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History Buffs Guide to Pembrokeshire

Historical Places to Visit in Pembrokeshire

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Fantastic and Fascinating History

Pembrokeshire’s spectacular landscape is steeped in legends, myths and history  – it’s everywhere!  Ancient monuments and standing stones weathered over millennia, sit in company with relics from our industrial and sea-faring past.  If you are a history buff – there’s plenty of sites to visit and explore in hamlets, villages and waterways, woodlands and moorlands and rugged and windswept mountains .

We have at least 350 scheduled sites throughout Pembrokeshire (ie. protected) including stone circles and standing stones; barrows and burial chambers; raths (ringforts), enclosures and hut sites.

If that isn’t enough to keep you busy, there are 182 Roman, medieval and post-medieval sites to visit including stone crosses, holy wells, castles, motte and baileys, priories, chapels, houses, a Bishop’s Palace or two, along with dovecotes,  kilns,  and more recently, World War 2 defences .

Yes, I know! Where to start? We thought we’d suggest a few of our favourites, starting with the ones on our doorstep.

Penally Church

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February is traditionally a month in which Pembrokeshire remembers its Celtic Saints. In particular of course, we remember our own Saint Teilo who was born in Penally around 500 AD and who is thought to have died on 9th February. The parish church of St Nicholas and St Teilo, which just yards from Penally Abbey Hotel, houses 2 ancient Celtic Crosses – one of whom is believed to mark the place where St .Teilo was born. Both these crosses have been brought inside the church from the graveyard when they were restored in recent times. Unfortunately, ancient murals found on the walls of the church in Victorian times were obliterated during that restoration – such a shame!

So - who was St Teilo?

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 He was a member of the a royal ruling dynasty of the time – grandson of Ceredig, King of Ceredigion as well as son of Saint Issell and uncle to Saints Ismael and Euddogwy.  He was a scholar, a teacher and bishop, as well as being a friend /companion of St David and St.Madoc. Stories abound of healings, care and justice administered by St Teilo, as well as his miraculous bell which sounded the hours on its own and rang in anger in the event of falsehood or dishonesty!  His travels included visiting Jerusalem with St. David, a journey I’m sure must have been arduous without the advantage of an airline!

He is reputed to have died in Llandeilo Fawr around 560 AD at which point 3 churches laid claim to his relics, Llandaff Cathedral where he was bishop,  Llandeilo Fawr and also Penally, his place of birth. Since no-one could agree, it was left to the oxen who carried his coffin, to decide in which direction they wished to take him. His body was then said to have become three bodies and while many miracles were witnessed during his life and travels,  miraculous healings were also reported at his tomb (or tombs).

Told you – history, myth and legend everywhere!

Carew Castle

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Another favourite is Carew Castle, which is situated on the tidal reaches of the River Carew which is a short drive from Penally Abbey. The area around it is a designated Site of Special Scientific Interest due to the wildlife it supports and its rare flora and fauna so it’s a lovely place to visit and stroll around the Mill Pond and down to the Tidal Mill.

The castle really is a jewel in the crown of Welsh castles. Built on the site of promontory fort by Nicholas de Carew, the castle dates from the eleventh century. It has evolved over the centuries from Norman fortification to Elizabethan Manor House as war, feuds, treachery, adultery, treason, tragic love affairs and the changing tide of political and royal fortunes have played its part. 

The great Royal Tournament was held at Carew in 1507 and no doubt these walls could tell a few stories of jousting, feasting  and probably some bad behaviour!  

Today it is a peaceful retreat enjoyed by history lovers, families and dog walkers, often silhouetted against beautiful sunsets. The castle is open to admission and offers special events through out the year for nature and history lovers alike (as well as for those who might fancy bat hunts and ghost hunts).

Carew Cross

Situated near the entrance to Carew Castle and alongside the medieval bridge (not to mention conveniently across the road from the Carew Inn) stands the Carew Cross.   A full 4 meters high, it is inlaid with intricate Celtic knot work and ribbon designs eflecting both Celtic and Scandinavian heritage.

Steeped in antiquity, the inscriptions were a cause of much argument and controversy over the ages.  Finally in the 1940’s, they were translated and revealed to be a royal memorial inscribed in 1033, to Mereddud ap Edwin, joint ruler with his brother, of the ancient Welsh kingdom of Deheubarth. So now we know!

I should also mention the Flemish Chimney at Carew.

In medieval times, only the wealthy could afford brick chimneys which made cooking over an open fire rather a smoky affair and the cause of much coughing and spluttering no doubt.

By 16th century a more wealthy merchant class began to build chimneys which were often called Flemish chimneys as they were associated with Flemish weavers who settled in Tenby during the reign of Henry V111. This might have been inaccurate but a chimney is a blessing all the same.

This chimney at Carew was still in its original house until 1870 when the house was demolished and then it became the village bake-oven until the 1920’s.

Parking for Carew: There is a small carpark by the castle which is free to park all year round.

There is also a carpark across the lake from the castle where you can park and walk all the way round the castle - highly recommend!

 Manorbier Castle

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This is our last suggestion (for today! – easy to get carried away.)

In a stunning, secluded location overlooking the beautiful and unspoilt beach of Manorbier, it is little surprise that Manorbier Castle has been used as a film set for  “The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe” and “I Capture the Castle”. 

Geraldus Cambrensis (otherwise known as Gerald of Wales)  described it as “the pleasantess spot in  Wales” and he would know as he was born there around 1146 and was a widely travelled scholar and historian. He was also son of the Norman knight Odo de Barri who was granted the lands of Manorbier, Penally and Begelly in 1003 as a reward for his part in the Norman conquest of  South Pembrokeshire. Steeped in history, Manorbier Castle, its Great Hall, Chapel and beautiful walled garden overlooking the sea is a wonderful place to visit and only 4 miles away from Penally.

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C13th Dovecote

On the cliff overlooking Manorbier sits the King’s Quoite – a prehistoric burial chamber dating from 3000BC and near the castle lies the C13th dovecote which served the castle and used to home over 250 birds, both quite amazing in their very different ways.

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Parking: The beach carpark is open all year round and has a pay and display machine. The castle is just a short walk up the hill from the carpark.

So, if you want to explore the ancient landscape of Pembrokeshire and love history (not to mention good food and drink and a few Celtic stories) then come and visit our magical county.

Penally Abbey Hotel is THE perfect place to base yourself for a historical break away as it has a wealth of history itself. We'll leave those stories for your arrival...

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