OL36: Tenby & Llawhaden Castle

OS Explorer map OL36, North Pembrokeshire – I own this map, but had not visited it before starting this blog. Visited for this post 22nd July 2022.

Google Maps location links: Bridgend, Tenby, Llawhaden Castle, Square & Compass

I came to this map area on a short holiday to Pembrokeshire with my friends Cheremy, Queenie, Millicent, Erithacus and Vesper. The six of us, who met at university studying the same weird course, were in the habit of going on a long holiday each summer: the Holy Island Trek in 2016, Paris in 2017, the Isle of Harris in 2018 and, as was mentioned in my previous post, the Netherlands in 2019. We’d planned to visit the Welsh Marches in summer 2020, but the coronavirus pandemic saw to that, and it was 2022 by the time we got around to planning another trip. All of us were fairly busy with other things so we just went for a short trip, Friday to Monday, and decided to come to Pembrokeshire!

The earlier journey

My trip started on a Friday morning as I got the train from London – where I’d spent the night, having worked from my employer’s office there the day before – over to Bridgend, a South Wales town between Cardiff and Swansea, where I’d booked to collect a hire car. [1] Previous trips with this group have all been road trips with me driving, in my car or in my parents’ people carrier that I’d borrow. However, I no longer have a car, and for such a short trip it didn’t feel worth two extra trips to and from my parents’ house to collect theirs, hence the car hire. I actually much prefer it this way, which lets us get the bulk of the distance out of the way on the train before driving the last section: both reducing the amount I have to drive, which is nice since driving is tiring, and letting us reach our destination more quickly, since the train doesn’t need to stop for breaks!

Walking through Bridgend

The just-over-two-hour train ride passed smoothly on a pretty empty GWR inter-city train, and arriving in Bridgend I made the mistake of going through the station’s fare gates before I found the toilet: unable to go back through, I then had a short adventure walking around the town seeking toilets, hindered slightly by dragging a suitcase with a broken wheel. I have to compliment Bridgend’s authorities: the pedestrian wayfinding was very good, as I easily followed signs to the toilets, which ended up being in the bus station.

The car

I soon walked over to the car hire place, next to a giant Asda, where I was handed the keys and shown to the car by a cheerful chap, who told me that business is “crazy” at the moment: apparently he’s having to turn down ten bookings a day. Since there were six of us, we needed a car with at least that many seats, and I’d been expecting a 7-seat people carrier, however in the end we got a big van-like thing with 9 seats, including a 3-person bench seat in the front. I was a little apprehensive as to whether it would be difficult to drive, but it turned out to be fine. [2]

Meeting my friends outside Bridgend station!

From the car hire place, I drove over to Bridgend station to collect the others, who arrived on the train one hour after I had: Erithacus and Queenie had come from London, and were joined by Vesper and Millicent at Reading, coming from Oxford, and Cheremy at Bristol Parkway, coming from Exeter. [3] They’d unfortunately had a less idyllic journey than I had, with their train being very busy such that the group didn’t get to sit together and some of them had to stand for part of the journey: it being the first Super Off-Peak train of the day probably made it a lot busier than mine already, plus they’d unfortunately reduced the usually 10-carriage train down to five.

Still, they joined me in the car park happily enough and we headed over to a nearby Tesco to buy lunch!

In this map area

It would be around a 2-hour drive from Bridgend to Square and Compass, the curiously-named village in North Pembrokeshire (a little outside this map area) where we had a holiday cottage booked for the next three nights, if we proceeded there directly, but since it wasn’t even 2pm yet, we wanted to stop somewhere interesting along the way. When this question had been posed in our group chat a day or two previously, Cheremy had suggested Tenby, with the delightful message in our group chat of “How far off is Tenby? I’ve not been for a while and wish to praise it” – referencing the early medieval Welsh poem, half-remembered from first-year university lectures, In Praise of Tenby / Etmic Dinbych. In the end, passing over such delights as this church with “eerily lifelike effigies”, we decided to go with this suggestion, and headed to Tenby!

A section of Tenby’s medieval town walls

Arriving in Tenby, I dropped the others off just outside the very impressive medieval town walls, and went to find parking, eventually leaving the car in a primary school that had had the great idea to offer its car park for paid parking during school holidays, to help raise a little money for the school. The drive from Bridgend had taken rather longer than expected, such that once I’d found the others, we had only around 25 minutes in the town before we’d need to be off again, in order to arrive at the holiday cottage in time to receive the supermarket delivery we had coming. So off we went on a lightning tour of Tenby!

Tenby was beautiful. The triangular old town is on a promontory sticking out into the sea, with the aforementioned medieval town wall on one side and the sea, on the other two, fronted by long beaches divided by the castle hill. The town itself is very pretty, with narrow streets full of interesting-looking shops, and the houses along one seafront are painted jolly bright colours, reminding me of Tobermory.

Tenby Castle Beach and St Catherine’s Island

The main activity of our brief stop was walking up the castle hill to admire the views: it was a clear, sunny day and we could see across to the Gower peninsula. Apparently it’s sometimes possible to make out the coast of Devon across the Bristol Channel.

Admiring the view from Tenby Castle

Following that, we made our way back to the car, and drove the hour or so over to our rented cottage in Square and Compass, arriving just moments before the shopping delivery. The cottage, in North Pembrokeshire, is outside this map area, so you’ll need to wait for my next post to hear about what we did there! Tenby was a great short stop; I really must come back sometime when I’m not so pressed for time.

Three days later

We stayed three nights in Square and Compass and had a very nice time, until the Monday morning when it was time to drive back to Bridgend. As on the way out, we wanted to stop somewhere interesting on the way, and decided on Llawhaden Castle, which is back in this map area.

The gatehouse of Llawhaden Castle

It was a very nice castle! It was ruined, but with a good amount of intact structure, such that there were plenty of little rooms to explore inside, and even a tower one could climb. The castle wasn’t actually built as a defensive structure, but rather as a palace for the Bishops of St Davids, but still looks plenty imposing.

Queenie walked a few steps between me taking the two photos that were fused to make this image, hence her appearing twice!

After exploring the castle for half an hour or so, we continued on our way, driving off to Bridgend, where I returned the car and we got our respective trains home, having passed a lovely few days in Wales!

My five friends in the accessible tower of Llawhaden Castle!

[1] I’d have preferred to book a hire car closer to Pembrokeshire, such as in Swansea or Carmarthen, but in the end Bridgend was the closest I could find a cheap 7-seater for hire. For some reason I’ve never worked out, the big car hire chains all charge astronomically more for a 7-seater than for a normal car, even though they’re not much more expensive to buy or, one assumes, maintain: with Enterprise or the like, we’d’ve had to pay something like £700 for the 3-day hire, compared to more like £200 for a normal car. In my experience there are usually more reasonable prices to be found with smaller local companies for 7-seaters, and in this case Bridgend’s Charter Vehicle Hire gave us what we needed: the huge 9-seat car we ended up with, for £300 for 3 days.

[2] The car was on an “empty-to-empty” fuel policy, which I’m not sure how I feel about. On the one hand, it’s inconvenient to have to try to predict how much fuel you’ll use and fill only that amount, but on the other you have the chance of some bonus free fuel if the person behind you didn’t leave it completely empty!

[3] After my warning, they had avoided my mistake and gone over the footbridge to use the toilets on the other platform before exiting the station.

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