Once a Week (magazine)/Series 1/Volume 3/Tenby


Where shall we go this summer?” is the question most commonly put by her Majesty’s lieges at this time of the year—by the gay, but pale-faced London family, satiated with the round of perpetual parties—the hard working clergyman who feels unusually “Monday-ish,” and considers that his throat requires a course of sea air—the merchant and clerk, pining for a cessation from the monotonous circle of account-books and ledger—the Paterfamilias, with whom it is a point of honour to shut up his house once a year, and take his Penates for a dip in the sea—the University man, possessed with the mysterious notion that he ought to join a reading party—the old fogey, who only goes to watering-places because other people go—the geologist, who takes down his beloved hammer, rusty with a winter’s idleness—the botanist, whom the discovery of a new fern will make happy for a twelvemonth, or the zoologist, dreaming of rare and miraculous actiniæ. All join in the same cry, and hold consultations, at which the merits of the various watering places are discussed. Brighton, too fast—Worthing, too dear—Ventnor, too hot—Torquay, too many invalids, and so on. I would recommend all uncertain parties to drive to Paddington, take a ticket to Narberth Road, and visit Tenby, as sweet a spot as any in England or Wales. My earliest associations of watering-places date from Tenby, and although since then I have seen almost every one in England and Wales, I return to my first love, in the strong conviction, that it excels all others. First appearances go a long way, and from whichever side Tenby is approached, whether by water from Bristol or Ilfracombe, or by land from Narberth and Pembroke, it looks well, owing to the peculiarity and beauty of its situation. A peninsula of lofty limestone rocks runs seaward with a graceful curve, backed up on the land-side by wooded rising ground, and terminating in a rugged and abrupt promontory. The town and suburbs present a singularly beautiful appearance from the bay, as they follow the line of cliffs, the most prominent object being the slender spire of the church, which is for many miles a conspicuous landmark for Channel ships. The terraces and houses nestling down to the water’s edge, look so gay and bright, that were it not for the ruins of the old castle, one would be tempted to set it down as a place of yesterday. That would be a mistake, however, for few, if any, watering places in England can boast of such antiquity.

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The Castle, Tenby.

Its origin is popularly ascribed to a colony of Flemish clothiers, driven from their own homes by an inundation, in the reign of Henry I., who was glad enough to have such a solid and industrious race settled down here; but even before the arrival of these strangers, it was a flourishing fishing village, known as “Dyncych y Pyscoed,” or the Precipice of Fishes.

Tenby was at its greatest, however, in the time of Henry VII. and VIII., the former of whom deigned to make use of the castle as an asylum, while he was waiting to escape to Brittany, which he eventually did by the help of White, a wealthy merchant. The town was well garrisoned and fortified during the alarm of the Spanish Armada, and a considerable portion of the walls and ruined towers are still in good preservation, particularly on the south-west and north-west sides, which afford an agreeable walk. The lounge of Tenby, par excellence, is the Castle Hill, a rugged promontory almost surrounded by the sea, and crowned by the ruins of the keep.

A person must be hard to please, if he cannot enjoy a summer’s afternoon here at high-water, when he can lie on the grass and lazily watch the waves as they come rolling in, to break with impetuous disappointment on the water-worn cliffs below; when he can cast his eyes, almost without moving, over the wide sweep of Carmarthen Bay, with its graceful outlines of hills dotted here and there with white villages, and terminated by the fantastic point of Worm’s Head (up which I have many a time seen the breakers dashing, though at a distance of twenty miles), when the strains of the music (though not always of irreproachable tune), float pleasantly on the ear, mingled with the hum of voices and the deep boom of the breakers—Verily, I say, if a man cannot be happy under such circumstances, he does not deserve to live.

The ruins of the Castle are not extensive, and consist principally of the keep, a small round tower, with a square one attached to it, and commanding from the summit a view of the other watch-tower, which gave to the town the alarm of an approach by land. One of these is still remaining on a hill near Ivy Tower, above the road to Pater, and there is a second on the Burrows: a third and fourth on Windmill Hill and the Ridgeway have been destroyed. Besides the walls and the keep, the antiquarian may examine the church, which contains a singular west doorway, a beautiful flight of steps leading to the altar, and a curiously carved wooden roof, known by architects as a cradle roof. There are also some good monuments, amongst which is one in memory of the Whites, the wealthy merchants aforesaid, who helped Henry of Richmond out of the kingdom.

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Tenby from the high ground.

