It seems like I am destined to be the chronicler of Welsh history and the many wonderful sights that have been overlooked by other reviewers. I can safely say that I know most of Wales like the back of my hand, in particular the Southern and Western regions. As a young woman I started to explore the beautiful places near to me, later on I was to spend holidays in the places that were too far away to visit in one day. As a single parent my holidays had to be cheap and so I found caravan sites near to places of interest where I could take my daughter and often my nieces as well.
Tenby was one of those I wanted to explore, along with the bay of Carmarthen with its many hidden beaches and tiny villages. At that time it was just too expensive to stay in the main towns, so I searched around for the smaller, off the beaten track caravan parks. On one of these trips I found the tiny village of Pendine, next to the famous Pendine Sands.
For those that have never heard of it, the Pendine Sands are located on the bay of Carmathen, stretching for seven miles from the Gilman Point in the west to the Laugharne Sands in the east. The beach itself is made up of hard-packed sand and due to its flatness and length it was the ideal spot in the early 1900s for speed trials.
Sportsmen came from all across the UK to race both motorbikes and cars. It was here that Malcolm Campbell set the first speed barrier of 150 mph in his racing car, Bluebird, and later went on to break his own record in 1927 with an unbeaten record of 174mph.
It seems hard to imagine that such speeds could be obtained in those early years of motoring but records were made and others tried to beat them.
In the same year, 1927, a Welshman J.G.Parry attempted to beat the record but was killed when his car Babs went out of control at 150 mph. The car was buried in the sand dunes but was later excavated and restored to its former glory and now its a main exhibit in the local Museum of Speed, opened in 1996. The museum itself is situated in the village of Pendine and opening times can be found on the Internet. The admission is still free as far as I know, but I have yet to visit, something that I would love to rectify. For people that are interested in land-speed races, this is the place to visit. Incidentally, it was from here that Amy Johnson set out in 1933 for her famous long-distance flight to the USA. Clearly there is more history to be found in Wales than people would imagine.
During the war years, Pendine Sands were occupied by the military and to this day some areas leading up to the sands are still a restricted zone. I remember one particular holiday back in the 1980s when taking the ten-minute walk across the dunes we heard the sounds of gunfire and wondered if it was safe to proceed. Fortunately it was perfectly safe, the pathway through the dunes is clearly labelled, but it did give us a fright at the time! I had expected to return in later years to the small caravan site we visited then, but the march of progress has rendered these sites obsolete. Nowadays you can find large caravan sites with all the facilities people have come to expect. If I mourn for those smaller sites its because I enjoyed the solitude and the easy-going way of life peculiar to some parts of the UK.
To get to Pendine is a one-way trip, the road goes from the town of St Clears and ends in the village itself. Its possible to actually drive your car onto the sands, but beware, it can get crowded in the summer months. Once on the sands the view is glorious, nothing but sand, sea and sky as far as the eye can see. Looking to the east you can see the coastline of the Gower Peninsular on a clear day. Now turn to the West and see the headlands near to Tenby, it looks as if you could easily walk along the golden sands, past Amroth and on to Saundersfoot. This is not advisable; the tides on the west side of the bay are more fickle and dangerous. The sea is a long way out on Pendine Sands, so you can let your children play in safety, secure in the knowledge they can come to no harm. This is an ideal spot to sunbathe in peace or get out your beach balls and have fun on the hard-packed sand.
Its worth looking up local events; there is a yearly music festival on the sands with free entry and the chance to hear new local bands play. Other events include a limited amount of biking, kite-flying and beach sports. The beach is so clean you wouldnt dare to drop a sweet-wrapper or leave any litter lying around. Most families are basically aware of the need to keep such beaches clean, but there are plenty of litterbins around to remind you. The villagers are proud of their beach and the heritage of a once popular sporting site. There are a number of small shops, restaurants and gift shops, but dont expect the paraphernalia which goes with more popular beach resorts.
The village is worth a walk around with the museum maybe the most popular visitor site, but there is a lovely old church here and hotels such as the Beach Hotel, with its superb views and the feel of the last century when it opened its doors to famous people.
For the more adventurous types a walk along the beach towards Laugharne reveals caves with spectacular natural rock formations. When or if you tire with the beach there are plenty of places nearby to visit.
Take the road back to St Clears and turn off at the road to Laugharne. This is the site of the Boathouse, the place where Dylan Thomas lived with his wife from 1949 to his death in 1953. Just along from the house is the shed he worked in when he wrote Under Milkwood, one of the best-known works of literature to ever come from Wales. Its kept exactly as it once was, a museum piece and a tribute to a wonderful author. I still remember the recording of the book by another famous Welshman, Richard Burton. I close my eyes and hear that rich deep voice as he rolls the words off his tongue. Both Thomas and Burton were legends in their own time and as you sit upon the sea wall and stare out at the open sea you can hear the voices of both speaking of people and places where time stood still.
For families the nearby resorts of Saundersfoot and Tenby offer multiple attractions. Saundersfoot is quieter and appeals more to adults, while Tenby offers golden beaches, funfairs, gift shops, museums and even an old castle. Accommodation is more expensive here but if you want lively entertainment and somewhere to keep the children occupied then this is the place for you. Ive visited many times and sketched the boats in the harbour, (this is a fantastic place for artists); Ive strolled through the cobbled streets and marvelled at a town that can hold such different cultures together. Its a town of many contrasts but still retains that air of days gone by.
I could take you further afield but Ill save that for another time. For now I want you to think and feel of the days when brave men pitted their wits and lives on daring to do what lesser men (and women), failed to do.
You only need a bit of imagination to look upon the Pendine Sands and hear the roar of the engines, see the sand spray as the vehicles reach the heights of speed. In lonely echoes of those times the seagulls cry overhead and for just one moment you can feel the thrill of it all.
Its not hard to imagine as the sand stretches as far as the eye can see. The heart speeds up, the adrenaline rushes to the brain and youre in the cockpit of that car or plane. The crowd roars, the cheers fill your ears and for a moment in time youre a hero.
I wonder what those heroes felt as they sent all the wildlife for miles around to bay? Did they see the mountains stark against the sky? Did they feel the rush of air as the birds took flight? I wonder if they saw the majesty that is Wales, where the mountains often come down to the sea? Maybe they did, this part of the UK is a challenge for all kinds of adventurous people. Its home to all that is wild and free, it brings out the feeling of daring to go one step further than you normally would. It lures the artist and the poet, the writer and the thinker, but most of all it both thrills the spirit and soothes it when the dangers past.
The Mundane but necessary.
Take the M4 through Swansea and continue on through Carmarthen on the A40 until you reach St Clears. Take the A4066 through Laugharne and the road ends at Pendine. If you are approaching from the North the route is much more difficult. Most of Wales is very hilly and the roads tend to be A roads rather than motorways.
Despite what people think, May is a good time to visit this part of the country, the rainfall is generally much lighter in May.
Accommodation varies a great deal; caravan sites are generally good value for families, while guesthouses are better value for couples. Out of season offers provide the best deals and can often be very charming with the average B&B being very homely.
Maybe Ill see you here sometime, who knows?
Thanks for reading