The return of the Great British holiday
Planning on holidaying at home? Just be aware that millions will have had the same idea, says Chris Carter
Last September, when we were allowed to travel again, I seized the chance to escape London and make like a dart for Pembrokeshire, south Wales. Clean air, stunning coastline and honest-to-God British food was just what was needed. It wasn’t going to be Mustique, to be sure. But was there ever a better time to reconnect with the rich heritage of our own country?
As it turned out, yes. The beautiful seaside town of Tenby, in particular, was overrun. That was not at all surprising given the summer we had all had. The masked masses yearned for freedom. And besides, it was our patriotic duty to fire the economy back up. Remember Eat Out to Help Out? But there were quieter spots if you looked for them.
So now, as winter gives way to spring, many of us are again turning our thoughts to swapping our lockdown-induced cabin fever for a cabin beside a lake. There are just a couple of things to bear in mind (assuming, of course, that we will be allowed to travel further than Boris on his bike by then). The first is that popular places will be even busier than usual this summer, like last year. And while it doesn’t help that, as I write, the transport secretary, Grant Shapps, is advising against booking all holidays, it will be important to book as early as possible and, trust me, that goes for restaurant bookings as much as accommodation.
Sunset over Puffin Island
Lucky for me, then, that the takeaway fish and chips in that part of the world are superb. And if you find, as I did, that the beach is to be your lunch table, you could do far worse than Marloes Sands. This glorious two-kilometre stretch of golden shoreline, with the quality of its water rated “excellent”, can be the starting point for a hike around the little peninsula, up to Wooltack Point and Martin’s Haven at the far end. As my partner and I made our way along the rugged cliffs on a sunny afternoon, we could hear the grunting of seals below. Peregrines, oystercatchers and shags can be spotted. After a couple of hours, we arrived at Wooltack Point, the site of an ancient hill fort. The vantage point looks west, out over St George’s Channel. If you time it right, you can watch the sun descend over Skomer, with its resident puffins in the warmer months, and Skokholm, both Viking-named islands lying just off shore.
Tenby, as I say, was busy. But its beaches are wide, bisected by St Catherine’s Island (reachable on foot at low tide). Here it is well worth paying your £5 to climb up to “Palmerston fort” for a short lecture on its history. Completed on the orders of Lord Palmerston’s government in 1870 to deter the French ironclads, its thick concrete walls eventually came to house a small zoo 100 years later before falling into disrepair. It has now happily been restored at the hands of a determined band of volunteers.
Hearty British fare
Less busy was the village of Lamphey, where we were staying. From the 13th century until the Reformation it was here that the wealthy bishops of St Davids came in search of their holiday kicks. No mere backwater this, the ruins of the Bishop’s Palace are vast, a testament to the lavish festivities that must have taken place here. Right next door is Lamphey Court, a palatial Grade II*-listed mansion built in 1823 in the Greek revival style by one Charles Delamotte Mathias, apparently from the proceeds of slavery in Jamaica. Today its mighty colonnaded entrance houses a four-star hotel, which is a good base from which to explore Pembrokeshire (Pembroke Castle is just three miles away). There is also a good-sized indoor swimming pool, spa, and tennis courts. The rooms are clean and comfortable and the bar cosy.
You won’t find any of that fancy London nouvelle cuisine in the dining room. But if it is hearty, honest British fare you are after, then here is where you’ll get it.
Chris was a guest of Lamphey Court, which is currently still closed. See lampheycourt.co.uk for more information. From around £90 for two sharing.