“They are delicious, apparently… People from this part of the world would eat them all year round”.
So said our skipper, John, as we looked out from his tour boat at one of the biggest puffin colonies in the UK. It turned out that these colourful and much-loved birds were once the dinner table delicacies of bygone residents on the west Wales’s coast.
“Used to sell the meat all the way up the Bristol Channel. Puffin was a regular on Bristol restaurant menus,” John assured us, with some relish.
These days, of course, our feathered friends are protected. Where they once faced decimation, puffin numbers on the island of Skomer, just off the Pembrokeshire Coast, have been increasing for a number of years. They are now a feature of growing nature tourism in the area, which is a birdwatcher’s paradise. During our two-hour tour by rib boat, we also saw black guillemots, Manx sheerwaters, razorbills, oystercatchers and gannets. Minke whales, porpoise and dolphin also come to feed in the nutrient-rich, current fed channel, Jack Sound, between Skomer, Ramsey and other islands. Basking sharks and Orca have also been spotted in the area.
Back on dry land, this part of Wales is adorned with quaint seaside villages, a scattering of white-walled cottages with slate roofs, and stupendous coastal walks.
Not only does the local Stackpole Inn serve up excellent food, the area also offers its visitors the Bosherston fish ponds, historic walled gardens, a historic and picturesque quay, and the most beautiful beach in Wales, Barafundle.
The Bosherston fish ponds are a series of stunningly beautiful lakes hidden behind a modest name. The 100-acre lakes are teeming with insects, fish and birds, even otters and beautiful wooden bridges allow walkers to get close to the action to admire blankets of jade green lilypads and herons expertly fishing. The water is so clean and clear we were able to see large pike lurking in the shadows as well as bright blue dragonflies skipping along the still water. The paths around the ponds are open not only to people but also to tiny baby frogs and toads, hopping from one pond to another – so watch your step! Eventually, the pathway opens out into a beautiful sandy beach called Broadhaven South where we dipped our toes in a bracingly cool sea!
Stackpole Walled Gardens used to be part of Stackpole Court, a house originally built by a Norman lord which was extended and made even more grand in the 17th century. The gardens feature huge vegetable plots with pick your own strawberries, melon pits and a Victorian greenhouse. The tearoom sells various refreshments featuring homegrown produce to visitors needing a pick me up. Stackpole Court itself was demolished in 1963, but the 800-year-old gardens are coming back to life thanks to a lot of tlc from local volunteers and students from the charity Mencap. Entrance to the gardens is by donation, and it is easy to see in one hour.
A short drive from the Gardens is Stackpole Quay, where you can go on a kayak tour, or sample some Welsh rarebit, Cawl (a lamb stew) or locally made dairy ice-cream in the Boathouse Cafe. Sadly we didn’t have time for a tour, but instead from here, we walked the cliff top path to Barafundle Bay, a quiet, sandy, and secluded haven which was wonderfully warm and bright on the day we visited. It has won many awards, as well as been voted Best Beach in the UK by The Good Holiday Guide, and I would have to agree – it really is stunning.
Pembroke has similar sandy beaches and beautiful coastal walks, but without the queues and crowds of Cornwall. Locals are friendly and all too happy to chat to visitors over a pint of a local brew – particularly on the weekend Wales won its Euro 2016 football match! All in all, our Pembroke escape was a lovely weekend away, with loads to see and do, particularly for nature lovers.