‘Little England beyond Wales’ this part of Wales to me is my beloved west country by other means. Geographically this deeply rural land sits in a parallel place and the light is blessed by its peninsular positioning. Britain’s only coastal national park and the long distance path is rated one of the best long distance walking trails in the world. I’ve been visiting since 1985 & know certain spots well, while others remain a mystery. Had just been to see eldest son Tom at his home outside Pembroke Dock and was driving back with youngest son Patrick to the old holiday house we share with friends on the rugged north coast on the parrog at Newport. With time to spare on this midsummer Friday we were up for a bit of diverting, some creative idling, rather than just pushing on to our ultimate destination.
Blackpool Mill was erected in 1813 on the banks of the River Eastern Cleddau. It ceased commercial operation in the 1950’s. The multi-story Grade II* building is situated at the top of the river’s tidal reach, lost in a thickly wooded valley. I remember visiting years back when the mill was open as an historic attraction with a cafe; the 19th century flour processing equipment and machinery still in place. Standing on the late Georgian bridge which arches the river, we view the mill’s high walls grimy and tearful sad, perimeters secured by metal fencing. In 2017 the local leisure park – Bluestone – proposed a £2.5 restoration that would give employment to 60 people. It envisaged a working ‘Victorian themed’ attraction plus a narrow gauge railway with station. The Pembrokeshire Coast National Park turned the plans down but invited a revised application more suited to the quiet rural location…We will have to return in a few years to see what, if anything, has happened.
The southern part of Pemrokeshire was settled and secured by Norman Marcher lords and this verdant country also proved a wealth creating prize for the church throughout the medieval period. The Bishops of St David’s were mighty powerful landowners who lived in grand style. I particularly love the remains of their fine palace next St David’s cathedral. They also had a Summer palace near Pembroke, now a charming ruin, quiet and peaceful. What surprised me to learn on this visit was that the bishop also had castles dotted around their west Wales fiefdom. We took a wrong turning at Bethesda but it was the right outcome as we twisted and turned along narrow lanes and over river bridges to emerge into the village of Llawdaren. We parked and discovered the impressive ruins of a castle built by Bishop Adam de Houghton in the 13th Century and abandoned at the Tudor reformation in the 16th. Robbed of stone for house building it remains a shell within the dry moat. CADW are the custodians and we arrived after closing but it mattered not. There was compelling dignity and distinctiveness in its arrested decay.
Once place everyone returns to at some time or other in north Pembrokeshire tends to be Pentre Ifan. A distinctive cluster of standing stones with a capstone it reminds me of a coffin with bearers. And indeed its purpose was funerial. Dating from 3,500 years ago, this burial chamber was enclosed within a long vanished burial mound of earth and stones. The structure was erected to hold the remains of some great personage and commands a wonderful view out over Newport Bay. I always seem to get lost finding the actual site in the skein of lanes hereabouts but I shan’t next time! Simply having time in the presence of such a harmonious structure, timeless in essence & perfect in balance, is balm for the soul. Being here at the midsummer solstice somehow made it even more so.