A growing number of people are moving to beautiful Pembrokeshire for its sense of community
Jamie Burdett has discovered that he can work anywhere. He and his family have not looked back since swapping the commuter life in suburban Kent for a remote corner of deepest west Wales. He spends his spare time messing about in a kayak, taking his children William, 9, and Isabelle, 11, to the beach after school, paddling along the river to the pub with friends from the village or enjoying the ever-changing estuary views from his four-bedroom house.
“You have magic moments here that you just don’t get anywhere else,” says Jamie, 46, a sustainability consultant. “There’s a wonderful balance between nature and work. The kids all run out into the village and play with each other — you can’t buy that.”
He and his artist wife, Louise, moved to Pembrokeshire three years ago, part of what was then a steady trickle of arrivals to this corner of the country, excited by the possibilities of remote working in beautiful surroundings near great beaches. Thanks to the Covid crisis, that trickle is fast becoming a flood.
“I’ve had more inquiries in the past two weeks than I normally get in a year,” says Carol Peett, the owner of West Wales Property Finders, “and some properties are selling sight unseen for over the asking price. And these are all people looking to live here full-time rather than buying a holiday home.”
Daniel Rees, a director of Savills estate agency, agrees. “I’ve never known it so busy,” he says. “Since week three of lockdown the emails and calls have ramped up. Luckily, stock isn’t a problem as a lot of people missed coming to the market in the spring, so there’s a rush of sellers to match the rush of buyers.”
With the chains of the daily commute loosened, it’s no wonder that many people are seeking somewhere to enjoy life to the fullest when the laptop shuts down at the end of the day.
Pembrokeshire is a canny choice. The coastal scenery is more than a match for Devon or Cornwall, but it’s easier to reach and less clogged with summer traffic. You get more for your money too. According to Rightmove, the average property in St Davids costs £310,000. In Rock, Cornwall, it’s £1.1 million. Last month’s cut in Welsh stamp duty on homes costing up to £250,000 may make little difference.
The choice of where to buy is between the south coast, the north coast or somewhere in between. The south is pricier than the north, where the wilder landscape and longer journey times to London or Cardiff require greater commitment. You’ll need to learn Welsh too if you want to join in. There are generous rewards in the wild coastline and thriving communities such as Newport, Crymych — home to a high-achieving Welsh-medium school — and St Davids, Britain’s smallest city, which has a dash of culture and an impressive commitment to sustainability.
The more remote the location, the cheaper the home. If you can live without the Pembrokeshire postcode, there’s value to be found in the countryside around Whitland in Carmarthenshire or lively Cardigan in Ceredigion. Ceredigion is doubly attractive because it was also the county with the lowest Covid-19 infection rate in mainland Britain. Early in the year, before any reports of a confirmed case, local Barry Rees, a former biology teacher, set up a tracing scheme that has since been copied by the Isle of Anglesey and is being adapted by Pembrokeshire and Carmarthenshire councils.
The perfect country house is less likely to have been snapped up if it’s miles from anywhere. Although many of the main towns are somewhat drab, Narberth is the exception. The Sunday Times gave it top spot in Wales in this year’s Best Places to Live guide, thanks to a high street packed with classy shops and cafés. Its hard-working community should keep it thriving.
The prime area, though, is south Pembrokeshire, known as “little England beyond Wales”, where nobody will mind if you don’t speak Welsh. It is a fertile landscape of emerald green fields, hedgerows, stunning sandy beaches and, in Tenby and Saundersfoot, two seaside resorts of rare charm.
Tenby is a beauty: four great beaches, warm sea and a pretty harbour topped with tall, brightly painted Georgian houses. One of these will cost £1 million or so (the best are in Lexden Terrace), and while you may have to dodge holidaymakers, you’ll find a great sense of community focused on the harbour.
