leave Cwtch and we drive a few miles to the wonderful Grove at Narberth for a night of luxury after being out in the wild. We play croquet and drink Seedlips and tonic, we wander through the picturesque kitchen garden, we eat a delicious dinner in the restaurant and retire to a little drawing room to play an indecent game of Cards Against Humanity. Our stay is short but incredibly sweet and after vowing to return we make our way to Laugharne, our last stop on our Welsh adventure.
We had big plans for Laugharne. We were to visit Dylan and Caitlin Thomas’s boathouse and wander around the castle grounds but the weather is filthy, hilariously dreadful. Our luck with the weather has finally broken and our trip is curtailed by torrential, horizontal rain.
We depart earlier than intended and make our way back to London. We resolve to return to Pembrokeshire next summer, back to Cwtch and back to the Grove at Narbeth. Back to the sunshine and the blue skies, back to the lovely cabin, the wonderful hotel and all those gorgeous beaches. And Canada? Well, Canada can wait.