The Cleddau Estuary, Pembrokeshire
Whoever gave the Cleddau Estuary its nickname, “the secret waterway”, wasn’t joking — many of the holidaymakers who flock to Tenby and Saundersfoot every summer are blissfully unaware of the delights to be found on its shores — but now the game is up. Sori (sorry).
The Cleddau Estuary is barely visible from a road, or even from the air, thanks to the wartime efforts of the Ministry of Defence, which planted non-reflective water weeds on its banks to deny the Luftwaffe a shiny signpost to the shipyards at Pembroke Dock.
However, for those lucky enough to live here, villages such as Lawrenny, Llangwm, Landshipping, Carew and tiny Cresswell Quay offer a waterside idyll of rare charm and tranquillity. The mudflats provide rich pickings for wading birds, and you’ll often spot seals and otters in the water. Stick around on a summer evening and you’ll probably also see kayaks and paddleboards weaving their way to the Cresselly Arms for a pint of Quay Ale and a packet of crisps. Llangwm and Landshipping are beautiful, vibrant little communities, but Lawrenny is our favourite. It has a waterside pub in the Lawrenny Arms, and Quayside is an award-winning tearoom; both are reached via a footpath with panoramic views. There’s also a community shop, open for a few hours most days, although residents get a keycard, so they can pop in whenever they want.
Lawrenny could hardly feel more remote — but Narberth and Tenby are only a 20-minute drive away, and it’s certainly not behind the times. A new development of more than 30 houses (from £265,000), which should be finished next year, is as forward-thinking as it gets, with communal spaces, business units and impressive eco credentials. There’s even fresh sourdough bread and pastries on the doorstep, including pains aux raisins (£1.75) pepped up with with local Barti Ddu seaweed rum from Hugtasty bakery, made to order by Dani Higginson (check her out on Instagram at @hugtasty). Higginson started the business last spring when she was furloughed from her job at a veterinary practice. She’s lived here for six years and loves the lifestyle and her neighbours. “The best thing is the view of the estuary from my kitchen window, and there are lots of great walks with plenty of squirrels and rabbits for my whippet, Toby, to chase. It’s a great community too. Some people have lived here all their lives and others moved here more recently. There’s a real mix, but everyone seems to get on and pitch in.”
Higginson is one of a regular crowd of wild swimmers — just one of the ways that wellbeing is at the forefront of life here. Every villager gets a ticket to the Big Retreat festival, an early summer jamboree in former castle grounds, where visitors can try their hand at anything from yoga to spoon carving while sipping a gin and tonic and enjoying the view of the estuary.
It takes more than a pandemic to break the spell of this enchanting little town. Last year’s Welsh winner has used its lockdown leisure time wisely, ensuring that it will be an even better place once shopping and feasting are back on the agenda. Planning permission has been granted to turn a long-derelict school building into a shop, a food and drink outlet, housing and a new home for the community library; and two gloomy vacant banks have been sold, renovated and are poised to join Narberth’s already impressive retail roster.
The riches on offer range from clothes, homeware and arts and crafts at the Golden Sheaf gallery or Six the High Street, to Spanish wines and cheeses at Ultracomida. Above all, though, this is the place to celebrate homegrown produce, whether it’s the Welsh beef at Andrew Rees’s butchers or the gelato at Fire & Ice. The Angel hotel’s gastro makeover has given a welcome boost to Narberth’s after-dark offering: its cosy log fires and crowd-pleasing menu (fish pie, £15.95; chargrilled lamb chops, £17.95) mean that the excellent Madtom seafood restaurant is no longer the only place for an evening out.
Local love isn’t confined to the shops — the sense of community is hard to escape. Bloomfield House Community Centre hosts all kinds of classes and clubs, from Welsh language and geology to yoga and photography, as well as a waste-busting community fridge where residents can help themselves to food that would otherwise be thrown away. Span Arts, a charity, has been providing online singing workshops instead of its usual programme of concerts and plays, and the Queens Hall has been live streaming crowd-free Covid-safe gigs. Above all, though, this is a supremely friendly place that wastes no time in embracing newcomers. “It’s extremely welcoming,” says Sam Cowlam, owner of Fforc Welsh Deli, one of the highlights of the high street. “That’s got a lot to do with the fact that it’s such a nice area to live. It means that everybody is in a good mood all the time.”
Narberth is a practical choice too. It’s in the catchment area for Ysgol y Preseli, a bilingual secondary school that was named Welsh state secondary school of the decade in The Sunday Times Parent Power Guide thanks to a transformation that saw its proportion of A*-B grades at A-level rise from 44.3 per cent in 2012 to a record 69.1 per cent in 2019. For somewhere so far west, Narberth is surprisingly accessible. Pembrokeshire’s many delights are all right on the doorstep, from the contrasting seaside highlights of Tenby and Barafundle Bay to the stunning views from Preseli Hills. The A40 provides a quick getaway to Swansea and the east, and the train a pleasant if slightly slower one.
Llandeilo and the Towy Valley
In the unlikely event that rural Carmarthenshire ever suffers an invasion of those unreal “real housewives”, Llandeilo is where they will hang out. The pretty, historical centre is bursting with gaily painted boutiques selling lingerie, handmade jewellery, high-end homewares and designer clothes. Heavenly is as luxurious a chocolate shop as you’ll find (they’ll deliver a box of eight brownies for £21), Peppercorn does kitchen cuteness in all the right ways and Pinc is a stylish florist. Toast, the all-conquering “slow fashion” label, was founded in Llandeilo and some estate agents cite its discount store as reason enough to move here.
The other great joy of this delightful little town lies in its surroundings. There are few finer views in Wales than the one from the neo-gothic folly of Paxton’s Tower, except perhaps the one from nearby Carreg Cennen, a ruined clifftop castle a few miles east of the foothills in the Brecon Beacons National Park. The Tywi valley is dotted with delightful villages such as Bethlehem or Court Henry, lively communities in their own right.
This is one reason why Llandeilo is increasingly popular with artists, actors and media types happy to immerse themselves in Welsh culture and countryside without straying more than 20 minutes from the M4 and half an hour from Carmarthen (home of S4C and trains to Cardiff and London).
“It’s a buzzy sort of town and it’s so friendly too. It’s the sort of place where everybody knows everybody,” says Kate Glanville, a novelist and ceramicist. She has lived in the area for 25 years, having fallen under its spell during an unplanned stop for fish and chips on the way home from her honeymoon. With her fourth novel, The Cherry Tree Summer, out in May and her hand-painted ceramics for sale in the Crafts Alive gallery (and at kateglanville.com), she’s typical of a notably creative community.
The Cennen Gallery, a new showcase for local arts and crafts, is due to open in April. Creativity starts young here, with Eve’s, an award-winning toyshop, specialising in “toys to imagine, create, discover, explore and have fun”.
For more down-to-earth matters there is a choice of fine butchers and a thoughtfully stocked nursery in the Works Garden Centre, which is also home to an antiques market with more than 50 dealers. Add the tasty local grub on offer at Ginhaus Deli, the Hangout or the Cawdor hotel (40-day aged steak, £19.50) and you’ve got a traditional market town that’s sophisticated and attractive.
If you are looking to move to 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.