For lower prices and a quieter life, travel a short way inland. Jamie Burdett and his wife, Louise, live in Lawrenny, a tranquil village 20 minutes’ drive from Tenby. It’s on the Cleddau (pronounced Cleth-aye) River whose village shop offers 24-hour access for locals by a security card. “It may be the outback of west Wales, but there’s a big group of us who have lived and worked elsewhere. We were worried about closed minds, but there’s none of that here. There are great gangs of people to meet and befriend,” Jamie says.
Lawrenny is going to get livelier too, with a new development of 33 houses (from £265,000 for two bedrooms, up to £485,000 for a four-bedroom house) that is due to be completed by early 2022, built by a local farming family. It is unusual in that it pays more than lip service to good design. The plans were chosen by competition and the scheme includes shared workspaces, a prescient move that will help to address one of the biggest barriers to moving this far west — making ends meet.
The entrepreneurial spirit burns brightly. Head down any muddy lane and you will find a designer, craftsman or food producer doing their bit for the digital economy, and many people have more than one job.
Caspar Beck is a photographer, but he and his wife, Emma, devote much of their energy to welovecurry.net, a high-class takeaway and catering business that will deliver an authentic Asian banquet to your door every Friday night (£28 for two people).
“Work is seasonal, but you don’t need as much money because so much of the good stuff is free,” says Caspar, 48. “And there’s no bling — we’re all happy to drive around in old cars.” He was brought up in Pembroke Dock and Emma is from Tenby, but they met in Sydney, Australia, where he lived for 13 years. They moved to an old rectory in Jeffreyston, a few miles inland from Saundersfoot, in 2012, with their children Willem, 13, Delphi, 11, and Olive, 7. Theirs is a continuing project; they are seeking permission to convert a barn into a holiday let, although they will have to find a new home for the resident barn owls first.
They have immersed themselves in the outdoor lifestyle. “We’ve got kayaks and paddleboards and there’s nothing better than paddling around a headland to a secret beach,” Caspar says. “We go spearfishing for bass in summer, and we can surf all year round — you just need a thicker wetsuit. Even in winter we still use the beaches a lot, lighting fires and picking mussels.”
If new arrivals want to make the most of life in this corner of Wales, they should follow the example of Amanda Harris-Lea. She arrived from Shropshire in 2009 for a fresh start after a divorce. She met her partner, Arwyn (they have two children, Charlotte, nine, and Philippa, four) and has four jobs in what she calls a “portfolio career”. She runs foxypheasant.co.uk, an online business selling country clothes and crafts, does milking shifts on a local farm, manages events and social media for the Game and Wildlife Conservation Trust and works for a charity that provides mental health, emotional and practical support to farmers.
“It’s a great place to be an entrepreneur. I can run my business from a farm down a lane, with a courier coming twice a day,” says Amanda, 41.
She lives in the north of the county, off the main tourist trail in the village of Maenclochog. It’s near the Preseli Mountains, where a half-hour walk can be rewarded with views as far as Ireland, Devon and Snowdonia, but only 20 minutes from the sea at Newport.
For all the delights of countryside and coast, the biggest joy of living here, she says, is being part of a lively, friendly community with strong bonds that have come to the fore during lockdown.
“There are events and agricultural shows and there’s a lot of socialising, usually a barbecue at someone’s house to avoid paying for taxis and babysitters,” Amanda says. “There’s a network of mums trying to run businesses, and we’ve all got each others’ backs. Everyone’s been looking after the neighbours and taking turns to do the ‘drugs run’ to the chemists in Narberth to collect prescriptions. So many rural communities have lost that.”
The Times – Friday, 7th August 2020 https://www.thetimes.co.uk/article/why-you-should-move-to-west-wales-vnntqj6g8
If you are looking to move to West Wales, or buy a property here in Pembrokeshire, Carmarthenshire or Ceredigion, give West Wales Property Finders a call on 01834 862816 http://www.westwalespropertyfinders.co.uk We can find your perfect property for you whilst saving you time, stress and often money too.