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Away from the crowds
Winding our way up the narrow steps to the top of the tower we took in the view of the river estuary over the mighty fortified walls and felt like kings of the castle. The silence and solitude created a real sense of atmosphere at Pembroke Castle, one of the largest in Wales and with a colourful and often bloody history dating back to 1093.
Birthplace of Henry Tudor, father of the infamous Henry VIII, the castle has many long passageways and tunnels.
We wandered uninterrupted, immersing ourselves in bygone times brought vividly to life by displays and tableaux.
There’s plenty to recommend a short break out of season and Pembrokeshire is a particularly idyllic corner of south-west Wales to explore when the summer crowds have gone.
Over the weekend we drove along narrow country roads populated only by locals and without a caravan in sight, enjoyed free car parking in spots where there’s a fee during busy months and took leisurely strolls punctuated by a few indomitable walkers, who shrugged off the first chill of winter and strode past in shorts. This neck of the woods is a haven for ramblers as it’s home to Pembrokeshire Coast National Park, covering 260 miles of beautiful coastline and currently celebrating its 60th anniversary.
Granted, some attractions may have shut up shop for the winter but there’s still plenty to see and do, much of it at little or no cost. Our base was Wolfscastle Country Hotel in the village of the same name and a hop and a skip from Pembrokeshire’s county town Haverfordwest. The welcoming 20-room hotel, a former vicarage and coaching inn, is well placed for sightseeing.
Fortified by a full “Welsh” breakfast, featuring local free-range eggs, bacon and sausages, the first morning we headed for Tenby. This pretty little harbour town and seaside resort started life as a Welsh stronghold, due to its hilltop position, and sections of the old town walls still survive. Pastel-coloured houses rub shoulders with trendy surf shops. Hardy watersports enthusiasts can indulge their passion out of season, as breezier days stir up the surf, but we chose the more relaxed pursuit of browsing around the local gift shops.
At lunchtime we took in another part of the coastline at Porthgain. Hard to believe this picture postcard setting, with its fishing boats, couple of eateries and sculpture gallery, was once an industrial port with nearby quarries and a brickworks. The Sloop Inn, open year-round, was our watering hole of choice and the £7.95 sandwich filled with succulent local crab hit the spot.
A short drive took us to St Davids, extraordinary as being Britain’s smallest city in terms of size and population yet dominated by a huge cathedral and the adjoining ruins of the medieval Bishop’s Palace.
St Davids Cathedral has been the dominant presence since the 12th century and was a popular pilgrimage destination throughout the Middle Ages, and indeed remains so to this day, attracting thousands of visitors every year.
At the end of the day the Wolfscastle’s AA rosette restaurant beckoned. Incredibly good value for anyone who is used to “southern” prices, the imaginative menu made the most of local produce such as Welsh lamb, cheese and bara brith – the latter used in the hotel’s take on bread and butter pudding.
No wonder the hotel is included in Welsh Rarebits, a collection of privately owned Hotels of Distinction.
* Wolfscastle Country Hotel, near Haverfordwest, has B&B rooms from £110 per night based on two sharing and £144 with dinner. Call 01437 741225 or visit www.wolfscastle.com
* Pembroke Castle is open daily. Call 01646 681510, or visit www.pembroke-castle.co.uk
* For more information and a free copy of the Pembrokeshire Holiday Guide, which can also be downloaded, call 0844 888 5115 or visit www.visit pembrokeshire.com
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