But, perhaps, gentle reader, you turn up your nose at antiquities, and all such old-fashioned lore, and go in for the “ologies.” If you are a zoologist, then, explore the rugged cliffs and recesses of St. Catherine’s Island at low water, and do not get too much engrossed with your occupation; for I have known some people look up from their actiniæ, and make the pleasing discovery that the tide had risen, and cut them off from the shore, thus reducing them to spend several hours more than they liked on the island. The geologist will be struck with the foliated appearance of the limestone strata, which has been worn by the action of countless breakers into fantastic forms and caverns. In the rock basins left by the retreating tide, the admirers of zoophytes will find here employment for many a long day, as also at the Monkstone Rock (which stands out isolated on the North Sands), and on the cliffs round by Giltar and Lydstep.

To the south of Tenby, the coast dwindles down into sand burrows, but again rises to a considerable height at the headland of Giltar Point, beyond which the pedestrian will find a slight difficulty in the shape of lofty precipices and deep water, so that he must clamber up the rocks as best he can, and keep along the edge of the down to Proud Giltar.

About a mile from land is one of the great Bristol Channel islands, that of Caldy, which is a favourite water excursion from Tenby for those who are fond of boating. Caldy Island is of considerable extent, and at low water is connected by a ridge of rocks with St. Margaret’s. Moreover it is inhabited by the lord of the manor, Mr. Kynaston, whose modern house is incorporated with a more ancient building, probably the ruins of a monastic establishment, which formerly existed here. The light-house here is a great lion for visitors, and a great boon to mariners, for it lights up a particularly dangerous part of the Channel highway. The brethren of the hammer will find here a fair show of limestone fossils, and an interesting junction of the carboniferous and old red sandstone formations, while at a place called Eel Point bones of animals have been discovered. For those parties with whom water excursions disagree, there are plenty of places to be visited in the neighbourhood of Tenby, and plenty of means for visiting them. All day long, carriages are rattling about the streets and terraces, from the stylish-looking break down to the funny little one-horse “chays,” which are indigenous to the town, and very abundant. On the road to Penally and Lydstep Caverns, you may meet scores of these small vehicles going down-hill (particularly Windpipe Lane), at a pace wonderful to behold, and turning the corners (of which there are many) in a glorious uncertainty as to what may be meeting them. Penally is a charming, little village, about a couple of miles off, placed on a well-wooded rising ground, and containing a picturesque church and some crosses in the churchyard, which is said to have been the resting place of Saint Teilo, the patron saint of Llandaff. A very pious saint was he, and a politic, for it is recorded of him, that after his death, three churches, viz., Llandaff, Penally, and Llandeilo disputed with each other as to the ownership of his bones, and not being able to settle the point satisfactorily, agreed to petition the saint to reveal himself to the church which really possessed them. He listened graciously to their prayer, and unwilling to disappoint such zealous disciples, showed himself in three separate but similar bodies, one for each church, to their great joy and exultation.

A little before you come to Penally, there is, close to the road-side, a curious cavern, known as Hoyle’s Mouth. It is in the limestone rock, and has been actually explored for a distance of 159 feet. For those who are fond of wriggling themselves in uncomfortable attitudes through narrow passages, this is just the place to suit them: only, visitors must be careful not to penetrate too far, or they may find that they emerge into daylight again at Pembroke Castle—so runs the legend, which doubtless was current before the days of geological research, which unfortunately for the subterranean passages, shows us that the Ridgeway, a long elevated upthrow of old red sandstones, intervenes between the two places, and thus renders the communication impossible.

A very favourite excursion is that through Penally and Lydstep to Manorbeer Castle, one of the finest examples in the whole country of a fortified castellated residence. Indeed, strong as it is, it was built more for defence than offence, and contains more traces of a domestic character than any of the castles round. Here old Giraldus Cambrensis was born, the famous historian of Wales and the travelling companion of Archbishop Baldwyn in his preaching tour. He has left a glowing description of the splendours of Manorbeer, its gardens, terraces, and fish-ponds, the remains of which are still visible, but Ichabod! their glory has departed. The church, too, is the most extraordinary edifice that can be imagined. All the Pembrokeshire churches, particularly in the southern portion of the county, are marked, architecturally speaking, by a peculiarly rude and massive style, which sought to combine the church with a defensive post, if needs were; for in those times the necessity for defence occurred again and again. But Manorbeer church, besides presenting this feature, is remarkable for the odd irregularity of its outline, as though the different parts had been plunged down in a heap, and tacked on to each other, any how.

It would take too long to enumerate all the different objects worth visiting near Tenby—Stackpole Court, with its splendid gardens—Saint Gowan’s well, with its ruined chapel—the Stack Rock—Pembroke, with its glorious round tower—Lamphey Palace, where the Bishop of Saint David’s lived like a country gentleman; and Llawhawden Castle, where he lived like a fighting baron, and from the roof of which the wicked Bishop Barlow stole the lead to enable him to marry off his five plain daughters. Verily, is not the history of all these written in the chronicles of the Tenby Guide?

G. P. Bevan